Jumpin’ At The Woodside 2000

JazzJive's sixth annual May Bank Holiday Cotswolds get-together.

Although we are well past January 1, a new date-related issue has arisen. It’s called The J2K Problem, and it’s yours if you missed the great weekend of swing that was Jumpin’ At The Woodside 2000. Man, it was kicking like a mule with a beehive stuck up its arse.

Based around The Guildhall Arts Centre in Gloucester, The Rock Dance Company has built up an enviable reputation in a short time for staging one of the best events you could hope to attend. A combination of top-notch teaching staff, excellent bands and a large dose of (often self-deprecating) humour meant that the weekend was a sell-out again. An additional bonus this year was the localised weather arrangements that organiser James Hamilton had obviously made, as a rainy Friday afternoon cleared the way for fabulous sunshine through to Monday. Not having to pack a brolly as you move between class venues is important, you know.

The Friday night intro got the event off to exactly the right start. The Sugar Ray Ford Orchestra was in the house and on the stage, and if wasn’t for other commitments, most of the dancers would have them up there still. The improvement in the band has been massive since they reappeared around May last year following Sugar Ray’s Stateside sojourn with The Big Six. Tight brass playing over a swinging rhythm section meant that the overflow DJ Room was empty during their set.

The Jitterbug Stroll Stepping out for The Jitterbug Stroll.

First up on Saturday morning was the audition for the advanced classes. It really is hats off to Hamilton for addressing the thorny problem of dancers attending classes above their abilities. No-one benefits – the class moves along more slowly and the dancer doesn’t get the most out of it. So it was a gruelling half-hour of social dancing and jazz steps to decide who would be in or out. Needless to say, a few noses were put out of joint when some were asked to consider the intermediate classes. For others, however, it didn’t matter, as they evaded the whole spirit of the intention by attending the advanced class whether they had passed the audition or not. Note to organisers who continue with this idea: follow through, guys!

Styles on offer this year were Lindy Hop, Balboa, Shag, Boogie Woogie, and Charleston. You could also learn The Shim Sham, The Jitterbug Stroll (hi, Ryan!), The Madison and The Trunky Do. Ben Badu was back with his African Drum and Dance to locate the jungle in your soul. The fact that the tap was turned off this year hardly mattered to most, as they drenched themselves in dance. Another notable absentee was Frankie Manning, still recovering from "trying an aerial on a staircase" according to Dame Edna Everage (see below). But with The Rhythm Hot Shots, Ann and Christer Ijsberg, Rob van Haaren and Diane Thomas, Angela Andrew, Julie Oram and the JazzJive Crew, the irreplaceable was compensated by the irresistible.

The Saturday evening dance is traditionally The Masked Woodchoppers Ball. Doesn’t that title remind you of a low-budget 1940’s horror movie starring Boris Karloff set in the hills above Los Angeles where teenagers are kidnapped and driven to a remote spot before meeting a gory end at the hands of a hooded psychopath hell-bent on revenge against a society that rejected him as a youth for reasons that are never adequately explained until the shocking denouement in which a cloaked giant announces "I am your father!" Or is it just me?

Gary Boon, newly-converted Snakehips fan Yo DJ Gary Boon in the house, Ken Snakehips Johnson on the decks.

The buzz had been going around for some weeks prior to the event about the debut dance play of Snakehips Swing by Ken Snakehips Johnson. DJ Gary Boon announced the track and it was jam time. The response of the dancers suggested that this will not be the last time the song is heard at a swing dance, along with Exactly Like You, another KSJ track.

The MWB is also cabaret night, and this year was well up to standard. Unfortunately, James Hamilton was unable to act as Master of Ceremonies, but had secured the services of an able deputy in Dame Edna Everage. So Dame Edna it was that introduced Lennart and Eddie for some tip top tap, Rob and Diane for a high-speed Lindy/Shag/Balboa routine, and Cookie’s Crew, for a very jazzy Shim Sham and Charleston/Houston number. Charlton Heston? No. The girls (Angela Andrew, Malvina Dunn, Helen Avey and Diane Thomas) started with an energetic Charleston workout before segueing into a slow and sultry dance to Whitney Houston’s It’s Not Right But It’s OK. The performances ended with a Masters jam session, including a creditable display by Dame Edna. If James could give the old girl a few pointers, she could make quite a good Lindy Hopper!

Another new feature this year was the after-hours party at The New County Hotel on both the Saturday and Sunday nights. So it was all back to yours for some tea and toast, chatting and dancing and generally winding down before the home stretch.

Arrivals at the Masked Ball Guests at the Masked Woodchoppers Ball.

Yo James! Cut us some slack! How about a half-hour wake-up fun class at 9.30 on the Sunday morning, to ease us into the day? After all – who’s up for an hour’s class at 9 after a few hours sleep? Yes, it was Sunday, and with a commendable I’ll-sleep-when-I’m-dead attitude, the classes were once again packed with those for whom swing is most definitely the thing. I dreamt that I was in an advanced class with James and Cookie, and when I woke up – I was.

And then suddenly the last class came to an end. The weekend was taking the A train to the end of the line, and soon we would be flying home. But suddenly, out of the blue: The Mad Hatters’ Tea Party! Nobody expects the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party (unless they’ve read the schedule). And so the cry went up: "Fetch The Comfy Pew!" Not The Comfy Pew! Yes, The Comfy Pew! And so the tiny teashop near the cathedral that holds around six people provided they breathe in together was descended upon in large numbers. A tea and a scone and we’re solid gone.

The prelude to the evening dance was Cliptomaniacs in the cinema. Lennart Westerlund and Andrew Winton showed a wide variety of clips from the classics. Lennart focused on the origins of Lindy Hop with George Snowden, Al Minns and Leon James and The Nicholas Brothers, while Andrew showed excerpts from musicals with Gene Nelson, Fred Astaire, The Condos Brothers and Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. The clip from Black Britain featuring the story of Ken Snakehips Johnson was also shown, together with his one screen appearance in Oh Daddy.

With impeccable timing, the screen showing ended minutes before Vile Bodies took the Arts Centre stage. Opening with a brisk Christopher Columbus, (you know, the guy who sailed the seas without a compass), the orchestra sounded exquisite. Stacey Kent was in fine vocal form, taking numbers from her recent Let Yourself Go Astaire tribute CD. The pace didn’t suit all the dancers, with quite a few slow numbers in the two sets. But the same people were gasping for breath during the intermission, as the DJ music upped the tempo until the inevitable Sing Sing Sing jam session. One unfortunate by-product was Lennart accidentally demolishing one of the bandstands in an attempt to resist the invitation of Cookie to join her on the floor!

Every year at JATW is always new. New County, New Steps, New T-shirt, New Shoes and by the end of it, New Legs. Bookings are already being taken for Woodside 2001 on the Bank Holiday Weekend of May 4 to 6. The chances are, it will be a sell-out again. If you’ve never been, treat yourself. After all, you don’t want to be sat there in a year’s time just reading about a great time – do you?

© 2000 Andrew Winton

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