Dancing To The Duke

Echoes of Ellington was tops with Lindy Hoppers

The Barbican Centre, Sunday 7 May 1995

It was May Bank Holiday weekend, and The Barbican Centre had arranged one of its free afternoon concerts as part of the weekend’s VE Day celebrations. The band booked to play was The Echoes Of Ellington Orchestra, a tribute ensemble assembled by Pete Long a couple of years earlier to play at Ruislip Golf Club’s Christmas party.

For the (many) Lindy Hoppers that were there, it was the first chance to get to see this wonderful band. It was also a first for vocalist Patti Revell, who had taken over from Claire Flynn, the singer who had featured on their first CD.

For the dancers, it was the start of a love affair that was to last the entire life of the orchestra. The floor was always packed for anything danceable – and there was plenty of swinging tunes that fitted the bill.

A highlight for the massive crowd was when Ron Leslie led four couples of social dancers through the routine that he had originally choreographed to Glenn Miller’s live version of One O’clock Jump. This time it was danced to Cottontail played much faster, but the performance went down well. Ron later returned with Sing Lim, on a visit from Singapore, and he hammed it up beautifully as they remembered some of their old moves from the early 90’s.

It was a great day and announced the arrival of a big swing band that went on to play at all the major dance events in the years to come.

Botley Hill Farmhouse 15 October 1995

Where the hell is this? On a cold and dark October evening, a bunch of Lindy Hoppers bravely left London and ventured way south of Croydon into deepest darkest Surrey to spend another evening with their favourite swing orchestra. It was well worth the effort.

Botley Hill Farmhouse is actually a pub in Warlingham, with a manager keen to promote live jazz. The pub itself is not that big, and so to accommodate the orchestra (and the dancers) a marquee complete with stage and slightly sloping dance floor, was connected to the back.

The majority of the audience was made up of locals used to sitting at the tables, having a drink and listening to the music. This was not going to be one of those nights, as the floor was regularly invaded for some energetic Lindy Hop.

It was a night to remember, but sadly I can’t remember that much. I recall being one half of the only couple to get up for Frankie and Johnny, which proved to be one of the less danceable numbers, with its changes of tempo.

But what was unforgettable was the stunning performance of Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue. It was towards the end of the evening, and everyone was eager to dance. Ron Leslie, a man who knows his music, just sat and listened. When asked why he didn’t get up to dance, he replied "Wait".

So wait we did. For three, four five minutes. Meanwhile, those who jumped at the beginning of the tune were beginning to look a bit weary. After the five-minute mark had passed, Ron said "OK let’s go" and up we jumped for a Shim Sham. And at the end of that, three times around The Jitterbug Stroll. And there was still enough time for some freestyle at the end! That was one long tune.

It was a long drive home, I got lost – but who cares? Another Echoes of Ellington gig – another great night.

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