A marvellous night was missed by many on Sunday 1 June at The 100 Club. On stage were The Hep Chaps who played two danceable sets of originals and standards.
The band is somewhat unusual in its line-up. There's no piano player, but there are two guitarists: singer David Haworth and rhythm and lead guitarist Peter Davenport. Sharing the vocal duties is breathy tenor saxophonist Johnny Wallace. The songs are powered along by drummer John Dillon and bassist Andy Bett.
The songs included swing tunes like Jive at Five, Hit That jive, Close Your Eyes, S'wonderful, and the Sinatra tour do force The Lady Is A Tramp. All totally danceable, including Close Your Eyes, usually known as a slow song.
These classics were complemented by a selection of originals that were just as toe-tapping. The titles and subject matter could do with a makeover though. Hep Chaps Boogie was perhaps a predictable title, but Hoover The Duvet will hopefully remain the only homage they perform to continental bed covers. These numbers joined other songs they'd written about shopping and a potato.
They really were a swinging little band, so make sure you get down there next time they play on Sunday 17 August.
One of the mainstays of the UK swing and tap dance scene over the past 20 years has been Tobias Tak. Hailing from Holland, this likeable entertainer has presented shows all over the world and appeared with The Nicholas Brothers, Bryan Ferry, Wayne Sleep and Jools Holland.
On Thursday 5 June, he chose a smaller venue for his latest show, Groovin' High. Together with pianist Marc Forde, he presented two hours of tap and vocal stylings taking the audience through the development of tap dance from Bill Robinson to the present day.
In the intimate surroundings of The Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington, Tak opened the show with a medley of Pennies From Heaven and Singin' In The Rain. The vocal repertoire took in Billie Holiday's Tell Me More and the dance style strayed from tap to demonstrate Josephine Baker's Charleston.
A staple of his shows in recent years has been Bill Robinson's Living In A Great Big Way, which he performed in Hooray For Love with Jeni Legon. The energy that Tobias Tak showed in this and other numbers where he both sang and danced is literally breathtaking.
The closeness of the performer meant that no microphones were needed to hear the taps. They rang out crystal clear, and it was a joy to appreciate the unamplified sand dances too. A far cry from troops of Irish step dancers miming to a pre-recorded soundtrack!
Other favourites included Dem Blues and Count Basie's Cute, a great friend of the tap dancer, with it's lilting melody interspersed with lots of breaks.
Marc Forde has quite a CV of his own. With TV and live appearances both here and abroad, he has supported Tobias Tak in Holland, France and Germany. His light touch during his solos showed a fine technique, while his singing showed a dry wit as well.
The remarkable fact is that a performer of Tak's class and ability can still perform in a venue like this and allow his skills to be seen at such close quarters. The appreciation of a fine dancer relies on not being sat in row z of an auditorium where the stage is a mile away. Here, the front row had to pull in their feet to avoid being stepped on!
Tobias Tak was a founder member of The Jiving Lindyhoppers, the UK's first swing dance troupe. He was instrumental in help create the scene we know today, and still teaches classes around the country. Don't be fooled by the ease of access to his shows: you are watching a master at work.
On Saturday 21 June, Scotland came south when swing promoters Vegas took over the Camden Centre in North London. With swing dance and lounge music, they were here to push their new self-titled swing compilation CD.
On the live side, they had chosen wisely: Sophie Garner and Her Swing Kings supported The Ray Gelato Giants in a double bill of danceable music. The only down side was that they started so early: Gelato's first set hit the stage soon after the doors opened at 8pm and Garner was through by 9.30pm. So anyone arriving after that time had only the Giants' second set to enjoy.
As well as the expected music and dance, there were other delights to enjoy. A casino at the back of the hall accepted Vegas money for roulette and blackjack. Mingling with the audience were the spectacular Vegas Showgirls, who added class and glamour to a well-dressed crowd.
After the bands finished, Vegas mainman Frankie Sumatra took to the decks. The Showgirls took to the stage and the dancers hit the floor. The music changed from swing classics to r 'n' b, Northern soul and even a bit of funk.
Vegas has been looking for some time to run a night in London, possibly on a quarterly basis. If this is what it would be like, then let's hope they're down this way again soon!
So what else was happening in the month?
On Saturday 7 June, JiveSwing held another day of classes and an evening dance in Welwyn. Hosts Joseph and Trisha Sewell put on another fine event, bringing in some wonderful teachers.
As well as themselves doin' the jive, Julie Oram was on hand to teach Lindy Hop.
In the evening, the dance featured The Jive Cats in the Jive Room, and DJs Pat The Kat and Madame Jo Jo in The Swing Room.
Bookings are already being taken for the 2004 Goodnight Sweetheart Weekend (see Camps) so express your interest now!
Huge thanks are due to Tony and Paula Levy for all their efforts in bringing Ryan Francois and Jenny Thomas to the UK for a couple of weeks of classes. They worked the couple hard, with appearances at Monster Jive Cocktail, Lindy Circle, in Brighton, and a day with The Oxford Swing Dance Society in Kennington.
It's now six years since this couple set the standard by winning both the American Swing Dance and U.S. Open Swing Dance Champions (Lindy Division) in 1997. The true heir to Frankie Manning's Savoy style, Ryan offers his knowledge with skill and a huge amount of entertainment.
Sadly for us here in the UK, Ryan and Jenny have now received their Green Cards, allowing them to live and work in the United States. They are now residents of Pasadena in California.
If you missed them on their recent tour - shame on you. Your next opportunity is at The Swing Jam in August. Otherwise, see what their up to on their web site www.ryanandjenny.com
Graham Dalby reformed his Grahamophones for a night at The 100 Club on Monday 16 June. It was good to have this swing orchestra back, playing the Miller and Goodman classics from the thirties and forties.
The C Jam Swing night on Tuesday 24 June was the parting of the ways for Swingland and Lindy Circle. It's all very amicable (see News) as the latter organisation concentrates on its Balboa promotions.
For their last night together, The Jive Aces were brought in to send them off in style. The Aces have really got a danceable set of tunes together, which includes some of the swing classics as well as their well-known jump jive tunes.
As always, they put on a marvellous show. When these guys put on a show - it's a real show. From the stage to the floor to the tables at the side, no area was immune to becoming a performance area to the yellow-suited musicians.
Singer Ian Clarkson ripped through the likes of Blue Moon, My Baby Just Cares For Me and Jive Ace Boogie. Atop the famous Jive Aces pyramid of bodies, he managed to sing and hold the microphone for his own trumpet solo!
There's still plenty of opportunities to see The Jive Aces. They are only here a few times in July, but there are another dozen gigs in August. They have re-released the Planet Jive CD on Right Recordings, and the new one with Lionel Blair is out soon.
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© July 2003 Andrew Winton.
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