The Hottest January On Record!

London. What a swinging town. In January 2002 you could have seen 9.20 Deluxe, James Langton and His Solid Senders, King Pleasure and The Biscuit Boys, Blue Harlem, The Jive Aces, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Ray Gelato Giants, The Back To Basie Big Band, Echoes of Ellington, Skin Deep and Stacey Kent. Will any other place in the world have that kind of choice in the whole of 2002?

Marvellous turn out from the dancing fraternity on Sunday 6 at Rayners Hotel for 9.20 Deluxe. The band was very much on form, and opened with a new and very danceable tune composed by Pete Long called The Drag. 

Highlights of the set included Swingtime In The Rockies (Pete's favourite swing tune), Jumpin' At The Woodside and the theme from Police Squad, featuring some very loud trumpet from Johnny Scott. The vocal stylings of Patti Revell were very much in evidence for Green Dolphin Street, Oh Lori ("the road rage song") and Let's Call The Whole Thing Off (or "Malcolm" as Pete would have it). The last number featured the famed Monty Cohen Choir making a raucous noise in the background and clapping more or less in time.

As is normal at 9.20 gigs, there were some long gaps between songs as Pete looked for charts or gave out instructions. During one, drummer Steve Rushton started a samba-type beat, which was picked up by Scott and fellow trumpeter Mark Armstrong. In the twinkling of an eye, pianist Don Innes and bassist Jim Richardson joined in, and it turned into The Girl From Ipanema. Patti came to the mike and sang the whole song before PLong had managed to sort himself out.

Wednesday 9 saw the opening night of the new Jitterbugs at Carisbrooke Hall near Marble Arch. It really is a fine venue, and as worthy a successor to Notre Dame as one could hope to find in Central London. The dance area may be slightly smaller, but there is a separate bar area and an upstairs viewing gallery to compensate.

The band for the night was James Langton and His Solid Senders, and James did the honours by cutting a red ribbon in front of the stage to get the proceedings going. The floor immediately filled up with those who had come from far and wide to be able to say, "I was there on opening night".

The orchestra had its full complement of star performers, especially in the saxophone section where Robert Fowler (Back To Basie Band), Colin Skinner (Skin Deep) and Jay Craig (BBC Big Band) were prominent. Echoes of Ellington stalwart Mike Lovatt led the trumpet section. Colin Skinner would have been at the piano, except there wasn't one, so he made do with a keyboard. Getting the real thing for swing kids (such as we had at Notre Dame) would seem to be a priority.

Louise Cookman sang as beautifully as ever on The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea, Watch The Birdie and many others. James Langton ordered Julie Oram to lead the Shim Sham for It Ain't What You Do before offering his unique vocal rendering of the tune.

DJ Terry Elliott kept the pace going between and after the Solid Senders' sets with a fine selection of music, including some Western Swing versions of the classics. The capacity at Carisbrooke Hall is around 250 people, less than the 300 allowed in at Notre Dame. But this includes the bar and gallery areas - you'd be hard-pushed to fit that many on the dance floor at one time.

The crowd was close to capacity for this opening night, as it usually is for bands and parties. Full marks to Julie Oram and her team for finding such a good venue. It's surprising that other dance organisations haven't found it earlier!

For James Langton fans, there remains but one opportunity to see this fine orchestra. He has promised a farewell performance, which is currently pencilled in for Friday 1 March at The 100 Club.

New Year, New King Pleasure. The Man and his Biscuit Boys packed the 100 Club on Saturday 12 with their new line up and revised repertoire. The band is now a six-piece, with a new rhythm section replacing those now with Mike Sanchez.

The main result of the changes seems to be a move away from swing to r 'n' b and more uptempo numbers. Gone is the nice brass section of saxes, trumpet and trombone, and it's now mainly down to KP himself to carry this part of the band. They now play at two paces: fast and faster.

The Club was packed so much that there wasn't really much space to dance anyway; as early as 10.30pm people were making their way out to other dance clubs happening that night. The band is attracting a young audience of those who stand and watch (and drink), which is probably good news for the venue, but not so for those of us who liked the Boys in dance mode.

Swing relief followed the next afternoon at The Barbican, with Al Nichols' Blue Harlem. New singer Emelda Clabby has slotted in well, and the band sounds better than ever. Two sets of highly danceable tunes were just the antidote for those disappointed with the new King Pleasure direction.

Many of the tunes are arranged by Al himself, and he really has come up with several winners in 9.20 Special, One O'Clock Jump and Flying Home. The portable dance floor laid down by the Barbican was always overcrowded and much use was made of the surrounding carpeted area. Imelda has fitted in marvellously with the band, with both the voice and the look that is right on the money. Today it's a black dress with a red flower in her hair. Her version of Straighten Up And Fly Right is an absolute delight. Any chance of getting Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend back in the book?

With the passing of The Solid Senders, the undanceable Gillespie replacing Ellington in Pete Long's heart and King Pleasure moving on to pastures new, Blue Harlem is already staking its claim to be the dance band of 2002. Al Nichols is already looking to get the orchestra into a recording studio for a new CD.

The Jive Aces reappeared on these shores as loud and brash as ever at Stompin' on Monday 14. Having recently played in most places on planet earth, the Planet Jive machine swung into action on the first London Swing Dance Society night of the year.

A good-sized crowd was anxious to get back into the old routine, and this band pretty much played the dancers off their feet. Two sets of racing jump-jive included knee-cracking versions of Flying Home and Sing Sing Sing. Fortunately these were interspersed with some medium-paced numbers like the Blue Moon/My Baby Just Cares For Me medley, Mack The Knife and Beyond The Sea. Singer Ian Clarkson was in good voice, and John Fordham had some sizzling saxophone solos to offer.

Terry Elliott, fresh from his (almost) starring role in the documentary Glenn Miller's Last Flight, kept things moving along between sets. An impromptu jam session was organised for one lucky lady who was leaving London to travel the world and visit Australia.

The Jive Aces make Tony Blair look like a stay-at-home with the amount of travelling they have been doing recently. And it shows no sign of stopping. The next morning they were leaving for a set of dates in Germany. Surely they must be able to fly free soon with all the air miles they've racked up? "No chance!" said trombonist Alex, "We're travelling by van!"

It was a triumphant return to London on Wednesday 16 January for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Their gig at The Mean Fiddler in Charing Cross Road was a sell-out as they brought US-style retro swing to a boisterous bunch of punters.

An unexplained half-hour delay caused some restlessness, but BBVD finally bounded on stage at 9pm. Fronted as always by Scotty Morris, the band immediately won over the crowd with a blistering version of "King of Swing". The 90-minute set comprised of selections from their upcoming CD, old favourites and Oh Yeah, an as-yet unrecorded but not-the-Roxy-Music song.

Showmanship was to the fore, with the musicians parading around the stage as they played. The wonder of radio microphones meant this could be achieved without tying themselves in knots of cables. Sadly, pianist Joshua Levy could not join in the fun.

Scotty was in particularly good form. "What's the deal with Ali G?" he asked. A roar of approval from the audience reassured him that the leader of the Staines Massive was considered cool, thereby justifying the band falling about laughing while watching his DVD on the tour bus. Morris also related the band's latest triumph: appearing in a Scooby Doo cartoon!

Highlights included the New Orleans sequence, begun by Levy and continued as each musician returned to the stage for an introduction and solo. From there it was straight into the theme tune Go Daddy-O. There was also a samba-ised version of I Wanna Be Like You (from The Jungle Book) that got the masses swaying.

Scotty thanked everyone for making the band's 28-hour drive from Munich worthwhile, which was rather curious as they had been in Glasgow the previous night. He promised they would return in the summer - let's hope he brings a map.

After selling out the Jazz Café and now the larger Mean Fiddler, will the promoters put them into a decent-sized venue where you can actually dance as well? There's a risk that it will be a festival like The Fleadh or Reading, which are run by the same organisation. Get out your wellies - you might have to Lindy in the mud when they return.

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