Friday, 25 September 2009

Playing for Dance

Last week Eastern Straynotes, the little band in which I play clarinet, had a couple of firsts. We were asked to play for one of the monthly gatherings of a group of Lindy Hop enthusiasts upstairs in a bar called Orgasmic. This we duly did with our brand new double bassist Gary Rudd, aka Ukuleleladdy and (soon to be) famous for The Ballad of Ronnie Biggs.

Playing for dance is always rewarding. There's a communication between musician and audience that only happens in this context. It is completely unlike playing for diners who, let's face it, only require a background ambiance and perhaps the cache of eating to a live band. This group of people had come to dance and we knew, by the filling and emptying of the dance floor, whether or not we were hitting the spot. We quickly learned what worked and what didn't. Swing numbers such as Stompin' At The Savoy and Jersey Bounce went down well but one of our favourites, Diga Diga Do (which we medley up with the bar music from the first Star Wars film) bombed because the tempo was too fast. One number that really set the place alight was Topsy - hot swing in a dark minor key.

Given that this is a dance form that kicked off in Harlem in the 1920s and was mainstream in the 1940s I wasn't expecting any original exponents to take the floor but I had anticipated an older crowd. There were certainly oldies in their sixties, possibly older, who had lost some athleticism but were able to convey so much with superb economy of movement. But many were in their twenties and thirties, too, coming to the style with no previous knowledge of partner dance. It was lovely to see the ages mixing and feel a part of that.

So, the first Lindy Hop gig and our first outing with new-kid-in-town Gary. I'll remember it partly for the music and partly for the realisation that the ubiquitous kettle lead (Gary needed one for his amp) is all but obsolete as practically every kettle is now cordless. But mostly I'll remember waiting outside Orgasmic for forty minutes after the gig while Gary tried to get his van, parked a three minute walk away, back to the venue through Norwich's one-way system.

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