You can’t stay in the Thunderball Room all night Paul

Are you sure?  But I love it.  My dance journey from Motown, by way of Funk and Disco was headed in one direction only – The Thunderball Room.  As Tony Riccardi concluded his fabulous set on Friday night there with Lionel Ritchie’s Dancing on the ceiling I was in Dance Heaven.

Oh what a feeling, when you’re dancing on the ceiling

Keep the music simple, keep the rhythm to a tight four-four beat – 130 bpm should do it.  Turn up the drum and bass, and let that funky guitar rip.  Keep jacking up the energy levels and let the bass come to the front.  Now watch the vibe build out on the dance floor.  God, the floor is hot, no wonder then, we’re all dancing on the ceiling.

Corny I know, but you get the idea – I’m a Thunderball Room kind of guy.

There is more to dancing and dance music than this

No one’s saying you shouldn’t occasionally lose yourself in a dance music induced trance, but if you are serious about dance music there’s a lot more of it out there that is equally uplifting.  What’s more its in the room next door – in The Boudoir, or The SILC Zone as it is branded after dark.

I knew that if my reviews of The Southport Weekender Experience were to have credibility, I would have to take a detailed look at one of these late night sets.  There were thirteen DJs on SILC Zone duty over the weekend, and it was never going to be easy to pick one, so I’ll explain the rationale behind my choice of Nicola.

Nicola spins the tracks at Medfest

In September last year I wrote a review of the sell-out Medfest dance holiday, in conjunction with my good friend Ceroc DJ Sue Astle.  Here’s a section of that review:

One of the joys for people like Sue, on an extended dance break, is to get a chance to meet up and chat with other DJs. Sue was keen for me to hear about one of the DJs, who was part of the main team of four spinning the tunes.

‘One of the DJs was a lovely lady from Scotland, who knew just how to read the dance floor and played some really great music. I went and had a chat with her to compliment her on her wonderful set’.

Nicola was also happy to share some of her music with me, and also invited me to Ceroc Stirling’s pre-Christmas bash.  Sadly I wasn’t able to make it, so because of this and Sue’s recommendation I thought I’d check out her 1:30 am Saturday night set.

I’m out of my comfort zone

Before I go any further, I’d perhaps best give you a little insight in to my Smooth Jive Dance Journey.

I remember coming to my first Southport some six years ago, and being quite memorised by the dancing I saw in The Boudoir, then known as The Blues Room.  What I was watching was Smooth Jive, Close-hold Blues and West Coast Swing.  What’s more, many of the people were dancing in the so-called Slot.  It was a style of dancing completely alien to me and I decided there and then that I would need a lot more lessons before I would dare to ask someone on to the dance floor.

Six years on I’m finally getting somewhere

Progress has been slow.  A few years back I tried and failed to crack West Coast Swing, but at least it introduced me to the idea of the slot, and I got to dance to more chilled music – which I must say I loved.  When Stokie opened up a Blues class near my home town of Nottingham I managed three lessons before I realised that I was uncomfortable with the close-hold thing, but again I’d been introduced to some wonderful music.

Last year I made quite a leap when I first attended a Slotted Southport class run by Caine and Danni, and then did the full course of a ‘SILC in 6’ run by Ceroc Heaven’s Ashley Davis.  I attended these with my regular dance partner Jo, and as a result, I feel quite confident to dance with her to chilled out tracks – but there is still no way I could dance with a complete stranger.

I want to dance to this wonderful chilled music

Every so often I would pick up another move that adds to my slotted style of dancing, and my technique has slowly improved.  One of the reasons I’ve kept trying all those different classes, with their many setbacks, was because I desperately wanted to be able to dance to the wonderful music I heard every time I set foot in the late night sessions in the Boudoir.

This is the dance and music background, that I took along with my note book, to review Nicola’s music.

The first track is all the motivation I need

Nicola’s first track opens with one hell of a funky beat and I’m instantly lovin’ it.  It’s wanting to be able to dance to music like this that kept me going to lessons, and if I needed any more motivation to keep going, this was it.  It’s easy to see why Nicola started with Nobody by Niia, for its a wonderful piece of contemporary chilled music, perfect to SILC to.

Myself and Jo were soon on the floor.  We found a bit of space at the back of the room and did our own simplified version of SILC.  It was a joy to be able to loose ourselves in the tracks cool vibe.

This was going to be a dance music education

There was something else about the Niia track.  It was completely new to me.  Dancing at Main Room freestyles there is little opportunity to hear contemporary chilled tracks.  At best you get a couple of chilled tracks towards the end of the night, and perhaps a few more at those Ceroc venues that are trying to encourage the SILC style of dancing.

It wasn’t long before I realised that I was in for some musical treats, and it was when I heard the next track that I knew I was going to get something of a dance music education.  Go back home by FKJ, with its bluesy guitar work, is a delicious piece of contemporary music that is so far removed from anything I’ve ever danced to.

Myself and my dance partner sat it out, and watched in wondered as people found the moves to represent its gentle but solid beat, and its playful vocals and instrumentation.

A set filled with variety

When I review Main Room DJs I look for one thing – a variety of dance styles to ensure that everyone gets a sample of their favourite music.  It shouldn’t be any different for chill room DJ sets, and Nicola served up a variety that really impressed.  Contrast this next track with the first two I featured.  It is funked to the max and has a level of energy that I associate with main room sets, but would still satisfy any Chilled Room aficionado.

On the night this track had instant appeal, but having listened to it over and over again as I sit here writing, I can see that this is one outstanding dance tune.  The track is layered with dance infused instrumentation.  Listen to the guitar riff that gives the track its funk appeal – I’m sure its the same guitar lick that underpins Indeep’s 1980’s disco hit Last night a DJ saved my life.  Now listen as the layers of instrumentation build up to make this a track that any lover of dance music will want to dance to.

Everyone will know Ram Jam’s ’70s rock anthem Black Betty, but here’s the Cutfather & Joe re-mix of Tom Jones take on it.  Just love it when Tom says ‘Here’s TJ dedicating the song to Lead Belly.’  The songs origins are a bit clouded, but are often credited to Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter an American Folk and Blues singer.

This was no easy gig

I suspect there are no easy gigs for the SILC Zone DJs.  Out on the floor are people who love the Boudoir as much as I love the Thunderball Room, and they know their chilled music as much as I know my hi-energy tracks.  I know that there are people who will spend long hours dancing here, sampling the very best that each DJ has to offer.  Some of them are as knowledgeable as the DJs, yet they still want to be surprised by fresh exciting material.

No easy gig then, but Nicola also had to follow one of the top billed SILC sessions of the weekend – Vince Silva’s highly acclaimed SILC GOLD.  If that wasn’t enough Nicola’s set clashed with that of Hayley Epps, who has one of the biggest followings of any Thunderball Room DJ, and lets not forget that Mark & Rachel well loved Blues Lounge was in full swing in The Cyclone Room.  Like I said no easy gig.

However thirty minutes in, and looking around the three areas that make up The Boudoir, it’s fair to say that there was very little room on the dance floor.  It seemed that Nicola was reading the floor perfectly, just as fellow DJ Sue Astle had sensed back at Medfest.

Nicola looks on from behind the decks as a packed dance floor enjoys her great variety of music

A Top Ten hit finds it’s way in to the mix

The mix had everything.  Tracks I’d never heard of, and some that I suspect were fresh to even the most knowledgeable dancers on the floor, and then right in the middle was a Top Ten UK hit from last month.  For all I listen to music to do my reviews I have to say that I was only vaguely familiar with it.  That’s the problem when you are a main room dancer – you miss out on so much great music.

At the end of her set I asked Nicola to pick out a couple of tracks that she really enjoyed playing.  Say something from Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton was one of them.  As I said, I only had a vague recollection of this UK Top Ten hit.  That’s a pity because its the most delicious piece of chilled music and I wouldn’t be surprised if the people out on the floor voted it as one of their favourites from Nicola’s set.

Now I’m really out of my comfort zone

About half way through Nicola’s set my dance partner Jo went to catch the last part of Hayley Epps’ in the Thunderball Room.  We had had some wonderful dances and I wondered if I would dare to get back on the floor.  My lack of confidence is felt by a lot of fellow dancers, particularly the men, who of course have to lead the moves.

I’m always impressed that inexperienced ladies are less hesitant to get up for a chilled dance.  For them it’s a great opportunity to learn a smooth technique when they are being led by an experienced man.  Spending an hour in The Boudoir and having a go is at times better than any forty-five minute lesson.

I check out the beat before asking for a dance

Throughout my dance journey many ladies have shown great patience with me in chilled rooms, but I still find it difficult to ask a stranger to dance.  But Nicola’s great music was making it difficult to just sit the rest of the session out, so I decided on a safe strategy.

First I would check out the beat, the really slow ones I would stay seated, and when I felt confident I would ask someone, and hopefully someone I knew.  Fortunately there were a few familiar faces from my East Midlands stomping ground, and I think I did OK.

I soon realise my limitations

There was one track I didn’t need to wait to see how its rhythm checked out.  I knew it instantly from my disco days, and I was so pleased that a lady from Nottingham was free to accept my offer to dance.  Lovely day by Bill Withers is very slow, but it helped that I had danced so many times with the lady in question, and I hope she’ll agree that we had a fabulous dance to it.

However there was one track that I was so pleased to sit out – there was no way I could dance to it.  Boudoir DJs can not play it safe.  As I said, there are some very experienced chilled dancers in attendance, and they want to be challenged.  Swalla by Jason Derulo with Nicki Minaj & Ty$ is one for them.

I watch some inspirational dancing

Should I be embarrassed, as a commentator on dance music, that this Jason Derulo track had passed me by.  It’s had over a billion hits on YouTube and its been out less than a year.  Compare that to a track I’m currently championing Kill the lights by DJ Cassidy and Alex Newell with just two million hits.

But that’s why I was in The Boudoir, and that’s why I was lovin’ Nicola’s picks.  I was here to listen and learn.  Of course there was another reason to enjoy sitting out sometimes – it gave me an opportunity to watch some amazing dancing.

In my pre-Southport review ‘Your 10 Must-do List’ (see link below) I wrote this:

But Southport offers more than lessons, and if I’m allowed to included my own Must-do, it would be this:  I love watching other dancers that are a whole lot better than myself.  I find it quite inspirational.  I say to myself, ‘One day I’d like to be as good as that’.  My Must-do is to get inspired to be a better dancer.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching people dance in the Blues Lounge and SILC Zones.  I’ve always struggled a bit with close hold blues and the slotted style of dancing.  In fact, because the standard is so good at Southport, it sometimes felt a little daunting just asking someone on to the Blues dance floor.  A good dose of inspiration always helped though.

Sitting out to some of the more challenging tracks I got a chance to watch some wonderful dancing.  Vince Silva is a very highly respected DJ – his Sunday afternoon Funk Hour is always a Must-do for me – but he is also an amazing dancer.  I watched in awe as he and his partner moved across the dance floor to one of Nicola’s tracks with such ease and grace.

Vince danced in a way that I can only dream about, but what was really impressive, was how he gave his partner the time and space to showcase her own musicality.  Perhaps I’m wrong to say I can only dream about dancing like this, and I should see such examples of expressive dancing as the inspiration I need to keep on getting better as a dancer.

Space for a fabulous Latin track

Nicola’s playlist had everything, and due to concerns over the word count I can’t feature it all, but I have to mention two favourites from two more different musical genres.  The first was a thumping version of (Everything I do) Gotta be funky by Don Johnson and a reworking of Hall & Oates I can’t go for that by Alto sax player Lovely Laura.

But there is space to feature Nicola’s Latin pick – Repesent, Cuba by Orishas and Heather Headley.  This fabulous track was used in the sound track of the film Dirty Dancing – Havana Nights and I loved that I got an opportunity to dance to to it.

Most DJs will throw a few Latin tracks in to their main room sets, and they are always appreciated, but I can’t remember ever dancing to Nicola’s choice before.  Perhaps that’s because it has a very gentle beat, which of course made it perfect for her chilled set.  Top choice Nicola.

A perfect Tropical House pick

Now are you impressed that I know what Tropical House music is?  In my pre-Southport posting – Boudoir Music Taster – I suggested that the SILC Zone DJs would dip in to this contemporary music genre, with it mellow vibe and use of tropical instruments (see the link below  for a full description of this wonderful music genre).

This genre of music, and this track from Nicola’s playlist in particular is perfect to SILC to, and it was a pity that Jo was next door, as we could have really enjoyed dancing our simple routine to it.  But once again I was happy just to watch as people played around with their musicality up and down the slot.  There were also people doing close hold blues to this track, and why not – there are no rules, this is the chill-out room after all.

Nicola’s top pick makes me want to ask a question

I mentioned earlier that I’d asked Nicola for her own top picks from her list.  Her first choice was Nobody by Niia, the delicious track she had opened her set with.  Listening to it again I want to ask Nicola this question.  ‘Where did you find it?’  In fact where did you find most of these tracks.  I suspect that Nicola will want to keep the answer to herself, but it’s the mark of a great set when so much of the music is so fresh.

Nicola’s set was more than just the music

Nicola’s set was more than just the music.  It was about the dancers too – those people who packed the three dance areas in The Boudoir and showed their appreciation for Nicola’s music, with their interpretation of it on the dance floor.

It was also about something else.  It was another opportunity for me to renew my vow, that I will get better as a dancer, and one day feel confident enough to ask a stranger to partner me in The SILC Zone, and for both of us to express our own musicality to this wonderful music.

Other Southport Reviews now available

Caroline Houlton’s Friday night Thunderball Room Set

Ceroc Heaven Angels at Play

Coming next: Tim Sant’s Motown & Soul Sunday afternoon set

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Southport – Your 10 Must-do List

Southport – Boudoir Music Taster