The Road Trip continues to Great Bookham

I’m on a road trip with my best mate Neil. I’ve given him carte blanche to organise the route as long as we do some dancing at the weekend. ‘So where are we dancing tonight?’ ‘Great Bookham.’ ‘Where is it?’ ‘Near Leatherhead.’ ‘OK lets start up the Jag.’ Two friends in a Jag off to Jag Jive. Well it made me smile.

A unique venue with a fascinating history

Dance nights at Great Bookham are run and DJ-ed by John Miller under the brand of Jag Jive in a building with a fascinating history. Old Barn Hall is quite unique, being an old grain store dating from the 1600s, that was moved in the early 1900s to be closer to the main road, so that it could serve as the village hall (see the link below for more information about the fascinating history of this building).

A Two Room Freestyle with a very loyal following

This venue has been running for over fifteen years and John has built up a very loyal following. It’s a two room event with the second room devoted mainly to Blues and Argentine Tango. Now I’m not a Blues or Tango fan, but I had a quick peep and the room was very busy. From the standard of dancing I saw, I suspect it is a major fixture on the tango calendar.

In John’s publicity he advertises the main room, the barn itself, as Modern Jive and Latin. This had me a little puzzled but more of that later. What I will say at this stage is that the main room music was a refreshing change from many of the venues I visit, and I suspect it’s one of the reasons why John has such a good following.

All the Modern Jive favourites without the club tracks

The best way I can describe DJ John’s music mix is to say that it has all the modern jive favourites we love without too many of what I might describe as full on club style music. Now I love dancing to the occasional up-to-date electro style track, but some venues can play too much of these, and even I get bored. If I had my choice I’d like to dance to more of the classic tracks included in John’s set.

When I eventually get to the great big disco in the sky the first person I’m going to seek out is Edwin Starr. In my opinion he has one of the greatest voices to ever grace a dance record and H.A.P.P.Y is probably the best we get a chance to dance to. Great pick John.

A Modern Jive and Latin Mix that works

I was a little inquisitive when I read that the main room would be a mix of Modern Jive and Latin music. I did wonder if I would be expected to do the Cha Cha Cha and Rumba – let me tell you it would not have been a pretty sight. However that wasn’t the case. It just meant that there would be a few more modern jive tracks with a Latin flavour than usual.

Now from time to time there were people doing a little bit of Cha Cha Cha, but everyone I asked on to the floor was happy to follow my modern jive moves. What it did mean however, was that I got to dance to some great latin inspired tracks, that I’d not had the chance to dance to before. Here’s an example. Quite a few Santana tracks get played at modern jive freestyles but I can’t remember hearing Corazon Espinado before.

Even a bit of tango was added to the mix

Even with the second room set up for Argentine Tango, John mixed in a few tracks that you could have tangoed to. I asked a lady to dance to Michael Nantel’s aptly named Tango. I apologised as I led her to the floor, ‘I can’t actually do any tango moves.’ Her smile let me know that she wasn’t expecting any Ochos, but I couldn’t help but throw in my full range of mambo moves.

That’s the point of tango inspired tracks. It gives us an opportunity to play with our moves, to change the style of our dancing if only subtlely. Yes do a few mambos, but do them to the rhythm of the music. Modern Jive is a fusion of so many styles of dancing and that’s why DJs like John give us the variety of musical styles, so we can express ourselves with the full range of our moves. Get those hips moving – here comes Michael Nantrel.

My road trip friend struggles with the music…

Now I’m not in the habit of naming people in my reviews, but my friend has given me permission to give you a little background to his musical tastes. Neil loves dancing, in fact in a previous life he gained medals in ballroom dancing, however he’s struggling a bit with Modern Jive. Now this on the face of it is a little strange, because Modern Jive is a lot easier than Ballroom.

The reason Neil struggles with Modern Jive is because he doesn’t particularly like the music. I’ll be honest here – he can’t get on with the standard Ceroc style of playlist. You won’t catch Neil racing for a partner to dance to Safri Duo’s The Bongo Song (one of my all time favourites), or Bakermat’s Living (one of my current favourites). Trance style club music is just not his scene.

…but he loved John’s mix of musical genres

Of course my friend is not the only one who struggles with the Ceroc soundtrack to dancing, and it’s why freestyles like this one are vital to the appeal of Modern Jive dancing. Because of the need to write balanced reviews of freestyles, I will always ask my fellow dancers for a comment on the music. The comments were very complimentary and one of my dance partners said she wouldn’t choose to go a Ceroc freestyle because of the music.

I’m a great fan of the Ceroc style playlist, but I appreciated the freshness of the many great tracks I’d never heard before. As I said above it’s important that we are offered a choice of playlists to dance to, and it’s why I’m a great advocate for the independent dance organisations like Jag Jive. I hope John will be pleased to hear that his playlist was voted the best of my friend’s recent freestyle visits.

Variety is the spice of a dancer’s life

John’s playlist was full of variety, visiting so many of the different musical dance genres. There were bits of Country & Western (Carlene Carter’s Every little thing), Contemporary pop (Waves from Mr Probz and Robin Schulz’s Sugar) Motown (Marvin Gaye’s I heard it through the grapevine) and some post Motown Diana Ross (Chain reaction). There were tracks from Michael Buble and Bob Dylan (just loved Things have changed) and some good old Rock ‘n’ Roll from Elvis.

Rock ‘n’ Roll can be a little fast at times for Modern Jive but Return to sender is just perfect and if you keep the moves simple can give you a wonderful dance. I should perhaps here thank my lady partner who matched my energy levels and really connected with the tracks bouncy rhythm. I kept the moves simple – lots of hand jives and man spins – and I had one of the best dances of the night.

Your dance partner can make such a difference

You can’t beat dancing full on to a fast paced track, but you do have to be careful who you ask to be your partner. Towards the end of the night John played Queen’s Crazy little thing called love. Now this is fast, certainly faster than the Elvis track. Being a first timer at Great Bookham, I didn’t know the dancers well enough to know if there was someone who could rise to the challenge of its driving pace, so I decided to sit it out.

Just as I was about to sit down I was asked to dance. I politely asked about the pace of the song, ‘It’s fast, can you do it?’ The answer was delivered with little hesitation, ‘Sure.’ ‘OK Baby then let’s do it!’ ‘Actually I didn’t say that, but hey one day I just might. The track is pure Rock ‘n’ Roll and when Brian May hits the first note of his guitar solo you’d better be holding on. Needless to say myself and my partner hung on for dear life and we smashed it.

Mr DJ please slow it down

Of course you can’t keep that pace up all night so it’s good to chill out every so often. Regular readers of my reviews will know that I’m not a fan of close hold slow dancing, so I don’t want the chill out tracks to be too slow. Thankfully John played one of the most popular modern jive chill out tracks of the moment.

Lady Soul, by the 1986 line up of the Temptations, is a truly wonderful track to dance to. What I love about this track is that it has enough pace to allow you to simply slow down your regular modern jive moves. Make sure you add in a few mambo moves, and the odd caress and you’ll have a great dance. Now the reason I’ve picked Lady Soul to feature is that it is my friend Neil’s favourite track of all time.

Panic in the camp!

There was a little panic in the Neil camp however. Lady Soul has long been a favourite of mine (see link below) and I instantly recognise its opening strain. My friend seemed unaware that his favourite track had started up. ‘Neil, it’s Lady Soul!’ It’s also a lot of other people’s favourite track and ladies were being asked on to the dance floor at an alarming pace. ‘Quick, before its too late.’

They never tell you about the stress of finding a partner for your favourite track at beginners class nights, but we’ve all felt the disappointment of being left stranded at the side of the dance floor. Thankfully my friend found someone to dance with and he was a very happy chappy.

John plays a gem that’s so rare I can’t find it

What made John’s playlist so good was the number of tracks I just didn’t know. Splanky by Count Basie, Its my soul, a rockin’ piece of gospel inspired blues, from Lynn August. One of the best was a version of the Steve Ray Vaughan blues track Pride and Joy. It’s obviously so rare that the Shazam App on my phone had no idea what it was. The track was so danceable I felt I had to feature it, but I’ve spent ages trying to track it down on YouTube. Sadly I’ve had no success, so here’s the original – still one hell of a dance track!

A great night even though the numbers were down a little

Great Bookham freestyles are often sell-outs and its advisable to email John to book a place. This particular night it seems the numbers were lower than normal. I’m sure that all the people, who run freestyles, worry if the numbers are down, even a little, but I have to say that there were more than enough people to dance with. I would have no hesitation recommending this venue to anyone passionate about dancing to great music and I know my friend, who lives about forty minutes away, wants to come back as soon as possible – please keep playing Lady Soul John. I have no doubt that it will be remain a very popular fixture in the local modern jive calendar.

One last fun dance

I would love to feature more of John’s great music, but the word count is already too high, however I’ll allow myself the indulgence of describing one last fun dance. One of the joys of dancing is being able to add a little bit of musicality to your moves. As you become familiar with the more popular tracks you learn the nuances of their production – the changes in pace, the musical peaks and troughs and of course the subtle pauses.

John’s penultimate track was Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel’s Make me smile (Come up and see me). Now I know a feature of this track is the big pauses at the end of each vocal section. I was determined to impress my partner by accentuating them with some dramatic styling. This is a wonderful dance track and I was so absorbed that I missed the first pause, and my dance partner cheekily hinted that I might have missed it. Damn! We both laughed at my embarrassment.

Needless to say we both met the remaining breaks in the song with dramatic poses. Great fun, and a reminder that dancing is nothing unless it’s joyful. It was a great way to finish a wonderful nights dancing.

To read my article on The Temptations track Lady Soul please follow the link

To learn more about the history of the ‘Barn that moved’ please follow the link