I experience the magic of Warmwell for myself

Back in November I experienced for myself the magic of Warmwell, and it didn’t take me long to see that this Weekender, run by MJRoc’s Colin Shaul and Gazza Forge, deserves it’s reputation as one of the biggest and best weekenders in the Modern Jive dance calendar.

In my two previous articles on Warmwell I’ve tried to explain what made this weekender so special (see links below).  There is no doubt that one of the reasons, was the wonderful music that was served up by a line up of top DJing talent.

When ever I went dancing, be it in the Main Room, The Blue Room or Busters, and which ever DJ was on duty I loved the music on offer.

There was however one name that really stood out for me, and I subsequently think his main room sets are worthy of a separate article – Billy Cullen, whose home patch is the LeRoc Scotland venues around Glasgow.

Billy (on the right) shared The Main Room DJing duties with Kane Jenner (left)

I have a great respect for the craft of DJing

I am a dance music junkie.  From my early days at the Nottingham Palais, back in the ’70s, I have devoured dance music through the decades and I now feel blessed that I can spend so much of my time reviewing it.  As I started out on my travels around the country reviewing freestyles and weekenders for my blog, I soon realised that the DJs were as important as the music itself.

There is craft to DJing that is more than playing a few great tracks.  The best DJs know how to read the dance floor and carefully manage the vibe there to give the dancers an experience that is truly memorable.

People of course want different things from their time on the dance floor.  For some the dance floor is a place of escapism, for others it offers an opportunity to experience a level of joy that escapes them in their normal lives.  For some it is a chance to express themselves to the music.  Many of us want a bit of all of those things, but some of us ask one other thing of the DJ.

Now and again we want to be transported through the gates of Dance Heaven at that moment when the DJ sets the floor on fire.

It is a lot to ask of any one who stands behind the decks.  But the best can do it every time they craft their playlists live on stage.  They watch the floor and play just the right run of tracks to build a vibe that gives the dancers the experience they want.  For three nights on the trot Billy Cullen did just that at this year’s Warmwell, and that’s why he deserves his craft to be recognised.

It’s never easy to describe in words the way a DJ performs his magic, but hopefully my selection of seven of Billy’s tracks will help recreate a memory of his music for those who were there, and for those who have still to experience the Warmwell vibe, they will give an idea of the excitement that awaits you out on the main room dance floor.

A classic track takes the vibe to MAX on the dial

Top DJs will always mix some of our favourite classic tracks and all the latest dance floor hits in to their playlists.  Sometimes the classic can be over done a little, and they can become a little tired.  I thought Billy played just the right amount, and I picked out Dario G’s ’90s club anthem Sunchyme, and Earth Wind & Fire’s disco classic September as two of the best.

The classic track I’ll feature is Robert Miles thumping instrumental Children.  I remember this from when it first lit up the dance floors in the late ’90s.  It has that wonderful feature of taking you with it as it builds to a crescendo.  Billy positioned it perfectly in his Friday night slot.

The previous track Party by Ofenback vs Lack of Afro (featured in the review below) had built the vibe out on the floor and Children took the needle up to MAX on the dial, and I made my first visit to Dance Heaven.

Billy plays his own fabulous floor fillers

It’s the same with the latest dance floor hits.  They can sometimes over stay their welcome (please no more Uptown Funk) but again Billy played just the right number, including two of the most popular at the moment, Calvin Harris’ Promises with vocals by Sam Smith and Jess Glynn’s All I am, and a real favourite from last year the Ofenbach remix of Portugal, The Man’s Feel it still.

But by not over doing the classics and current hits, Billy gave himself plenty of time to play his own fabulous floor fillers.  It was these tracks – many that I had never danced to before – that made Billy’s set such a stand out one.

Billy’s Friday night set was the real opener to Warmwell.  Billy followed Matt and Sarah’s wonderful Ice-breaker class, and set about creating a joyous vibe out on the dance floor, with his own special floor fillers.  Here’s a great example of one of Billy’s own favourites that worked perfectly to create that special Warmwell vibe out on the floor.

Geeno Smith’s reworking of Ben E King’s classic Stand by me is quite simply a joyous track.  Its mix of English and Spanish lyrics, added to a fun infused Latin beat, set the perfect tone for the opening night.  Just watch the dancers in the video.  That’s the same vibe I feel every time I play this track through my headphones.

Sue picks out Billy in her Guest Review last year

I do sometimes wonder where the DJs find these wonderful tracks, but then the best will spend hours searching for new tracks to freshen up their playlists, and it seems that Billy is forever rummaging around the dance music vaults.

Interestingly I first got to hear about Billy’s music because another DJ was impressed by another one of his exclusive joyous tracks.  Last year I was in conversation with my friend Sue Astle when she told me she was off to the MJRoc Warmwell Weekender near Weymouth in Dorset:

It’s one of the best Paul.  I’ve been a regular for years and always book up for the following year as soon as it’s over.  There’s a great line up of DJs – you’d love it.

Sadly it had passed me by, and it was sold out.  Realising it sounded like a premier venue I asked Sue if she would work on a Guest Review with me:

Just give me a few highlights and a little insight in to the event and I’ll do the rest.

One of the notes that Sue sent me included a reference to one of Billy’s main room sets:

One set I really enjoyed was Billy Cullen’s on Saturday night.  Billy played lots of the classic tracks we love, but one of my favourites was a track that I’ve never heard before.  It’s in French but that doesn’t matter because its delicious.  It’s ‘Quand T’es Pas La’ by Lydia & Sebastien.

This is indeed a delicious joyous track, and when I played it, I realised why another DJ would be so impressed (this track is featured in Sues’s 2017 Guest Review – see link below).  After Sue’s recommendation I thought I must check Billy’s music for myself.  Sadly Glasgow was a long way from my base in Nottingham, but as it happened I was to get a chance to dance to Billy’s music a few months later, but more of that later.

Billy creates a sense of joy out on the floor

As Billy played his music on that first night in the main room I was beginning to get a sense of why people like Sue and her friends book up early for Warmwell.  I could see for myself the joy out on the dance floor.  I was accompanied to Warmwell by photographer Tel Jenkin’s.  Myself and Tel have worked on a lot of reviews together – Tel takes the pictures that I include with my writing.

Colin gave Tel permission to take photographs over the weekend and I’ve provided a link to his album below.  The photos show the joy that Billy and Kane created out on the Main Room dance floor.  The pictures are filled with the smiles of people loosing themselves in the warm Warmwell vibe.

A packed dance floor rocks to Billy’s main room set

The ‘What was that track?’ moment

One of the joys I experience on the dance floor is when I suddenly realise that I’m lovin’ dancing to a track that’s new to me.  The feeling often creeps up on me, but there comes a moment when the joy is so intense that I have to know what the track is.  As the track ends I thank my partner and then run to the stage to ask the DJ ‘What was that fabulous track?’

Billy gave me those moments time and time again, and this next track from Billy’s playlist gave me one of the best dances of the weekend.

Now for the record I’m not a fan of ’80s boy duo Wham.  I know that for some of the people I meet on the dance floor, Wham were the soundtrack of their youth, but sadly if a DJ is ever brave enough to play Wake me up before you go-go I run off the dance floor and hide.   I mention this because on Sunday night Billy had me running on to the stage to ask him once again:

What was that fabulous track?

I knew it was Wham.  While I recognised the track I just couldn’t name it, but the reason that it made such an impression on me was that it was obviously a modern remix. Remixes have given new life to many a record that was lying lifeless in the music vaults, and Billy had found a joyous thumping floor filler with the Luca Debonaire Omerta remix of Wham’s Everything She Wants.  (I’ve written more about this track in my Spirit of Warmwell article – see link below.)

I get myself to Glasgow

Back in October of 2017 I published by Top 5 freestyles of the previous year.  Interestingly three members of the Warmwell team had a hand in the freestyle that made the top spot.  The event was Colin Shaul’s own Tylney Hall freestyle in Leatherhead.  What made that night so good was that Colin shared the spinning duties with Warmwell teachers and DJs Amanda Saunders and Cliff Dean.

But I digress.  The article (see link below) was read across the country, including across the border.  Jill got in touch and suggested that I obviously hadn’t been to Scotland and particularly to a LeRoc Scotland party night in Glasgow, run by the aforementioned Billy Cullen.   I decided I would have to go and subsequently turned up for the biggest freestyle of the year – The LeRoc Scotland Christmas Party.

That night was pretty special, due in part to some rockin’ live music from The Deke McGee Band, but it was the addition of Billy’s own music that made this a truly standout night, that would propel it to Number 2 in this years Freestyle listing.

I remember Billy setting the floor on fire with a particularly intense double of Sing Hallelujah by Dr Album and my all time favourite Chris Anderson and DJ Robbie’s version of the Markays ’60s Stax classic Last night.  No wonder I was looking forward to losing myself again in Billy’s music at Warmwell.

Billy selecting the next rockin’ floor filler at The Glasgow Party Night

Billy’s playlist had it all

Because Warmwell has chill-out music playing in the adjacent Blue Room, the DJs in the main room can concentrate on playing full paced tracks, but they still have to be careful not to be too samey.  What I loved about Billy’s playlists was that on all three nights they displayed a variety that would always keep the dance floor very busy.

Billy dipped in to the different decades and was constantly varying the pace and rhythms.  I loved the contrast between monster hits like Maroon 5’s Girls like you and the Hugel remix of Ce soir, the reworking of Labelle’s Lady Marmalade by El Professor and Laura White.  One track that stood out for it’s quirkiness was a track that will occasionally pop up in main room freestyles, the much lamented Kirsty MacColl’s Latin flavoured In these shoes.

Billy gives some insight in to his own Warmwell experience

I can’t remember Billy playing a dud track, and every time I looked out across the dance floor I could would see a sea of smiling faces.  I couldn’t help think that it must have been a joy for Billy too, as he viewed the scene from his elevated position on the stage.  When I wrote  my review of Warmwell with Sue last year, Billy gave me this insight in to being up on the stage:

I love doing this weekender as the Warmwell crowd are always up for a party.  Of course I love DJing back in Glasgow, but Warmwell is definitely the biggest gig of the year.

Though this was my seventh appearance as a DJ, I still had butterflies on the Friday night.  It’s quite a responsibility knowing that you have to keep five hundred plus people happy on the dance floor.

I have no doubt that any top DJ takes their responsibilities lightly.  The very best have a great pride in their work and prepare endlessly.  I asked Billy just how much preparation goes in to his Warmwell playlists:

Having three two hour slots means six hours of music to find.  I like to think that each night will be different, so I start preparing for Warmwell as soon as The Christmas and New Year Parties are over.

Before going to Warmwell every year I road test the tracks with my LeRoc Scotland crowd to make sure they will be well received.

That kind of preparation is pretty impressive, but then Warmwell must be one of the biggest gigs a DJ can be offered on The Modern Jive circuit.  I suspect that all the DJs that Colin and Gazza invite to play at Warmwell, are equally committed to ensuring that Warmwell maintains it’s enviable reputation for being an outstanding dance fest.  In the end all the prep is worthwhile.  Here’s Billy again:

The dancers at Warmwell respond really well to the tracks I play.  It’s a joy to see the dancers having a good time on the dance floor.

When I told Billy I would be writing this review, he wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone for dancing to his tunes.  On behalf of all the people who loved your music Billy, we can’t wait to do it all again next year.  So please start trying those new tracks out on the Glasgow faithful.

Smiles of joy fill the dance floor as Billy looks on

We are only as old as the music we dance to

Billy played so many tacks that I didn’t know, but that didn’t stop me enjoying them if I was dancing.  The tracks were so well selected, and tested, that I easily connected to the beat.

Here’s an example of one of those tracks I wasn’t familiar with, but it gave me a great dance.  Electricity by Silk City featuring Dua Lipa, Diplo & Mark Ronson has all the production techniques of a contemporary club style dance track.  I love the way you are willing the bass to kick in, and when it does you are taken to another level.

I’ve featured this track for another reason.  The demographic of Warmwell is a little older than some of the Ceroc Weekenders I’ve reviewed.  Some DJs would look out at the people on the floor and match the music to their ages.  Not at Warmwell, and certainly not with Billy’s set.

Electricity is a very modern track, and I for one love that I’m dancing to music my kids would love.

You see I have a saying that You are only as old as the music you dance to, so bring on tracks like Electricity that were released only a few months ago.

Billy gets the party started

Sunday night at Warmwell is something special.  The Fancy Dress Competition and the party atmosphere that builds up to a climax in the Blue Room at two in the morning is the stuff of legend, and it is one of the traditions of Warmwell that gives it it’s enviable reputation.  Billy was right in the middle of the action, and gets the party started as he provides the music for the fancy dress parade.

The fun of this competition was captured brilliantly by Tel Jenkins in his hi-definition Warmwell video.  The video is filled with clips from across the weekend interspersed with the story of the fancy dress competition.

One of my favourite clips is when Tel captures Billy doing a little dance on the stage.  Wearing a ’70s style Afro wig, Billy is seen in slow motion lapping up the atmosphere.  Just go to 48 seconds on the counter.  I guarantee you’ll smile.

Billy plays a proper Party Anthem

Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York is one of the party tracks that DJ Colin Shaul uses as he brings the dancing in the main room to a close at 1:30.  This track was an obvious choice for the backing for Tel’s video, but Billy chose a track for the fancy dress parade that I think sums up the whole party atmosphere on Sunday night.

La Cucamarch by TNN is a proper fun filled party anthem.  I’m sure it gets used a lot over the Christmas party season.  You can imagine it being used for congas on New Years Eve, and it certainly created a great atmosphere during the conga style parade and it got the Sunday night party of to a flying start.

A two hour slot of pure dance delights

Billy now had the best gig of the weekend – the two hours up to midnight, when Colin Shaul would take over to play the legendary main room finale.  After the fun and laughter of the fancy dress, the dancers out on the floor were going to have one last session of joyous dancing.  Billy didn’t disappoint and played his set to perfection.

Once again he mixed in classic and modern tracks, but made sure there were plenty of rousing anthems.  The Black Eyed Peas I got a feeling is one of those songs that has party written in to every line:

I got a feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night. . . tonight the night, lets live it up . . . let’s go out and smash it . . . then do it again.

I remember losing myself in this track and along with every one around me I chanted the iconic hook line:

Monday, Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday. Friday, Saturday, Saturday and Sunday . . . party every day, party every day.

Once again Tel captured the atmosphere out on he dance floor with his action packed images, and Billy kept this vibe up for a whole two hours.

The sense of fun on the dance floor is heightened after the Fancy Dress parade

A joyous track played every night

In amongst the party tracks – always love the fun of Sexy and I know it by LMFAO – was a track that is one of my favourites of all time.  It’s simply a wonderful pop song.    The song is underpinned by a sample from Wings Silly love songs, which gives the song it’s joyous feel, but a driving beat soon kicks in and I’m hooked.  It’s impossible for me not to smile while dancing to this track and I was pleased that Billy treated us all to it on all three of his nights.

I’m surprised that I’ve not heard this track more often, because it created a great buzz out on the floor.  No wonder Billy used it every night.  Here then is the track that will always remind me of a DJ at the top of his game – Come rain, come shine by Jenn Cuneta from 2008.

I’m in line for another Billy Fix

This New Year I thought I’d try a new venue.  It soon occurred to me that the best place for a New Years party has to be Scotland with its great tradition of celebrating Hogmanay.  So on New Year’s Eve I’m catching a train up to Glasgow for my second LeRoc Scotland Party Night.  I’m planning on writing a review for the blog.  Something tells me I’m in for a fabulous night.  Oh and while I’m at it could I have a request please Billy:

Let me guess Paul.  Come rain, come shine.  You got it!

Thanks Billy, and may I take this opportunity to thank all my readers who have supported the blog over the last year, and hope that you all get a chance to party on New Years Eve.

My other Warmwell 2018 articles

20 Things we love about Warmwell 2018

The Spirit of Warmwell 2018 in 10 Top Tracks includes Party by Ofenback vs Lack of Afro

West Coast Swing lessons with Richard James

Tel Jenkins’ superb Photo Album of Warmwell 2018

Other related articles

A review of Warmwell 2017 with Sue Astle includes Quand T’es Pas La by Lydia & Sebastien

Preview of Warmwell 2017

My Top 5 Freestyles 2016/17 includes review of Colin Shaul’s Leatherhead Freestyle

Leroc Scotland Party Night in Glasgow