My first review of the music in the Blues Room

For all my many visits to the Ceroc Southport Weekenders, I’ve never reviewed the late-night music in the Cyclone Room, AKA The Blues Room.  The thing is I’m not much of a Blues dancer as I feel a little out of my comfort zone with the style of dancing.  However, I know lots of people love it and if proof was needed the packed floor at two in the morning in the Cyclone Room is proof enough.

Strange really because I love dancing to the slow vibes in the SILC Zone.  Perhaps I’ve got Blues dancing wrong as I have this image of it as being very much a close-hold form of dancing.  Dancing in the SILC Zone is a more open style of dancing.

Interestingly whenever I’ve done a Blues class the teachers are at pains to say how it’s not all about the close hold.  One even made a joke of telling the guys that a vice-like hold was not Blues.  More than anything, they say it’s about the connection to a bluesy beat.  Slow yes, but not necessarily an excuse for over-zealous close contact.  Unless, of course, both partners have no problem with that.  It is, of course, very much a late-night dancing session, so why not?

My thanks to Rachel for sharing her music

The Cyclone Room doesn’t morph into the Blues Lounge until after midnight, as before that the room is used for a Tango Milonga.  The Music in the Blues Lounge has been traditionally in the hands of Ceroc Beds & Bucks DJs Marc Forster and Rachel Pears.  This time round they shared the duties with Ceroc and Blues Teacher Jo Hart.  For the short session I attended late on Sunday night, Rachel was on the decks and she served up a mix of music that tells you a lot about the music you’ll hear in the Blues Room.

However, it doesn’t tell the full story of the Southport Blues Experience, as I was only in there for thirty minutes.  For that reason, I’ve mixed into this review music that came out of a conversation I had with Rachel about the different types of music that find their way into her Blues Room playlists.  I know lots of people read my reviews to get some knowledge of the wonderful tracks they are dancing to, so I’d like to thank Rachel for sharing some of her favourite music with me.

A Traditional Blues track

My discussion with Rachel also threw up the question, ‘What is the difference between the music you’ll find in the Cyclone Room (The Blues Room) and the Boudoir (the SILC Zone)’.  I’ll do my best to answer that but first let’s listen to one of the tracks I danced to in my own late-night Blues session, Junker blues by Champion Jack Dupree a blues and boogie-woogie piano player.

Recorded in 1940, this track is very much in a traditional Blues format.  It sounds like a traditional Blues track should.  It has an 8-bar musical structure and traditional instrumentation – piano backing and horn accompaniment with horn and guitar solos and of course a lamentable vocal story.  As you’d expect from the 1940s the musicians were probably playing live – none of the present-day production techniques.

Modern tracks pay homage to this tradition

Blues music has come a long way since Dupree recorded Junker Blues but many of the tracks that find their way into Blues Rooms still pay homage to these traditional songs.  Here’s a track from 2017 which has traditional Blues running through its DNA.  Recorded by Danielle Nicole, Wolf den has something that Blues dancers love – a break in the music.

These breaks offer a moment to add some connectivity with the song.  I like to freeze the action for a split second and then fill the break with some musicality.  Hitting the break gives you a great feeling, so Blues dancers appreciate that the structure of the song will often tell you when the break is coming.

Blues music has a lot to offer dancers

This structure has been in traditional Blues music since it originated in the Deep South of America in the 1860s and the dark days of slavery.  Its origins in the plantations of the Deep South also gave the Blues its earthy soulful and at times emotional feel.  It is a feel that is asking you and your partner to connect with.  If connection to the music is everything, then Blues music has a lot to offer.

A break is sometimes very obvious – the band just stops playing, but at other times it’s more difficult to determine but the structure should help.  Take a listen to this next track, Backside of Paradise by Tony Joe White.  It was my favourite track from my late-night dancing to Rachel’s music.

There are no definite breaks in the music, but you can feel them.  The track’s lazy beat gives you time to connect every bit of your body with its Bluesy vibe.  It’s not always easy making that connection.  In many ways, you have to concentrate more when dancing to Blues music but then that’s part of its appeal.

Traditional v Modern Blues

Blues DJs are moving away from this traditional Blues style and introducing more contemporary songs into their playlists.  While these tracks still have the slower rhythms we associate with Blues music, they are not bound by its traditional structures.  Acoustic by Billy Raffoul, which Rachel included in her Sunday night playlist, is a great example of a more modern Blues track.

Produced in 2019, Acoustic has all the hallmarks of a SILC or chill-out track, but its gentle rhythm and stripped-down production are also perfect for a slow bluesy dance.   Having said that it does beg the question, ‘Is there a difference between the music in the SILC Zone and the Blues Room?’  I’ll address that issue a little later.

Blues dancing can be a bit of a challenge

A track like Acoustic is very slow.  Not all Blues music is this slow, but it is certainly slower than the music of main room freestyles that most of us are used to.  These slower rhythms are often a challenge to dancers brought up on Ceroc and Modern Jive.

I remember when I went to my first Blues event some ten years ago, I found it frightening.  I also remember going to my first Southport Weekender and watching the dancers in the Boudoir, then known as The Blues Room.  It was a style of dancing that I was hopelessly equipped for.  Thankfully, since then I’ve learned to dance to slower vibes but more of that later.

So just how slow is Blues music?

To answer this, I’ll need to get a bit technical.  The majority of tracks in main room freestyles are between 110 and 140 beats per minute (bpm).  Cold heart by Elton John, for example, is 116 bpm and September by Earth, Wind & Fire is 126 bpm.  Here’s Rachel talking to me about the pace of the music in the Blues Room.

The tempo is deliberately mixed in the Cyclone Room.  Amongst my Southport playlists, I can see plenty of tracks at 112 bpm.

The first three tracks I featured range from 100 bpm to 103 bpm, though Acoustic is much slower at 79 bpm.  Interesting that Rachel noted that she played many tracks at 112 bpm over the weekend, so not that much slower than Cold heart.  She played plenty of tracks with a much slower rhythm too.  Take a listen to this next contemporary Blues track which is a real favourite of Rachel’s and featured in her Saturday night Blues set.  It’s Slow Fade by Ruth B with a smooth delicious vibe that would also be at home in any Chill-out session.

SILC Zone v Blues Room

With the introduction of so many contemporary tracks into Blues playlists is there a difference between the music in the SILC Zone and Blues Room at Southport?  Now I’m no expert, but after many late-night sessions in the SILC Zone and a few brief visits to the Blues Room on my many trips to Southport, I’m going to dare to give an opinion.  Here goes.

I understand that the brief for SILC Zone DJs is to play a mix of Smooth, contemporary R&B, Blues and slow Latin tracks.  Certainly, when I’ve been in the SILC Zone this is the case but it’s the number of tracks in each of these genres that is the key to answering the question.  The music in the SILC Zone seems to be mainly made up of Smooth and contemporary R&B tracks.  There are a few Blues tracks but they are rarely the more traditional sounding ones.

Take a listen to this next track from Rachel’s Sunday night playlist, Fish outta water by American Blues singer Karen Lovely.  While this track was recorded in 2017 it has a very traditional Blues feel and none of the House influenced modern R&B production techniques.  Lovely’s gritty vocals and a wonderful guitar solo give the track its earthy Blues feel.  I’m going to dare to say that this type of Blues music would rarely find its way into the SILC Zone.

Blues DJs can be very SILC-y

When I made my visit to the Blues Room, Rachel played a run of what I’d call traditional-based Blues tracks, however, she was at pains to tell me that this wasn’t truly representative of the music in the Blues Room.  Here she explains her selections:

Marc was on before me, and he’d played a more contemporary SILC-y playlist.  As we want to mix it up, I started out playing mainly traditional tracks.

There is no doubt that the Southport Blues Room DJs will play Smooth and modern R&B tracks but their inclusion of a large number of traditional tracks maintains a nice difference between the two rooms.  There is one other difference that establishes a difference between the two rooms and that is the style of dancing.  More of that later, because I first want to feature another track that Rachel shared with me.

It came from Rachel’s Saturday night playlist, and she described it as an old Latin favourite.  It’s a fabulous track and is a great example of just how wide the music offer is in the Blues Room.  Will you still love me tomorrow by Inger Marie Gunderson is the kind of track that you imagine playing in a smoky bar in downtown New York.  Isn’t it great when a piece of music can conjure up such imagery?  Something that Blues music does more than any other genre.

Maybe it’s the style of dancing

While Rachel plays tracks that would be at home in the SILC Zone, she also tries to play chilled tracks that won’t necessarily find their way into other DJs’ sets.  Add to these a great variety of traditional-styled Blues tracks, and Rachel and Marc have created a playlist that distinguishes their music from that in the SILC Zone.

There is one other reason I think the Blues room is different.  Again, I’m generalising but there is an acceptance that the style involves more close-hold dancing than is found in the SILC Zone.  There is even some so-called Micro Blues dancing where it seems the people hardly seem to move.  Again, it’s a form of dancing that some people love but I wouldn’t know where to begin in explaining it.  Now, having said that, there are no rules as to how you must dance to any given type of music, so just do what you are comfortable with – it’s what I do.  Indeed, it’s what a lot of people do.

I do my fusion style of dancing

Because of the variety of dance styles on show during my visit to the Blues Room, I felt comfortable to dance in what I call my Smooth/Blues fusion style.  Let me explain.  My chill-out dance style got started after I attended some Ceroc SILC workshops.  Here I learned two basic techniques. The first was to dance in a long slot and the second to invite my lady partner to move down the slot rather than pull or push her.  In addition to some basic SILC moves, I Silc-ified some of my regular Ceroc moves, making them smoother.

To these smooth moves, I now added some close-hold blues moves.  It’s also fair to say that I keep the close hold moves to only a few beats.  Into this routine, I have added some moves that allow my partner the time and freedom to express their own musicality.  This fusion of SILC, Smooth and Blues moves has worked well for me in chill-out rooms.  In the Blues Room, I’ll perhaps do slightly more of the close-hold blues moves but always follow them with some more open dancing.

This next track, that Rachel shared with me, is one I would have struggled with many years ago.  Thankfully the style I’ve developed works well for what is a very slow track.  It’s an acoustic version of Marcy Gray’s I try by Alex Francis.   This track’s chilled beat and emotion-packed vocals are far removed from traditional blues, but it works perfectly for a slow bluesy dance.  This track is a particular favourite of Rachel’s, and she tells me that she used it in her lockdown online ballet classes.

Give the people what they want

I try might also be viewed as a track that encourages Expressive dancing.  There is now a sizeable number of Blues DJs bringing more and more Expressive music into their playlists and Rachel and Marc are bringing this new genre of music into their Cyclone Room playlists too.

Rachel told me that after their Friday night ended at 5 in the morning, the dances still wanted more:

We played long after the official set was due to have finished, and looking back over my playlist history, I played 15 tracks, of which only 3 were ‘proper’ blues.

In this extra end-of-night session, Rachel and Marc mixed in plenty of expressive tracks.  It’s great to hear how Rachel and Marc have developed their playlist to give their dancers a real mix of Blues dancing.

One last traditional Blues track

I know some people spend their whole weekend in the Blues Room.  During that time, they are going to get the full mix of Blues music styles, but I think it’s safe to say they will get a lot of traditional Blues tracks.  It seems that Rachel and Marc get a lot of positive feedback about the traditional tracks they play.  Here’s Rachel again:

Traditional songs are often not heard much in local freestyles, so many dancers will only get to dance to them at weekenders, and we get good feedback when we play them.

I’ll finish by featuring one of Rachel’s traditional Blues tracks, Stormy Monday by Blues guitarist T-Bone Walker.  This is a lot slower than the other traditional Blues tracks I’ve featured – it’s just 64bpm.  Rachel tells me she was saving it for Sunday night, but someone requested a T-Bone Walker track on Friday, so she obliged with this track from 1947.  Of all the tracks I’ve featured, this is the one that I think most Blues fans were waiting for.

Blues has the last word

In my conversation with Rachel about the difference between the music in the Boudoir and Cyclone Rooms, she mentioned Marc’s set in the Boudoir (SILC Zone) that traditionally closes Southport.  All night DJs have been playing smooth and mainly contemporary tracks, but Marc uses this final act in the Southport story to bring a more Bluesy feel to the final three hours with a good helping of traditional Blues tracks.

This end of Southport set, with its traditional survivors’ photo at six thirty in the morning, has become a bit of a Southport legend and is loved for Marc’s inclusion of traditionally inspired Blues music.  I can’t ever see myself being even awake at six-thirty in the morning, so I’ll have to pass on reviewing Marc’s music.  However, on my next visit in September, I’m going to listen out for any traditional Blues music that is played in the own SILC Zone dancing sessions and report back to you.

My thanks to Rachel for helping me out with this article and sharing some of her fabulous music.

Marc Forster traditionally brings Southport to an end

Enjoy another dance fix with my novel

If you enjoy reading my dance blogs, I’m sure you’ll love reading my novel, Would you like to dance?  It tells the story of how Ellie and her friends discover the joy that is partner dancing and finds the confidence to enter an amateur dance competition.  The story is full of the excitement and passion that I feel about dancing and I’m sure many people will recognise themselves in the ten characters that make up Ellie’s Newbie Dance Gang.  Here’s a little more about the storyline:

When Ellie Grant’s partner leaves her for a younger woman, her whole world crumbles. Not only does she lose her partner of almost ten years but she also loses her friendship group which cruelly stands by her ex-partner.

After several months of feeling sorry for herself, drinking a worrying amount of Australian red wine and going up a dress size, Ellie resolves to try and create a new life for herself.

This new life increasingly revolves around dancing and it’s not long before she finds herself at a Modern Jive dance class.

Why not visit the website I’ve designed to support the novel.  It is packed with background information on how I came to write Ellie’s story and reviews from the people who have already enjoyed it.  You also find whole sections dedicated to the joy that is Modern Jive dancing including photo galleries and videos showing the fun we all have on the dance floor.  You will also find a link to go direct to the Amazon Store to download the novel.  Go to Would you like to dance website.