Monday, May 17, 2010

Skip Jive

In our search for the origins of rave, we have previously looked at the revivalist and trad jazz scenes in London from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. The 'ravers' of the later period were looked down on by the early mods, with their taste for cool, modern jazz and by jazz musicians like George Melly who mocked their dancing. So I was delighted to get a post recently from someone in that scene putting the alternative view. Here's Terry Monaghan's account:

'Just a quick note as someone who danced in the 1950s off and on the Aldermaston Marches - I'd like to defend the dancing against some of the derogatory descriptions by the likes of George Melly, who even in much later life would not tolerate dancers from distracting audiences while he was performing.

'Skip-jiving' (sometimes abbreviated to 'trad') during the second phase of the music was in fact quite skilled and far from clumsy. At the culmination of the 1961 Aldermaston March for example there was a massive trad band ball at the Lyceum Ballroom which is the first time I saw a dance floor pulse in time with the music. The collective feet all hitting it at the same time, and with the special force of skip jive that consisted of a steady skip step, resulted in the necessary stomp effect. I'd never seen a floor move up and down a good two inches before. It was funny seeing the regular teds standing on the sidelines utterly amazed at this variety of unkempt enthusiasts pounding away so enthusiastically.

The 'out of time' jibe comes in my opinion from musicians who have difficulty in keeping a steady rhythm given their natural tendency to speed up, particular on the British scene where they seldom attached much importance to a reliable rhythm section. Thus while it was true at that Lyceum gig that the tempo's of the dancers and the musicians began to separate - depending on which band was playing, the fault in my opinion largely lay with the bands. Having had much more experience of this kind of thing in later life, and the ability to make comparisons with dancers and the musicians from Harlem's former Savoy Ballroom, it seems safe to suggest that a mass of dancers who are able to fall collectively into one rhythmic groove keep excellent time. Bands have to be attuned to respect this, and back then of course few of us had a clue about what we were really doing. The Lyceum was, and is, a very stable building, but in other locations the kinetic energy generated in this way physically collapsed ballrooms resulting in considerable death and injury tolls. No danger of that these days, everyone seems to be out of time with each other!

It seems to me that there is a parallel between what happened in this period with what happened with dance music in the early 1990s. Namely that one fraction embraced 'cool', 'sophistication' and 'intelligence' and looked down on the 'ravers' - but who had the best parties?


Anonymous said...

The skip jiving scene was very strong in N London and included St Albans where there was a very active group dancing to Acker Bilk, Clyde Valley Stompers et al. The "Mods" did not want anything to do with this group and went off on their Lambartta's

Anonymous said...

I recall skip jiving in the very early 60's, to trad Jazz in Cambridge my home town at the Rex Ballroom. As I remember it was a very exhausting dance style and not something even us youngsters could do all night without brief intervals. Great times.

Anonymous said...

I also remember trad jazz at the Rex Ballroom, as a sixth former at the County High School for Boys it was my introduction to dancing and having picked up on the skip jive, it held me in good stead for the next phase. Jiving to rock music.

Anonymous said...

I remember skip jiving in the late 50s to The Mick Mulligan trad jazz band.singer George Melley. Very energetic fast Deansgate Manchester then going to an underground club called The Left Wing in Allbert Square . modern jazz..