The History of UK Jazz Dance
On the 24th of June 2009 ukvibe’s The Dood managed to track down Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove at the launch party for his critically acclaimed book ‘From Jazz Funk & Jazz Fusion to Acid Jazz: The History of the UK Jazz Dance Scene.’ At the end of a long evening, we located a corner in the Jewel Bar, Piccadilly to get the lowdown on this mammoth energy-sapping publication.
The Dood: When did you get the seeds of wanting to do this book and how did it evolve?
Snowboy: The reason I did it…was because information was already starting to disappear out of the scene. A lot of people were remembering things about this amazing scene that was just getting forgotten about so it needed documenting. I was so involved in what was going on from the late ’70s and thought well if anyone’s gonna do it, I’m gonna do it! I really felt on a mission to get it all documented properly, I didn’t realise how hard it was going to be at the time. I’ve done over two hundred interviews for this book, the first being in 1997, about twelve years ago.
Also, another thing that spurred me on was that book ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life.’ It’s a fantastic book on world club culture and DJ culture BUT they missed our scene out all together! And I was quite annoyed about that so I told Bill Brewster (the author) that. I told him the scene (the jazz-funk scene) was as big as the house music scene ever became, and you’ve only got four lines in your book. He said a lot of people have mentioned that. They’ve got a bit more in the latter print runs, but on the whole, we’ve been completely forgotten about.
My book covers 25 years of the history from 1970 through to the end of Acid Jazz really, around 1994/5 – not the end of as such, but when Acid Jazz went worldwide. No one knew what it meant anyway. There was no such music as ‘acid jazz’; it was a scene; a joke to some, but it wasn’t a particular style of music…. But when it spread worldwide the whole thing got misunderstood, no one knew what it meant, it was like ’what is acid jazz?’ It was so confusing, so I covered 25 years of British black club culture, which has barely been recognised before and yet…
Jerry (IDJ) & Dick Jewell
The Dood: ……It’s been massive underground?
Snowboy: …Yeah, it’s been massive underground. I mean people of my age, forty-eight in July, when we were at college you were either into Rock or you were into New Wave, or you were into Jazz Funk. For the majority of people in college, jazz-funk was the most popular music out of all of them.
Perry (Jazzcotech) on interview duty
The Dood: So who would you be listening to in the common room whilst playing table football and pool?
Snowboy: You’ll be listening to the ‘In Flight’ album by George Benson; you’ll be listening to Weather Report, Joe Zawinal et al; you’ll be listening to all the current jazz-funk imports coming in like ‘Player’s Association’; Azymuth’s ‘Jazz Carnival’ which was actually a number one record on the pop charts. God knows how, because it was a heavy full-on jazz-funk/jazz fusion track – amazing! amazing! And of course, Robbie Vincent was the soundtrack to our lives, his radio show. People would tape Robbie’s show and then listen to it all through the week until next week’s show.
Michael J Edwards & Mark Webster
The Dood: Sounds familiar, then we’d go down Berwick St in London to seek them out in the record shops!
Snowboy: There you go! There you go! The soundtrack to my life.
Anyway, I’m really glad I did it (the book). There were many times over the twelve years when I just stopped doing it….At one period I stopped for a whole year, I just didn’t know who would be interested in it.
Chris Hill/Snowboy/Bob Jones/Paul Bradshaw
The Dood: So did you lose your faith in and desire for the project?
Snowboy: Yeah, I was sort of feeling negative about it and wondering who’s going be interested in it. I thought, “Is it just me that’s interested?” – I began to realise though, that I had already done so many interviews from all around the country that people began to ask me. ‘When’s the book coming out? I realised that I was playing with people’s feelings and emotions. When you’ve interviewed someone that’s never been interviewed before in their life, they’re very proud about that and their family and friends are proud. So I thought bloody get on with it and get it done.
The trouble is… the deeper you go into it, the more there is to do it seems. However, thankfully there wasn’t a cut of point as such, I just realised I had all the information I needed and there wasn’t anything else to add, it was all there. There were some people missed out in there…but I’m satisfied the whole story has been told.
Mark Webster/Ian Dewhirst/Michael J Edwards
The Dood: So overall, you are content with the end product?
Snowboy: I’m totally happy and very satisfied that it’s all there, and I really do believe that…And many people that I know from the scene who were really quite intense about the whole thing have read it and said, ‘yeah it’s all there, I didn’t expect it to be, but it is and more. So I’m quite content from that side of things.
Perry/Mark Webster/Paul Bradshaw
The Dood: Did you view the book as a duty to the scene or a labour of love. How much did it consume you?
Snowboy: It took up so much of my spare time, when I should have been practising or songwriting or doing other things…I never knew how long it was going to take because if I had have done, I would never have started it in the first place, I really believe that.
The Dood: The time it took – break it down for us.
Snowboy: Well, from the first interview to the end, I would say about ten years, then you’ve got to add on an extra two years it took me to finally get the book out because I already went through one publisher. Paul Bradshaw was the second publisher…I really didn’t realise how long the whole thing was going to take, and it did tend to take over, it used to make me feel quite miserable sometimes because I thought I’m half way through now, do I stop or do I see it through?
I wasn’t bored with the story, I was just sick of travelling all over the country doing all these interviews and getting negativity. The editing, because all the interviews were lasting at least a couple of hours each, and as you’ll see in the book, I’ve edited the interviews down really tight, to the nub. You had to be able to tell if people were lying or exaggerating and you had the north/south divide thing and I don’t like all that….I was just trying to see if what people were saying was right or whether it was based on area bias. I don’t mind area bias if they can back it up, I can understand that.
The Dood: So how did you view the scene up north compared to down south?
Snowboy: The scene was just as big up north that was the thing. It’s a weird thing because when I finished the book and saw it in print format, I realised that half of the interviews were in London or Southern-based. I thought “oh my God, the Northerners are not gonna like that”, but what I realised was, whereas down south there were tons of DJ’s doing loads of residency’s in back rooms and pubs and wine bars….but up north it was done differently.
There were less DJ’s and fewer events going on, but those events were bigger. So what was all happening just in London, that would be happening from Birmingham to Manchester to Blackpool, Wigan, whatever, Leeds. They all had their pockets but there wasn’t tons of residency’s going on in the North of England, it was more to do with all-dayers and one-off special events. They were regular enough…sometimes one event a week, especially the all-dayers, they’d be eight or ten DJ’s on those bills and they’d hold around three thousand people. So people from the North and the Midlands would focus on the all-dayers each weekend.
It might be in Preston one week or Manchester on another or Leeds another or Birmingham another, but they would all travel from around the country, especially from the North and Midlands to go to all these events. So I’d say it was just as active in the north of England. The weirdest thing is that they (northerners) feel what they have is different to ours (southerners), and actually retrospectively from looking in the book it wasn’t really that different because the bigger powers….were travelling north and south….They were all on the phone to each other or swapping records and that kinda stuff.
Perhaps the smaller DJ’s in the north and south thought that certain tunes that were big up north would not be known down south and vice-versa, but that was absolute rubbish. I mean Colin Curtis, the biggest DJ in the north of England. Bob Jones and Colin Curtis would talk on the phone all the time. Chris Hill too, it was like ‘oh, what’s big for you right now Bob?’ On that higher echelon kinda level, they knew exactly what was going on.
The Dood: How did you get into the music and percussion and how old were you?
Snowboy: I didn’t start percussion until I was in my twenties. I discovered the jazz-funk scene when I was seventeen and within six months of discovering that music, I started hiring out clubs and putting on my own nights. I barely had any records! What I took on the night wasn’t my DJ selection that was every record I owned. I loved the music so much I wanted everyone else to hear it. I’d already been the DJ at school doing the school disco…so I wasn’t scared about being behind decks. And then I found that as much as I liked the jazz-funk and soul music, my record collection was veering more toward the jazz-fusion side of things with all the percussion sounding very exotic. I started wondering what was making all these sounds and I started looking into it and buying a few bits and pieces and then started having lessons.
I was twenty-one by that time…It’s the same as with Orphy Robinson the vibes player, Orphy Robinson’s an old jazz dancer. And Kevin Bains, he’s in the book. I first saw Kevin playing percussion for Steve Williamson, I didn’t realise he was called the penguin and he was a well-known jazz dancer back in the Horse-Shoe.
The Dood: That’s amazing!
Snowboy: Yeah! So a lot of us all came through at the same time and wanted to become musicians having discovered this music. Because the music was so inspiring, hearing it in these clubs – real mature, well made, fantastic productions, incredible musicianship. It was inspiring for many, many people.
The Dood: So what artist were you listening to around that time?
Snowboy: Flora Purim; Airto Moreira her husband of course. This was around 1979. Chick Corea – anything by Chick Corea, Azymuth, Tito Puente; Poncho Sanchez. We could be here all day, but they’re probably the biggest ones in my collection at the time. Plus of course, all the hundreds and hundreds of records Paul Murphy was bringing over for his record shop in Exmouth market, Fusion Records. He was importing these records, taking a chance, going out on a limb for these little known records. Paul was discovering all these amazing records and giving to us in his record shop. It was amazing! Amazing! Amazing!
His shop was originally in Exmouth market but then it ended up down Berwick Street (London), underneath Daddy Kool’s.
The Dood: Vinyl Junkie’s for sure. Can you expand on the uniqueness of the British jazz dance scene in as much as it was original and not copied from anything stateside?
Snowboy: Yeah! These steps came through the house parties, the Churchill functions…not just the nightclubs. Especially within the West Indian families, they’d be seeing their older parents and cousins dancing, blues dancing. The old steps that they may have done to Ska or Rock Steady, it goes through all that and into funk.
I saw some amazing footage…from a film called ‘British Hustle’ with Chris Hill and Greg Edwards, it came out in 1978. Half of the film was just dancing in Clouds in Brixton I think….The majority were black with their shirts off. This was ’78 and the dancing was outrageous, you could see where the jazz dancers came from, the steps were very similar. Amazing! It’s a very rare film.
Dick Jewell/Paul Bradshaw
The Dood: It’s like the evolution of jazz dance?
Snowboy: Yeah, It is like evolution!
Dr Bob Jones/Paul Bradshaw
The Dood: Are you optimistic about the future of the music and jazz dance itself?
Snowboy: I wasn’t optimistic, but because of the reaction to the book, there’s been so much interest around it from all areas. People are talking about doing new nights. The one thing we don’t have is new dancers coming through and honestly, I don’t think that dance workshops are the answer. We all learned our dance steps in the night clubs. You’d see someone across the room doing some moves or good footwork and you’re standing there trying to find out what they’re doing so you can copy them. And that’s how steps evolve in night clubs…someone influences you and you try and do it.
The Dood: Then they’ll go home and practice in readiness to do battle next week?
Snowboy: Yeah, no one likes to be humiliated!
Jerry (IDJ)/Perry (Jazzcotech)
The Dood: So tell me, was there a rivalry between IDJ dancers and Brothers in Jazz?
Snowboy: Of course there was a rivalry between Brothers in Jazz and IDJ. Brothers in Jazz formed from seeing IDJ…but they had their own way of dancing and realised they had to adapt their style because the jazz being played down south was so much faster than what was being played up north….Also, it was a different way of looking at things on the dance floor, attitude-wise.
So there was a lot of friction. A lot of people used to think Brothers in Jazz were quite aloof and standoffish. But I dunno, I know them now and they come from a part of the country where that’s what you do. People come up to you to battle and you say ‘Go away when you’ve got some more moves boy! Come back when you’re ready!’ The steps that we were familiar with on the stage, IDJ and Brothers in Jazz brought them to the stage and would do a performance. The battling got so intense countrywide that a lot of clubs didn’t really like it because it meant that other people couldn’t get to dance…A lot of people who love dancing to jazz can’t necessarily dance at a thousand miles per hour!
Snowboy/Dr Bob Jones
The Dood: Overall, it seems you’re very proud and happy with this body of work. Also, the general opinion from people here [Book Launch] is that they’re happy with it and are glad that you have taken it upon yourself to do it and put the word out there to educate the people. I understand it’s not just the UK which is showing interest?
Snowboy: That’s right, Japan is onto to it. It’s America we’ve really got to crack through with it. There is also interest from Australia in it at the moment. All in all, the future looks bright.
Interview carried out by ukvibe’s Michael J Edwards aka The Dood
Essential Book Purchase: From Jazz Funk & Fusion to Acid Jazz: The History of the UK Jazz Dance Scene by Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove. Purchase
Keep up to date with the Chaser blog: http://chaserpublications-ukjazzdance.blogspot.com
Diary Date: Snowboy on the radio SUNDAY 26TH JULY 2009
Sunday 12.00-15.00 (UK Time)