Swinging at the Cotton Club – Review – Bradford St George’s Hall
By Sandra Callard, March 2015
St George’s Hall, a magnificent Victorian building in Bradford, played host to an extraordinary ensemble of musicians, dancers, and singers. They bring back memories of early jazz blues and classic performers such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong, as Swinging at the Cotton Club comes to town. The Cotton Club was the most famous jazz club in New York from the 1920s to the 40s, and was situated in the down town black area of Harlem. Performers such as the above made their early appearances at the there. It was known as a jumping off point for the numerous singers and musicians who afterwards became household names.
The audience is an eclectic mix of silver haired oldies, jazz loving middle agers, and young and trendy thirty-somethings. They all had a common love of real jazz and classic blues, and a nostalgic longing for dances that had real steps and rhythm, which required more than a frenzied shake of a body part. Swinging at the Cotton Club gave them all of that, and more. The MC was Megs Hetherington, who sang and introduced each member of the band, the Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra, and his instrument, as well as giving a running lecture on the history of the music and dance. There was no denying his knowledge and love of his art, but at times the information bordered on the turgid.
“Proverbial shivers down the spine”
There was an odd sort of dichotomy going on, as the skill of the musicians, dancers and singer, Marlene Hill, were in no doubt, but a good deal of interaction with the audience, and some gentle ribbing of the performers, produced a feeling which was redolent of an end-of-the pier or amateur musical show. However, the end result was a charming and endearing take on what was essentially a host of professional and talented performances.
Singer, Marlene Hill, was a joy. She gave a wonderful rendition of Lena Horne’s ‘Stormy Weather’, which, along with Andy Noon’s melancholy trumpet, sent the proverbial shivers down the spine. Martin Litton on piano was masterly, and Graham Collicott’s rendition of ‘Drum Crazy’ was superb. It was a lengthy piece of fast precision drumming, and the fake boredom of the rest of the band, light-hearted though it was, did no service to such a brilliant piece of drumming.
The Jiving Lindy Hoppers could swing, Charleston, jive, tap and jitterbug, and did them all with skill and abandon. It was easy to tell where the seeds of the subsequent rock ‘n’ roll of the fifties and sixties came from. There was soft shoe shuffle and a wonderful clutch of tap dancing routines. These must have sent every foot in the house tapping along in rhythm. I particularly liked a terrific number called ‘One Man’, so-called because it was essentially four people dancing as one with great precision and mechanical ingenuity. Fantastic stuff!
The first half of the show is strong and fast-paced, and quickly shows the slick professionalism of the team. It leaves the audience wanting more. But after the interval the second half seems to be a little drawn out, and a tad repetitious. But this is essentially a show of great originality and talent. It’s well worth a visit. Put on your dancing shoes and give yourself a treat.