Before you go any further press play below and get into the groove. This track was the sound to the end of my weekend and a classic track known to most. I’ve just started going to a Jazz funk /fusion club in London after several years of reading up and watching countless videos on this UK based subculture. The name of the club – Shiftless Shuffle, run on the third Sunday of every month from 2pm – 7pm.
For those that don’t know of it and it’s understandable if you don’t – It was a predominatly underground movement that didn’t get the recognition or exposure that other scenes that had come decades before. The lack of exposure of this vibrant and energetic scene may have been due to the overall medias perception of youths in the 70s/80s as being synonymous with the skinhead reggae and ska movement. A natural progression into jazz came mostly from the northern soul / funk circles. To be specific, it was rooted in the suburban soul scene of the south and post Blackpool Mecca clubland in the North. The late 70s through to the early 90s were the years that the jazz scene was beating. Correct me if you think otherwise – I wasn’t there. Attracting largely the working class, much like the mods of the 60s. It was a scene that on reflection shows the beginning foundations of modern day clubbing. No matter what, it was about young black and white Britain united by music and dance. The mission was to channel the energy and innovation into the music they loved in the form of dance.
The music ranges from sounds of traditional 50s/60s Jazz though to the sounds of high tempo bebop, afro-cuban jazz, fusion, swing and other latin-influenced jazz and funk. As long as it’s has soul, and a heavy beat to move on.
Jazz-scene face Perry Louis and part organiser of the all-dayer I went to said that it basically came about, for him, because – “We had energy. We didn’t do it to be cool or get noticed. We just wanted to dance and dance to music that we were listening to that was coming out at that time.” No more no less…
Pioneers of the old-school jazz dance style include the groups Body Function, The Jazz Defektors, IDJ, Jazzcotech, The Floor Technicians, Brothers in Jazz, The Backstreet Kids and others.
Blackpool (Mecca), Birmingham (Hummingbird, Locarno), Manchester (Ritz,Berlins, Hell, various), Preston, Nottingham, Derby, Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Wigan (Cassanelli’s) were all notable towns and cities where all-dayers were popular. Lasting usually from 2pm to 11pm they were staple hangouts for Jazzers. It was a common place for dancers to make 200-mile round trips to visit a nightclub and still seems to go today.
IDJ, or ‘I Dance Jazz’, were arguably the most successful dance crew of the genre, appearing in music videos, films and eventually performing in front of millions at a Nelson Mandela production. Check out the video below for one of there many productions.
Brothers in Jazz, another established dance set of the time brought their own style to the mix. Check the video below.
Often groups would come together to ‘battle’ one another. Any issues they had with one another would be sorted on the floor. Oh how things seem to have changed. Below is a 3-part video of a battle between the two groups above. Moves to make you assess yourself before you step foot on any dance floor. True talent.
If you’re wanting to get into learning about this even more, check out the link above for a book written by The ‘Goodfoot club’ promotor and musician Snowboy.
Below is a section I’ve taken from another site about what the usual attire of club-goers.
Clothing & Style
Jazz Dancers became quite creative in their style of dress, almost uniform like in attention to detail. Depending on where one was in the country at the time, one would have seen most of the dancers adhere to the basics which included: –
- Shoes – Usually colourful patent leather (Blacks, reds, and blues were popular). They were usually styled low on the instep and worn with white sports socks to gain maximum contrast and therefore highlight the speed and intricacy of the footwork. Spats were also popular amongst the dancers but any shoe with a hard sole was accepted. Never training shoes.
- Jeans – Jazz Dance culture coincided with the popularity of stretch jeans and many dancers wore them. They wore them tight and they liked to unpick the seams either side of each leg at the bottom, rising up 3 or 4 inches to give the impression of a very petit ‘flare’. This also highlighted the patent leather shoes and socks combination quite well. Another popular trend was to sew a pin stripe seam down the front and back of each of the jean’s legs where the natural seam would be formed if ironed like trousers. Bleach splashing of denim jeans also became popular as well as coloured jeans – reds, whites, electric blues were all quite standard Jazz Dance attire.
- Upper Body – This was quite individual and ranged from a simple t-shirt sometimes with motif, to ‘crew shirts’ with printed insignia and personalised names and images. Some dancers opted for the short military jacket with epaulettes and decorative buttons and braiding. Sweatshirts with cut off sleeves and rough fraying, U.K. punk band t-shirts and even ‘Batwing sleeves’ were all seen on the dance floors of Britain in the Jazz Dance era.
- Hats – Most ‘steppers’ (an affectionate name used within the community to refer to a Jazz dancer) wore their hair cut very short and topped of their individual looks with a hat. Some wore Panama hats or trilbys. Most opted for the French beret, often rolled up and pulled tight to the skull. Again the head gear was deliberately colourful to complete the dancers outfit.
- Hair – Around the time of Jazz Dancing greatest popularity, A television dance act called Hot Gossip had several black members who had died their close cropped hair bleach blonde. This style somehow filtered it’s way in to the underground Jazz Dance scene and many dancers copied the look. This opened the door to other experimental colour treatments for hair with ‘Zebra’ print and ‘Leopard’ print treatments becoming popular and a general ‘punk rock’ style was seen around many northern venues. Other memorable traits included ‘Tramlines’ – where lines were cut into the close cropped hair to give the appearance of a parting. Sometimes the parting went all the way around the head quite similar to the lines on a standard green tennis ball. Another style that was popular was using the hair clippers to create a sharp pointed ‘receding hairline’ either side of the head.
- Accessories – Dancers were known to carry a ‘Beer Towel’ (often found on bars in pubs, supplied by Breweries to mop up spillage) with them, sometimes hanging out of one of their back pockets. The main purpose of this was to use to wipe away sweat after an energetic dance session but was acceptable to carry one on any occasion. Cravats and ornate walking sticks were also popular as well as a small bandana (about half the size of a normal bandana and made from a lighter material) twisted around and tied loosely around the neck. This also was a good way to control the running perspiration after dancing. Towels draped around the neck were also commonplace.
If you’re interested in getting along to this club and I highly recommend it. Check out Shiftless Shuffle and the Jazzcotech sites to find out more details.
See you out there.