Rock’n’roll clubs are great, and a habit we’d never want to break, but just occasionally the original vinyl obsession demands a bit of broadening out. We don’t make it easy for ourselves, I’ll admit, as we don’t really like records by modern bands (with a few exceptions, most of which have featured previously on this blog), and the chance to DJ more regularly myself does tend to mean that any outing sparks an inevitable comparison between what we’re hearing and what I’d be playing if I was behind the decks – very liberating in some cases where the DJ is playing a bunch of stuff that I don’t have, but not something I’m proud of if it descends into just critiquing a fellow DJ’s choice of music. Besides which, there are hundreds of great records from genres balanced either side of rock’n’roll and it would be a sin to discard them simply because they didn’t fit into a strict 50s categorisation.
Just recently, we’ve been lucky in finding a couple of excellent clubs tailormade for the lover of records that are slightly obscure but a joy to the ears. We started fairly close to home in Bristol, and the Loft Souls club. In truth, if we’d have been a bit quicker off the mark, we could have been enjoying the selection of music found there just down the road in Stroud where host Pav was, up to the end of last year, running regular sessions under the XXX brand. However, it wasn’t until I picked up a copy of one of the albums in the Buzzsaw Joint series featuring a bunch of tracks from Pav’s collection that we knew anything about it. Luckily, having linked up on Facebook, we were quick to pick up on the new Bristol venue. It’s an ideal place for a spin-up – a good-sized room over a friendly pub serving decent beer in a suburb of Bristol that seems popular with the student crowd, which makes for an audience out for a good time and with an open mind as far as new ‘alternative’ music is concerned. Arriving unfashionably early, we were able to catch the full range of sounds on offer from all three DJs, and what a range that was. I hesitate to try and allocate everything to a genre, but I’d say there was everything from Mod, through Ska, Northern Soul, R&B, Lounge, and some just plain weird tracks shared with us for the hell of it. The beauty of the night for me was that we knew relatively few of the records played, but liked all of them and loved some enough for Mrs M to be desperately Shazam-ing them for future reference. The icing on the cake was the arrival of another DJ friend, Rusty, and his wife, making for some fine conversation and a source of musical expertise to draw on to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.
Our night in Bristol set us up nicely for a visit to Rusty’s own club, Catch My Drift, now re-established in his home town of Weymouth. Again, we’d been wishing we’d been a bit quicker off the mark in researching the local music scene in our adopted part of the world as for some years Rusty’s been running a club in Bristol himself at the Tunnels, but Weymouth had the added attraction of a weekend by the sea at a discounted rate in the Leam Hotel on the seafront where Catch My Drift is now running. So, off to Weymouth early on a chilly March Saturday morning gave us the day to explore the town, treat ourselves to an excellent lunch in the Red Lion pub on the harbour, and arrive back at the hotel with a clutch of 78s, 1960s pin-up magazines, a couple of ‘objets’ and (another) 50s typewriter that I really don’t need but couldn’t leave behind. Even better was the chance to start our evening at the Italian restaurant just a couple of doors down with Rusty and his wife and a couple of rocking friends from way back who’d made the journey up from Devon.
All of which would have made for a good weekend away in its own right, but a night in the cream of Rusty’s record collection lay ahead of us. The function room at the Leam lent itself perfectly to an intimate club atmosphere (and friendly staff and some very reasonable drinks prices helped, too), set off by Rusty’s handmade oil-wheel revolving projector slides. A partisan crowd who knew the kind of musical treats to expect meant that the atmosphere was quickly established, with some determined to hit the dance floor early and stay there until they dropped. Again, it’s hard to confine the choice of music to particular genres, but between Rusty and his co-DJ, pounding soul and R&B dominated, with forays into Mod and Ska leavening the mix. Two things every record had in common, though, was that they were all good – and all played suitably loud. The advertised closing time came and went as, egged on by the die-hards, each set of ‘last records’ was followed by another, with a few particular favourites making more than one outing just because they sounded so good. No wonder some slightly sore heads at breakfast the next morning were accompanied by some ears still ringing.
In some ways, it’s odd that, on the one hand, the 1950s rock’n’roll scene has fractured into multiple sub-genres, from rockabilly through to post-swing jazz, each seemingly accompanied by its own dedicated weekender events, whilst the comparable Northern Soul scene seems to operate with an equally wide range of sub-divisions co-existing quite happily within a thriving club scene. We’re fortunate, though, that there seems to be a growing interest in clubs where genre is less important than the quality and variety of the music – all of it from several decades ago, and all on original vinyl – collected and curated by a dedicated band of DJs happy to get together and share the best of it with anyone who wants to listen. And long may that continue.
The next Catch My Drift gig in Weymouth is on 14 July – check the Facebook Page for details. Not sure when the next Loft Souls is coming up, but if you’re in the Bristol area, it shouldn’t be difficult to spot.
With thanks to Clive Rogers for the photos I didn’t take and for the funky graphics on the ones I did!