The UK Jazz-dance scene

I was putting together a jazz-dance set and found a fairly interesting website on the UK Jazz-dance scene in the 1980s. Don’t know if it’s of interest to anyone here, but this is DJ History, so…

The site itself looks rather dated and isn’t optimized for mobile, which is a bit frustrating if you’re accessing through your phone. But it has some interviews with DJs and clubbers and dancers, and some good detail including videos from some of the clubs. During the pre-house era, jazz-dance felt like a contender on the urban nightlife circuit, with some associated bands breaking through into the charts (perhaps most notably Working Week), and it had a clear influence on the whole acid jazz scene in the late-80s/early-90s. I may be wrong on this, but I think it became a bit like Northern Soul - an almost exclusively revivalist scene that seemed to stop bringing in new listeners and dancers. DJ’s like Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove keep it alive, pushing new artists or modern tracks that fit the established musical mould, but I suspect that the scene is now largely based around annual weekenders full of middle-aged people. I hope I’m wrong about that as some of the music is vibrant, lively and musically strong and I’ve enjoyed revisiting some of the sounds. I recall the scene garnering a bit of interest around the broken beat/nu-jazz era in the early 00s when labels like Freestyle began releasing lots of modern Jazz-dance tracks, but after that it just seemed to fade. Or maybe I was the one who faded…?? My wife would have an opinion on this, for sure.

For the uninitiated, the music was largely uptempo afro-latin-cuban, bop, swing, or danceable funky jazz-fusion tracks. My recollection was that it grew out of the jazz-funk and post-punk scenes in the UK during the early 80s. Dance styles drew heavily from jazz, latin, and capoeira, and had a clear influence on the streetdance scene.

If you’ve got anything to add (anecdotally or musically), stick it here! Otherwise I’ll keep myself amused with the occasional post (we’re only allowed to do 3 in a row, so help me out if i get stuck after 3…)


This must be one of the biggest tracks to emerge from the scene. Guest vox by Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine) and Tracey Thorn (Everything But the Girl). It even ended up getting spins on the NY scene courtesy of David Mancuso. If you look at the top R-hand corner of the sleeve in the video you’ll see a photo of one of the top Jazz-dance crews on the scene (called IDJ - ‘I Dance Jazz’) who appeared in the music video accompanying the 7" single release.

This is probably the only track I can think of which appealed to jazz-dancers, NY club kids and chin-stroking jazz afficionados alike. Another Loft Classic:

70s fusion sounds featured prominently. This guy (Gary Boyle) also played in Isotope who scored an unlikely NY post-punk club hit - can’t remember the name of the track though!

This one was also a big Kenny Dope spin iirc:

This is quite a late one, think it came out in the 90s

Karen Carpenter on drums, and a complex time signature to keep the dancers on their toes:

I went to Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge’s Sunday afternoon sessions at Dingwalls a couple of times. Patrick especially played a bit more in the way of the jazz-musicians-playing-funk-&-soul thing, which is what I liked. However, as soon as a serious jazz-dance record came on the floor basically cleared apart from the few guys who could the proper footwork and regular dropping to their knees. I got the impression that they all turned up on their own and didn’t talk to each other, and like the original B-Boys waiting for the breaks they hung around sullenly around the edge of the dancefloor until their moment came.

I found it a bit exclusive in the more literal sense of the word, partly because I didn’t like their music that much because it wasn’t so easy to dance to. Also, watching them live wasn’t as fun as seeing the crews doing routines together on TV.
I believe that when breakdancing suddenly fizzled out of the hip hop scene some of those guys got into this as another form of more performanced-based dancing.

I liked the idea of Snowboy’s compilations on vinyl of tracks that were otherwise only available on CD which other DJs wouldn’t play. Not revolutionary now but it was back then.

My IDJ anecdote was back here:

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Well… You may (or may not…!) be surprised to hear that this was a very similar story to myself. I loved the groovy crossover stuff, but very much struggled to dance to jazz-rock in 5/4 time - back to the bar at that point! There was something about the musicality of the bop and swing that did appeal to me - I liked the fact that it could get an audience, and it probably represented the first time I consciously embraced something that was ‘old’. Up to that point I was always chasing innovation [edit: a lot of which wasn’t that novel, although I didn’t always appreciate that at the time], and almost inevitably that would be some new thing that I’d read about in the NME. I think - though I’d be interested in other opinions on this - that 80s Jazz-dance was the first real DJ-led ‘digging’ scene. Seems a shame for it to be largely forgotten about. Was talking to a young guy I know who mentioned that he’d just heard of something called ‘jazz-dance’ “whatever the hell THAT is!”, which ultimately led to my OP.

Yes, the actual dance scene was highly competitive and could be exclusive. Some friends used to do a night at Madam Jojo’s in the mid(?)-90s and there always seemed to be a small group of Jazz-dancers hanging around near the cloakroom entertaining themselves with their moves. I could never understand why they came as we’d be playing Iggy & The Stooges or D’n’B or Glam or whatever. I think Snowboy also did a night there at that time, so presumably there was a link. You mention those Snowboy vinyl comps - that’s where I originally found that Jon Lucien track in my last post!

Round my way there was always a bit of a crossover with the modern soul scene… there would be jazz sessions in the afternoon at alldayers with soul into the evening. It is still like that really with djs like Perry Louis playing daytime sessions at events like Margate Soul which I went to a few weeks ago. The Dingwalls Sunday takeover at We Out Here looked good, if anyone went?

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My favourite track from the jazz dance scene…


Here’s a couple of my favourites that are more jazz than funk:

And this, a 12" of which was one of the first releases on Acid Jazz, when Gilles was still involved with the label. Never sure of it was officially licensed. I suspect not.


I can shed some light on this - it’s an interesting story! You’re right, it was basically a bootleg. The Internet wasn’t a thing back in 1988, and bootlegging was rife, so there was no reason why anyone might become aware that a small label in London had released a couple of obscure tracks known to only a small number of initiates. Small independent labels would generally vanish long before a largely-forgotten songwriter or small independent publisher could initiate a trans-Atlantic law suit.

The real reason for this release was the b-side, and this is the interesting part of the story. It was a recording made from what was, at that time, the only known copy of a track known simply as ‘The Bottom End’. The story I remember was that in the early 1980s Paul Murphy found a copy of a hi-fi ‘test’ record in the basement of Record & Tape Exchange in Camden, and bought it blind for 10p. The label was blank except for the words ‘The Bottom End’ printed on one side plus a defunct address and phone number in LA. One side was a standard hi-fi ‘test’ (music, channel tones, panning L to R, etc), the other side turned out to be a recording of a well-played and very lively jazz-dance track. Paul began playing it at the Electric Ballroom and/or The Horseshoe and it got a great reaction from the crowd. Because there was no indication of the artist, the mystique surrounding it led to it acquiring semi-legendary status and the track became referred to simply as ‘The Bottom End’ (as per the printing on the label). In 1988 Paul sold his copy to Gilles P for the princely sum of something like £45 so that Gilles could boot it. He made a recording directly from the copy he bought from Paul and Acid Jazz released it under a made-up name of a non-existent artist and stuck it on the b-side of the Byron Morris track. It was only in the early 2000’s with the rise of the internet that someone on the scene managed to identify the ‘Bottom End’ logo as belonging to a US bespoke hi-fi manufacturer and tracked down one of the owners who helped identify the original artist (a cabaret jazz singer, a pianist and studio band). Apparently they’d used the hi-fi company’s studio to rehearse, and one of the studio’s owners recorded what was simply an improvised studio jam and stuck it it on one side of their test record. The recording was made in the mid/late-1970s. When the original singer and pianist were tracked down in the early 2000’s it turned out that they were completely unaware of the actual recording, let alone its status on the London jazz-dance scene. The track was released commercially for the first time in about 2010 on Freestyle Records. It turned out that ‘The Bottom End’ was actually the name of one of the hi fi company’s speakers, so the track was named after the improvised lyric (‘Get Off The Ground’) and was released under the names of the pianist (Don Baaska) and singer (Valli Scavelli).


Wow what an ace story! :boom::boom::boom:

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Isn’t it!
Full story here:


Pretty sure that story is printed on the back of the reissue sleeve…

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Apparantly Paul Murphy used to play this at the Electric Ballroom. Possibly the only thing he played that was championed by John Peel when it was released.
It was probably the first jazz record I owned although I didn’t think of it that way at the time. Only that it was very different from anything else I owned which would have been predominantly guitars or synthesizers. This has a flugelhorn! I only finally found out the other day what the difference between a flugelhorn and a trumpet is. Anyway, it is a lovely, delicate bossa nova for the first few minutes but then around 3.10 the tempo doubles and doesn’t let off until the very end, which has a great purring echo effect on the guitar.

Simon Booth and Larry Stabbins who later formed Working Week were both in Weekend. The name was a reference to what comes after the weekend.


Here’s Working Week’s version of The Bottom End, as included as the b-side to Vinceremos.

I recall that around this time, ‘politically aware’ Latinate jazz represented the height of sophistication. Or maybe that’s just what I wanted to believe!


P.S. I wonder what ever happened to that original copy of The Bottom End (as owned by those various luminaries of the London jazz-dance scene)? You’d think it would have been knackered by the time Gilles booted it in 1988…!

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Are we allowed to say “acid jazz” in this forum?


The original label has been mentioned already. Just bear in mind the discogs description of most of their output:

although often containing very little ‘jazz’ and even less ‘acid’,


Well for me anyway it was 1984. I was studying the George Orwell book for A level so reading his other works. Homage To Catalonia was my introduction to the Spanish Civil War which I believe Venceremos was a slogan from. Also Robert Wyatt being on it. A name I knew from The Animals Film soundtrack and his haunting version of Shipbuilding.

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I imagine ¡Vinceremos! has been used as a revolutionary slogan by a variety of popular movements. During the 80s it was chiefly used in reference to the overthrow by the Sandinistas of the Napoleon Duarte regime in Nicaragua. I seem to recall there being a Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign, and bands like Working Week etc did benefit gigs for them. There was a time in the early 80s when an FSLN t-shirt was de rigeur for any self-respecting British radical (or would-be radical). I think the Spanish female vocalist who appears towards the end of the Working Week track was a political refugee from an authoritarian central American country, and there were lots of those on the London music scene at the time.

The US openly (and often illegally) supported the right-wing Contra guerilla group who resisted the Sandinistas following the overthrow of Duarte, and the popular grass-roots movement here sought to redress that imbalance to some extent.

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Nicaragua was a major cause around San Francisco in the early ‘80s. I had various friends who went down there in one guise or another. My pals in the world beat scene, The Looters, went down there to play. Around home, they’d have audiences in the few hundreds - less in the small, sweaty, most illegal clubs that proliferated at that time. The Offensive was perhaps the best known. In Managua, they played to 50,000 and were treated as heroes around the country.

Wikipedia entry about Mat Callahan, leader of The Looters, gives a smaller audience, but that’s what myths are for!

What has happened since in Nicaragua is something of a tragedy in my opinion.

We’re a long way from jazz-funk here, sorry. However, @MusicForHangovers starting this topic did get me trawling thru’ the vinyl and I found an alarming number of albums, mostly compilations, from that era. I recall that I was impressed that such a scene could even exist at all. NME, which I bought every week back then, seemed to plug it pretty heavily. Jazz-funk meant nothing in SF, but I was interested just ‘cos I was voracious. When I visited the UK in 1989 I made sure to get to Dingwalls for one of those Sunday afternoon sessions. Strangely, the tune that made the biggest impression on me that day was “Pacific” by 808 State, which doesn’t seem very jazz-funk.

I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve read that jazz was originally a dance music before bop came along, but it’s plenty. Frankly, I think a lot of people just can’t dance to anything but the most obvious and only when in a herd at that. Dancing to jazz requires some imagination as well as technique - and a little showing of footwork is not such a bad thing.

[EDIT: Sorry, I sort of conflated jazz-funk with jazz dance above. I’m not always very good with my genres! However, there’s obviously a relationship - and that might even be extended to the dreaded acid jazz, which to be honest I was always rather amused by and also found a few tunes I enjoyed. Occasionally, I still pull out something labelled acid jazz for my own pleasure, although I have to admit that generally it has not worn very well and much of it was dodgy even at the time.]

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Guessing you’ve got the Snowboy book…if not you should. Written from the heart, has this whole story in detail and features some great playlists in the back for those new to the scene. Pity that there was never a parallel music release of the tracks referenced in it (although somebody has had a stab at it on a popular streaming service). Colin Curtis is still flying the flag for the scene via a must-listen podcast, great comps and live events.
snowboy book