Catalogue number JBH064
Welcome Britxotica! fan to this, our fourth instalment of rare and exotic British recordings. For this volume, we head to ballroom - the puff-balled land of Peggy Spencer. But this is Britxotica! so the cha-cha-chas are often sprinkled with something a little taboo. Many of these records may not have found favour with the serious ballroom crowd on their initial release (rock and cha-cha-cha at the same time anyone?), but have since been tried and tested at more furious dance clubs such as Smashing in the 1990s. Martin Green is the master at finding and compiling this music. And when he turned up at mine with John Graven’s bizarre “Besame Mucho” and a cha-cha that went pop pop I knew we were in for something truly potty. I will leave Martin to explain the discoveries and history, and see you for cocktails in Britixotica! Volume 5.
In 1950's Soho, on the top of 15 Greek Street was a dance studio run by the first person to introduce Latin to London. Known simply as Monsieur Pierre, theone-eyed French ballroom teacher crossed the channel and brought overdances he experienced among the Cuban community of 1930's Paris.Initially frowned upon for being too wild, his revolutionary Tango, Samba and Rumba dance steps became the groundwork for all Latin American competitions and are still in use today. This album opens with a bouncing Mambo performed by big band leader Joe Loss. Born in 1909 to Russian immigrants, Loss grew up experiencing an East End Jewish life similar to many musicians of his generation including Ronnie Scottand Stanley Black. Creating a distinctive punchy brass Latin sound, he scored a huge hit with 'Wheels-Cha-Cha'; the theme to every British beefcake's muscle-flexing show routine. Highly regarded among other performers Loss was also godfather to lounge legend Barbara Moore, whose father played in his group.
Princess Margaret's passion for Latin and patronage of the Edmundo Ros club helped popularise the genre. By the mid 50's it could be heard at Ballrooms across the country as dancers, in a post-war celebratory mood and bored with traditional waltzes, excitedly learnt Monsieur Pierre's exotic new steps. Here Ros transforms 'Ain't Necessarily So' into a tough Mambo while Ted Heath takes a softer approach accompanying Denis Lotis as he authoritatively explains Mambo's history and The Johnston Brothers, who describe the dance as family entertainment complete with screeching child. When Monsieur Pierre visited Cuba in 1952 he realised there was an alternative rhythm being used for the Rumba. Returning to the UK, he taught the dance which soon became known as the Cha-Cha-Cha. This style became hugely popular and spawned a vast and varied amount of recordings. The novelty number 'Cha-Cha Pop Pop' produced by George Martin, inventively uses early electronic sounds, drummer Tony Crombie aggressively mashes up Cha-Cha with Rock-n-Roll, John Warren performs a sleepy organ led track and Martin Slavin, under the gaucho guise of Martinas and his Music, turns the traditional Scottish song 'Charlie is My Darling' into a hard hitting story about a young man addicted to Cha-Cha. The swinging South American Chaquito, produced many albums throughout the 60's with a heavy Latin brass style firmly aimed at the dancefloor. In typically mixed-up Britxotica fashion, the Mexican Chaquito was actually the pseudonym of composer and arranger John Gregory, son of FrankGregori, an Italian bandleader. Adding to the cultural confusion Gregory also used the Spanish sounding name Nino Rico and once recorded an album entitled Melodies of Japan. Surprisingly, the most influential bandleader of all Victor Silvester didn't start his career as a musician but as a professional dancer. In 1935,dissatisfied with the lack of suitable dance records available, he formed a band and combined 'strict tempo' music with his distinctive “slow, slow, quick-quick, slow” tuition. These recordings became enormously popular and sold over 75 million copies. Although famous for the Quickstep, Foxtrot and Waltz, he also promoted new dance trends by performing Jives, Bossa Novas and here, a floor-filling Latin-Twist version of 'Cerveza'.
Britain's Ballrooms were magnificent Meccas for dancing, socialising and courting with band leaders providing a constant soundtrack; Phil Tate at the Ilford Palais, Billy Cotton at Streatham's Locarno and Joe Loss at The Hammersmith Palais. From the 1970's to the mid 2000's many functioned as gig venues and discos, but sadly few survived the current desire to turn public spaces into apartments and supermarkets. The Locarno was only demolished last year.
Miraculously, Brockley's beautiful Rivoli Ballroom remains intact and still hosts weekly events where young Londoners, impassioned by television's recent dance shows, enthusiastically learn 80 year old steps. Latin lives on. It's certainly not the end of the Monsieur Pierre show.