Blackpool Bounces with Jazzie B

This weekend saw the annual Christmas Party at the Winter Gardens and it featured the mighty Soul II Soul, the ever-amiable Craig Charles Funk ‘n’ Soul Show, Bite The Apple DJs and the young four-piece band from Liverpool Tiro Lark. Hosted in the grand surroundings of the Empress Ballroom, the event launched the festive season in great style.

Tiro Lark were up first and executed their set with vigour, skill and aplomb to a less than full arena (judging by the posts on the evening’s Facebook page, people were filling up on cheaper drinks before arriving. I don’t blame them; my own request for a glass of fizz was swiftly rescinded when the barman warned me it would cost £15!). I’ve never heard a live version of a FatBoy Slim track and yet the band executed that and a host of other well-worn classic tracks admirably. Their own number was a slight deviation but respect to the boys for making the most of the opportunity.Christmas Ball 2014 by C J Griffiths Photography

A brief interlude of forgettable tracks was played during the changeover and then Caron Wheeler arrived on stage in a sparkle and sunglasses ensemble suitable for a Soul Diva. As the opening notes of Keep on Movin’ started, the audience surged to greet her with respect, warmth and some surprising shimmying dance moves. She remained pitch perfect and a dominant presence throughout and was supported by an ensemble of great singers and musicians who were mostly too young to have been part of the original band but who sported outfits tagged with glittery yet subtly placed Soul II Soul logos which made it clear they were part of “the collective of like-minded people”.

When Jazzie B arrived and took the mic to address the audience directly, a new energy emerged and his fluid movements around the stage were echoed by the eclectic mix of folk on the dance floor (everything from ball gowns to bovver boots were on display). Unfortunately, most of what he said was inaudible – the timbre of his voice and the balance of the sound system combined to ensure that whilst his direct address was brilliant in enthusiasm and engagement, the content was completely lost. Their set climaxed with the massive 1989 hit Back to Life and the crowd seemed satisfied that these pillars of the UK Soul scene had performed with accomplished professionalism and uplifting style.Christmas Ball 2014 by C J Griffiths Photography

After a brief breakdown of the equipment (including the slightly bizarre drum-kit, which sat behind a wall of Perspex like the drummer had his own Pope-mobile), Craig Charles took to the stage with the call to arms of, “Some of you might know me from Red Dwarf, some of you might know me from Robot Wars, but that’s not really me – this is really me!” and his expertise as a populist DJ was apparent as the room exploded with a mash-up of funky classics with a modern twist from the likes of James Brown, Kool & The Gang, Al Green and The Golden Toadstools. It made me wonder why he hadn’t started the party off – the evening was soulful and smooth but, for my tastes would have benefitted from a bit more of this high octane bump and grind earlier on.

Ticket sales were far from capacity with around 750 people in attendance, however, I hope that the event was a success for Band on the Wall and their aspirations to use commercial activities to support their charitable objectives and that they will return to Blackpool to host more high-quality music nights. I, for one, would go again and urge other local residents to make the most of these opportunities to access world-class entertainment in exquisite environments right on your doorstep.

Images by C J Griffiths Photography.

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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    Melanie Whitehead is the Creative Director of The Old Electric, Blackpool's newest theatre. She previously worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre.

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