How Funk went Swing

My vinyl to digital conversion effort has taken an involuntary pause as my NuWave Phone Converter and pre-amp has failed. Fortunately the makers, PS Audio, or only up in Boulder, so I drove it up there last Friday to drop it off for repair and will go collect it tomorrow.

While tidying up some of my more recent conversions, it caused made me reflect on a few trends, and at least, as far as I can remember them happening. I wrote over 10-years ago about the Day that disco died(for me). One question has been answered with the discovery, and posting on Youtube of scenes from the Clash, January 1st 1977 gig at The Roxy.

Unlike for most, when disco died at the 12th of July, 1979 burning of disco records at Comiskey Park.

Loads of material written and even some video about the punk period, circa ’76-’77, there are also many books and videos about the pure “Disco” period that ran from say late ’78 through ’84, especially in London. Little though has been written about the period from ’75 to ’78 that didn’t include punk.

Even Simon Reynolds Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past. . Published in 2011, Reynolds looks at Pop Cultures addiction to retro themes based on past success. Reynolds covers extensively Northern Soul in Chapter-7, he misses our generations key retro theme, and jumps straight to the Mod’ revival bands and culture of bands like the Jam and 2-Tone.

Come 1972, the kids of London and the South East were looking for something after and the reggae and ska of the late sixties, Motown, and similar. Over the next 2-years, on the backs of many great one-hit-wonders, like Tom the Peeper by Act One, and also from more perennial bands like the Three Degrees, new acts like George McRae, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, meant that soul/dance music had caught on big time. In September ’74 almost half the actual pop music chart was music of black origin, predominantly soul/dance music.

None of the early jazz oriented funk, driven by bands like the Fatback Band, made the charts. Tracks from their first album, the 1972 Street Dance, and later tracks from their 1974 album Keep On Steppin’, again lead by the title track, combined with the totally dance-able Wicki Wacky had been big club hits but had yet to make a chart breakthrough.

By the summer of ’75, when the Fatback Band had their first UK chart record Yum Yum, title track from their 1975 album. In the UK, by the time your youth cult became mainstream, which it always did, it was time to move on.

What had been bubbling under in 1975 was a pivot to swing. The summer of ’75 had seen the epitome of modern swing dance, The Hustle enter the chart, and by July that year had become #3 in the UK Pop Chart. Van McCoy’s emblematic track “The Hustle” had been a club hit for a while in early 1975, and it would be the start of a movement that would carry through to 1977’s Saturday Night Fever and beyond.

The Hustle was a dance for couples. To this point, soul/dance and Jazz funk dancing had been mainly an individual thing. As you can see if this video

We started looking for a different direction. As Reynolds suggests, we fell back on a retro theme. We briefly flirted with ’65 and dressing like the Beatles, clothes were available cheap in what were then Second Hand shops. What was more readily available, especially in London, was army surplus. There was a large surplus store on the north end of Tottenham Court Rd commercial district, prices were right the direction for the summer was set.

Our home club was Mash on Greek Street in SOHO. I don’t recall the club details, I do remember though it stayed open late as a “Restaurant” and it had a late night drinks license along with it. We paid something like £2.50, and that included chicken in a basket, which qualified as a restaurant. Upstairs was a restaurant, not sure what it’s name was MASH was in the basement.

We totally continued with funk and rare dance tracks, but a core function of the club was swing aka hustle dancing, increasingly in US Army Style uniforms. Monday evenings we’d head out to Canvey Island to the Goldmine, where Chris Hill took everything one step further and as well as playing Glenn Miller, he also held dance competitions, a full 2-years before any of us saw Saturday Night Fever. By February 1976, Manhattan Transfer had covered Tuxedo Junction, punk was starting to happen. It was time to move on.

David Johnson has some interesting observations about the Goldmine on his Shapers of the 80s website, including pictures.

Later that spring I tore my meniscus/cartilage playing soccer, which restricted severely my ability to dance through the summer. I went to France on the Canal Du Midi, and by the time I got back, the crew I’d been part of moved on. I’m convinced now that a few of us did go to the Roxy for the New Years Day ’77 Clash night.

IMG_20180820_213219Some of us kept in touch over the next few years, we did summer clubs, Great Yarmouth weekenders, the Bournemouth Soul Club, and others but it was never the same again. After I had a serious motorcycle accident in 1978, I did get back together with many of the gang in the summer of ’79, especially one college graduation party in South London, where I re-met Wendy, who’d become my wife a year later.

By then, clubs and disco were mainstream, the kids were younger, the 80’s and New Romantics were happening, it was no longer our time.

Author: Mark Cathcart

Formerly an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice".

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