Every Black Friday we dust down our copy of Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas and play it pretty relentlessly throughout the holiday season, add an occasional airing of the Hot Club of Christ and that's about it. Although, we are as partial as anyone to the Carol of the Bells by anyone but the Bird and the Bee. Overall, I just don't know how sad that is, so this year we had our office monkeys, (so often so underemployed), head out on a mission - Expand the holiday recordings repertoire! Resourceful they are, returning in about five minutes with almost a century of sounds and a date, for afternoon tea and a chat, at the Lyons Tea House on Coventry Street no less, with mercurial musicologists, Andy and Stephen, the make up of Hot Ginger.
Andy and Stephen unearth long overlooked classics from the swing era and restore them to the light with their weekly radio shows and their phenomenally successful Hot Ginger swing nights. When we met they were just preparing their 2011 show calendar and pondering the next move for their radio show...
O/L: Hot Ginger. What's in a name? Is that just a reference I just don't understand?
Stephen: It's from the jazz song 'Nagasaki', which opens with the words
'Hot ginger and dynamite
There's nothing but that at night
Back in Nagasaki where the fellas chew tobaccy
And the women wicky-wacky-woo…'
Andy: We tried dozens of different names for our night but nothing sounded right till my good friend James Donaghy, (Guardian TV critic), suggested Hot Ginger. I wasn't convinced 'til I was trying out the various names on a car full of ladies all heading to the Cheltenham Easter Hop for a night of Lindy hopping. When I said 'Oh, and my mate suggested Hot Ginger as well…' and they all went wild for it, I knew that was the name.
Stephen: They went wicky-wacky-woo.
OL: This past year yielded some memorable Hot Ginger nights. Who could forget the Prohibition Party and the Hawaiian Hula?
Stephen: The biggest nights were the Retromance Party and the Mad Men night. 130 people packed the place for each of those, but almost every night we put on had an overwhelming response. Most swing dance nights are ecstatic when they get 60 people. That's a bad night for us. So we've been very successful.
Andy: To be honest, I still haven't fully recovered from the Grand Opening Night, looking up from the DJ booth and seeing the dance floor rammed with people dressed in vintage clothes lindy hopping to Duke Ellington. I thought 'Oh my god, this looks amazing! We've really hit on something here.'
Stephen: We've gone out of our way to make it very special. We take a lot of time to dress the place up, put together a new video projection of vintage images and dance band footage for every night, and our music selection is strictly confined to a very specific era. We don't play modern swing.
Andy: I think there's one Wynton Marsalis track we play but it's very retro. If it wasn't for that we'd be the swing Taliban.
OL: You've got a pretty full calendar of Hot Ginger events lined up for next year.
Stephen: Last year we had quite a long summer break, but this year we're only missing out January and August, so it's ten dates for 2011, and each one will have its own theme and represent a major dressing up opportunity.
Andy: We like each one to be a night of escapism, so we're going to whisk you away to 1940s Hollywood, Prohibition era Chicago, the Hot Club de France, a Weimar-era Berlin cabaret night, lots of time travel opportunities!
OL: We've been fans of your radio show for some time, you're planning to move to a new station soon? What's the plan?
Stephen: Well, we've done a year with Rhubarb Radio, based at the Custard Factory in Birmingham, but there have been various organisational crises which have resulted in several DJs calling it a day and no one sure if the station will continue.
Andy: We pre-record our shows to go out on Sunday mornings and they just weren't scheduling them, which meant we lost a lot of listeners. And we don't like telling people to get up and listen to us on Sunday morning if we can't be sure the station will actually put the show out.
Stephen: We're looking for another station that might host us. Anyone who sees a market for a weekly hour of swing music from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
Andy: We definitely plan to be back. We like the radio show and it's important to us to explore the music beyond the songs you can dance to. We like to dig a bit deeper and really uncover some hidden gems people might not have heard of. Hopefully, over the past year, we've got people to go beyond the big names like Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and Ella Fitzgerald, and check out amazing bands like Andy Kirk and his 12 Clouds of Joy, Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra and singers like Mildred Bailey and Johnny Mercer.
OL: It's great of you to help us out with our holiday listening. Let's get to the list...
Stephen: Everyone knows the more cheesy swing Xmas hits by Bing, Frank, Louis et al, and you can hear lots of them on our show, so we thought we'd pick out some of the more obscure swinging Xmas tunes; the kind that would stand up as decent swing tunes even without the Xmas theme.
1. Benny Goodman (v. Joe Harris) – Santa Claus Came in the Spring
Andy: We're big fans of Benny Goodman and play lots of his tunes at our Hot Ginger nights. Shame we can only play this once a year because it's a cracking little mover. Trombonist Joe Harris sings, but doesn't play trombone.
Stephen: Well, there's nothing to stop us playing it in April as that's technically springtime. Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters did an Hawaiian Christmas track called Mele Kalikimaka which sounds positively summery!
Andy: Brilliant. We'll play that at our Hawaiian Hula night next July!
2. Frankie Carle and His Orchesta (v. Marjorie Hughes) – Little Jack Frost Get Lost
Andy: Gosh, how edgy. She's practically swearing on this one. And she's the band leader's daughter. Imagine letting your little daughter swear on a Xmas song in front of the entire nation.
Stephen: Cor, we've picked some crackers here. (See what I did there?)
3. Artie Shaw and his Orchestra (v. Pegg LaCentra) – There's Frost on the Moon
Andy: A winter song more than a Xmas song, but lovely nonetheless. Apparently there's so much spring in her heart she doesn't need her racoon.
Stephen: Yes, but Christmas is in the winter isn't it? By racoon, I assume she means her Davey Crockett-style hat. The lyrics in this one are delicious though.
4. Russ Morgan and his Orchestra (v. Mildred Bailey) – I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
Andy: Mildred Bailey is a little known singer we've promoted heavily on our radio show and everyone should have one of her CDs in their collection like they probably have a Billie Holiday CD. She's a brilliant singer. This is one of the reasons the radio show has been so good: discovering amazing talents like this and being able to tell everyone about them.
Stephen: There's a really good version of this by Frank Sinatra on his show from 1951, some of his hang notes are so late you don't think he'll get all the words out in time. You can see a video of it on You Tube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ebmUpTCtJXE
5. Bernie Cummins Orchestra (v. Walter Cummins) - I Told Santa Claus To Bring Me You
Andy: We were saving this one for our second Xmas radio special but sadly it's not to be, which is a real shame because this is a jaunty little Xmas swinger. Note the family connection again (Walter is Bernie's brother). How appropriate for the festive season. Have a listen on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylIWoUsdMl8
Stephen: See, now, I don't have this one! That's the great thing about this era in music. The music was so prolific and it's a joy to keep on discovering "new" pieces!
There's a more complete list of what's hot for christmas with the boys from Hot Ginger, and a rebroadcast of their excellent Xmas radio show can be found here.
Visit www.hotginger.org for the very latest and look out for the return of the Hot Ginger club nights beginning Saturday, February 12th, 2011.
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