Friday, July 11, 2008

Hep Cat's Holiday

Every once in a while you stumble upon some self-contained and hidden world that you were previously unaware of. The land is peppered with clubs, associations, groups of enthusiasts and just plain nutters, whose activities are so weird and obscure that they either go unnoticed or are dismissed altogether.

I've met dowsers, twitchers, pitchfork rebels, Big Lebowskis, trekkies, ferret smugglers, avalanche dodgers, cheese rollers, witches and warlocks, members of the Sunbeam Talbot Alpine Register, and many book collectors of course - all of whom can pass for normal as they go about their daily business. But then you touch upon their other life. Some chance remark reveals their secret, and it's at that point you should get out, my dears. Walk away. Because if you're foolhardy enough to show even the merest spark of interest, you find yourself pinned against a wall by a gale of evangelistic fervour that's likely to take your ears off. Next thing you know, you've signed up for two years before the mast with the Captain Pugwash Appreciation Society.

That's kind of what happened to me last weekend. The Gents were booked to play at the Hep Cat’s Holiday, billed as three days and nights of dancing to music of the forties and fifties - the jive era. We were looking forward to it very much, and it didn't disappoint. Hosts Robert and Claire Austin put on a terrific show, with professional dance classes, retro clothing side stalls, a constant soundtrack of great music (courtesy of incredibly knowledgeable and well-stocked DJs) plus half a dozen top live bands. What made it work, though, was the enthusiasm and commitment of the punters. They came from all over Europe, bringing their unfeasibly flamboyant wardrobes and haircuts with them, and boy did they impress. Hats, shoes, skirts, suits, all pin-sharp and perfectly tailored - this was serious stuff. None of your dressing-up box schmutter here. They looked the business, and they could dance it too.

It was great fun to just watch and listen, and when we weren't playing we did plenty of that. Our slots were on the Sunday - the last day of the festival - and so we only caught a couple of the other bands. We particularly liked the Honolulu Hula Boys (as friendly a bunch of Italians as you could hope to meet) and sat out in the evening with them, passing the ukelele around and singing songs beneath the patio heaters. 'Paper Doll' and 'I'll See You In My Dreams' are two that I seem to recall.

Twenty four hours of it wasn't enough, and so next year I plan to be there for the whole weekend. Yes, I've rescinded my membership of the Tufty Club, and decided be a hep cat instead. Whether I shall be able to coax my ravaged frame into lindy-hopping with the best of them seems doubtful, but I'm happy to give it a go, and am already saving up for my first pair of two-tone penny loafers. That comes to tuppence, by my reckoning, and if the world of publishing is kind to me I should have enough by November.

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