Tuesday, October 05, 2010

At The Walpole Bay Hotel

The Kentish coast is a long way from West Yorkshire, so when The Gents were invited to play in Margate my first response was ‘no thanks’. A 600 mile round trip just for a gig? I’m not that desperate.

But I changed my mind for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’d never been to the East coast – a shameful state of affairs at my age. Secondly, er...my age. I had a big birthday coming up, which surrounding hoop-la I was keen to avoid. Margate suddenly seemed like a good place to be. So I said ‘OK then’, and last Saturday we tipped up at the Walpole Bay Hotel to play at a dance weekend, organised by The Cinque Ports Lindyhoppers.

The Walpole Bay was a wonderful surprise. It’s described as a living museum by its owners, the Bishop family, and that’s exactly how it’s presented – a glorious mish-mash of Edwardiana, thirties and forties artifacts, wartime memorabilia, and...tat. You could spend a very happy weekend there just poking about among the contents without even needing to venture outside to admire the sea views. Unsurprisingly the hotel has been featured in numerous films and TV programmes, and equally unsurprisingly the walls are peppered with photos of visiting and local celebs.

A perfect setting, then, for a weekend of jive and swing music, the dancers all immaculately dressed in their period outfits. And boy can they dance. The Gents are old hands at this kind of thing (see also Hep Cats Holiday) and it’s amazing to watch those crazy kids go. Playing double bass can be warm work, but it’s a breeze compared to what’s happening down on the dancefloor. I kid you not, we saw blood – a big trail of it across the floor – as we were setting up the gear. Although I suppose that could have been an example of local lass Tracey Emin’s installation art...

When we’d finished the gig it seemed too early to go to bed, so we started up again in the bar. Everybody packed themselves in there and we kept it up until three. A great night.

What was slightly weird was that there was a German film crew on hand making a documentary about the hotel. I don’t think they’d expected the dance weekend – the theme of which was WW2, it being the anniversary of the Battle of Britain and all that. So there were these wartime posters everywhere, whose message was hardly German-friendly. I don’t know what the film crew made of all this, or what they will say about it in their programme. 'Xenophobia alive and well in Britain', I shouldn’t wonder.

I was told by some of the dancers that such re-enactment groups don’t exist in Germany, and that they’re not allowed to wear their own military regalia from WW2, at least not officially. This leads to the situation where Germans who love the music and dancing come over here and don British and American uniforms so that they can be a part of it. I find this bizarre, but also rather heartwarming.

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