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Jazz at the Bodega

It was on Cross Street in Deansgate. You went down some stairs and you were in the world
of 1950s trad jazz - Dixieland some called it.

It was a large room full of tables and chairs, with the proverbial bar of course. In those days
there wasn't much awareness of the hazards of cigarette smoke. On a Saturday night the Bodega was so full of it the place looked like a typical Manchester smog. I shudder when I think how much of it I inhaled.

Still, it all added to the atmosphere, and what an atmosphere it was. A mass of bodies all
swaying, foot-tapping, even jumping to the roaring trombones, piercing trumpets and piping clarinets of Alex Welsh & His Dixielanders, the Chris Barber Jazz Band, and Ken Colyer, Lonnie Donegan's banjo playing was part of it, and there was the wonderful knockabout singing style of George Melly when he was up north.

There were others too but the names fade with the years. It was interesting that Lonnie (as British as fish and chips) made a solo record of an American folk song "Rock Island Line" that shot to No 1 in the United States hit parade, and that was the end of his humble banjo-playing with the trad bands.

As Saturday night wore on everyone became tipsier including the band, and when ten o' clock came the place was jumping like a kangaroos conference.

It was a thrilling kind of music, played without any kind of written guide, just a bunch of musicians who knew each other's style intimately, and it all blended into a rousing, marvellously-free combination that would have held its own in New Orleans. Some of the musos had in fact been there.

Everyone loved George Melly. His speaking voice was cultured, very English, even BBC-ish, yet when he sang you'd really think he was a son of Uncle Sam. He wore a kind of black track suit in which he strutted the little stage like an arrogant peacock. When it came to the shooting bit in "Frankie and Johnny" he would crash to the floor like a felled tree and everyone roared. I never could figure out how he did it without injuring himself. My favourite was "Judge, Judge, Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair."

There was always an anti-climax to it all, because around ten when everything was in top
gear, bells would ring, lights would flash, and there came a "last drinks" announcement. It was the joy-killing news everything would
end in about fifteen minutes. We were all victims of Britain's antiquated liquor laws! It was sad because the night was young as they say.

I'll always have fond memories of my teenage years and those groovy Saturday nights in the Bodega.




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