I am still waiting to be seduced by Stephen Poliakoff‘s BBC drama. Visually, it’s stunning, even though it’s hard to believe that this band of black jazzers would have such exquisitely tailored outfits.
Musically, if it’s supposed to replicate the sound of early 1930s swing bands, at a time when Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were visiting these shores, it doesn’t even succeed as a pastiche. This in spite of the brilliance of Adrian Johnston’s original tunes, which might almost have come from the Duke’s own songbook.
Not only had US jazzers been wowing the upper classes ever since the visit of the ODJB in 1919; Sydney Bechet and the Southern Syncopated Orchestra played at Buckingham Palace in the early ‘Twenties. You’d think, from the constant references to the lack of interest in jazz, that there was no native-born jazz scene; Spike Hughes was already recording for Decca and Fred Elizande had been broadcasting for BBC since 1926, whatever Lord Reith might have hated about the genre.
The credits flashed by too fast for me to recognise any of the band members’ names, but I’m assuming that the occasional trumpet solos weren’t played by Jay Phelps, who’s seen on screen. The real weakness of the music – both musically and dramatically – is the two girl singers, Wunmi Mosaku as Carla (left in the picture) and Angel Coulby as Jessie. Of the two, Mosaku is the better singer as becomes obvious when, towards the end of episode two, she takes over the solo part, and is applauded by the Prince of Wales as a plush RAF do. But Ivie Anderson she ain’t.
I’ve set my YouView box to record the whole series, so I may return for a more considered judgement on the drama as a whole some time next week. It’s also coming out on DVD.
- Dancing on the Edge: episode one (guardian.co.uk)
- Dancing on the Edge: what was life really like for black jazz bands in 1930s Britain? (guardian.co.uk)
- Dancing on the Edge: Stephen Poliakoff interview (telegraph.co.uk)
- Dancing on the Edge, BBC Two, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- Post Features: The ballroom of The Grand Hotel in Birmingham jazzed up for BBC drama (birminghampost.net)