Dancing on the Edge

From 2013. The script is paramount with Dancing on the Edge. That’s no surprise perhaps, as the writer of the televison drama set in the London of the early-1930s is Stephen Poliakoff, also this new period drama’s director. Poliakoff is best known …

Published: 26 Nov 2019. Updated: 58 days.

From 2013. The script is paramount with Dancing on the Edge. That’s no surprise perhaps, as the writer of the televison drama set in the London of the early-1930s is Stephen Poliakoff, also this new period drama’s director.

Poliakoff is best known in the early part of his career for writing dramatic pieces for Play for Today, the topical issues-driven drama series screened in prime time when drama was not relegated to the margins. He worked with jazz composer Mike Westbrook on Caught on a Train in 1980, that piece starring Peggy Ashcroft, and more recently Mike Gibbs for the films Close My Eyes (1991) and two years later, Century.

Poliakoff explains, speaking on the phone as he moved to complete the post-production of Dancing on the Edge: “Mike Gibbs produced a score basing it on Schoenberg’s pre-First World War music for strings, the Romantic period.” As for Westbrook he says he bumped into the composer as recently as last May when they were both invited to a Jubilee arts gathering. But it’s Poliakoff’s work with composer Adrian Johnston, “one of my closest creative long lasting relationships”, he says, whose evocative quietly compelling themes for such dramas as Shooting the Past, more recently Friends and Crocodiles, and the Emmy award-wining Gideon’s Daughter, that continues on Dancing on the Edge.

The pair have moved way beyond their comfort zone when they contemplated the preparation of the music for the drama. For one thing it’s jazz, in the background and in the foreground, a music, Johnston explained as shooting for the film was in full flow, he has a love of dating back to his time touring Europe as a silent film pianist.

Speaking on the street outside Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End of London near Tower Bridge as scenes from the basement jazz club were being filmed inside, Johnston explained that the music was not “slavishly following” the exact musical trends for the day, but agreed Ellington was an abiding influence behind the music.

Poliakoff recalls writing the lyrics to Johnston’s song ‘Papa’ written for Emily Blunt in Gideon’s Daughter that won the pair an Emmy. Although the writer/director says that he’s not really a lyricist – “My being a lyricist is as likely as ballet dancing” – they set to work. We got together and I said ‘you have a go’. I suggested a few titles, and polished them a bit, and then Adrian just wrote the lyrics in a burst.”

Johnston was faced with the challenge of creating a hit song for the Louis Lester band, ‘Dancing on the Moon’, sung by the band’s singer Jessie (Angel Coulby) who becomes the object of some fascination for one of the younger sons of King George V, and for the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, who visits the hotel and who the heir to the throne ends up having a dance with. Poliakoff says the inspiration for the later scene when the king’s son drums with the band is drawn from a later encounter royalty had with Duke Ellington.

“Jazz was a cult interest but it opened the window and was very fashionable. Also at the time Paul Robeson playing Othello at the Savoy in 1931 caused a big event, a black man kissing a white woman, something not seen in the theatre of the day.”

– Stephen Graham

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20 of the best UK jazz releases of 2013

1 The Impossible Gentlemen Internationally Recognised Aliens Basho Witty and warm The Impossible Gentlemen return with a new producer and bass chum in Steve Rodby, and the band sound as if they’re having fun. Unexpectedly endearing romance-laden …

Published: 26 Nov 2019. Updated: 7 months.

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1 The Impossible Gentlemen Internationally Recognised Aliens Basho Witty and warm The Impossible Gentlemen return with a new producer and bass chum in Steve Rodby, and the band sound as if they’re having fun. Unexpectedly endearing romance-laden themes, and circuitous improvising of the highest order

2 Sons of Kemet Burn Naim ‘Rivers of Babylon’ will never sound quite the same again as the Kemets play a pair of aces with their tub-thumping debut

3 June Tabor/Iain Ballamy/Huw Warren Quercus ECM Not since Lammas has a folk-jazz project succeeded in such joyous fashion

4 Kit Downes Quintet Light From Old Stars Basho Chamber jazz signifiers, free improv, cinematic “road movie” conceptual material, and quality ‘jam’ blow-out routines see the five come alive

5 Blue Touch Paper Drawing Breath Provocateur Colin Towns has clearly found a new seam of inspiration with his relatively new Anglo-German band here channelling a scene from the “Scottish play” among the highlights

6 Jason Rebello Anything But Look Lyte Records Strong songs, effortless improvising and a soulful dimension, Jason Rebello pulls off the comeback of the year

7 Soweto Kinch The Legend of Mike Smith Soweto Kinch Recordings A post English-riots London fable double album shaped around an abiding fascination with the seven deadly sins, improvising and wordplay click into place in an impressive display

8 Mark Edwards In Deep Quiet Money Pianist Edwards’ singers album, with Claire Martin, Liane Carroll and Carleen Anderson at their best, delivering one of the biggest surprises of the year

9 Ellington in Anticipation Ellington in Anticipation Subtone Reminiscing in tempo customised for the Polar Bear generation and expertly captured by Mark Lockheart’s free wheeling band

10 Gwyneth Herbert The Sea Cabinet Monkeywood A concept album based on the story of an imagined woman who walks the beach alone picking up things she finds adding them to her “sea cabinet”. Whimsy that takes itself seriously, as Herbert enters her prime

11 Human Being Human Babel Quite a debut by drummer and composer Stephen Davis’ improv quartet coloured by the violin of the maverick Dylan Bates, the talismanic presence of pianist Alexander Hawkins, and the electronicist, trumpeter Alex Bonney

12 Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, and London Vocal Project Mirrors Edition The extraordinary late-period flowering of Kenny Wheeler’s artistry continues, on this nuanced vocals and poetry-inspired set

13 Sam Crowe Group Towards the Centre of Everything Whirlwind A sense of compositional scale on a robustly creative meta-album by pianist-composer Crowe and chums

14 Liane Carroll Ballads Quiet Money A confessional album gathering together many classic torch songs cleverly collected and interpreted that espouse loneliness, loss, but above all a longing for love. Carroll at her best

15 Andre Canniere Coalescence Whirlwind State-of-the-art acoustic post-bop from imaginative trumpeter Canniere and his fine band

16 Gilad Atzmon Songs of the Metropolis World Village A ballad-laden meditation on the urban experience, one of Atzmon’s very finest releases, up there with Exile and his work with Robert Wyatt

17 Vole The Hillside Mechanisms Babel Roland Ramanan’s impressive free jazz and improv approach comes of age

18 Jeff Williams The Listener Whirlwind Recordings Human scale live recording Williams superbly Motian-like in one of the most considered albums of the year

19 The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra In the Spirit of Duke Spartacus A connoisseur’s choice in an orthodox interpretation of Ellington classics by the award winning Scottish big band institution

20 DanaMeilana 6 JazzNBelfast no label Singer Dana Masters and saxophonist Meliana Gillard lead a finely tailored soulful and gospel tinged modern mainstream band capturing a scene bursting with ideas