Out of all the gigs, this was one that I was personally most reluctant to do.
Thanks to Jane and Christophe's kindness, I'd been coming to Lloyd Dunkley's "Dance Cubana" salsa evening for a couple of years where I'd enjoyed the anonymity of being a simple salsa dancer, and his choice of music which I regard as being the best in the region. The latter is because he's a serious proponent of Cuban-style salsa and timba - subjects and musics very close to my heart.
And over that time, I'd come to be acquainted with a number of dancers whom I've become fond of; and the scene I danced in, which I enjoyed devoid of any prejudices that seem to come hand-in-hand with any heavy involvement in salsa. It all became moot when Lloyd asked for our availability to play on a double-bill with the superb son dancer and instructor Juan Carlos to commemorate Lloyd's birthday...
On the Saturday when we'd arrived at the Hillside Club, Blast PA had already set up most of their stuff. It just fell to us to bring on the instruments and soundcheck, which was a steady process unlike the mad hell-for-leather dash at Preston. This time Chris of Blast PA brought along the Yamaha LS9 digital mixer, a serious piece of equipment similar to the Mackie TT24 I'd been eyeing up for the recording project. It all went without a hitch, leaving time for a chat with Lloyd who was setting up his kit, and with Juan Carlos about Cuban dance genres before retiring to the dressing room.
A hint of concern did furrow my brow, "where's the hiccup that every gig should be plagued with?"
I changed and joined in with Juan Carlos' class, just a little something to relax and meet the dancers. Then Tony Piper of SalsaYork turned up and took over the DJ booth in the lead-up to our first set. I think he wanted to see what he was getting: we were going to be playing for him at the Engine Shed in a fortnight. The Hillside Club, by no measure a small place, was absolutely packed.
Opening with what is now our signature song "Nueva Generación", we powered our way through a 40 minute set with ease. Scanning the audience for levels of engagement, there were no signs of unease or distraction - the tempo was right and they were warming up very nicely indeed. 4de12 has a sound of its own, and like with all unique bands, it can take the listener a while to understand from which angle our music is coming from. (So much so, that opinions always indicate stronger groove in our second set; even when we swap setlist songs around.)
Still no hitches. It was starting to give my brain an itch.
Joining the dance floor during the interval, I spied Leslie and I broke my "no dancing in between the sets" rule. Leslie, I would describe as a great mover with an amusingly dry wit.
She asked me whether the band had been on already, to which I replied that the first set had finished and there was another yet to come. She seemed both disappointed and relieved.
She then asked me if the band were any good, to which I replied that I thought that they were, but that maybe she could make up her own mind and that we might compare notes later...
A couple of dances later and it was time for the second set.
Juan Carlos had already done the happy birthday song during the lesson, so it fell to us to organise the traditional birthday dance circle. I'd spoken to the band earlier about doing this, and we all agreed that the latter part of Bembé's montuno section would be the best place to do this. And if there was any place where the patron gremlin of gigs would fart, it would be right there. Practice must make perfect after all. It turned out flawlessly - the whole song: from start to breakdown section to resumption and coda. In a true Bruce-Forsythian moment, we presented Lloyd with a cuddly toy from stage much to the amusement of the dancers; it would've been rude not to.
Now, I can safely say that the gig at the Hillside is the exception that proves the rule. Not a single hitch, and it was an outstanding night. Maybe Leslie might even find it in her heart to forgive me. Eventually.