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Shake Your Tailfeather 2008-2012

In Worthing 2018 a weekend evening can be a blast. If you’re willing to explore, there’s always something going on, something lively, curious and original, almost certainly something you can dance to. It wasn’t always thus. Rewind the clock only a decade and Worthing was very different…

Promoter Gerard Luck’s Sweet Release parties ticked over during the late ‘90s but tailed off in the new millennium. Within a few years, if you wanted to dance, Worthing was dead as the proverbial dodo. However, a few DJs were still enlivening pubs and back rooms. One of these was Chris Freestone who, with Simon ‘Bumchin’ Hedges and others, did a night at the Frog Pond pub (Bath Place, now a hairdressers) called The Groovatarium. They were heftily into soul and funk. So was Norman Murchie who, with Tristan Forshaw as Fraggle Rock DJs, pulled all-nighters at Giuseppe’s Café (Warwick St), then moved to The Wheatsheaf when it opened (Richmond Rd, recently closed and boarded up). In the summer of 2008, Chris Freestone and Bumchin relaunched under the name Shake Your Tailfeather. Norman Murchie soon joined them.

“The name came from the fact that Worthing had just been given the Birdman event,” explains Freestone, “I launched it on the same day [6th July], thinking that Worthing would be packed. I fly-postered along the beach with help from the Frog Pond staff – who politely then took them down the next day, so as to not litter! The logo came from an image of a stripper we found online which we used as a template to create a backdrop, complete with the aforementioned feathers.”

The name also came from the classic soul song ‘Shake the Tail Feather’ (recorded by Ray Charles, Ike & Tina Turner and others), and soul, in all its liveliest, sweatiest permutations, was what it was all about. The night soon began to bubble, and moved to the Dome Cinema’s Gallery Bar.

“We gave out free badges, compact mirrors and other paraphernalia,” remembers Freestone, “maybe there was even a backdrop by then too. The opening night was poor as we used the Dome’s PA, a mistake.”

It wasn’t only the music that was hot, so was the temperature on the Dome’s dancefloor, but Shake Your Tailfeather was gathering its crowd.

“It finally gave people round here the opportunity to go somewhere and listen to music that wasn’t mainstream,” recalls Norman Murchie, “It got very busy and became like a little community. It was the only party in town!”

“It was what I got into DJing for in first place,” adds Simon ‘Bumchin’ Hedges, “When you’re behind the decks you can read the crowd, read what’s best to dance to; that’s why we do it. We only covered costs really, but it didn’t matter. You’d be playing those same records in your bedroom anyway, and it gravitates from there.”

The arrangement with the Dome was a simple one, involving a private members scheme to circumvent licensing laws, but when the venue’s management changed in early 2010, and an unaffordable hire fee was introduced, it was time to move on.

“A gig by Pete Fij and that chap from the House of Love [Terry Bickers] in front of about five people in that little unkempt top room at Coast, swung us there,” says Freestone, “I got the first event there to coincide with Norman’s birthday in April. After that we were off. Norman invested in a PA and before long we were DJing, working behind the bar, selling homemade patties and the all-weather beach parties were born.”

“One of my favourite nights was in the early days at Coast,” says Murchie, “It took a while to get the lighting sorted so we only had an old table lamp with tassels. Towards the end of the night it was quite hectic, turned a bit housey. My friend Steve McMahon was flicking the lamp on and off for dramatic effect. There were probably only 50-60 people there but every time that lamp went off, it just created this atmosphere, this reaction. The beach parties with the fireworks were very special too.”

Norman Murchie also puts Shake Your Tailfeather’s success down to a fresh attitude towards soul and the culture surrounding it.
“There’s a lot of history of northern soul round here,” he explains, “Sometimes that can be a bit one dimensional, one sound all night, you can’t have a drink on the dancefloor, respect all these rules that were put together back in the ‘60s. Tailfeather didn’t have that sensibility. It was a reaction to all that. It worked really, really well to begin with but fell on its arse at the very end. It had run its natural course, done what we set out to do, put on credible night in Worthing.”

Shake Your Tailfeather was always a collective and changing circumstances, including some members leaving town, meant it folded in the summer of 2012. However, from its ashes rose Inappropriate Handclap, put together by Norman Murchie, Simon ‘Bumchin’ Hedges and Steve McMahon. They adopted some of Tailfeather’s remit and expanded upon it.

“The three of us pushed ourselves a bit further musically,” says Hedges, “I’ll play anything from Sister Sledge to house tunes, disco re-edits. It still has a core atmosphere that you never quite know what we’re going to play.”

Inappropriate Handclap, along with Samurai Nights and the recently resuscitated Utopia parties, is one of Worthing’s most popular nights, filling Coast every month throughout the summer and beyond. But it was undoubtedly Shake Your Tailfeather that restarted the nightlife in this town.

“It was like the Sex Pistols at Manchester Free Trade Hall,” Murchie jokes, “In that almost everyone doing anything round here came to it on a semi-regular basis. It made people say, ‘Hang on, this could work!’ It hadn’t been happening in Worthing for a long time. If you were going to do something, it had to be cheese or nonsense. Shake Your Tailfeather gave out the idea that if you did something they were into, other people would get involved.”

He’s right. Go and do something you’re into. Get people involved. Do it. Now.

Thomas H Green