Wet and windy it may have been – enough to blow the brolly inside out a few times actually, but inside it was, in a Hot Club de Paris kind of way… rather hot.

Not that we were in the most obviously romantic city in the world, but then sometimes looks can be deceptive.

From outside the Park Inn on Park road in Hartlepool looks nothing special – but inside it was packed with folks already seated by 12.15 for the 1pm kick-off of Musicians Unlimited. This mixture of musicians re-create the Bigband sounds from the Rink period, and of course some of them (the average age of the band is on the mature side – tho quite a mixture of ages) remember the Rink Ballroom very well. They play a bag of songs that span Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Count Basie, through to Glen Miller and the crooner himself, Frank Sinatra.

I am once again struck by the generosity of people once you get to actually engage with them. As I mentioned in my last posting, I had tried every which way to get in touch with the bandleader Mick Donnelly and nothing had appeared in my in-box. Later I broach the subject of communication with Gavin – one of the musical arrangers for the band “Oh god no” he says deadpan – “he never replies to anything from anyone”.

Ah well I don’t feel left out then. Mick is a busy guy though, being a pro musician, and does this for love so I’ll let him off.

We were always going to go anyway. To be honest we could have done a speculative round trip from Newcastle, but it was my birthday and I really wanted to both film the gig and have a good time doing it. I also feel that, in this sort of scenario it’s not like I’m going in all ‘high brow film producer’ style. I prefer to try and mix in as much as possible (well as much as you can with a camera on your shoulder and a hairy microphone that Mick referred to as a rat).

I had booked the Grand Hotel so a few ‘social beverages’ could be consumed without having to drive. Obviously my excuse is that this facilitates the process of creative ‘tuning in’ rather than formal observation. A sociologist might not approve – but I’m an artist so I make the rules.

Being in a room full of people you just know come here every week to see this band play, is like being at a family event. In fact it was a couple’s 50th wedding anniversary so there was free food on all the tables. When eventually I got to speak to Mick it was a quick – “oh yes I got your mails – no problem – I’ll ask the band when they’re all assembled but I’m sure it will be fine”. I felt better then… dash to the car, get the gear out without trying to look too conspicuous.

This is a pub – so there are a lot of musicians packed onto a rise area (you couldn’t call it a stage) and it’s not the best location for getting uninterrupted footage of the band, but i didn’t want to be toooo in their faces. Anyway, after the opening tune had kicked in Mick came over to where I was with the tripod, leant over and said “it’s ok if you want to get in with the band you know – they’re all ok with it – just kick me out of the way if you want!”. Now that was actually very generous being that he’s the conductor – it was a thumbs up to get close and personal – and in that venue it was virtually a case of sitting on the sax players knee.

Afterwards we chatted to a couple of lovely guys who had loads of memories of the Rink time. There was never a hint of drifting tumble weed – we just felt included even though we were the obvious out of towners. The beer helps of course.