Activities and events

Old photo with elevated view of elegantly dressed dancers standing in rows in a ballroom, with a band on stage in the background and chandeliers above

The Grafton, courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

Music scenes depend upon people participating in many different kinds of activities and events, whether it be performing, listening, dancing, collecting, running fan clubs, or combinations of these.

These activities and events give people pleasure but they are also about power and can tell us about wider social and political relationships and identities. The rap and ragga scenes in the African country of Malawi are a good example. In both rap and ragga scenes there are competitions that take place in city bars or community centres. These competitions are dominated by young men who usually initiate, plan and advertise them and serve as the emcees, deejays and judges. Some young women and teenage girls also participate, most commonly as spectators but occasionally as vocal performers. The women also participate through dance. Their dancing tends to be more self-controlled than that of the male dancers but a few women engage in dance styles that resist these norms, using dance to express themselves in ways that they would not in other aspects of their everyday lives (Gilman and Fenn, 2006).

We can see in this example how a scene can support patterns of male and female behaviour that are conventional within society more generally. Yet through dance activities and events some people - like the young women in Malawi - are able to occasionally challenge or resist those conventions.

Dance, with its link to pleasure and power, has been fundamental to societies and cultures across the world and a focal point for many music scenes. They include scenes as varied as the tango scenes of Helsinki and Buenos Aires, the samba scenes of Rio de Janeiro, the reggaeton scene of Havana and the northern soul scenes of Wigan and Manchester.

Liverpool has hosted a diversity of dance scenes. Local dance halls like the Locarno and the Grafton have provided a focal point for some of these scenes. The Grafton opened in 1924 to accommodate 1200 dancers. Dance band leaders Joe Loss and Victor Sylvester, American jazz band leader Duke Ellington and the Beatles all performed there and the hall is still in operation today.

During the 1920s the Grafton was a key venue for the flapper scene. The flappers were young women who went against the behaviour that was expected of them. They tended to wear short dresses and bobbed hair and to smoke and drink. They danced the Charleston, a new jazz style of dance that was introduced in 1924 and became the most popular dance of the 1920s.

During the 1930s couples danced the foxtrot and other steps at the Grafton to the music of local and visiting swing bands. During World War II the hall attracted American servicemen who met there with local girls, as told in the novel 'The Grafton Girls' (Groves, 2007). By the 1950s rock 'n' roll had arrived and the Grafton hosted groups involved with the local 'beat' scene and dance styles such as the jive and the twist.

"During the 1940s and 50s the Grafton was THE place to go. It had a sprung dancefloor and it would bounce when they jived on it. All the big bands used to come and play on there. My dad sung on the Grafton during the 50s... My mum said she only needed her hips replacing cos she wore them out jiving at the Grafton!"

By the early 1970s disc jockeys were replacing the live bands and the Grafton became part of the local disco scene. Later in the 1970s the Grafton's infamous Thursday 'grab a granny' night was launched.