Yiddish Twist Orchestra - The Back Story
“It is always the seam on your trousers that attracts the most dirt,” said Alf Wax, the great Whitechapel tailor, and back in late 1950s London the same was undoubtedly true for music – it was the seam of the big band and rock’n’roll eras that produced what sounds now like the dirtiest, most deliriously danceable music of all: a delirious mix of West Indian Calypso, mambo, surf guitar, classic Yiddish songs and English beat rhythms that they called ‘der shvitz’. When years later it crossed the Atlantic in diluted form as ‘the twist’ its roots were forgotten, and remained so, with the exception of a select few in the know who recognise Willy Bergman, its founder and greatest bandleader, as the lost hero of the sex ‘n’ drugs British music revolution.
Yiddish Twist Orchestra – the Front Story
The YTO is an Allstar band featuring:
- twist-neck guitarist Ben Mandelson (3 Mustaphas 3, Billy Bragg)
- reedman David Bitelli (Elton John, Loose Tubes)
- Hammond and keys maestro Robin Harris (La Machine)
- sizzling Latin trombonist Paul Taylor (Snowboy, Roberto Pla)
- dazzling trumpeter Simon Finch (Eric Clapton, Paul Weller, Jools Holland)
- rhythm kings Simon Edwards on bass and Roy Dodds on drums (Fairground Attraction and many more)
- Soho’s retro king Natty Bo on vocals (Ska Cubano, Top Cats)
The band’s music pays homage to the genius and paranoia of Bergman, the unjustly forgotten beatnik funkateer who got the slums and salons on both sides of the water dancing to that pounding London beat.
The Yiddish Twist Orchestra released their debut album Let’s earlier this year to wide critical acclaim. Come and join us for this unique show and see what all the fuss is about.
Q&A with YTO
Q. Maybe you could start by introducing the band?
A: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome ‘The Yiddish Twist Orchestra’
on drums: Roy Dodds
on bass: Simon Edwards
on organ and piano: Robin Harris
on electric guitar: Ben Mandelson
on trombone: ‘trombone poet’ Paul Taylor
on saxophone and clarinet: David Bitelli
on trumpet: Simon Finch
[on executive trumpet: Lemez Lovas]
and on voice: Natty Bo
United, they chose to accept: ‘Mission Twistpossible’
Q. What is ‘der shvitz’? How do you dance to it?
A. ‘der shvitz’. Anyone who knows the Twist (popular social dance with international impact) already knows ‘der shvitz’. In true fact, ‘der shvitz’ was the origin of the Twist.
Born in the sweat, sawdust, lint and flour of the leisure-time dance halls of London’s East End frequented by young stylists from the jewish bakery and ‘schmatte trade’ [Rag Trade] who, literally, wanted to shake the days’ (or nights’) dust off themselves. Their energetic spiral movements working up a sweat led the eminent jewish bandleader Willy Bergman to create a dance in their honour (and to serve their needs): der shvitz [yiddish for ‘The Sweat’; also for the whole ‘vibe’ of the steam-filled atmosphere of the Steam Baths].
US servicemen and sailors, crazy for dancing, took what they heard in the heimishe dance palaces (and, later, in Soho) back to America. It fell into the hands of juke box moguls. The rest is Twistory.
How do you dance to it? Imagine a bagel [variant spellings: beigel, baigel] around the waist like a giant hula-hoop (or vice-versa). Spin, rotate, kick-start the bagel into motion. Keep it in motion.Wave your arms in gratitude or greeting. And write your name on the ground with the points of your toes! That’s it…now you’re shvitzing!!
Think Twister on the Hoof, not Fiddler on the Roof
Q. Willy Bergman? Myth or history? Spokesman or symbol?
A. Both, or all four.
If Bergman hadn’t existed, it would have been necessary to invent him.
A kind man with a dark side; an inventor who couldn’t let go; a hero in secret; a man who bore the daily grind with a quizzical smile, yet was embittered to his dying day by ‘his’ success stolen by others.
A bandleader of the people, yet sometimes haughty. A litmus test of all that was acid or alkali in his public’s taste. A prince of Archer Street [musicians’ hiring-and-firing street in London’s Soho; a place to pick up casual music ‘gigs’] and starter of dance crazes. A
chochem, mensch and kolboynik. Bagel eater, diet crank and mambo fan.
His first composition was ‘ a farbisene ponim‘ [an embittered face] foxtrot; from the Joseph Green film ‘Happy as the day is long’.
A poet, and commissioner of poetry. Archivist and burner of memories. Forgotten man, yet creator of those who forgot him.
He heard it all and made the Shvitz.
Q. Can you explain the philosophical and cosmic relevance of the Bagel to the music of the Yiddish Twist Orchestra?
A. If brown rice was the first ‘wholefood’, then bagels are surely the world’s first ‘hole’ food. [note: please do not mention doughnuts. In a doughnut, even the hole is fried. Not a good starting-point].
Bagels inspired Bergman, They are the wheels of the dough world. They roll the routes between meals. Baked crop circles. Architects crave their toroidal logic. Saturn’s bread rings, they land after midnight, the UFOs of your post-club food dream calling ‘take me to your eater’. You do.
Is it any coincidence that the main sound-carriers of the 20th century – Bergman’s century – had the same shape? Round. Hole in Middle.
[even the cassette? Please. Bergman hated cassettes].
Q. Many people will know Natty Bo as frontisman for retro Cuban ska band Ska Cubano. What has he had to do to become singer with the YTO?
A. He has had to do nothing but bring his style to the orchestra. As a leading vocalist with a great love & knowledge of the retropolitan in all of its forms (mambo, ska, calypso, jump and jewish skiffle) he is the voice that Bergman wrote for. [for whom Bergman wrote]. He has the twistique mystique.
Q. The YTO have their roots in London’s East End – how much does this inform the music they play?
A. It does – but to be honest, the YTO’s roots are in making both ends meet: the East End and the West End. Shvitznik pride and Twistnik joy. The dance-as-sweaty-relief after hard work meets hipster nihilist nonchalance, nothingness and reverb. Twangst.
Without Bergman’s Archer Street connections and the night world of Soho, the twist would never have circled the Metropolis.
But, without the readiness of the towns and cities of The United Kingdom to celebrate their ‘Twistival of Britain‘ after the dark gray years of austerity raincoats, the twist would never have circled the world.
That’s why we are committed to touring the world and the UK!
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Did you ever ask yourself ‘why?’
Q. Do you have plans to record an album of ‘der shvitz’?
A. Yes. The Orchestra has been to a leading studio wherein recording experts had been gainfully engaged to ensure the hi-fi [high-fidelity]. A cult programme of classics, favourites and secret medleys. The Orchestra’s trademark driving beat is much in evidence, although romance has also been catered-for.
Q. And so these plans have been realised? It is an ‘album’? What is it by name and how can we own a copy?
A. Yes. A début ‘album’. The name is ‘LET’S!’
It has Catalogue Number : Bergmanton Twist Series 0039;
It is available from the Orchestra’s shop on the line at
and directly from us at Yiddish Twist concerts [at which we shall autograph it with names at no extra charges].
Q. Do you have some words for your fans around the UK?
A: If you use Twitter, think of it as Twister. Send out some Tweests and tell your pals to come to the YTO’s world tour of Twist! You won’t see us on the Television Talent Olympics. But we guarantee that if you come to see us, we’ll be there to see you.
Remember the motto on Bergman’s coat-of-arms: Veni Fili Viri, Twistabit.
Independent on Sunday
“Best track [on the compilation] is from the Yiddish Twist Orchestra, with their rocking surf guitar anthem”
- Abendzeitung Munich
"Clash of klezmer and Cuban.. entertaining, varied, classy"
- The Guardian
"Verve, skill and humour... London's first world music"
"Surf rock guitar, jazzy horns, calypso, the twist... a gleefully maverick spirit"
"Musicianship of staggeringly high quality: jaw-dropping solos and witty banter... Tickets will fly out for their next visit"
- York Press
"A blazing brass section , two nifty connoisseurs of the electric guitar, and a drummer with rhythm deep in his bones... Yiddish Twist are one band not to miss."
- Roots of the World