Thursday, 11 August 2016

Of Songwriters, Poets And The Unceasing Search For Meaningful Expression

Songwriters and Poets
in The Stables behind The Pub

Last Friday of the month

I thought I would add a little ad. I generally write a newsletter before each "folk night" and send it to over a hundred people who, for better or worse, have signed up to the mailing list. There has been a folk club of sorts in the area for decades. There was also a period of several years when there was nothing in particular. Several years ago, a couple of friends were talking and decided it was time for the town to host acoustic music and spoken word events regularly again.

The venue chosen was a café in the town centre specialising in simple food from locally sourced produce. It proved to be a great success and the monthly sessions were filled with performers and audience members and food was available throughout the evening for those who wanted it. Home brew was also available, although I guess I should give it its due and refer to its micro-brew origins. Sadly, the business fell on hard times and no one seems to know what happened to the owner. The café is now a tattoo parlour.

We relocated to a wheat mill in a nearby village. It all started out very well. Once more food was available from locally sourced produce and I enjoyed being able to come before the evening's performances began and have something delicious to eat that I hadn't had to make for myself. The mill was actually a working mill, producing flour for bread-making as well as bread-making workshops. In a storm one night the sails fell off and the owners never found the money for replacing them. There were differences between the trust that owned the mill and the occupants. Whereas our music and poetry nights were initially held in the cafeteria area, the owner decided he would rather we used to "school" for bakers situated at the top of the mill accessible by some rather iffy stairs. He wanted to be able to shut the café and set the alarm. He gave me instructions as to how to turn off the electricity and lock the mill. We had some great nights there. However the discussions between trustees and untrusted broke down. The business failed and the mill was closed.

Next I approached the landlady of a pub back in town. She welcomed the idea of potential customers. It wasn't ideal holding our nights in the public bar (the only public space the pub had).  We were there for a couple of years and once more enjoyed some really good nights, even though the performers regularly outnumbered those who came purely to listen. We did have some uncomfortable moments with locals who only wanted to use the bar for a drink and a natter, but most people eventually got the idea that listening was a more appropriate response to performance. 

Then came the EU referendum. The day the results came in was our final folk n poetry night at this pub. Whichever way we had voted, five of us gathered at the start of the evening were all in a state of shock. As good friends of long standing we were sensitive to the differences in opinions and were trying to act as though nothing had happened. Going over it again at that point would not have been productive. If the evening began strangely it soon became downright weird. The evidence that the referendum had unleashed something unpleasant in the British public had been snowballing for weeks. During the day news had been coming in of local immigrants being abused, indigenous ethnic minorities being told to go home and before the evening was out we had experienced not only a reading of some very racist poetry, but had also been on the receiving end of a tirade by the vicar who came in for a drink and and (as normal) a natter in his rather loud voice. Between songs and in the middle of someone's set he felt it appropriate to lecture us on the indolence of lefty artsy types. He accused us of never having done a proper day's work in our lives (being accused of not working by a vicar?!) and he knew what hard work was because he had worked in the steel mills. That must have been a good few decades ago then. I have never had the opportunity to ask a vicar to leave the room before. In some ways it was satisfying, but it still left me feeling really uncomfortable.

So, with many thanks to the landlady who has accommodated us for the past few years we are very excited about our new move to our fourth venue. The landlord at the new venue back in the town centre, has generously agreed to let us use The Stables at the back of the pub. We think this is going to offer us the chance to keep the best of what we have (i.e. some very talented local artists) while offering us a lovely room for our monthly acoustic music and poetry nights. The room will be a space of our own where we'll not have to worry about disturbing the drinking and social life of the good people of the town and I think we shall have some flexibility to explore expanding what we do. The idea of having guest performers is gathering some momentum.

Given the extraordinary number of venues for live music that have sprung up around the region in recent years there are already opportunities for people to get together to perform and sing in sessions and in the round. We hope that we shall be able to offer something rather special by becoming a place where songwriters, composers and poets will want to share their work with others who recognise the drive to create and a space where all those who are interested in seeing and hearing original work will want to gather. The quality of creativity in this part of the Fens has long been a source of amazement. At the moment we intend to stick to the acoustic ideal and try to avoid the temptation to install a p.a. system for our regular nights, which is a route many performer sessions around the area have felt inclined to explore. We'll be keeping an eye on this and see how things go. It may be that we shall review this decision for some events, but not yet.

Of course, tis pub is no stranger to folk music. Many of our long time agitators have performed here in the past. For my part, as a member of local morris and molly dance groups in years gone by, I have pranced, stamped and shouted my stuff in the yard and the bar many times while, before the upstairs function room was converted into accommodation, my ceilidh band played a few ceilidhs here too.

So, I hope that this move is a good opportunity for regular, live acoustic performance in an easily accessible place in town and we are really looking forward to starting up on 26th August. I guess we have to watch this space. I'd hate for us to close down yet another business, but I have a good feeling about this. After all, there are hanging baskets of geraniums either side of The Stables' porch.

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