Monday 30 April 2012

The power of music, friendship and a good cause.

Firstly, apologies for the lack of blog over the last while.  Those moments of inspiration that inspire me to write haven't been pressing enough, that was until the weekend just gone.

This weekend, in Bristol in 3 venues a total of over 50 local and not so local musicians played over 24 hours of music.  This wasn't just an excercise in quantity, the quality of the musicians present was, to put it mildly, astounding.  I was honoured to be invited to play by the organisers of the event, Sadie Fleming, Rebecca Cullen and Lindsay Bullamore.  They are 3 amazing singer songwriters who, inspired by their experience of the help that macmillan cancer care offered to their friend and housemate Kath who was diagnosed with Breast Cancer around Christmas time, decided to create the Bristol Macmillathon.

This was no mean feat, but using their knowledge of the Bristol music scene and friendships they've fostered in their time playing here they steadily pulled together a line-up which was as diverse as it was exciting.  Local promoter and Acoustic showcase organiser Mark Venus helped to secure the venues, using venues that already had acoustic evenings running on the days, but not usually for as long.  Venues stayed open later, and one venue even donated a percentage of the bar takings on the night, another had organised a raffle for the staff at the venue, and donated all proceeds.  The staff at all three venues were helpful, letting their pubs be taken over by a bunch of musicians, fans, friends, and family, quite a few of whom had their faces painted, (Some more often than others - but more of that later!) others covered in glow-stick bangles, and a band of faithful, amazing organisers in macmillan T-Shirts!  Massive thanks has to go to Spring Garden Live Marlows Cellar Bar and The Hatchet Inn for making it possible.

I unfortunately had to miss most of the first night, due to a rehearsal with my new covers duo partner Graham Higgins (more on that soon!).  I got there at around 10 to a lovely welcome from the organisers.  First thing to do was get my face painted!  Beth Callinan asked what I wanted and showed me a few ideas and photos of faces that had been done.  I told her to do something totally random, whatever she wanted, and she admitted to being better at random!  The resulting mask shaped design was nothing short of amazing, and I was proud to wear it, along with a few glow sticks for good measure.  The place was rammed, rocking with a brilliant bunch of people, amazing acts and topped off with the utterly astounding sounds of Benny Sensus.

I had to miss the entirety of Saturday's event, but for a very lovely reason.  Graham's good friends were getting married, and years ago they'd said "When we get married, we want you to play".  So, we found ourselves at a lovely Pub in the middle of Oxfordshire, with a bunch of generous, lovely party people.  We'd rehearsed a few times, but had only added a couple of extra numbers to the set during Friday's rehearsal.  Cheat sheets were required, but that didn't bother anyone, least of all the people who were up and dancing to the tunes pretty much all through the set.  A highlight for Graham was a couple slow dancing to his original song "You" a beautiful love song, which I love playing lead guitar on.  A highlight for me was kicking the wah-wah pedal into action for a version of "Beat It" by Michael Jackson - acoustic covers don't get funkier than this...:)  A paid gig, a great location, wonderful hosts, amazing crowd, smiles all round.  More like that please!

And so to Sunday!  The longest of the 3 events, a full 12 hours of live music from 12pm to 12am!  The Hatchet is one of my favourite pubs in Bristol so I was very pleased to be playing on that day, especially as so many of my good friends were on the line up.  The planning team were clearly tired, but somehow powered through, fueled only by enthusiasm, cake and the odd can of red-bull.  Tom Scriven, who had been at every event, was there, still standing, somehow, and still brimming with excitement for the music, friends and good times.  Again, my first priority was facepainting.  This time "Something Random inspired by my Shirt" was the instruction.  Beth did an amazing job, creating swirls, colour and really reflecting the madness of my shirt .  I played my set, following the immense talents of Sadie Fleming, which is never easy.  I kicked off my set with a cover of "You've Got A Friend" by Carole King.  If ever there was proof that good friends are there when you need them, the Bristol Macmillathon, and the amazing band of friends who made it happen was it.  I followed up with originals, dedicated to various audience members who've let me know which of my songs are their favourites.  Gypsy Dancer, Division Street, Hitcher and Nine Tenths all made an appearance.  I felt great to be a part of such an amazing event, and that feeling stayed with me right through the day.  Having played early, it was now time to relax, enjoy and listen to the talent on offer, which was immense!  Oh, and drink more beer of course!  But, not before removing one work of art, creating a blank canvas for another.  Sensitive cleansing wipes were applied, and my face was fresh and ready for the amazing talented hand of Kath Williams.  An amazing artist on canvas, her skills were no less astounding on skin.  The resulting tree and sunset design was so good I really didn't want to have to wash it off when I got home, but I feared the pillow case wouldn't agree!

So, a drunken, tired and overwhelmed Howard returned home in the taxi with some of the organisers, and slept soundly until 1pm today!  My lasting memory of the weekend?  Well, there was one very special moment for me.  Rebecca Cullen, one of the organisers, has been having singing lessons with me.  She's only had a couple of lessons so far, but has taken on board everything I've said and learned so quickly.  Sunday was her turn for a solo performance.  She stood at the microphone and sang with such power, passion, clarity and confidence that I was instantly proud and blown away.  She'd come to me asking if I could help her to increase the volume of her voice, and I said yes.  I had no idea that the simple tips I'd given would take hold so quickly.  Every word of every song was audible, clear and defined.  The emotion and style of her voice was unchanged, it was Bex, but more so.  She utterly rocked.