The gods smiled kindly on the good folk of Clarendon Park as last year with the sun making a welcome and timely appearance in the afternoon as excitement mounted for ArtBeat 2015. The launch was opened with some stunning drumming from the Samba Band. Percussion was pervasive in the neighbourhood with a Sikh group of drummers outside the old Barclays bank causing many a pedestrian on their way home from work to break their stride and admire.
Back in the car park the drummers gave way to the opening speech from Sue King who welcomed people and thanked all those who had given time and money to getting the second ArtBeat festival off the ground. After a heartfelt rendition of the ArtBeat anthem, there was some energetic zumba dancing, followed by recitations including a great ode to the festival by local poet Liz Gray. A short set of popular American standards from the Simpletones was warmly received. Then more vigorous drumming that led to an impromptu if somewhat wayward conga around the car park by some of the less inhibited. Meanwhile people were refreshed with nibbles and bites offered by local traders, photographs were taken by festival sponsor ZigZag and ward councillors Patrick Kitterick, Lynn Senior and local MP Jon Ashworth also joined in the fun.
The two musical events that followed in the evening were very both different but of high quality. In Fingerprints, the cafe on Queens Road which Gareth Carnall had established as a musical venue at last year’s festival, we saw a return by the gifted Chris Conway, this time accompanied by Mo Coulson in a set called The Alien (Conway) and the Mermaid (Coulson). The mermaid went first, playing the Celtic harp and guitar (not at the same time!) and singing evocative songs of seals-cum-humans from the north of Scotland, her favourite town Lyme Regis where the ghost of the French Lieutenant’s Woman still walks The Cob, and yes, mermaids. Her plaintive voice resonated well with the harp to give the stories she sang a haunting quality. The first half of the evening ended with her accompanied by Chris Conway in performing what Chris referred to as much more ‘wafty’ music sending the audience mildly mesmerised into the coffee/comfort break.
The Alien’s set was more upbeat. Conway has a gift for reading his audience well. He also has a dry, self-deprecating sense of humour and prodigious talents. He can play several instruments and his songs are witty and beautifully crafted. He is a man of many genres. As well as wafty music he majors on what he refers to as “filk music” – folk songs derived from science fiction. He gave us a flavour of this with Love Space Station and Monkeys on the Moon. He also took us on a more earthly trip with a moving song called Ten Years, coloured by reminiscences that had been prompted by old photographs. Finally he made us all laugh – and join in – with Three Headed Woman.
The whole performance was greatly appreciated by a packed house of 40 people crammed into the cafe. The demographic ranged from five months to more than 80 years-old. The audience gave generously when the hat came round and left Fingerprints buzzing with admiration and good spirits. You could almost feel Gareth smiling down at us all, realising his dream of a friendly, community cafe providing space, refreshment and a welcoming ambience for the appreciation of good quality music.
Meanwhile down at St John’s Church five choirs (three of adults and two from local primary schools) came together for a concert attended by 200 people. Yes, 200!! Each choir took it in turns to sing two or three songs covering a range that included children’s songs (one about sharing a bar of chocolate), international folk and songs by well-known American singer songwriters such as Randy Newman. There was a set of songs about Shakespeare and the concert concluded with a Cherokee morning song performed by all the choirs in unison making the most wonderful sound.
The lasting impression from this joyful occasion was how much pleasure people of all ages take from singing – and listening of course. And St John’s Church provided an excellent setting for it.
So taken together, the Launch, The Alien and the Mermaid and Voices United created a tremendous opening for ArtBeat 2015.
Roll on Saturday!