A Weekend in Tunbridge Wells

An extra blog this week, because the boy and I had a busy weekend by our standards and some of it, I think, was worthy of note…

On Friday we went to the Trinity Arts Centre to see John Shuttleworth (AKA Graham Fellows) playing with his organ. Now I’ve liked the cut of Mr Fellows’ jib ever since the ‘Jilted John’ days (I think ‘I love Sharon’ – the flip-side of JJ – is probably the most insightful song about the desperation of teenage romance ever written; particularly the quatrain ‘Then on Saturday nights we go / To the bus shelter at the end of our road / We sit in it and mess about / And then we go and buy some chips…’) so it was a good night out for me, but I wasn’t sure it would be Ben’s cup of tea. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to hear Ben laughing at several of the jokes and to watch him joining in enthusiastically with the few songs he did know, like ‘Can’t go back to savoury now’ and ‘Austin Ambassador Y reg’ (Why, Reg?).

On a personal level, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I had hoped – it was clever and funnyshuttleworth and well paced and performed, BUT… Well, I guess you can have too much of a good thing, and I think maybe almost two hours of what is effectively the same joke probably just tips the scales over the edge. If you get the chance to see JS do, because as character comedy goes it’s top-notch stuff. I’m just not sure that a one man show is the best vehicle for it, though, or that the ‘stand up’ element quite lived up to the inventiveness of the songs.

On Saturday morning I went back to the Trinity Theatre to attend a volunteer’s coffee morning for the Nourish Food Bank, a local charity set up in response to rising poverty levels and a national political agenda hell bent on further demonising and disenfranchising the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable people in our communities as part of a local ‘solution’ to Global recession and a collapsing capitalist infrastructure, despite all the emerging evidence that it is the wrong way to go.

It was encouraging to see the meeting well attended, and to hear the ways in which this very new charity has developed and expanded since I first made contact with them several months ago. That we need food banks in the UK is a vile indictment of our society and the people governing it, but it is reassuring to attend a meeting like this and see that some at least have kept a sense of perspective and are willing to act in an attempt to redress the balance a little. From a personal point of view it is also hugely heartening to see a group like this acting with no wider remit than to help those in need: there is no political ambition or religious agenda muddying the waters, and, as far as I can tell, no self-interest or self-promotion of the ‘Charity Wank’ variety. Those who know me will be well aware I would have been out of the door like a shot had even a whiff of such shenanigans assaulted my nostrils.

There will be, over the next few months, all sorts of new developments with Nourish and, with the set-up of a new media hub, website, and various promotional events you’ll hopefully be seeing and/or hearing the name on a much more regular basis. If and when you do, please respond as generously as you can, be it with donations of food (or money to buy food) to tackle the front-line issue of food provision, or offers of time, energy and manpower to get that food to the people who need it.

If you happen to see a stand at a local event, please drop by and see how you can help (it might be something as simple as a signature on a petition or just the collection of a couple of leaflets to help raise awareness), and if you happen to be someone organising a local event please get in touch and donate a ‘pitch’ so the volunteers can do their thang…

And in closing: On Saturday night I was privileged, along with Ben, to hear some of the best live music I have ever heard performed in a set so intimate that it was, frankly, embarrassing. I’ll qualify that by saying it wasn’t embarrassing in a musical sense or personal sense, just in the sense that I felt compelled to apologise to the members of The Paul Rose All Star Band for the lack of discernment shown by the good burghers of my home town. There was, for most of the evening, a mesmerised audience of five cheering, whistling and clapping their hands off as the five piece band (occasionally six) on stage blew their fucking socks off with some of the best R&B they had ever had the good fortune to hear.

Now for anyone going ‘Meh! R&B’ let’s just qualify that by acknowledging that this stuff is at the heart of just about every genre of music that has come along since, be it Jayazz, Rock, Hip-Hop, or even that twee ol’ middle of the road stuff that seems to fill the charts these days. It’s not just ‘Mustang Sally’ played by a local version of the Commitments, who’ve been playing the same set for fifteen years or more, it is so much more…

Ironically, up the top of the hill, people had paid much, much higher ticket prices to see another group of musicians PRETENDING to be an R&B band that to all intents and purposes died on the 3rd July 1971 along with their lead vocalist. I’m not knocking that at all – let’s face it, as far as The Doors go a tribute band is the best any of us could hope for – but when you weigh that up against what was happening in an empty room about half a mile away it seems, frankly, insane.

Ben and I were lucky. Despite being semi-regulars at the Forum we’d totally missed the coming of this band and I’ll put my hand up and say that even if we had seen a flier or checked the forum’s gig guide the name wouldn’t have meant much too us. We happened to get back from shopping and see that a Facebook friend had offered free tickets (because of poor sales) to all takers and had the opportunity to nab them. I actually paid for one on the way in, and wished I’d saved enough money to pay for the second on the way out (I drank a lot of beer that night!), but sadly that would have been hopelessly inadequate to offset the losses the local promoter must have made.

In a nutshell, then (and I’ve screamed this from my soapbox before), PLEASE WAKE UP Tunbridge Wells and start appreciating the wonderful little venue we are lucky enough to have sitting on our doorstep, and PLEASE start taking the occasional punt on bands you might not have heard of. Nine times out of ten you can find a YouTube video or something to give you an idea of what you’re likely to hear, so spend a few minutes doing that and at least make an informed choice if you decide to give it a miss. Hand on heart, I can say that the two guest vocalists (Terry Evans and Sweet Pea Atkinson) singing with the Paul Rose Band had more style, presence and musicality than just about anyone I’ve ever seen on a stage, and the band behind them delivered a set that, despite the pretty-much non-existent audience, crackled with the kind of musical energy that most ‘name’ bands couldn’t come close to in a million years. If you don’t believe me, ask Ben; the word ‘Spellbound’ would be no exaggeration.

Pic co
Pic courtesy of Mike Goode.

2 thoughts on “A Weekend in Tunbridge Wells”

  1. I guess people vote with their feet & hard earned cash when it comes to live music! Where was Paul Rose & co’s established travelling in fan base? Never all down to a local walk up!! Most of my gigs down at the forum are 85% advanced booking from outside the area (Wilko Johnson, Otway & Band, Dreadzone, Whats left of the Kinks….!) Heard it was a great night for those in attendance down at that lovely Forum!. Audience at The Assembly Hall also got exactly what they paid for & wanted, plus more too! Local band Sarah Tonin played a blinding opening set & Jim MacMorrison had the whole audience under his control, at one point demanding that those seated stand up and leap in the air, they all obeyed, was quite a site in the Assembly Hall! I think having a small standing option encouraged everyone to participate & loosen up, rather than sit silently in dark rows and chair dance. Just saying……

  2. Where as I have no interest in The Doors, hadn’t heard any promo for Paul Rose before the free ticket mentions, and had by then accepted an offer to see Virgin Soldiers and Sean de Burca in the ultra modern E M Forster Theatre, Tonbridge… the alternative plan being Angelfest… so there was a lot on that evening, and rather a battle of the publicity machine. BTW – if you see that Sean de Burca is playing this summer – go and watch his fingers, listening at home is pleasant, but live is to see is to believe…

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