Week eight -Amazingstoke

Take yourself back to December time. Christmas is looming.

What do you buy your nearest and dearest to celebrate the birth of Christ?

Why, music tickets of course.

I’ve taken a new route in gift-giving. Whenever possible, I give tickets to shows. After all, there are only so many jumpers and boxes of chocolates you can give. Tickets provide enjoyment way into the new year. This week was a prime example of this.

On Thursday evening, the Isham clan headed up the M3 on a group outing. We were heading to Basingstoke (Amazingstoke) http://www.anvilarts.org.uk to see The Johnny Cash Roadshow. http://www.johnnycashroadshow.com

My dad is a huge fan of The Man in Black. My uncle and my brother are partial to his dulcet tones. I too have a soft spot for the great man. There’s something about his voice and the effortless cool that he injected into every performance that I love.

So I decided to treat the gang to a trip out to see one of the best tributes to him that you can see. The Johnny Cash Roadshow had great reviews and are endorsed by the Cash family. They were certainly a fantastic show. There are so many classic songs and you can’t sit still. It was a little formal sat in effectively a lecture theatre, but I did my best seat dancing. One of my favourites was “Get Rhythm”. It is impossible to sit still during this.


Alas, this version of the song has more crowd participation than we saw, but nonetheless, I had a fantastic time. More importantly, the receivers of my gift tickets seemed to enjoy themselves.

I knew my dad was on form when we first took our seats. He pointed to the double bass resting on the empty stage and said “Woooah, look at the size of that guitar. Who’s big enough to play that?” My father ladies and gentlemen.

He loved the Johnny Cash part of the show. In our post-show review, he did comment that he would’ve liked a few more prison songs. He likes to think he walks on the wild side – he’s living vicariously through the former San Quentin inmate. I’ll indulge him just this once.

Dad also took an (unjustified) dislike to the lady taking on the role of the formidable June Carter Cash. I thought she was pretty good (and she had some lovely dresses) but Dad was not keen. Maybe I’ve unearthed a long standing crush on the real woman and no one can live up to her.

I, for one, loved the whole show. It was good to experience such classic music with my nearest and dearest. It was a toe-tapping spectacle. The hits kept coming. There were even a few obscurities. Any heard of a song called “Brain transplant”? No, me neither, but we were treated to it. And it was amazing!

Johnny Cash was a musical genius, a tortured soul but also a randomly funny, ironic man who never took himself too seriously. He was fantastic at whatever he did. I could listen to whatever he sings.

Watch this video, but be warned, you’ll never un-see it.


Week seven -The other club scene

Don’t get too excited. It’s not the ‘glo-sticks, whistles, neon tutus and raving it up until your chemical enhancement wears off’ clubbing scene. This scene is much more important.

This week’s post is a tad late, so apologies, but I was away from technology. I was in deepest, darkest Devon.

Well, I don’t think Plymouth quite counts as the back of beyond (they have a a drive-through Costa for heaven’s sake) but I had an enjoyable WiFi free weekend.

I was visiting my friend Holley and her husband Paul. We mooched about, we visited the ponies on Dartmoor and generally got drizzled on in Tavistock. Saturday night arrived and Holley and I were escorted into the suburb of Plympton, by Paul and his friend Phil, for our night on the tiles. After popping into the curry house for sustenance, we ventured into the Plympton Conservative Club. Paul and Phil usually use it as a starting point for their Saturday night shenanigans. A swift (cheap) pint then on to the next stop. But we were there for a longer stop to enjoy the live music.

Now, it would be very easy for me to be judgemental about this place.  Yes, the average age of the clientèle was way above pension age. Yes, despite the new refurb, it still looked very dated. And yes, clubs like these are the butt of many a joke. They’re not “cool”. But what is “cool”, especially in terms of live music?

That evening, a band called Java were playing. (https://www.facebook.com/JavaDuo.UK/?fref=ts) They are a duo who play covers of pop, rock and soul songs. They’re not a duo you’d expect to see together. The singer is a young lady who looks a little like Adele and has lungs that do justice to her lookalike. Her partner in crime is an older man on the guitar. Despite, the venue being a small social club in an English suburb, this fella played the guitar like he was channelling Springsteen at Madison Square Garden, and his shirt kept opening further down his chest the more effort he put in. And effort was certainly not in short supply. I think he enjoyed the act of playing as much as the crowd loved hearing them.

Everyone at the club Saturday night enjoyed themselves. As Java played the first note, the dance-floor started to fill. One particular older lady only left the dance floor for one song (a slower one didn’t suit her energetic dance style). The dance floor was full for most of the set. Everyone was there to have a good time on a Saturday night. Ladies had dressed in their finest and despite the high heels, the dancing continued.

Music is about enjoyment. As Java rolled through the classic ‘wedding band’ material of Phil Collins, Gloria Gaynor and the Motown medley, everyone was enjoying themselves. I particularly enjoyed the music.

It took me back to many Saturday nights of my youth where I, along with my brother and cousins, set up a table away from our designated adults in various social clubs. We’d slowly guzzle our lemonades, play pool and learn about the history of music from the carousel of wedding bands that would entertain the club crowd. I never really questioned how I got to know the music of the 80s, 70s and even earlier. It just seemed to be there in my conscious. But now I realise it must’ve been implanted, in part, by hearing these same songs week in and week out in the club scene.

I remember dancing on the sticky wooden floor to all these classics and dodging the dancing elbows of middle-aged women enjoying their Saturday night freedom. This is the only live music that many people enjoy. But that’s no bad thing. This is quality entertainment for all. This Saturday, as I shimmied to Queen’s “I Want To Break Free”, and watched a dance floor of people doing the same thing in front of two true entertainers putting their heart into their performance, I was reminded how important live music is. Music is vital for life.

Even if we don’t break free, just for a few hours, we can be afforded a release. And in social clubs up and down the country, hard-working bands such as Java are providing that much needed magic to set us all free.

I love clubbing.

Week six – The Art of Saturday Afternoon

Sometimes you just need a huge slab of chocolate cake, a pot of tea and a white-haired wizard noodling away on a guitar on a Saturday afternoon. Are you with me?

A few tasks to complete forced me to venture into the heaving heart of Southampton city centre this afternoon. I fought my way through crowds and dodged the increasingly icy rain.

It was not enjoyable.

Jobs done, I decided to reward myself the best way I know how: baked goods. I opted to take refuge from the winter weather in a warm cafe of some description. A conversation I had at work this week rang in my memory where a friend of mine had visited The Art House. This is a place I had been to once before many years ago. I remembered liking it and not really having any reason why I hadn’t returned.

So The Art House soon became my destination. And as soon as I entered, a warm glow took over. It’s a busy, colourful nest. Beautiful art, posters and numerous chalk boards adorn the walls. And most warmingly, there was a man singing and playing the guitar in the corner next to the shed (I love that it’s the type of establishment to have a shed – with fake grass and flowers on the roof). http://www.thearthousesouthampton.org

I ordered my tea and cake and took a seat. It was most enjoyable to just sit and not ‘have’ to do anything. All I had to do at that particular moment was enjoy the music on offer. The gentleman with the guitar was entertaining the small, yet full cafe with a range of songs. He worked his way through some old classics and some I’d never heard before. One of my favourites was when his fingers plucked at the strings in such a speedy way to create a Spanish sounding strain.

The musician had a kindly face and smiled happily between songs as the smattering of applause rang around the room. I have to admit that on a few occasions I got distracted by his shirt. He wore a stripy orange, pink, red, white and grey number that in no small part reminded me of the table cloth that forever laid on the kitchen table of my late nan and granddad’s house. And I don’t mean that to sound like a negative; I bloody loved that table cloth. And I have such strong memories connected to such a small detail.

Maybe this association is one of the reasons I felt so warm and comforted by being in The Art House. Or maybe it was the cake. Or maybe the cluttered décor surrounding me. Or maybe the soothing guitar sound.

Or most probably, it was a combination of it all. And I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon. I mustn’t leave it so long next time.


Week Five – Two of the best

In the past week, I have paid a visit to each of my two favourite venues.

There are live music venues all over, but the ones that mean the most are those that have always been there and have given you the musical upbringing that shapes you and your musical tastes.

Venue 1  


On Thursday, I entered the familiar warmth of The Joiners, Southampton. Yes, warmth. I’ve realised that maybe one of the reasons I love Joiners so much is that it’s impossible to be cold there. Well, almost. I am practically cold-blooded. It can be a heaving sweat pit of human energy and I love it. I still find it amazing that it shocks people. On Thursday, towards the end of the show, some girls pushed past me, heading towards fresher air from near the front of the stage and they were complaining to each other, “It’s sooo hot in there!”

No  shit.

Crowds of teenage boys were jumping and pushing and generally having fun. That sort of thing expels a lot of heat. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the mosh pit.

I hasten to add, I wasn’t partaking in such activity. I know where my place is: just back from the ball of energy in front of the stage, usually in line with the sound guy. Close enough to take active part in the show and far enough away from the talkers at the back.

My brother had bought me a ticket to join him to see The Sherlocks for Christmas. We do this a lot. Tickets say, ‘You’re the best sibling; let’s hang out!’ more than knitted jumpers or new release blu-rays. Also, my brother is my main gig-buddy. We have the same taste and he shares my appreciation of live music: no talking during the music.

Unfortunately, I missed the first band, but the second band on were striking and enjoyable in a Britpop / Kasabian way. But I was thinking, never trust a man in a trench-coat.

The Sherlocks were as energetic and catchy as I’d expected them to be. They make fantastic, upbeat indie pop songs. Just the sort of thing to dance along to – albeit, for me, at a safe distance from the sweaty boys worshipping at their feet underneath the stage. Here’s a taster of the positivity that emanates from their performance. It’s impossible to stand still.


Venue 2 


Earlier in the week, I had a slightly different live music experience. My uncle had bought me a ticket to see The Boss, a Springsteen tribute band at The Brook, Southampton.

Now, I think about it, this week has been excellent as I haven’t had to buy any tickets! I love my family.

Anyway, we headed off to The Brook. This is another venue I love. It’s not as dark, claustrophobic and sweaty as the Joiners, but it has it’s own charm, and I very much appreciate the dance space. And boy, did I have a lot of dance space on Saturday night.

I bloody love Bruce. His songs are some of the best ever to grace my ears. And some of them are impossible to listen to without dancing. Now, admittedly, it was a slightly older crowd than the adolescents at Joiners, but there was a lot of standing still going on. I was dancing on my own for some of the songs, at least until the alcohol ha taken effect on everyone else towards the end of the night.

‘Dancing in the Dark’ is one of my favourite ever songs – top five for sure. I defy anyone not to do the eighties hip swing to it. And the lyrics are so poignant, sad and and uplifting all at the same time.

Consequently, I was most upset when the joker posing Bruce (he also looked a little too much like Harry Redknapp to get me on side), failed to complete the song. Alas, I was left glancing around, staring open-mouthed at my uncle, wondering if I’d blacked out for a few minutes. I can’t talk about it any more; it’s still too painful.

On a brighter note, the band were amazingly talented and the music was brilliant. The drummer was particularly skilled with his sticks and looked to be having a ball the whole time. And the saxophonist took on many solos with the required pizazz, especially when wearing eighties white jeans and sleeveless shirt (although the upper arms were worth admiring). In fact, the singer was pretty good when he finished the songs. He said he’d been ill which means he wasn’t 100% so I suppose we should cut him some slack. I had a good night after all and that’s what matters. Here’s the real Bruce to cheer us all up…

Any week when I get to go to Joiners or The Brook is an excellent week. To get to both in a week makes for a very happy week indeed. Whenever I walk through the door to Joiners, I feel comfortable and familiar. The Brook has become a place where I can be assured, I will hear music that I love. I can’t imagine the landscape of the Southampton live music scene without either of these venues.

If your week needs a boost, I would suggest getting your dancing shoes on and heading to either of these places. Or both.