Monday, 4 July 2016

Days 3 & 4 of the SOL adventure!

Day 3 was the day for Saaaath Laaandan and brought with it an even wider variety of venues and audiences. We started with something a little different at Lewisham Music Hub with a gig in the break time of the kids’ Saturday morning music school. It was awesome to see so many youngsters with instruments, all eager to listen and get involved, so we invited as many of them as were willing to come and join us all in a grand finale! We had a strong team of cellos and there was an impressive array of trumpets, flutes, violins and percussion too. We moved on to a very different setting and audience, at the Open Estate Gardens at Central Hill. The residents here are facing the horrendous threat of their houses’ demolition by Lambeth Council, so they all gathered together this weekend in their beautifully green communal gardens to unite and fight to save their homes – truly inspiring. There was a fantastically strong, friendly community spirit here, which was evident as soon as we arrived. They fed and watered us, painted our faces, and generally welcomed us with open arms! We played a great mix of rep; one of the residents popped up to conduct W&G, and there were a couple of the most beautiful puppies you’ve ever laid eyes on. This gig felt very powerful, as there was a real sense of purpose and strength amongst the people there, which was pretty amazing to witness.

Also on this day of tour, we had a BBC crew following us all day – ooh la la! The presenter, Simon, also happened to be a cracking saxophonist, so he joined us for a few of the gigs – meanwhile, we were all striving to remain camera-ready throughout the day, just in case the moment for a starring role presented itself… ;)

We moved on for a public performance at North Greenwich Tube Station, which was a crazy one involving half of the orchestra playing up and down the escalators, some epic dancing (also from a male audience member with impressively long locks and colourful clothing – he was loving the vibes, and I was enjoying his enthusiasm!) After this gig, we hopped back on the coach to travel to your evening gig location – the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. I was particularly excited to be back in my old Junior Trinity stomping ground and loved revisiting (from the coach!) the majestic buildings and expanses of green overlooking the river. Such a beautiful place.

By this point of tour, we had all pretty much began re-imagining every playground, car park, mode of transport, covered archway, bandstand etc as a potential gig venue… so when the coach pulled up directly in front of a colourful carousel outside Cutty Sark, we were all itching to whack out our instruments and go for a spin. After some gentle persuasion from our conductor, the lovely carousel owner agreed to let us on with our instruments! Hands down, this was one of the most exhilarating/terrifying/exciting/giddy experiences I’ve had… I was standing in a very fancy dragon boat, along with another cello, a double bass and some mobile timps, and we could see violinists, oboists, saxophonists all anxiously clinging onto their mutli-coloured horses! We played the most adrenaline-fuelled rendition of the Ski Sunday theme that certainly the people of Greenwich had ever heard… And we kept it surprisingly together! This strange sight was attracting a growing crowd, which was perfect for promoting our planned evening gig outside the Cutty Sark… the only challenge at this point was walking in a straight line in order to reach said gig. Btw, if anyone feels they are lacking in a bit of harmless excitement or is in need of 5 minutes of pure fun – locate your nearest carousel (I would recommend perhaps boarding without the company of your euphonium/bass drum/bassoon though!)

The atmosphere for our Cutty Sark gig amongst both audience and players was fizzing away, so it was sure to be a really fun evening. There was an abundance of energy and life in this concert. There was also a magical moment of calm in the second half when the wind and brass played a beautiful Gabrielli piece whilst an unforgettable sunset created a constantly transforming, beautiful backdrop. It was really special to watch and listen to this scene in the midst of all of the dancing and singing that occurred either side in the concert programme. We celebrated this memorable evening with some lovely sing-songs on the way back to the hostel.

It was surreal to wake up to our last day of the tour on Sunday, and to begin to think about returning to ‘reality’! However, we still had a fantastically full day of gigs ahead of us, which began with a guerrilla performance in the middle of the madness at Columbia Road flower market. This was brief, but epic! Some of the orchestra members again had to use their most polite powers of persuasion with one of the Columbia Road buskers, who allowed us to invade his busking pitch for 5 minutes – legend! It was awesome to be playing amongst London’s hippest of the hip determined to carry on with their Sunday morning plant shopping/coffee run, as well as those who were keen to stop and listen. There were people darting around everywhere, so it was a bit crazy, but totally wonderful, especially in such colourful, vibrant surroundings. We returned to the coach to find a parking fine, but very little could dampen SOL spirits and as the bright yellow ticket beautifully matched our tour t-shirts, tour manager Craig took the opportunity for a parking fine selfie!

We then had a change of energy and focus, as we played at Mary Seacole Nursing Home, which was another emotional, incredible experience. The residents at the home were waiting for our arrival in their beautiful garden, and the staff were very welcoming and appreciative of our music. There was a wonderful gentleman in his chair at the front, who was the most vocal audience member and he was incredibly engaged with what Peter would say and sing, often repeating phrases and singing along to his fave tunes. A beautiful smile lit up his face for the entire visit, which I will never forget! Many of the players found this experience to be very moving, and I think it’s one of the gigs that will stay with us for a while. Afterwards, I spoke to a lady also in the front row who I soon realised was unable to speak. I told her a little about what we’d been up to all week and where we were off to next, and I very quickly realised that this lady was entirely internalising everything I was describing to her, and I felt an extreme sense of frustration for her that she couldn’t respond with words... but we really did have our own conversation, even though I initially felt that I was just talking at her, rather than with. We were communicating just with eye contact and with the feeling that we had just shared in some music together. It’s hard to describe the way in which music can communicate in this way – sometimes when all of the ‘usual’ channels of communication are down, there’s something about music that means this potential difficulty simply doesn’t exist.

It was now time to gather our thoughts and travel onto our lunchtime gig, which was held by the bandstand at Arnold Circus. Some pretty sassy Snoop Dog rapping occurred at this concert, with a super-confident audience member spitting some mean lyrics! There were also some awesome solos from a few of the orchestra members and us celli stumbled upon some fresh dance moves. We were still managing to avoid the rain at this point, but our eyes were very much tuned into all of the weather apps ahead of our next gig in Regent’s Park.

Just as a little aside, one of the unexpected challenges of the SOL tour presented itself in the form of the unknown location or even existence of one’s next toilet opportunity..! Never in one week have I performed so many concerts at full-bladder capacity! I know this is TMI, but I also know that many of my fellow SOL member would agree that this occupied many of our thoughts, much of the time! The Regent’s Park gig was particularly touch and go for me in this regard.. OKAY, enough! We played in and around the bandstand by the water in Regent’s Park, which oozed a relaxed, Sunday afternoon atmosphere. Luckily, the rain held off (and there were no accidents..!) but back on the coach we had a decision to make, as the weather was not looking so good for our final gig in Leicester Square. We decided to bring the start time of our Leicester Square gig forward in order to avoid getting drenched – which turned out to be a very wise decision! There was still time, however, to squeeze in a crowded guerrilla performance in Piccadilly Circus – which was all hustle and bustle, and loads of fun. We also sadly had to wave a fond farewell to our super-friendly, trusty coach driver Ian, who played such a vitally important yet happy and humorous part on our tour. There was definitely lots of love in the air for Ian!

So, our final gig came and went in a flash, but was another wonderful occasion with an enthusiastic audience and plenty of great vibes. It was also sad to think about this gig being the last we would all enjoy together for a while, and it was strange to think that just a week before we hadn't known each other or played music together. It was quite incredible that in the space of just one week we had experienced so much, given and gained such a lot, and shared in so much groovy music and pure joy!

Bring on the SOL tour - take 2...
Pol x


  1. Hi policy it's Ian from coach .hope u don't mind but I've just finished reading your blog .thank you for your comments and the feeling went both ways .my big regret was that I couldn't stay till the end I would have loved to see it through to its conclusion but hey ho I'm sure there will be a next time that we all meet again . Hope you and cello are well xxx

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.