The audience erupted. At last they could laugh at what had filled them with such horror. These veterans of the second world war and refugees from another era have been all staring uncomprehendingly at the newspapers these last few days.
All I knew about yesterday's gig was that it was a 'Cream Tea Concert' for a Disability Association. Chris and I found ourselves in a large conservatory in the middle of Wadhurst, East Sussex, surrounded by large palm trees, ferns, huge goldfish under a fountain...and about a hundred elderly people sipping tea. We HAD to start with "By A Sleepy Lagoon" of course.
There really is nothing
like that first song. Audiences will have seen singers they were certain had dropped down from heaven, but more often, singers they'd probably pay to have a laryngectomy. When your first phrase is written by Eric Coates, and it's a rising phrase like that one, you've got your audience. They know what you are.
I brought out "Trees" from 1922 and said the opening line "I think that I shall never see..." and several answered back "...a poem lovely as a tree!" A man named Jack in the front row who had been in the Royal Artillery said afterwards that when he was in the desert with the rest of his unit, he was often asked to sing that. "Hilarious when there weren't any trees!" I said. He laughed. But I found out, after further chat, that it wasn't for the irony of it, but because the young men all loved it. It made them think of home. His buddy, Clive, had an accordion, which he carried all through the war, through combat and all weathers.
I showed my Dash's Song Folio from 1942 and asked what everyone wanted to hear. They asked for "When they Sound The Last All-Clear."
When they sound the last All-Clear,
How Happy, my darling, we'll be
When they turn up the
And the dark lonely nights
Are only a memory.
Never more we'll be apart
Always together sweetheart
For the church-bells will ring
And the whole world will sing
When they sound the last all-clear.
How I wish I could have read their minds.
The scones were all freshly baked by volunteers. The conservatory belongs to the Tetrapak billionaire, who lets this charity have its cream teas in it. There are deer everywhere around the grounds.
We walked from the station at Wadhurst to the venue. It was a gorgeous day, dappled sunlight through trees, fresh air, hardly any cars. We carried the keyboard between us and there was a pub on the way. Met a man there who conducts the Beethoven Orchestra of Manchester. He says how important it is that people play in an ensemble, even badly. "Even playing quietly the odd note or two is a more fulfilling experience than sitting in an audience doing nothing."
Chris ordered some Eton Mess and told me he couldn't finish it. That was fine with me! Local cider ensured I enjoyed the walk even more.
The lady who organised us to come down and give the concert saw us on the road when we were three quarters of the way there and very kindly loaded the piano in her car, took us the rest of the way, and told everyone at the venue that we were WALKING!!!! "Walking!!!????!" everyone reacted. "You didn't!" "They nearly didn't get here! They were walking!!" Well, we had already gone three-quarters of the way, and it had been perfectly pleasant, we said feebly. "Walking!" everyone said.
I kept being told there was a place where I could change. I was sure I hadn't sweated that much on the walk. Perhaps they thought my dress (the Fleur Wrap Dress from Heyday: www.heydayonline.co.uk)
was too casual. I'd thought it'd be perfect for cream tea. Lovely crisp colours, print rather like a china tea-set. Turned out that the contract from Music In Hospitals had requested a changing area, and I was only being paranoid.
I told people that the dress was new, made and designed by a young lady in England, and that it was all part of a movement to celebrate our past. Jack's friend Terry told us that he'd been to Bodium castle the other day and there had been a big band playing Glen Miller and young people dressed up in 1950s clothes dancing to it. "It made me feel so good to see that that I actually went round the castle! I had a magnificent day!" He'd been an engineer in the war. His friend Jack sat ramrod straight, and looked younger than him, although he was quite a bit older. Jack was 96.
The place was bizarre. Looked 30s Moorish. Most odd. There were antlers everywhere.