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Early kick-off, anyone?

A lovely venue

Can concert start times make a difference to attendance? I ask, as I've just played for the excellent society in Sutton in Ashfield. They tell me that not long ago they were down to audiences of about 40, with the future uncertain. Then they made two changes - one to the venue, moving from a church hall to a modern church, and the other to the start time, pulling it forward to 7:00pm.  Some had their doubts, but once tried this early start has proved popular. Yesterday they continued their recent trend of growing audiences, with 130 squeezed in. I'm sure audience growth leads to more audience growth - the atmosphere was terrific, and in order to get a seat at all the regulars started arriving not long after 6:00pm. The early finish meant that buses were still running, too. I've seen concerts beginning earlier from the typical 8:00pm start of my youth, but this is my first brush with a 7:00pm kick-off.  What do you feel about it?

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The joys of touring

Duck!

After an enjoyable evening at Hastings & Bexhill's lovely new venue, we're now cooling our heels before the Crawley gig. Our campsite has some built in entertainment, as we're positioned bang, slap wallop next to the runway at Gatwick Airport.  Tony has his plane spotter's app running, and I keep dashing outside to view the departing aircraft. I've caught one on camera, and you will see the caravan roofs at the bottom of the picture.  Touring is certainly never dull!

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Fear of the unknown

So what's happened to Penny's blog lately? Well, I've been suffering from Tenitis (as distinct from Tendonitis which is inflammation of the tendons). What exactly have I been inflamed by? Rumours of what Windows 10 would do to my PC, that's what. I run some pretty ancient and unusual software to master my CDs. I was told, on good authority (and when does authority ever claim to be bad?) that installing Windows 10 would render the programme, and probably a lot more, completely unusable. So here I've been sitting, completely paralysed by fear every time a big sign appeared on my PC saying "Windows 10 is ready to instal". Each time that popped up, I switched off the PC just to stop the invader gaining entry. For the past few weeks, that meant I could work for a maximum of 3 minutes at a time. Not exactly conducive to productivity. Finally, persuaded by friends that the end of the world wasn't going to come from Bill Gates, I clicked 'OK' to Windows 10 last night, and went to bed where I had awful nightmares. And this morning? My PC greeted me with the cheery "Welcome to Windows 10" and everything - yes, everything, including my editing software, is working fine, and probably twice as fast as usual.

I reckon fear of the unknown has a lot to answer for, not least in our endeavours as musicians. Speaking of which, watch this space for our latest on-line product which will appear very shortly now, and will address all those performance fears head on!

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SUCCESS - can we bottle it?

The stage dressing

It seems that concert venues are enjoying very mixed fortunes at the moment. Some are poorly attended or closing whilst others are bursting at the seams, even with waiting lists. So what is the magic ingredient that makes all the difference – and can we bottle (or at least) copy it?

I was playing at the North Staffs Organ & Keyboard Club this week, and the first sign of how things are with them was the queue at the door, over an hour before the show was due to begin. Inside, a sizeable team were flat out preparing the booking office at one end and the stage at the other. And that stage featured additional hangings, banners, lighting to equal a small constellation, a dry ice machine and a big video screen giving out announcements before the show and projecting my hands and various videos during the show. They told me the lighting rig was a new one, but they still put a lot of effort into producing lively effects.

The hall was packed out, and apparently this is always the case. So how to do they do it? And how do they maintain a membership of over 200?  They said they thought it was the stage dressing and presentation, and the fact that they have a large and willing team, each with a specific job. They even run two stage teams, so that they can work alternate months and have plenty of people to fall back on in an emergency.

We noticed that every table displayed a poster for next month’s concert, along with a message encouraging concert goers to take the poster home and show it in their windows or on their local notice board. And the cars pulling in to the car park largely sported professional-looking rear window stickers extolling the virtues of the club.

It was interesting to note that the venue, which appeared on my contract as a WMC (working men’s club) was actually named the High Street Club in big letters when we got there. This somehow sounds more up to date.

Do you belong to a music club, for organs or otherwise? How are things going audience and/or members wise? And do you have any ideas for the reasons behind this trend? It would be good to hear from you!

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UKES ARE AOK - so why?

Can we all learn something from the recent popularity of ukuleles?
I’ve been chatting with our friend Mike, who runs a local ukulele group. He’s just returned from the Cardiff Ukelele Festival, held at one of the city’s most prestigious venues, St David’s Hall. This was the third annual festival, and the crowds have doubled in size each year – to the extent that the vast St David’s Hall had to close the doors at 1:30pm as there were simply too many people to fit in! Unusually, the surging crowd covered the generations as well.

So what was pulling in all these people? The publicity promised wide ranging ukulele talents from around the UK, soloists and bands, and chances for everyone to join in playing or singing. And let’s not forget the stalls selling ukes and uke paraphernalia.

In June, the 3-day Ukelele Festival of Wales will be held on the Gower, again with bands, supporting acts, stalls, workshops, jams and open mic sessions. The event kicks off with a ‘taster evening’ for those who are not yet convinced that they fancy 3 solid days of this latest craze.

And South East Wales can enjoy a weekly ukulele fix in two Cardiff pubs, where even novices can join in with playing and singing, gently coached by the more experienced musicians in attendance.

What’s going on? Why is this small instrument making such a huge mark when other parts of the music world are reporting shrinkage? Maybe the very smallness of the ukes is part of the answer. They can be easily carried and stowed between uses. They don’t need to be plugged in or amplified. They won’t annoy the neighbours. They can be enjoyed as part of a get-together. They’re not too tricky to play from scratch. And they can be purchased for pocket money. No wonder there are ukulele courses springing up all over the place, and they are reportedly now the instrument of choice amongst school children.

As my main interests lie in the organ and keyboard world, I feel we have a lot to learn from this meteoric rise of a quite ancient instrument. Not long ago it would have been regarded as ‘old hat’, but it has been completely rejuvenated. The organ scene was similarly vibrant, with crowded concert halls and festivals, back in the 1970s. In those days, starter instruments were not too expensive, very easy to understand and similar to the Hammond organs being played by our favourite bands. There were people (often twenty-somethings) offering lessons round every corner. We teenagers learned to play songs which were charting. It was a great time to be alive! Now, you’re more likely to see a banjo or uke in a pop band than an organ. And organ teachers are as hard to find as hens teeth. So maybe the starting point for the resurgence of organs is to get young teachers trained up, to teach young players the keyboard in their chosen style – be that Adele, Mumford and Sons, Cold Play, Rihanna, Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift.

What do you think?

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