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Tuesday, 20 March 2018
THE organisers of an acoustic festival at the Christ Church Centre later this month think the Reading Road venue has the potential to become Henley’s equivalent of Union Chapel in Islington, where many leading rock and folk acts have performed — with some recording live albums.
The event on Saturday, December 17, is the second Henley show to be promoted by Bamboozle Productions — a partnership between Henwood Studios co-owner Joe Henwood and Joe Morris of Henley Theatre Services in Station Road.
Back at the start of September, in what was intended as the first in a quarterly series of live events, the pair staged an evening concert at Lovibonds brewery in Market Place.
Folk singer Megan Henwood and her band — including Joe Henwood on percussion, sax and guitar — were the headliners on that occasion.
This time it is the turn of Pete Brown’s band the NewGrass Cutters to take top billing, with Megan and Joe teaming up to play an intimate acoustic duo set in support.
Also providing support will be the League of Crafty Ukulele Masters, aka LOCUM.
As Pete explains, LOCUM started life as a “splinter group” formed from his sister Sam Brown’s International Ukulele Club of Sonning Common.
By coincidence, the latter are playing their end of year show at the Kenton Theatre on Friday, December 9, at 7.30pm.
Sam and Pete’s dad, veteran rocker Joe Brown, usually plays the New Street venue at this time of year with his backing band, of which Pete is a long-standing member.
This year, however, there was a change of plan as Joe instead embarked on a solo tour of venues around the country.
Pete said: “All of the NewGrass Cutters play with my dad’s band and normally every year we would do three nights at the Kenton. And this year is the first year in, I think, 26 or 27 years that my dad’s not done it.
“So me and the lads decided, well, we were going to do a Christmas gig, and we thought about doing it in Nettlebed. Then we thought it would be nice to do it in Henley.
“The Christ Church Centre then came up as a venue and we thought ‘What a lovely idea.’ The two Joes — Henwood and Morris — had done their thing at Lovibonds and I came up with the idea of ‘Why don’t we do a little acoustic festival? Like, you know, an evening’s entertainment.”
Pete and Joe Henwood are linked by their shared involvement in Henley Studios at Oakley Wood near Wallingford, where they are business partners.
Joe also works part-time at Henley Theatre Services, where his boss is Joe Morris — an association that led to them co-founding Bamboozle Productions.
Pete said: “They’ve invited me to join their little consortium, so we’ve kind of said let’s see how we all get on and have a look at how this one goes. If it goes well, we’ll probably carry on, because there aren’t enough good music events in Henley, I don’t think.”
At 50, Pete is something of a music industry veteran who in the Eighties
co-produced his sister Sam’s biggest hit single, Stop! — together with her debut album of the same name.
Sam, now 52, lost her singing voice in 2007, having worked as a backing singer with Pink Floyd and Jools Holland alongside her own music.
But shortly afterwards she started teaching ukulele in her front room at the request of some friends who wanted to learn the instrument — and the intervening years have seen her teaching career blossom.
Recalls Pete: “About four years ago she said to me ‘I’ve got loads of people who want to learn some more advanced sort of stuff — picking and all sorts of things that I can’t teach them.’ So I started another ukulele group with the best players from all of her ukulele clubs — and that’s LOCUM.”
Pete’s sessions with LOCUM run for 11 weeks at a time and take place Monday nights at Henwood Studios. He also teaches two intermediate classes at Cuxham village hall on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “There are only 14 of them in LOCUM,” says Pete. “It’s a small group of select players. I’ve had a few people come to join in and it’s been a bit too hardcore for them.
“It’s not for the faint-hearted ukelele players — it’s people who want to put a lot of work into it. They’re very much the advanced group, as it were. We do lots of stuff you shouldn’t be playing on a ukulele!”
While LOCUM don’t perform original material, they are adventurous in their choice of cover material, with Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys among the numbers they regularly perform.
“Generally speaking we try and stick to songs that are in the public consciousness,” says Pete. “For instance, we do Superstition by Stevie Wonder, but we pick all the keyboard parts — we don’t just sort of strum it like you would normally on a ukulele. We actually play all the integral parts of each piece.
“We do another Stevie Wonder song, I Wish, where half the ukuleles play the bass line and the other half play one of the keyboard parts and then flip. And then four of them play the chords and then we all sing in harmony — it’s a very accomplished group.”
The NewGrass Cutters, for their part, are also a covers band, whose eclectic setlist ranges from Message in a Bottle by the Police to Oxygène by Jean Michel Jarre and Voodoo Chile by Jimi Hendrix.
“It’s only a four-piece,” says Pete, “but everyone sings so we’ve got four-part harmonies. They’re all professionals and really good players, so we tackle some stuff that again you wouldn’t think we would. I mean, we do a Kylie Minogue song, and stuff like that.
“It’s very much quite tongue-in-cheek. Have you heard of Hayseed Dixie? We’ve been described as a much more refined version of that. They don’t have harmonies and they only do rock or AC/DC covers, where we do everything from Kylie to the Beach Boys to Steppenwolf to more modern stuff as well.”
The Kylie song in question is, of course, Can’t Get You Out of My Head. “We do it with country harmonies, four-part singing on the chorus, so it works really well.”
Pete likewise thinks the Christ Church Centre show offers music fans something a big different.
“Because LOCUM and NewGrass Cutters, with the greatest of respect, are all doing covers, I’m really excited to see Megan doing her original stuff in the middle. I think it will be a really balanced evening of good fun and entertainment. That’s what the plan was, anyway!”
As for the choice of venue, Pete was pleased to see that Christ Church has recently upgraded its seating accommodation. “We were a bit worried, actually, because they never had cushions before. It was like hard pew, but now they have cushions, so it’s quite luxurious.”
Pete said he had also been impressed by the acoustics. “They’re lovely, really lovely. It’s perfect. My sister did a ukulele charity thing there earlier in the year and I went in there for the first time.
“I’d discounted it because, you know, a lot of churches are really not pleasant places to put gigs on, if I’m honest, but I was really pleasantly surprised by it as a venue — I think it could turn out to be a lovely venue for Henley.”
With Megan Henwood and Jackie Oates having recently launched their Wings EP at St Pancras Old Church in London, Pete even thinks there could be scope for Christ Church to become a Henley version of Union Chapel in Upper Street, Islington, where the likes of Snow Patrol, Procul Harum, Billy Bragg, Brett Anderson, David Byrne and Townes Van Zandt have recorded live material.
“If it goes well this time I’ve got a few kind of name acts in mind that I can talk to, because I’ve been a producer for a long time, and if it goes well I’m certainly going to be trying to get a few big names in for that venue — and maybe even record it like they do at Union Chapel.”
l The Acoustic Festival on Saturday, December 17, starts at 7pm. Tickets are £20 and can be booked online at www.bamboozlepresents.co.uk
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