A full house of people who care about refugees met the range of musicians who gave freely of their time and talent to Music for Syria on Friday 17th June. The aim was to raise funds in response to ShelterBox’s urgent Syria appeal to provide shelter essentials to Syrian people whose homes have been bombed. For more about ShelterBox, see the end of this article.
The Globe at Hay is a converted chapel in Hay on Wye devoted to art, music and literature. The old chapel roof vaults over a wide wood-floored hall, a mezzanine balcony turning the corner over the open stairs, a low stage that keeps performers at audiences’ fingertips and a mishmash of cushioned pews, winged armchairs, brocade love-seats and assorted unmatched tables that soothes the soul in these days of corporate identity and makeovers that interior-design places to within an inch of their life.
On Music for Syria night, the chairs and tables laid out cabaret style were filled and the space was standing-room only. The lamps cast warm glows, the candles long shadows, and water holding fresh-cut flowers in simple clear glass danced with light. Unique textile bunting draped the walls and handwritten wall hangings bore the HBTS4R biography in pen and ink. The vibe was warm, empathic, comradely.
Sean O’Donohue, chair of HBTS4R, hosted a wonderful evening. He opened with a few moments’ silence to commemorate Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spens, murdered the previous day, Thursday 16 June; and her active support for the people of Syria, as well as of Palestine, and articulate and tireless advocacy for their cause in the British political arena. He continued with some background to the formation of HBTS4R and its raison d’etre – to counter the negative narrative about refugees – and introduced Ailsa Dunn (‘the energy’) and its other key members.
Thomasin and Justin kicked things off with songs from Wales and Ireland and reels on pipe and guitar. Amongst their original songs was one of Thomasin’s ‘about finding a new home and trying to make that home work for you’. Justin finished with a song in Welsh with a gentle melody reminiscent of Nick Drake.
Atto Mul followed them, a singer songwriter guitar-player with a set of lyrical, reflective songs about what it is to be powerless, to see the problem and be powerless to change it; about humankind and where we’re going. Songs of quiet dignity, intelligence and pride, asking questions with profound implications. ‘Why don’t they teach philosophy in schools?’; making you ponder ways that things might change, if they did. He ended with an African beat, ‘to send you on a note of positivity’, singing as we foot-tapped: ‘We’re on the brink of equality. You won’t lose your equanimity. Let’s be all we can be.’
Sonia Hammond on cello and Adrian Crick on guitar began a gentle instrumental intro that became Van Morrison’s ‘Motherless Child’, whose lyrics were poignant in this setting: ‘Sometimes I feel that the night won’t end – a long way from home.’ After this cover, they treated us to a mix of classical music, folk and jazz, a sequence of self-penned numbers, some complex, some fast paced. In ‘A skipping song for adults’, Sonia’s cello described Adrian’s lyrics in sound, her fingers and bow skipping a nimble, lithe rhythm up and down the fretboard. In ‘Welcome to New York’, an old blues song by Sean Thomas sung from the perspective of a non-native and fitting in this setting, Adrian sang ‘they got rats and roaches there’, and a fleet of rats and roaches scampered up and down the cello. Their final song was an uplifting, escalating foot-tapper – just when you thought they couldn’t go faster, they did – that delighted the audience.
Anna, from Aberavon, followed the interval, a diminutive singer songwriter guitar-player with a huge, bluesy folk voice that bounced around the rafters. She had intended only to do one number but we loved her, so she did another.
Brently followed, singing bluesy folk rock, original songs, in a voice reminiscent of Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, with echoes of David Gray at his best, but better, and interspersed with patter evocative of James Corden. He introduced us to his loop pedal, which we were soon to thank for the textured layering of melodies we would be treated to.
The loop pedal came with him in place of a band, Brently told us. He has done bands, but he’s done with them now. ‘They’re so stressful,’ he said, Corden-like. ‘They can’t turn up for practice – “I’ve got to go ice-skating” or – “I can’t afford to come”.’ His last song was called ‘The Reds’: ‘Like the blues, but angrier.’ It was a Doorsy, bluesy rock number that brought Brian from the audience and Sonia the cello player to their dancing feet. ‘Brian used to be in Pan’s People’ said Sean, showing his age. And mine, for getting it.
The last act, Bushfold Blue, was the piece de resistance; double bass, percussion, guitar, mandolin, violin and the clear, pristine, beautiful voice of singer guitar player Kate Hardy. Introducing a song from the Isle of Barra, in a voice almost as lovely in speech as it is in song, she prayed that nobody in the audience spoke gaelic. I don’t, so I can’t judge her gaelic, but in singing it, she made me think of Deva Primal. Introducing the band (and the night)’s last song, ‘Who knows where the time goes’, Kate dedicated it to ‘my dear friend Christina Watson, for she is beautiful.’ Christina Watson -not, after all, the unsung heroine of the night – had welcomed us all at the door, a quiet, gentle presence who you wouldn’t know had been the driving force, the organiser, of tonight. Kate Hardy doesn’t mention her own part in the success; the not-so-insignificant achievement of recruiting all of these wonderful musicians.
In a week where the whole of our own town was in mourning over the tragic death of one of our own, plus the murder of Jo Cox, this was a very fitting coming together for supporters and performers to make a contribution to those still living but suffering’ (Sean O’Donohue).
HBTS4R gives thanks to:
- 18 Rabbit
- Hay Deli
- Thoughtful Gardener
- Brook Street Pottery
- Manu Song, consummate batik artist, for the astonishing original batik artwork and the greeting cards prints
- Christina and Terry Watson
- Hay Associated Booksellers
- Jones the Chemist
- Old Forest Arts
– Rob and Johnny for volunteering their time with equipment and sound engineering
– Julian for photos and video footage
– Designers Neil and Cate for the poster
– Elle and all of the staff at The Globe at Hay
– All of the musicians:
– Christina and Terry Watson and Kate Hardy for the fantastic organisation
– The audience, for coming in numbers, making the evening a night of warmth and camaraderie and for their generous emptying of their pockets.
ShelterBox is a disaster-relief charity based in the UK that helps families all over the world displaced following natural or man-made disasters. It has been working in Syria since 2012, and is appealing urgently for donations for the provision of shelter kits to people caught up in the conflict. Each shelter kit contains mattresses, blankets, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, solar lights and water carriers. The tough tarpaulin can be used to restore roofs and walls, and the clear plastic sheeting to cover broken windows. Five blankets and mattresses in each kit both provide warmth and can be used as room dividers to create privacy. Solar lamps bring light to places without electricity and water carriers enable people to collect and transport water from safe sources. Each ShelterKit being sent to Syria costs £88.74.
The amount raised by Music for Syria will send nine ShelterKits to Syria, helping countless people in real, tangible, life-preserving ways.
Event images (c) Julian Taylor