“Where is he going with this title?” you may wonder. The thought “Why has he been so poor at updating the blog of late?” might also have crossed your mind. At most one of these questions will receive an answer (though not necessarily a satisfactory one) in the text that inevitably follows.
Southampton is a city of hidden delights. Before moving here, I checked to see that it had all of my vital needs covered: an art house cinema, a theatre, a classical music venue, a John Lewis, decent rail links (in theory at least) and a blood donor centre. A slightly odd list of needs – and certainly one which suggests I see myself as some way from the foot of Mr Maslow’s triangular hierarchy. This post will cover none of these key conditions precedent to my relocation, but a lucky find that has oft been mentioned before in this blog will now be thrust into the limelight.
On my first visit to Southampton (as an adult, I may have come here as a child), to reconnoitre the town and view my flat-to-be, my first stop after leaving the station was the Art House Cafe for a spot of lunch. No-one wants to meet an estate agent on an empty stomach (or, indeed, at all). The internet had pointed out the cafe to me as a likely spot to offer some cake-centred breaking of my relatively brief fast. The internet had not been economical with the truth and I was suitably fortified before my rendezvous.
Time passed (as is its wont).
I then discovered that the Art House also staged events, and so went to a few comedy nights there – at this stage, all starring Andrew O’Neill who managed to bring three different shows in a year. After this lengthy introduction to their first-floor ‘venue’ (fools may rush in, but I don’t like to be so easily typecast), I branched out and started to attend some of their fairly regular musical offerings. These have now become the mainstay of the rapid recent growth in my CD collection.
Going to a gig at the Art House is not unlike having the music performed in your front room – except, their venue is a little larger than my deceptively-spacious (OK, small) lounge and has a vastly better sound system (indeed, for my money offers the best venue sound in Southampton other, perhaps, than Turner Sims). I nearly almost always manage to sit in the front row – offering good leg-room and allowing my glasses to remain in their case – as others seem to fear the potential for audience participation (though this has only happened rarely, despite my obvious star quality). They also book the ‘talent’ and deal with all the admin and set-up (and down) – which is a major boon.
As a cafe, they can also provide drinks to satisfy both the temperate and the dipsomaniac, which can be consumed during the gig from ceramic or vitreous vessels (no plastic beakers here), and a selection of food, including cake. Somehow, the lack of an interval ice cream is much easier to bear if a thick slice of cake is available in its stead. Their cake is vegan – not something I have ever attempted to make at home – and I have no idea what they use in lieu of eggs (and will perhaps be happier remaining in ignorance), but the results are delicious. As I have discovered over the last week, they also make the best mince pies in Southampton (based on my slightly limited, but growing, experience).
I have enjoyed some wonderful music there: recent highlights include the folk and gypsy-jazz infused work of Kadia (unusual, perhaps, for having a cellist on lead vocal) and the more classically strung delights of the Stringbeans Quartet (who improvised not one but two pieces in a key and style of the audience’s choosing: apparently C# Major is quite the challenge).
However, due to a recent rather dilatory approach to this blog, this post has been hanging around as an unfinished draft for quite a while and so the inspiration for putting digits to keyboard was a Sunday afternoon gig way back in October. This was even more intimate than usual with myself lounging on a comfy sofa with a truly massive chunk of cake (and a responsible pot of tea) to enjoy some Hungarian indie synth pop from The Kolin. I had zero idea in advance what they might be like, but the gig was amazing fun: the only disappointment being that they did not sing in Hungarian. How the band came to be performing in my local cafe/venue, on their four date UK tour, I have no idea but I’m grateful for the improbable juxtaposition.
The band have a certain fame for the use of body paint, rather than more traditional habiliments. However, on the day they were fully clothed though I fear the drummer may have taken his style tips from the Swingtown Lads (perhaps ironically). However, painting was still much in evidence – with some incredible face and body painting going on to one side of the stage (the stuff you see on children was as nothing to this) and a mural being painted on the other. An afternoon at the Art House can truly be a gesamtkunstwerk.
The lead singer (keyboard player and driving force) of The Kolin as well as using a normal-seeming mike also used the style of microphone I had previously associated with taxi drivers and policeman for some lyrics. For one song, he even used an orange megaphone (see figure 1).
As you will glimpse, they are also the first band I’ve seen at the Art House who brought their own neon signage! (You can also see a corner of the Muriel and the artist hard at work).
This reminds me of another great thing about an Art House gig: the performers seem to enjoy themselves as much as the audience. It is wonderful to see musicians clearly having a really good time: it makes for a special evening (or afternoon) out. While many of my readers may not have the good fortune to be local to Above Bar Street (oddly, not famed for its subterranean drinking dens), I suspect many a town or city will have a decent, independent music (and more) venue and at a time of year when people are making new resolutions might I suggest people plan to check out their local ‘Art House’ in 2016. You probably won’t regret it (and I’m sure they could use your support) – and I’m taking no responsibility even if you do. The buck doesn’t even slow down here.