Secure future for the Tree House

bookshopA lot can change in a week – this year has certainly shown us that.  It’s no different here at the Tree House: a couple of weeks ago we found ourselves at a point where survival seemed impossible, but last week salvation came in the shape of the fabulous Astley Book Farm near Bedworth, the largest second-hand bookshop in the Midlands, and a popular haunt for some of our volunteers and regular customers.  Owner Vivienne Mills (we even have the same initials!) appeared on the scene like some sort of angel and offered to take on the bookshop.  It was too good an offer to refuse, especially as I will be able to carry on working here (three days a week) and will still be able to run our evening events.

It means the Tree House will no longer be a Social Enterprise – in other words, it’s no longer a non-profit community venture, but will be run as a commercial second-hand bookshop.  Vivienne has been running Astley Book Farm for 12 years and it is thriving, so we are in very good hands!  It is a huge relief to know that the bookshop is now much more financially secure.  Things are already changing in terms of the stock, and it will be an excellent second-hand bookshop – something in itself of real value to Kenilworth.

The community side of things will continue via our evening events, and I will have more time and energy to focus on organising those.  We are having a bit of a break at the moment, but I am putting together a new programme of music, lectures, films and literary events, and will publish those soon.  For advance notice and earlybird tickets when available, you can subscribe to our mailing list (see the tab above for this).

So there is still lots of potential for us to continue to bring people together through literature and the arts, and to bring live music and other wonderful things to the people of Kenilworth.  This is all thanks to Vivienne and Astley Book Farm.  Hurray!

Book donations: We are no longer taking donations of books – we now buy books, so if you have books you are getting rid of, call in on a Tuesday or Thursday and have a chat with Vivienne, or bring them to her on those days.

Tea/coffee: We have also stopped offering tea and coffee – this was always an informal arrangement, and while refreshments will still be available at evening events, it is not possible to carry on providing them during the day.

It’s all very exciting, I hope you will continue to follow us in this new chapter and call in whenever you can.  I have a lot of people to thank for getting us this far, but will do that in a separate post.

Europa

th2Tomorrow, the UK goes to the polls to decide whether or not we will remain part of the European Union.  I really hope we stay in, but whatever happens, we will always be a part of Europe, whether or not we belong to the EU.  There will be difficulties to overcome either way, but I read this article by Clive James this morning, and it conveys so beautifully why I so strongly want to stay.  Clive James is, of course, Australian, but has spent most of his adult life in Europe, and this essay is a glorious study of what it means to be a part of European culture and enriched by it, and it’s the cultural ties that make me want to stay more than any other issues.  It takes a lot of work to make a union successful, but some unions are worth working for.  This article is just beautiful – and engaging and witty in a way that only the great Clive James can be.  The reason I am not a writer is that I can’t write like this, and it doesn’t seem worth doing anything less.

So do read it – click on the photo below. Regardless of the referendum, it’s a brilliant study of European culture and what it means both to be a part of it and to be inspired and influenced by it.  Amidst all the posturing and painfully superficial internet memes, this piece shines like the sun.

clive james

Clive James and his wife Prue – click on the photograph to read his beautiful, witty, brilliant celebration of European culture and literature.

Crowdfunding

bookshop

Click on the image for the link to our crowdfunder campaign!

Today we’ve launched a very ambitious campaign – trying to raise £5000 for the bookshop in just six weeks…  So many have given generously in the past, and I don’t want to ask the same people to keep giving, but we now have a lot of followers on Twitter and Facebook, and if everyone shares, and maybe their friends and followers share, we could have a huge reach and the potential for lots of support!  The best way to support us is to keep spreading the word (as well as buying books, of course!), so if anyone out there is prepared to share, retweet, etc, that would be marvellous.

We are hoping for an injection of cash to boost our ongoing efforts to raise our game a little and make our regular income stronger.  The crowdfunding is to help enable us to survive, and to provide funds for things such as producing some good publicity material (flyers, bookmarks, postcards and more) and a window graphic to make it clearer who and what we are, renewing our PRS and Film licences so that we can carry on playing music and showing films, improving the lighting (those who have visited know it’s a bit basic and there are several bulbs/lights that need replacing!), sorting out our hot water boiler to help with washing up, so that we can perhaps do more in terms of offering refreshments, and other things besides.  If we raise enough, I want to go beyond these necessities and make the bookshop itself – the physical space – a lovelier, more magical place than it already is.

So please do have a look at the campaign, and please click here and share the link as much as you can.  The link will stay at the top right of our homepage here, linked through the image of the bookshop, and you can share on various social media sites directly from the crowdfunding page.  We get to keep whatever pledges we raise in the next six weeks, but if we can reach our £5000 target, that would be amazing!  We have raised £90 in the first hour, so let’s see how far we can get…  Thank you in advance!  Every single share or retweet helps.

In the meantime, watch our Tree House Sessions video for inspiration!

Warren Ellis

warrenWarren Ellis is, for me, simply one of the finest musicians around.  It’s easy to talk about the finest, the best, the most anything without really discussing what that means, as often it’s about personal taste and subjective response more than anything – and I freely admit that this has to be the case here too, on one level.  I love his music, I love how he plays and how he writes music, and the persona that comes through his performances, and so I think he’s one of the finest…and subjective response is always a factor in even the most serious attempt to be objectively analytical about any kind of art.  Art, I think, defies objective analysis – that’s intrinsic to what it is.  I say that as an art historian, someone who has been trained and has tried to train others to analyse beyond a subjective response.

But sometimes a work of art, or a body of work, comes along that shows just how futile academic analysis is, how futile perhaps any analysis is, even the late night debates and arguments with friends over a few bottles of wine where we try to make sense of why we love certain things and why our taste is better than anyone else’s, including (or especially) the people we’re debating with.

It happened to me when I was doing my PhD in art history, on German limewood sculpture from around 1500.  Part of what I was looking at in my research was its neglect within art history, and even the fact that no one wrote anything about it at the time it was produced.  I eventually wrote a 75,000 word dissertation on this that the examiners seemed to like, but really I had realised that the power of this body of art – the thing that had subconsciously attracted me to it in the first place – was that it was meant to be looked at, to be meditated on, to be experienced (I’ll write all about that some other time, perhaps!), not to be written about or reduced to verbal analysis. It’s not a great thing to discover part way through a major academic research project, but I still found plenty to say.

The same is true, I think, of Warren Ellis’s music, especially his work with Dirty Three, but also very much with his film scores and even his work with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

Dirty Three, though, perhaps convey most clearly what I’m trying to say.  You put on one of their records and from the opening notes you are simply engaged in the music and then quickly absorbed by it and into it and it creates feelings, thoughts, images, experiences that you can’t put into words – and don’t want to, because music is music not words.  They call their music songs, which I love, even though they don’t have words – because they nevertheless convey stories and human experience even without lyrics.  Warren often introduces them as being about something, part of his banter and interaction with both the music and his audience, but whatever they are ‘about’, the beauty of great art is that you simultaneously respect the intentions of the artist and find your own meaning in what they have created.

Warren Ellis is a multi-instrumentalist – has even created his own instrument, the tenor guitar – but it is his violin-playing for which he is best known and which for me takes his genius to its highest peaks.  He and the violin become one spiritual entity, his entire body creates the music that we hear from the instrument, and watching him play is as absorbing as listening.  Anyone who has seen him live knows how dynamic his performance is – with the Bad Seeds he would often crouch down when he wasn’t playing then literally leap into action when he was, but sometimes playing quietly, intently, often with his back to the audience.  He sometimes plays the violin like a guitar, pizzicato, the bow stuck down the back of his shirt.  With Dirty Three he hollers as the music takes hold, uses the space around him to express physically and viscerally the way the music seems to possess him.  I love the NPR Tiny Desk concert (see below) where in such a tiny space he still manages to kick out as he plays – while Mick Turner on guitar never flinches, no matter how close Warren’s shoe appears to threaten.

I love Nick Cave’s songs and his voice; I love it when he plays the piano; and sometimes I’ll be listening to a song, and I’ll be thinking that surely nothing could be more beautiful than what I’m listening to.  And then Warren’s violin comes in, and my heart finally breaks, and I realise that it could be even more beautiful, and now it is.

What am I saying?  Nothing at all really, because you have to listen to the music and watch Warren play to begin to understand what I’m on about.  But there is a reason for trying to tell you why I think he is so great.  A few weeks ago he agreed to be the Patron of the Tree House Bookshop – I wrote a nervous message, thinking I had nothing to lose, and was thrilled to the core when he said yes.

It’s not just the excitement of having a musical hero as our Patron.  It’s that he is the kind of musician that he is, which was the reason for asking him in the first place.  It’s that kind of engagement with art that is at the core of what I’m trying to convey through the bookshop – the intrinsic importance of the arts to being human, the passion that Warren exudes in performance and in conversation (you can find various interviews on YouTube), the lack of pretension in what he does and how he does it, the admiration for huge talent, and the sheer beauty of what he produces, all convey so well the sense I have that literature and the arts are fundamental to being human, to a rich, healthy society, to the way in which human beings connect with each other.nick and warren2

He also comes across as a great bloke – warm, funny, articulate, unpretentious, intelligent, full of life.  He also has one of the great beards in rock – what more could we want.

So to have Warren as our Patron is a magical, exciting, happy thing, and I am grateful that he agreed so willingly.  The bookshop now feels connected to the wider world of artistic endeavour and the power and sheer enjoyment of art that we’ve been trying to create on a parochial level.  This post is really just to introduce you to our lovely Patron!

I have interspersed this with a few clips of Warren playing, in case you haven’t listened to him before – do listen, they are all just beautiful – and I end with a lovely little interview with him and Nick (who have always been the household gods of the Tree House) – they are like a married couple, sitting there, but Nick’s short homage to Warren and the Dirty Three, that he had not heard anything like their music and that it was life-changing, is something I fully share.  Dirty Three are playing in Edinburgh in July – I can’t go, sadly, as it’s a standing-only concert and my stupid arthritic knees prevent me from standing for more than a few minutes – but if there are tickets left, you should go.  I’ll put on my CD of Ocean Songs and will be there in spirit.

**I have no photo credit for the wonderful thumbnail image at the start of this blog post, I stole it from the internet – if anyone knows who took it, please let me know!

This week

red shoesThis week we have lots of music – see our Music page under the Events tab.  This is a brief post to let you know that fabulous folkies Red Shoes are here on Friday, and tickets are just £5.  So tell your friends, treat your friends, bring your friends along – but please book in advance, it helps us more than I can say.  There  is an online ticket link in the tabs above, or local residents can buy direct from the bookshop.  We will ask on the evening if anyone is able to pay a little more, to help pay the performers and support live music at the bookshop, but there is no obligation to pay more!

Red Shoes are Birmingham-based but nationally renowned, a well-established acoustic band who are a bit Fairport Convention in style – they have in fact played with members of Fairport over the years.  They are lovely supporters of the bookshop too, so I am thrilled they are coming.  Do come and enjoy an evening of wonderful live music at a bargain price!

There is also an informal folk session on Tuesday and contemporary jazz on Thursday – see the Music tab under Events for more info on those.

Meanwhile, here is a taster of Red Shoes. Lovely!

Live music is the best!

gigWe love live music at the Tree House, and we have a couple of fabulous gigs this week and next.  There is a dynamic to live music that you just can’t get from recordings or television, and it’s especially magical in an intimate setting like the bookshop.  If you haven’t been to one of our gigs yet, why not try one of these?

This Friday, 6 May, we have Sarah McQuaid.  Sarah is a well-established singer/songwriter with four recorded albums and many international tours to her name.  She has a rich, beautiful voice – something like Carole King blended with Karen Carpenter but unique to her, and with folkier overtones.  Listen for yourself and see what you think.

 

On Friday 13 May, we have Gill Sandell with two musical friends.  Gill is best known as one of the Red Clay Halo who played with Emily Barker (who wrote what became the British Wallander theme song, among much else) for a number of years; they are all now doing their own things, but Gill will be joined by fellow Halo Anna Jenks on violin, and Ted Barnes – a slightly different line-up from the one advertised on the poster, if you’ve seen that.  Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo are one of my absolute favourite bands of recent times, and I was so thrilled when Emily called in to record a Big Comfy Session in the old shop – and thrilled now to have two more Halos playing for us.  Maybe we’ll get Jo Silverston, the fourth member, one day!  Gill is a multi-instrumentalist as well as a singer, playing flute, accordion, piano and guitar.  Here she is playing solo.

 

Tickets are £11 for Sarah McQuaid and £10 for Gill Sandell, from the bookshop or online.  These are two great opportunities to hear top quality live music in Kenilworth – would be a shame to miss out!  Our gigs also make lovely gifts for music-loving friends, and are a great way to introduce people to the Tree House.

£500 to relaunch the Tree House!

Gill Sans poster (2)A few weeks ago I announced that we were going to have to close.  A combination of financial crisis and my health made it seem impossible to carry on.  I made it public because I am tied into a lease on the bookshop premises, and the only way to release myself from that commitment is to find another business to take over the lease.  Until then, I have had no option but to carry on.  The finances are still critical, my health not improved, but in the meantime, other things have happened.  There was an interested party, a completely separate business, but then a perfect solution seemed to have presented itself; this sadly fell through.  Another interested party had ideas of carrying on the Tree House in a somewhat altered form, but it was a risky plan.  I had some excellent conversations with a few friends.  Lots and lots of people came to tell us they hoped we could find a way to carry on, as they love the place so much – which is wonderful to hear, but however fantastic the goodwill, it doesn’t pay the bills.  Nevertheless, it made it harder and harder to face closure.  Yet the finances are still critical, my health not improved…

We have had some fantastic events in the last few weeks.  A brilliant evening with Andrew Davies, discussing his recently-aired adaptation of War and Peace on the BBC, some fabulous music events, one of our best ever Tree House Sessions (open mic), and all of these as well as the regular and lower key events produce a kind of alchemy, bits of gold dust that float in the air and embed themselves in the fabric of the place.  Harder and harder to face closure.

A couple of weeks ago Carole Donnelly from the Inspiration Club came to talk to me about becoming a Social Enterprise and to help me assess what possibility there might be for taking the venture up a level in terms of creating more substance in what we do and offer and raising our potential revenue.  This was an extremely helpful and practical meeting; I am still working through the list of tasks we devised, but have done enough already to realise that I still feel that deep excitement at the thought of making the Tree House better and better as well as more profitable.

Did I mention that the finances are critical?  I have not earned any income from the bookshop since November, and have never taken very much from it since we reopened in more expensive premises.  But I have to earn an income.  I do still have health issues, not least my severely arthritic knees which now make walking, standing or doing any physical activity for more than a couple of minutes extremely difficult and very painful.  That’s by the bye in one sense, but a factor in my deciding what else I could do.  It would be hard to get another job.  And I have the opportunity at the Tree House to do something very worthwhile, very rewarding, very interesting, even exciting.  Not many jobs that I feel qualified to do would give me that.  They would, however, give me a regular income…and while I don’t want to keep harping on, that is crucial as part of any plan for the bookshop.

I have spent a lot of time since talking to Carole thinking through all the issues.  Things occur that raise my spirits one day and then dash them the next.  Sometimes the rollercoaster rises and dives on an hourly rather than a daily basis.  But the positives outweigh the negatives, I have realised as the days have gone on, and while there is much hard work ahead, I feel the need and the desire to carry on getting stronger, despite regular setbacks.

So the Tree House is about to be relaunched.  We are now calling ourselves a Social Enterprise, and this will become our official status in due course – the application to change from a limited company is in process.  This will open up various advantages and opportunities, and make it completely transparent that we are a non-profit community venture.

I will be launching various fundraising projects over the coming days and weeks.  Many of you have given in the past, and continue to give now, and I have no desire to make anyone feel they are being asked for yet more money.  But we now have 2500+ followers on Twitter, 1350+ on Facebook, and a new status, all of which may help us to raise some funds to set us on our way again.

But I do also take extremely seriously the commitment to our supporters, financial and otherwise, over the last three years and those who might help us now and in future.  With the new status will come some new organisational improvements to the shop, a rethink about our events and how best to use the shop space, new ideas for what we can offer the community near and far, and above all no further talk of closing.  The details of these things will become apparent or be made public in the fullness of time, but this week I am launching a few things to help us meet a shortfall in our outgoings (rent, rates, utilities, accountant’s fees).

We need to raise £500 quickly.  We need to find £1000 as soon as we can.  I hope to do this in creative ways – but if you want to help, you could simply share what we do and the needs we have and help us raise awareness of our existence and what goes on.  If we could get a few more to our events, sell a few more books each day, that would be a great start.  I don’t expect something for nothing – I am thinking up ways to offer some good value enticements that will bring people to the bookshop and reward those who have been such faithful supporters of what we’re doing.  If I can work out how to do it, I will add a Paypal donate button for anyone who does want to give…but it’s just as important to spread the word and tell your friends about our events and our cheap books and our community spirit.

More soon on a few events and offers to raise some money this coming week.  Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far, and encouraged us in a time of despondency!  It’s not going to be easy, but worthwhile things are often hard work.  We have a brilliant team at the Tree House, and a wonderful core of regulars, many of whom have made friends because the Tree House has provided the environment for people to meet, share cultural experiences, feel involved, and just chat over cups of tea.  We already are a community in ourselves, and I believe an asset to the community at large, and that’s too good to lose.