Live music – let’s keep it happening!

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Ashley Hutchings

Live music is the best.  It really is!  We are so lucky to live in an age where recorded music is so easily available, from an increasing number of sources.  But fabulous though that is, it can make us complacent.  Live music is a whole different sort of experience.  As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Bob Dylan and of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, and having seen both live last year, I am still feeling the impact of those concerts.  If you doubt the reality of any kind of spiritual element to life, go and see Nick Cave live.  Or a great symphony orchestra.  Or live opera.  It is far removed from even the most wonderful time spent listening to recorded music, however good your stereo system.

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Emily Barker

Here at the Tree House, live music has always been part of what we do.  Our aim is to bring people together through literature and all the arts, but books and music are our two chief means of doing that.  The day we opened, we had a fantastic jazz trio, and that set the standard.  As well as our monthly open mics, when anyone can take part, we have regular gigs by professional musicians who are usually on national or even international tours – occasionally they just come because I ask them.  We’ve had amazing people: the biggest name has to be Ashley Hutchings, founder member of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, among many other accolades.  But hosts of fabulous musicians: Emily Barker, The Little Unsaid, Duotone, Ange Hardy, Lukas Drinkwater and Tobias ben Jacob, Siobhan Wilson, and so many more.  Local genius Wes Finch has played several times, with a variety of collaborators – he really deserves to be better known, he’s a brilliant songwriter and performer.  Sorry to leave people out, but in five years, we’ve had a lot.  The above are all people who have been described as ‘off the scale’ or something similar by the audiences.

It’s wonderful to go and see major acts in a big stadium, but there is something very special about intimate gigs like ours.  Sometimes there is no amplification at all (as with Emily Barker, pictured) and that’s very special.

But putting on gigs is harder work than it might seem, and this is one aspect of running the Tree House that I do alone, which is truly hard work.  From booking and corresponding with musicians, deciding who to book, deciding what fee to agree to, to marketing the event and selling tickets, to hosting on the night – putting out chairs, making sure musicians are OK, making sure refreshments are sorted (basic, but all still needs sorting), checking tickets, sorting out the lights, and more, it’s a lot of work and occasionally quite stressful.  The hardest thing is persuading people to buy tickets in advance – but without this happening, the future of any live music gigs is in jeopardy.

This is not an issue specific to us – I chat to enough musicians and venue owners on social media to know that it’s a constant struggle everywhere in the UK.  It’s understandable to a degree, but it can be frustrating.  Often people turn up on the night simply expecting that there will be tickets, but sometimes we have to turn them away – other times, we are hoping desperately that people *will* turn up on the night.  When major artists announce gigs, you have to be online at a certain time to book them, and they sell out sometimes in minutes, usually on the first day.  I don’t mean that our gigs have that much clout, but something between that and our current predicament would be good.

This Friday, 13 July, we have the wonderful Anne-Marie Sanderson playing for us.  Quite a few regulars are away; some are going to protest against Donald Trump’s visit; but generally ticket sales have been slow.  So if you are around on Friday, and perhaps haven’t been to a gig at the Tree House before, why not come?  It’s only £8.  You can bring your own wine or beer; we can offer tea and coffee and we will have some non-alcoholic cold drinks as the weather is so warm.  Anne-Marie’s latest EP is songs based on books, which makes it all the more wonderful for us as a bookshop.

Below are some tasters of her beautiful songs and lovely voice.  She is just back from touring in Europe, and it would be great to give her a very warm welcome to Kenilworth.  We do need to sell more tickets, though…and if you want to keep seeing top quality professional musicians in an intimate venue right here in the town centre, then consider buying your tickets in advance.  You can buy online or in person at the bookshop.

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And no more shall we part…with your help!

**UPDATE:  GOAL £2300, CURRENT TOTAL £2326 – THANK YOU!**

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The title is a Nick Cave reference, as some of you will recognise…if you don’t, no matter, find the song on youtube and prepare to have your heart broken. But the Tree House can help to heal broken hearts!  (As can the music of Nick Cave, but that’s another story.)  We’ve had a strange year – perhaps every year seems like a struggle, but this last 10-12 months has been particularly tricky.  We always sail close to the edge, and it doesn’t take much to tip our finances into the danger zone.  We had some setbacks in 2016 that have put us behind with our business rates and it’s been impossible to clear that backlog.

But on a day to day basis, things are good.  Book sales are pretty healthy, we now have three book groups that are thriving, our live music events tend to sell out (the money from those goes to the performers, so those don’t bring many funds to us, but as long as we’re breaking even, that’s all that really matters), though we have had to subsidise a couple of them, our open mic Tree House Sessions are lively and wonderful, our craft group is still going strong after three and a half years, and there is such a great core community at the bookshop, with people discovering us all the time.

I feel we really do offer something a bit different to Kenilworth, something that embraces all sorts and ages of people, that promotes the arts at a time when we need their communal and healing powers more than ever.  I struggle with my health, which means I often lack the energy to do as much at and with the bookshop as I would like, but there is a great team of people who help to keep it all going.

Having decided – for health reasons as much as financial ones – that the strain was becoming too great, I decided I had to ask the landlord to find a new tenant for the premises, and that we would close.  A few days after that decision, various things happened to make it seem possible that we could not only stay open but develop in new ways to make the business stronger.  Our landlord at Berkeley House has been incredibly supportive, and so I made another decision – to launch an emergency fundraising campaign, as our backlog of rates and other expenses needs to be paid by the end of March to avoid further difficulty.

The response has been phenomenal.  We raised nearly £1000 on the first day, and in just a few days we have now raised around £1700.  What this shows more than anything is the fantastic level of support there is, a huge desire to see the bookshop continue.  We are not out of the woods yet, but if we can raise another £500 in the next two weeks, we will clear that backlog of debt and be able to continue.  From 1 April, our business rates will be reduced by a very significant amount.  Our wonderful landlords will sponsor us through their business.  We are planning some things that will enhance the bookshop both as a physical space and as a business (still in very early stages, so no details yet!), and we know now how strong the support is.  I genuinely believe that with these changes, the business will be truly sustainable.

If you would like to read about our fundraising campaign, click here – many of you have given in the past, and I don’t expect people to keep giving, but if you could share the campaign, that would be wonderful.  It’s not just the people of Kenilworth and regulars at the bookshop who have raised the money so far – through social media, people far and wide have supported it.  Every £1 helps, and some have given just that, others have given more.  We’ve had the support of our very lovely patron, musician Warren Ellis, and his followers are now retweeting and responding to the campaign.  Here’s a bit of Warren in action – his genius and energy and creativity inspire me every day.

You can donate via the button below, if you feel so inclined, but this post is mostly about sharing what’s been happening and asking you to help us by spreading the word so that we can get the final few hundred pounds that we need before time runs out.  You can, of course, just come and buy books or come to our events!  We have local folk group Romany Pie playing on Friday 24 March, an open mic on Saturday 25 March, a very exciting gig with The Little Unsaid on Thursday 30 March, and I’ll be putting on films and lectures in the next couple of weeks too.  But if you’re local and haven’t bought a book in a while, why not come and buy one – or two! – this week?  Our paperback novels are less than the price of a cup of coffee in most cafés, they are more nourishing, and the enjoyment lasts a lot longer!  They also make great accompaniments to a cup of coffee – today is a sunny spring day, what could be lovelier than sitting in a cafe with a book?  It’s my day off, so I will be doing that in a while.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us, in so many ways.  Thank you to those who have already given to this campaign, and/or have spread the word already.  If you’d like to see us not just survive but increase what we already offer, at a time when small independent high street businesses are closing or moving away, please consider getting us through this hurdle, and I know we can survive and grow if we can clear our debts.

And come and see us soon!

As you were…

gigAs most of you will know by now, the recent changes I referred to a couple of blog posts ago have fallen through.  Sometimes it becomes clear that things are not going to work out, and business is often a risky thing, especially on the high street.  Things are unpredictable.  While the recent change may have seemed a good solution to our crisis a few weeks ago, it was clearly not meant to be – and we have unexpectedly been given another chance to carry on with what we’ve always done at the Tree House: focus on building community through books and the arts.  This seems a very positive thing despite the difficulties!  I am meeting with the landlord on Monday, and all being well, we will carry on and the support during the last week has been fantastic – loads of books donated, and good book sales each day.  We will start regular evening events again very soon, but I want to get the books sorted first – those who have been in will know that there are lots of empty shelves and books everywhere, it’s very similar to when we first opened!

It is not easy running a small, independent, high street business – especially when the heart of that business is not commercial.  We do need to strengthen our commercial activity, but not at the expense of the more important things – making books accessible and affordable and offering great quality cultural events to our town, bringing people together and cementing friendships.  Community, for us, means sharing experiences and exploring ourselves, our humanity, our place in the word through the arts.

It’s so exciting to be given another chance, however daunting the finances.  We still have an imminent crisis – we have only two weeks of the month in which to raise the rent and rates, due on 1 September – that’s £1700.  There is a little left in the bank from before the recent brief takeover, and we’ve had a good first week since we regained the business, but it’s going to be touch and go.  However, I will do my best and there is certainly no lack of support!

If you wish to support us with a donation, however small, we have a fundraising page; if you are local and have books you are going to get rid of, we always need donations – DVDs too; and we have a programme of amazing music and exciting performers coming up in the next few months.  First up is the wonderful Mark Harrison, blues singer/guitarist and a very engaging guy, this Friday, 26 August.  I know it will be a great night.  Tickets are just £10, online or from the bookshop, and there are just 12 tickets remaining – see our Events and Buy Tickets tabs for more details.  Live music is such an amazing experience, especially in an intimate setting such as the bookshop, so I hope you can join us.

It’s not going to be easy, but life rarely is.  Certainly things that are truly worthwhile rarely are.  I believe we have something a bit different, something life-enhancing and even a bit magical to offer at the Tree House, and I am hoping we can take it forward and strengthen the foundations of what we have begun.

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.

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.

Ange Hardy at the Tree House – a review by Roy Spencer

Many thanks to Roy Spencer for this review of the wonderful Ange Hardy gig last month, and of the Tree House itself!

Ange Hardy – Tree House Bookshop, Kenilworth, Warwickshire 17 September 2015

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Kenilworth’s Tree House Bookshop is a lovely little gem of a place, a short walk from the town’s historic clock tower.  The not-for-profit shop is run for the community by Victoria Mier and a small team of volunteers and stocks a wide range of donated books at low prices.  As well as its comfortable seating and nominally-priced hot drinks and cakes, the shop is a true community space, offering a growing range of out-of-hours activities from art history talks to craft fairs, classic film shows to silent reading sessions.  Among the popular events are regular music sessions, for which Victoria books well-known touring folk and acoustic acts and encourages up-and-coming local performers with open mic evenings.

A pleasant mid-September evening saw the welcome return of Ange Hardy, who was performing a handful of dates in the area before embarking on her Coleridge Way tour, near to her West Country home.  Just six days short of a year earlier, during September 2014, Ange had visited the shop in its previous premises and while browsing the shelves chanced upon a copy of Coleridge’s Poetry and Prose.  That book was the spark that ignited the inspiration behind recently released new album, Esteecee.

Ange started her set with the first public performance of The Daughters of Watchet, a song that she had completed only a day earlier while travelling to the gig.  While she sang the haunting song unaccompanied, Ange’s skilful use of an impressive array of looping pedals turned it into an enchanting exercise in three-part harmony.  The first of only two contemporary covers followed: a delicate guitar-led version of The Queen and the Soldier, which was first heard on Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut.

Delving into her back catalogue, Ange filled the room with the beautiful vocals of Mother Willow Tree from the 2013 album Bare Foot Folk and a few from last year’s The Lament of the Black Sheep.  The Lost Soul became particularly poignant after she described her time spent as a teenager living on the streets of Dublin, while witty tribute to absentminded daydreaming The Woolgatherer even had the hesitant audience singing along.  An elderly gentleman’s sad story of hope had inspired The Sailor’s Farewell, during which Ange’s cleverly looped voice did a nice job of reproducing the sound of the released recording.

More multi-tracked harmonies introduced The Foster Mother’s Tale, the opening song from Esteesee, before the gentle Pantisocracy described Coleridge’s interest and failed involvement in an ideology of equality for all men.  Ange’s fascinating use of layered whistle and harp along with her voice made traditional eighteenth century song The Trees they do Grow High just about as compelling as it could be and was rightly lapped up by the enthusiastic crowd.

The music continued with another visit to Esteesee, taking in Friends of Three, the album’s title track with its softly plucked harp and a little later, Along the Coleridge Way with an intricate combination of live and looped harp.  A pair of sombre songs about separated love, the traditional The Waters of Tyne, perhaps best known in versions by Tynesiders Jimmy Nail and Sting, was coupled with Kate Rusby’s Let the Cold Wind Blow, so it was only fair that Ange chose to lighten the mood somewhat by ending with a rather light-hearted song about a dog.

An engaging orator as well as a talented singer and skilled musician, Ange Hardy kept the audience enthralled with interesting dialogue, sharing background information and revealing snippets of her personal history. Her remarkably clear singing voice, precise use of multiple loops and a varied programme of original, traditional and modern songs made a memorable evening of superbly performed and absorbing music.

Roy Spencer

[Rubbish photo is mine not Roy’s!]