It’s been a strange week – I blame the Strange Face! Our wonderful event last Friday has been followed by a week of not feeling at all well, and the shop has been mostly closed as a consequence. One thing I did was to sit in Abbey Fields for an hour or so, something I rarely get the chance to do, and the fresh air and the smell of grass and eating my lunch outdoors were wonderful – I love all the trees there, and the fact that they have left part of the grass to grow wild – hurray!
Huge thanks to Angela who opened the shop on Thursday and even made cake before she came, and to Ginny who helped out – it was quite a busy day, thanks to the warm weather and the market. We’re back to normal from Friday – well, the bookshop is, not sure about me!
I have been thinking a lot about events since the amazing Strange Face evening. We have only had a few events since we reopened, but they have all been fabulous – have a look at the Events page for a few photos. I am going to try and get together an events committee, to pool ideas and contacts and spread the load of organisation. If you’re interested in being part of that, do get in touch – we need both people with ideas and also people who can help put them into practice – they may not be the same people, but it would be great to bring a few people together! Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get involved.
Our next event is on 17 July – wonderful singer Daria Kulesh will be singing for us, should be a fantastic evening. More soon, but have a look at her website or find her on youtube. Just £5 – tickets now on sale, advance purchase is always good!
Meanwhile here is a video I’ve been meaning to share. We had the gorgeous Ailsa Tully come and sing for us with her electric cello a couple of weeks back – only about ten people came, which was a shame as she was *brilliant*, but those ten had a great time. Ailsa’s boyfriend Joe filmed one of the songs and they sent me the video – enjoy. And when we get her back at some point in the future, come and hear her live! Come to all our events – they are wonderful.
In my last post, I waxed lyrical about Nick Drake and the Strange Face project and the fact that its author, Michael Burdett, was coming to the Tree House. Friday evening’s event turned out to be even more wonderful than expected, and it was brilliant to see the bookshop full – nearly 30 of us, and lots of people who had not been before, too, as well as some of our regulars. Lovely!
Michael’s talk isn’t like anything else I’ve experienced. It is forty years since Nick Drake’s death, and in that time so much has been written about him that you would think there was nothing new or original to say – yet Michael’s project and what has come out of it is a deeply inspiring contribution to Nick Drake’s legacy.
It’s hard not to get emotional when you listen to or talk about Nick Drake. Whenever he is mentioned, his early death is usually there in the opening sentence. The fragile, ethereal quality of his voice and his songs and his photogenic beauty combine to make that tragedy still raw even after forty years.
But what Michael’s project does is to distil all of that into something genuinely meaningful. He shows us photographs of a wonderful variety of people listening to an unreleased Nick Drake recording and talks about the moment he shared with these people, and what comes across is the extraordinary power of music to connect people with themselves and with each other. This level of impact that music can have is too frequently undervalued. Michael claims not to know how to use a camera, but the photographs are stunning, and this visual power alongside the adventure that Michael recounts through the cumulative effect of his project makes for an unforgettable experience.
We laughed, we cried, we were given surprises and we were made to think. Michael’s passion and emotional engagement came through time and again, and what I loved the first time I heard this talk came through even more strongly on Friday night – a sense of community, between all of us in the room and the people in Michael’s story.
Nick Drake remains an elusive figure, and while he was there in every moment, he was never the actual focus, and this in itself is one of the glories of the show. The photographs capture the moment when privacy and public engagement meet, an uncomfortable but compelling experience and one that is entirely appropriate to our fascination with Nick. There is an immediacy and yet a sense of things being off to the side, ungraspable – and this is surely at the heart of any great human experience. They also capture the relationship between diversity and universality, another fundamental relationship within our human condition.
It is difficult to convey the subtle power of Michael’s show, but it is real nevertheless. The Tree House is about community in this sort of subtle way – finding ways of bringing people together that are meaningful and profound. Music does this, which is one of the reasons we put on live music gigs. Talks about music can clearly also do this! Michael has become a friend since he first gave the talk at the Tree House last year, and I know of specific instances where people have connected and friendships have been made through coming together to listen to this talk. There is a level of integrity in the way Michael handles the recording he found and the people he encounters through it that is profoundly refreshing in our world where most things can be bought for a price and so many things are devalued by overexposure and commercial motives.
I can’t praise the talk highly enough, and if you get the opportunity, do go and listen to it. It is of course utterly fascinating for those who are fans, but it transcends any interest in Nick Drake – it’s about something more universally human than musical taste or the hagiography of one individual. Yet it is also a homage to the power of those three beautiful records that Nick Drake made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which now command so much respect and affection – qualities which shine through in the Strange Face Project.
It may sound a bit cheesy or even pretentious, but I feel enabled and empowered by having been there on Friday evening – enabled and empowered to carry on with my own project and think creatively about it, to relish human connectivity, to buck the trend of commercial motivation and exploitation.
A few quotes from the audience:
‘A truly memorable and fascinating evening…it was truly superb.’
‘One of the best things I have ever been to.’
‘Been reflecting a lot on last night’s talk. Really powerful but in a subtle way.’
Do have a look at the Strange Face website – there is a book too, full of the photographs I have referred to, which is the next best thing to hearing the talk. Michael also uses the talk to highlight and support the work ofNordoff Robbins, an amazing charity that uses music to transform the lives of adults and children whose quality of life is compromised by illness, injury and other conditions. All in all a truly brilliant project, and I can’t thank Michael enough for bringing it to the Tree House.
What are you doing this Friday? You are coming to the Tree House to listen to a truly fabulous illustrated talk about Nick Drake, of course! Why would you want to do anything else?
Warwickshire has nurtured three of England’s greatest writers in different centuries – Shakespeare, George Eliot and Nick Drake (for me, the greatest British singer-songwriter of all). Before I opened the Tree House, when I was thinking of what to call our bookshop/community hub, I really wanted the name to be related to a Nick Drake song. I thought of Five Leaves, Pink Moon, Northern Sky, Fruit Tree, River Man…none of them seemed right, even though I knew it would be so cool to have a Nick Drake-related bookshop name. In the end I moved away from that idea and chose the Tree House for a number of reasons, but I still regret not naming it for him in some way.
I love Nick Drake’s music – those exquisite songs and equally exquisite voice. He died before I even knew he existed, but he is in my top three popular musicians and I consider his record Five Leaves Left to be one of the all-time greatest records. So I was intrigued last year to see on Twitter some references to the Strange Face Project – about one man’s adventures with a lost Nick Drake recording – and started following the Twitter account. The project is about the finding of a tape with an unreleased Nick Drake song on it and the adventures relate to what the finder did with this.
The man leading these adventures is the very lovely Michael Burdett, London-based musician and composer, and one day he phoned me to say he had seen my interest and wondered about coming to give his talk at the bookshop. He then turned up one day and we had an excellent chat, arranged a date, and he left – leaving some wonderful photographs behind. We used the one of Billy Bragg listening to the recording as our window display for quite a while.
Michael came and gave his talk just over a year ago, and it was fabulous. It’s hard to convey quite why it’s so fabulous, especially without giving too much away, but ultimately it’s a story about the power of a piece of music – the impact it has on individuals and the way it connects people. The illustrated show was informative, funny, fascinating and very moving – the material is great, but Michael’s delivery is also fantastic. He is warm, funny, engaging, generous and passionate.
He went on to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe, where it (unsurprisingly) won the award for Best Free Show.
He has also become a friend of the Tree House. He lives in London, but from time to time has appeared in the shop doorway bearing cake and good cheer. When we reopened I knew I wanted him to come back and give the talk again, and am thrilled that he agreed to do so, and he wants it to be a means of supporting the Tree House. He has revised and expanded the show, which he is taking to Edinburgh again this year, along with other festivals over the summer.
But he is coming here first! This Friday, 19 June, 8pm. You’d be crazy to miss it.
Tickets are £5, in advance or on the door, and included is a £2 voucher to spend in the shop. We would love a really good audience for this – it deserves to have the bookshop packed to the rafters. Please come, please bring your friends, please spread the word if you can’t come (or even if you can). You don’t have to be a Nick Drake fan to enjoy this event, though if you are it will make it all the more brilliant an evening. If you have friends who don’t know Nick’s music, bring them along – perfect opportunity to introduce them.
There are only 40 tickets available, so contact us if you want to reserve some. More details in the poster below.
Whatever you do and whyever you do it, just come along – it will be a truly lovely evening at a bargain price (you can give more if you want to!), and you will be supporting the bookshop as well as having the best time. What more could you ask for on a Friday evening?
Well, it’s been a while since I wrote anything here – mainly because we’ve been so busy! Which makes it all the harder to have to tell you that we will be closing our doors in July. Things will carry on as normal to the end of June, then we will clear the stock and furniture during July, staying open as long as we can. This is mainly because I cannot carry on running the business on my own – I have some excellent volunteers who offer regular, brilliant practical help, but the strain of running the business alone and not making enough money to pay myself a wage has taken its toll.
But I would still like to fill you in on the last few weeks, and tell you about our lovely week-long Shakespeare Festival, which despite low numbers for some events was wonderful – two truly excellent talks, Elizabethan dance classes for all ages, fabulous drama workshop for children drawing on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and four stunning films, each one very different. It was particularly lovely to end the festival with Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, as Ken has done so much to refresh our understanding of Shakespeare’s plays and his language; on a personal note, it was seeing him in the very same play in the West End in about 1990, opposite Samantha Bond as Beatrice, that showed me how Shakespeare’s extraordinary language could be at once completely natural and sublimely poetic. The man is a genius. (Ken, I mean, though obviously Shakespeare is too.) The night before we had watched Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa’s incredible retelling of Macbeth transposed to medieval Japan, a film of great beauty as well as power; earlier in the week, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. The three films together scratch the surface of the universality of Shakespeare’s brilliance (the fourth film was Shakespeare in Love, hugely enjoyable and wittier than I remember, despite having to cope with Gwyneth Paltrow, but the adaptations of the plays were much more rewarding). Midweek, Thomasin Bailey had explored how even Shakespeare’s seemingly outdated view of women is still something that can illuminate our own thinking about the world we live in today. This talk – the best attended event of the week – also showed the desire locally for events such as this: a discussion of around 45 minutes followed the talk, with questions and comments from a clearly engaged and knowledgeable audience lapping up the opportunity to have such a discussion.
The following week we had one of my favourite events since the Tree House opened. Michael Burdett, a composer based in London, had noticed me retweeting his tweets about his Strange Face Project: adventures with a lost Nick Drake recording, and called into the shop one day to chat about the possibility of giving a talk based around the project. Some of you may have seen the Billy Bragg photograph he lent us, which was displayed in the shop window to advertise the event; only ten people came, but it was a fabulous evening, the combination of Nick Drake’s genius (that word again) and Michael’s warmth, wit and fund of great stories. It’s a shame there were not three times as many people, but I hope he has a bigger audience when he now takes the talk to the Edinburgh Festival! The Tree House heard it first. And we thus followed a week celebrating Warwickshire’s greatest son with a celebration of another Warwickshire genius, the matchless Nick Drake.
We have also had two fabulous live music events, a couple of days apart – Inlay and Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra were two quite different bands, but united in their folk-based roots and brilliant musicianship. They were also delightful company, all of them – two wonderful evenings.
We have something happening most evenings, which is partly what makes it unsustainable for me; but our events have been poorly attended, with a couple of exceptions, and that’s a shame – we’ve had some wonderful things at very reasonable ticket prices.
The books have been selling very well, though – we have had, and continue to have, amazingly generous donations from many people, and have some really good stock, which is being appreciated, clearly, by booklovers in and near the town. The chief purpose of the shop is to promote the importance of books and literature, and we still have plenty of work to do on that front, but the bookshop side of things has been very successful. Just not enough on its own to pay anything beyond rent, rates and bills, which add up to around £1600 a month.
But the best thing about the Tree House has been the people. We have a core of regulars who call in frequently for a cup of tea and a chat, or to spend a few hours sorting and shelving books, and who have got to know each other and helped to create a real sense of community. Others who come in weekly to see what new stock is on the shelves. Others still who make a one-off visit and express their enjoyment of their visit. So many people seem to love the place.
So it is sad to reach the point where I have to give up. I have been thinking it might be possible to continue, but the reality is that with things as they are at the moment, it’s not possible to go on. I am not a natural businesswoman, and have had some serious personal setbacks in terms of the creative input into the venture, and the combination of these things has ultimately led me to this decision. I can’t continue indefinitely without some sort of income. If there is a philanthropist out there who would like to inject some cash (so that we could employ a bookkeeper, for a start!), or anyone who can offer voluntary business expertise (in terms of the financial and legal stuff mostly), we’d love to hear from you by the end of June!
If we really do close, which looks more than likely, I am making plans for ways to continue some of the spirit and achievements of the Tree House without fixed premises. But I do also need to get my life back!