Having worked with The Warm & Toasty Club for a while now I thought I would know what to expect from one of their live shows, however, this live showcase at the Colchester Arts Centre on the 26th of May 2019 set a new standard for togetherness and entertainment.
The Warm & Toasty Club gathered at the Art Centre to celebrate Memory Afternoons which is a project kindly supported by members of the public and from the national lottery. Each Friday at Enoch House, Greenstead Johnno and his loyal volunteers hear stories of days gone by. This is such a worthwhile and important service that I was lucky enough to be able to make a documentary showcasing this work which was premiered on this fine, sunny afternoon.
The Art Centre was filled with members of the public, participants of the memory afternoons and entertainers. With Johnno in his trademark upbeat spirit at the helm, we got off to a lively start with a colourful example of Morris dancing courtesy of AnnieMation.
We were also treated to poetry from the very talented Piers Harrison-Reid. He had written a series of poems set to music based on the memories on some of the participants. It was really fascinating to hear his interpretation using exquisite words and captivating delivery.
If there was a theme to the afternoon it was having creative people interpreting memories into their own style, for example, Mia Standen shared a song as did Anna Bruce.
There was also a light-hearted rendition of the popular Tom Jones song, Delilah by Matthew Crampton. It was lovely to hear the audience unashamedly getting involved. It really highlights to me the family atmosphere of these gatherings. The audience knows when it's time to sit in silent appreciation but they also know that they can be free to dance and sing along. There is no invisible barrier between the performer and the audience and that's something very special.
There was more to the afternoon than brilliant entertainment. Biscuit of the month, an institution in its own right, was back and hotly contested. It was the battle of the chocolate biscuits which saw Club ("if you like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit join our club") versus Penguin ("pick up a penguin"). After the audience had ample time for samples and deliberation their votes were cast and by a penguins whisker the winner was the Club biscuit.
There was also the Retro Raffle in which people had the chance to take home some of the finest retro goods a modest budget could buy including Spam, Atora suet and Cussons Imperial Leather. People were asked to perform a little impression before collecting their prize. Special mention should go to a rather uncanny impersonation of Orville however seeing somebody perform a backflip after their number was called was very exciting.
So after so much diversity, entertainment and jubilation who could possibly close out the afternoon? None other than Cliff Richard, well Cliff As If. To call him a Cliff Richard impersonator doesn't do it justice. Not only is he the dead spit for the prince of pop but the way in which he energises and engages the audience would give the real Cliff Richard a run for his money. The audience just couldn't help but have their arms in the air or jump to their feet in what was a fantastically energetic end to another memorable afternoon.
Memory Afternoons and indeed The Warm & Toasty Club reminds us that community, family and friends need to be cherished. More than that they need to be celebrated in public and as loudly as possible. While conventional wisdom may say that people don't care for this nostalgic style of cabaret entertainment I have to disagree, I've seen this spacious building filled time after time with people who are eager to be entertained, remembered and valued and as long as people continue to believe that then they will flock to the Colchester Arts Centre for more Warm & Toasty Club Live Showcases.
If you are tempted by some of the music and poetry performed at the live showcase then you can visit The Warm & Toasty Club on Bandcamp where the Memory Songs CD is available for sale and the proceeds will help ensure that the project continues to provide Memory Afternoons with the older residents of Colchester.