But the Sunday afternoon gathering got off to a great start with glorious Walton weather. Two and a half hours later and both audience and artists left the social room at Havencroft singing Bring Me Sunshine.
This was the perfect Sunday.
Warm and Toasty is many things; making people smile would probably sum it up to perfection. Johnno and the other team members have been spending some time with the residents of the independent living accommodation for three months now.
Memory Afternoons are a shared gathering where past stories are uncovered. The Sunday afternoon show was a way for Warm and Toasty to say thank you to the lovely folk of Havencroft.
The team had been busy all morning transforming the social space. The lounge area became a cosy front room, with fireplace, settee and bunting.
Attention to detail is perhaps the key to Warm and Toasty. It is the small things in life that put a smile on your face. The passing around of sweets ahead of showtime helped to calm some of the excitement.
Attendance at Warm and Toasty is of course absolutely voluntary. The team is never quite sure if a decent audience will turn out for the celebration of the project. Any such concerns were soon dismissed at Havencroft with a full house well ahead of showtime.
Club pianist Rob Gathercole set the scene with some suitable mood music. Unforgettable sums up the Memory Afternoons that have been enjoyed over the past few months.
Johnno runs a tight ship when it comes to Warm and Toasty. At 2pm sharp the show began. There was a rich schedule of artistic talent crossing all generations.
The meet ‘n’ greets were carried out, with the biggest build up going to the much anticipated Biscuit of the Month. This feature will headline Glastonbury one day…
But before the biscuit excitement we had 4Front to entertain. The performance from the Essex based Barber Shop Quartet was as polished as their immaculate shoes.
The family theme continued with Colchester Mother and daughter duo Double Trouble looking and sounding amazing. The junior partner in the pair performed some Elvis for starters.
And then it was time for some talking.
There is no one better qualified in Walton to talk about the history of the Naze and the surrounds than John Halls MBE. The former Mayor of Walton kept the audience captive with an unscripted potted local history of Walton during the Wartime years.
We heard how holes were cut into the famous pier to prevent any German invasion from sea. Local characters were explored, as was the association with pirate radio broadcasting that the area is proud of.
The pop link from the past to the future was then presented with a captivating solo performance from Sasha, an emerging artist who has been championed via the BBC Fresh on the Next project.
Some very sweet Warm and Toasty moments have taken place in this space over the past three months; Sasha was able to match these with a voice so sweet that it could have been served up along the tea and biscuits that were to follow.
Ah yes – about those biscuits…
Johnno returned to the stage for the Battle of the Biscuit of the Month.
Memory Afternoon conversations have been gently guided around this topic in recent weeks; childhood memories, the world of work and changing shopping experiences have all been staple subjects.
But ever so discreetly, Johnno has been testing the water all along over the often divisive subject of biscuits.
This was no time for Biscuit Wars. We need our tea dunking companion to help overcome any negativity in the world. Warm and Toasty positively celebrates the healing power of a cuppa and a biscuit selection to compliment.
But which is better: Digestives or the traditional Arrowroot?
Arrow what, you might say.
Havencroft resident Nipper first mentioned his childhood love of Arrowroot a few weeks back. The more mature biscuit lovers didn’t hold back with their shared dunking love of Arrowroot.
Johnno went away and did his Arrowroot research. The conclusion was that Arrowroot aids constipation, whereas Digestives aid digestion. They perhaps should be served up in tandem.
The proof was in the pudding with the Warm and Toasty biscuit budget even managing to source a modern day version of Arrowroot.
Biscuit Expert Martin asked to put the candidates to the vote. Digestives came out tops, even after a slightly controversial recount shortly before the second half of the show.
4Front returned once again with some brilliant Barbershop harmonies. Breaking Up is Hard to Do, I Believe and When I’m Sixty-Four were all crowd favourites. It was wonderful to see the residents singing along, completely unprompted.
If you listen closely to the final few seconds of the recording then you can hear one resident suggest:
“They’re very good, aren’t they?”
It is unclear if the resident music critic is referring to 4Front or the Havencroft audience members.
Sasha then returned to the keyboard with a haunting, hushed voice that somehow just seemed to suit the changing Walton autumnal scenes outside Havencroft.
Perhaps the real stars of the show though were the residents themselves. The detail contained in the show wouldn’t have been possible without their participation over the past few months.
Each resident was presented with a personalised hand drawn card, beautifully displaying some of the outstanding quotes and contributions from the Memory Afternoons.
“We love hearing your positive reminisces at Warm and Toasty. We’ve all had a real good laugh here in Walton since the summer. You have all been involved and helped to provide so many smiles.”
Some short audio clips from some of the most entertaining Memory Afternoon quotes were then played. Selecting these must have been as tricky as putting together the artist roster for the show.
Each resident will also be presented with a CD containing some of the recordings. These will all be stored in Essex Archive Sound and Vision, as well as the Colchester Recalled project.
“These are stories that we treasure,” added Johnno.
Double Trouble carried the show through with some more uplifting performances. They Do Run Run, Build Me Up Buttercup and Dancing in the Street had plenty of foot tapping from the residents.
Top of the Warm and Toasty bill however was the Havencroft Choir alongside pianist Rob. The residents didn’t realise that they were the stars of the show, but they were word and note perfect as some classics were sung and shared.
One final act needed to be completed. Local songwriters Marina and Jules have also been attending the Memory Afternoons. They have participated, as well as taken away some of the stories that have been shared.
These were worked into a completely unique composition, Down on the Naze. It is an extraordinary piece of music that captures and celebrates what has been achieved at Havencroft Court over recent months.
The premier was performed as the grand finale for the show. It was genuinely moving to see residents recognise their own personal stories in the lyrics, and to feel a sense of pride about their past achievements.
“With love from your memories”
…as Johnno so warmly described the song.
These memories need sharing.