The Warm and Toasty Club returned to Colchester Arts Centre on Sunday to deliver a snapshot of the Coast to Coast project.
Plus we had a brass band, a Bard and biscuits.
NEVER forget the Warm and Toasty biscuits, friends.
Warm and Toasty aims to collect and share stories from some of the more senior folk in our Essex patch. Coast to Coast has been working along the North Essex golden sands over the past year or so making new friends.
These friendships seem to come easy for Warm and Toasty host Johnno Casson. The suited and booted fella has been charming folk from Clacton to Walton, and bringing their stories to Colchester.
Johnno has also been able to bring some of the stars from these stories back to our town as well. A packed Arts Centre included the faces of some of the social history stories that would later be shared.
The Haven Croft and Warde Chase residents didn’t hold back with their waving once namechecked. People are proud to be associated with Warm and Toasty.
But you won’t sell out the Arts Centre on social history alone. You need a little light entertainment for a Sunday afternoon. WHOOPS could be heard from the floor as Johnno explained what was coming up on the Warm and Toasty stage.
So many familiar Colchester faces had gathered at the Arts Centre for the afternoon. Warm and Tasty crosses generations. Pre-school cherubs mixed with ladies and gents with War time memories.
SHOWTIME started with an eyes to the right as the Arts Centre stage revealed a full on brass band to bring a little Warm and Toasty happiness. 1st Class Brass are a community band based in Colchester. The membership spans young to the more experienced. They fitted in rather well at Warm and Toasty.
Johnno then introduced something very different with solo female performer Sasha. The Cathedral voice could fill a space like St Paul’s. The old St Mary-at-the Walls surrounds were captivated by the keyboards and vocals.
Few people could. But then Martin Newell is not exactly any old person. Introduced as “East Anglia’s finest songwriter“, Martin made his way to the front of a space that he has dominated for many decades.
You never know what you are going to get with Martin; piano? Poetry? Smutty tales? Sometimes all three contained in one song.
His first short set opened with a masterful poem about the Queen, and ended with a beautiful piano piece celebrating the life of ‘My Young Mum.’ It fitted the Warm and Toasty remit like a well warn cardigan.
Another rising star soon emerged on the front row. Young Felix was keen to pass comment on the acts throughout the afternoon. Johnno had discovered a mini-me to fill his sizeable three piece suit.
We’d hesitate to say that the headline act peaked too early, but Biscuit of the Month put in another powerful performance. You won’t find this at the Reading Festival…
Up for debate this month was Rich Tea Vs Malted Milk – or Hilary Clinton Vs Donald Trump, as a young audience member was keen to share. Johnno put an end to any Sunday afternoon political interference.
Warm and Toasty team members Jeanette and Dawn served up the biscuits as debate took place about which is more worthy. Johnno delivered some well researched biscuit facts. Google NEVER lies.
One word answers were asked to describe Rich Tea and Malted Milk: bland, dry, and even circle – a contribution from a brave two year-old sitting with her parents. Two years-old are rather good at telling it like it is.
A show of hands had the surprise verdict of Malted Milk being the May Biscuit of the Month. Another polite attempt was made to politicise biscuits with the silent majority winning. It was a good point, and one that was well made. But Warm and Toasty songwriter supreme Marina Florance was waiting to perform her first set.
Marina is the musical glue that helps bring the Warm and Toasty social history to song. She has been attending and contributing to the Memory Afternoons with her songwriting partner Jules Fox-Allen. The pair are the magic that turns the social into song.
Johnno explained how Warm and Toasty cherishes the people that we work with. It is the coming together that helps to bring these stories out into the open. Marina made sure that the residents from Haven Croft in the audience took full credit for their stories as she sang Down on the Naze.
So many ideas were contained in the verses; so many more conversations to share. Which all meant that it was a decent time for a traditional toast break.
You want toast?
WE GOT toast.
White, brown – even gluten free. Detail is everything at Warm and Toasty.
1st Class Brass opened the second half of the show.
We went from Scott Joplin to the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
The real stars of the show were then given a little more time. A short video produced by Tim Brunsden was played explaining the relationship between the residents and the songwriting team.
A CD has been pressed up containing three pieces of Warm and Toasty unique songwriting.
Johnno then introduced Mia Standen, a very young performer playing one of her first major gigs. Mia held the attention of the Arts Centre crowd. She grew in confidence for the duration of her short number. We would love to see her back at Warm and Toasty.
A short audio recording from a Memory Afternoon was shared. Johnno explained how we don’t celebrate the working lives of people in our community who might not make the headlines. Their social histories are just as important and tell us more about our community.
This led to Marina playing a couple more numbers to bring these memories to life in song and verse.
The process has come full circle. We were present at many of these Memory Afternoon sessions where the stories were first shared. And here they were, making an appearance in song at the Arts Centre. The best stories are always the ones that are true.
A hush filled the Arts Centre once again with the return of Sasha to the keyboards.
And then it was left to Martin Newell to close the May Warm and Toasty with a Sunday afternoon music hall romp. No one else is making music quite like this. Martin is at the top of his game right now. His game is one which has little rules, but is greatly enjoyed.
This was a Bank Holiday weekend in Colchester that had many competing events taking place around our town. It is humbling to see that an old church can still be packed out on a Sunday afternoon as generations come together to celebrate life with a non-secular agenda.
We like to think that it is the FREE toast that brings the masses out; we are all social by default. Warm and Toasty is rather good at reminding us of this.