Warm & Toasty Talent

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The Warm and Toasty story continues to be told around Colchester. Having come up with the brainwave of bringing all in the community together through music and storytelling, Johnno Casson has now taken the project to places where the cutting edge of Sunny Colch rock ‘n’ roll probably hasn’t been before.

Salter Court retirement apartments on the other side of Balkerne Hill, anyone?

This was the location for Sunday afternoon. Sadly the Rolling Stones couldn’t make it, but Mick and Keef would have at least fitted in with the demographic of the charming audience.

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It’s actually very tough to try and describe Warm and Toasty. Anyone who has been to previous Arts Centre shows will recognise the light entertainment with a lovely, lovely local vibe. Johnno showcases Colchester talent to a mixed audience, with the aim of bringing local generations together.

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But this is only half of the story. The real value of Warm and Toasty is the work that Johnno and his team carry out during the week. This is where Colchester social history is explored and archived. Knowledge is power etc, and it is the more mature members of our community that can offer this experience.

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And so on Sunday afternoon at Salter Court, the shared reception room for the residents was turned into the latest performance space for Warm and Toasty. Johnno is on first name terms with most of the residents, having spent weekly sessions documenting their memories. Salter Court on Sunday was more like an extended family party than a Sunset Strip blowout.

More tea, Edna?

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Attention to detail is everything for Johnno. Wartime tunes greeted the residents as they arrived into the shared social space. The room has been transformed with a mock fire, bunting, and even a personal selection of sweets on a plate.

Johnno did the meet and greets, with the first guests being Quizzical – a local barber shop quartet. Being Warm and Toasty however, things are done slightly differently. This was an all-female group, leading to a little more flexibility with the highs and lows. Eight Days a Week was joyous.

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Conversation then followed. Rowhedge local Geoff Lawrence is a man of many talents. He’s played many a gig in lifetime around these parts, although probably not up on the grand stage of a retirement apartment at the back of Balkerne Hill Gate.

Geoff is also a keen photographer and local historian. His current project for 2016 is to capture a snapshot of his side of the river. Rowhedge is changing; the developers are circling, and the muddy banks of the Colne are set to change forever.

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The challenge has been set for Geoff to capture 100 photos that define Rowhedge in 2016. We were shown a selection of these images, as well as some of the stories that are behind the photos. This approach sums up Warm and Toasty: we are all getting on a bit, and so it’s probably best to share these local experiences whilst we still can.

That wasn’t meant to sound too deep, and neither was Colchester Ace Face Ady Johnson, who was next on stage at Salter Court. Ady had made the trip from London especially to play Warm and Toasty. This shows the love that Johnno is able to call upon as he continues to develop the project.

Ady was the ideal Sunday afternoon stum-along material. He chose to play acoustic, with only a very, very slight level of amplification. The more mature folk at Salter Court were captivated by his stories and strumming.

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The appetite was there for more – which must mean that it was time for Biscuit of the Month. Warm and Toasty doesn’t really do controversy and conflict. But Biscuit of the Month has been known to lead to some passionate debate.

It was no different on Sunday afternoon with the Battle of the Creams. Forget Batman Vs Superman – of far more importance at Salter Court was Custard Cream Vs Crunch Creams.

Johnno had taken the same dedication of social history research into the world of biscuits. Not much is known about Crunch Creams – until Sunday afternoon that is, when Johnno shared his pages of research gathered from a detailed phone conversation with the biscuit maker.

The level of research was worth it, with Crunch Creams topping the Salter Court poll. If only all elections around the Borough were as civilised as this. The reward was a tea break, with both challengers being served up on a plate.

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It was during the break that Warm and Toasty really came alive. Johnno is a great orator, but then so are the residents of Salter Court. It was great see the guests and residents chatting away, both bonding over a shared love of Crunch Creams.

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Cometh the second hour, cometh the man. Show me the Way to Amarillo / Sunny Colch. Johnno was back on stage, marching down the aisle and bouncing to get the show back on the road once again.

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Quizzical also came back for more. A delightful barber shop rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow followed. The crackle of the fire screenshot made it something of perfect Sunday afternoon moment.

Next up was up and coming local Colchester artist Naomi Omuoreh.

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This was another ideal fit for Warm and Toasty – a young local lady, who probably wouldn’t have had the chance to plug in her guitar at a retirement apartment if it wasn’t for Johnno. You got the impression that both artist and audience learned a lot from the experience.

The showpiece slot for the afternoon was the opening up of the Warm and Toasty social history research. Johnno has been spending each Thursday afternoon at Salter Court for the past few months as part of the Memory Afternoon project. Residents volunteer their life experiences, each captured on either film or audio.

Dorothy was the star for Sunday afternoon, with the premier of her short film being screened amongst her friends. Having heard Somewhere Over the Rainbow being performed moments earlier, this was another magical moment for Warm and Toasty.

Colchester pianist Rob Gathercole then joined Johnno on stage for a sing-along with the People’s Choir of Salter Court. Bring Me Sunshine, Fly Me to the Moon, Unforgettable, and Somewhere over the Rainbow once again rang out in the reception area.

Johnno concluded by saying how his time at Salter Court over the past few months have been an absolute joy. He spoke of how he will cherish the memories that have been captured, and how special it is for Warm and Toasty to be championing local people. A short selection of audio interviews demonstrated this point.

Ady Johnson was invited to close Warm and Toasty with a couple of songs that crossed the generations.

Young Hearts Run Free was played out over the PA as the Salter Court residents left the room.

I’m still not sure about Crunch Creams, mind.

The next Warm and Toasty takes place on Sunday 15 May at Colchester Arts Centre.

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