Warm & Toasty: The Return

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To Colchester Arts Centre! …on Sunday afternoon for the second Warm and Toasty Club with Johnno Casson.

It may have been a Sunny Colch Sunday afternoon, but that didn’t stop the warmth from continuing inside the Arts Centre.

Yeah, yeah – it’s a Colchester cliche. But Warm and Toasty is all about spreading some love for your town, and more importantly, the people that make Colchester so special.

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Yer man Johnno had the grand plan of using music and conversation to bring together different generations. Toast is the cultural facilitator that makes all of this happen.

The Warm and Toasty Club showcases some up and coming local talent, as well as some Essex artists that have long since given up the hope of a Kanye West remix.

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We don’t think that even Kanye could improve on the sound quality of the Essex Chordsmen barber shop troupe, the openers for the afternoon.

Johnno then explained the Warm and Toasty ethos.

Clue: it’s all about the stories.

The Warm and Toasty team has been busy since the February gathering, speaking to many of the more senior folk living in the area to capture and celebrate their memories.

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Social history is strong around Sunny Colch. What makes Warm and Toasty take it to the next level is bringing in the audience via the arts, and then seeing what happens when the two sides meet face to face.

We say ‘sides’ – this isn’t t a tribal thing. Cliche number #2 is states that Warm and Toasty is also about finding some common ground.

If you can’t find love / make love at the Colchester Arts Centre, then your human kindness radar is in need of a good rogering.

Johnno is the perfect host for this cross-generational coming together. The Arts Centre on Sunday carried a 70’s family entertainment show feel throughout the three hours.

This isn’t a criticism. It is incredibly hard to hit the right spot when it comes to getting young musos to feel loved, and simultaneously giving the grannies a giggle.

Jan the Nan was the STAR of the afternoon.

Coming up close behind was singer songwriter Anna Pancaldi.

Woh – what a voice.

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The Arts Centre has no place to hide if you hit a bum note. Anna’s scale went all the way up to the old St-Mary-at-the-Walls tower, and then back down again to bounce off the font at the front of the stage.

Speaking of the famous old tower – here comes Humpty Dumpty.

Oh dear.

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Actually, here comes the always entertaining Anthony Roberts and tales of how Humpty Dumpty came a cropper in the very same building.

Except the Director of the Arts Centre took great joy in destroying the Sunny Colch Humpty myth, before giving a well researched social history of the building that he has called home for the past quarter of a Century.

We wonder if Anthony will be telling similar social histories across town in 25 years time at firstsite? His new day job for the next 12 months or so could do with a Humpty Dumpty style myth to add some magic.

Heard the one about Jack and Jill going up East Hill towards firstsite? Hopefully there will be a happy ending.

Anthony then started to explore themes of death metal and speed metal at the Arts Centre.

We told you that Warm and Toasty is cross-generational.

It was no coincidence that Anthony’s overall message also happened to to fit in with what Johnno is trying to achieve in the town:

“The Arts Centre gives people a chance. We don’t turn people away if they have an idea.”

This is hopefully a tale for the whole town.

It then got slightly psychogeographic with Antony. This is no bad thing. We’d wager that the old worshippers of St-Mary-at-the-Walls understood something about the social significance of food.

And so does Johnno.

Biscuit of the Month was next up for consideration.

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A superbly researched social history all about ginger nuts was delivered. There was even a random round of applause when Johnno announced the biscuit to be celebrated for this month.

The Warm and Toasty Biscuit Correspondent was handed the mic to add his thoughts. The BBC would be a far better organisation if it could find room for such an esteemed journalistic position.

And then came the grand entrance of plates stuffed full of ginger nuts.

“I LOVE ginger nuts!”

…declared one senior female member of the audience.


If music be the food of love, etc – up stepped Alex Highton to the Warm and Toasty stage. Ginger nuts were momentarily put aside as Jan the Nan and others had a bit of a senior swoon moment.

A toast break was needed to calm things down. Racks of hot, freshly buttered toast were passed around.

Dip yer bread, etc,

Eating toast at the Colchester Arts Centre whilst the seductive voice of Shaggy was playing out of the speakers is not your average way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Colchester is all the better for this.

It’s an odd thing to say, but the toast break was probably the highlight of the whole afternoon. Rather than fiddle with their thumbs, audience members did want folk have been doing for generations.

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They turned around, clocked who they were sitting next to and had a conversation. It may not have been dialogue to fix the world economy, but the idea of friendship and conversation is key for Johnno at these gatherings.

We spent a charming five minutes by the hand dryers in the Gents talking to the Band Leader from the Essex Chordsmen.

And whahddya know – here come the Chordsmen to open up the second half of the Warm and Toasty afternoon.

The unamplified rendition of When I Sixty-Four was fantastic. It was playful, and fitted the generations theme of the afternoon.

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Crowd participation soon came with Is This the Way to Amarillo. It’s impossible not to be drawn in by a dozen or so senior males wearing red blazers and shiny shoes. Speed metal this most certainly wasn’t.

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Johnno then took to the mic once again for a fairly emotional short passage. He spoke about personal loss, and how Warm and Toasty has helped him to come to terms with this. Brenda and Shirley were then introduced to the Arts Centre audience.

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You are told tales about girlfriends that you wouldn’t want to bring home to meet your dear old Mother. You probably wouldn’t want to bring your girlfriend home to meet Brenda and Shirley.

Way to go, girls.

Johnno introduced a world premiere video featuring the not very shy and retiring Brenda and Shirley, another key component of Warm and Toasty.

Don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking that social history is dull.

“We always talk about men and sex”

…exclaimed Brenda (or was it Shirley?) with a mischievous glint in the eye that betrayed no confidences.

We don’t think that this segment was scripted.

Essex accents were then explored by the Likely Ladies.

“Can I come again?”

Please do, Madam.

Anna Pancaldi had the hard task of following all of the frivolity. The only way to calm down senior citizen sex talk is with a voice that is capable of taking you probably where Brenda and Shirley have been in their fanciful conversations.

“I won’t forget you”

…said Anna as she left the same.

Likewise.


A bit of Jan the Nan banter followed as Johnno spoke about the importance of speaking with folk face to face. He is an absolute natural in drawing out these precious, precious stories.

Johnno spoke of how “hard work, family and community are all that matters.” It is an observation that he had made following his Warm and Toasty conversations around the town:

“These values are still here, they are still being passed down.”

We paused momentarily from all of the online nonsense we were capturing. We saw nothing but smiles from every single row in the Arts Centre.

A brief tear was wiped before Johnno sang Leave It All to You – a song that said it all really.

But you can’t end a Warm and Toasty session with a song addressing loss. It’s all about the SUNSHINE, Sunny Colch.

We Love the Sunshine was a genuine singalong moment. It helped that the words appeared on the big screen.

And finally Alex Highton returned to the Arts Centre stage to strum out another Warm and Toasty moment that sounded strangely familiar.

Any more toast?

Sunny side up, Colchester.

Johnno is back at the Arts Centre on 16th August for the summer Warm and Toasty show.

Spread the love, Colchester.

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