Very Warm, Very Toasty

To Colchester Arts Centre!

…on Sunday afternoon to stay warm and to eat some toast.

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Good news: The Warm and Toasty Club with the delightful Johnno Casson was scheduled to start at 2pm. The queues stretching around the back of the St-Mary-at-the-Walls was a very welcoming sign.

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But why were so many folk turning out to simply stay warm and eat some toast?

Don’t be fooled by the name. The Warm and Toasty Club is just one facet of this beautifully endearing theme that Mr Johnno has cooked up.

Warm and Toasty is all about community. It’s something that we do rather well here in Sunny Colch.

Johnno is keen to bring together both young and old to tell some tales and sing some songs. The Arts Centre gig was the shopfront for all of the hard work that has already been put in place.

Conversations have taken place with many of the more wiser folk in our area. Johnno and his pals have lovingly documented these digitally.

But sometimes you just can’t beat some old time music hall variety show. Especially so if one of the leading acts waiting in the Arts Centre wings is: Biscuit of the Month.

Tasty.

Would yer man be able to deliver on the live stage on Sunday afternoon?

Does toast always land on the butter-side down?

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Inside the Arts Centre and it was indeed very warm. This was an incredibly cosy atmosphere with far more punters than expected paying the price of a fiver for an afternoon’s entertainment.

Tea and alcohol were on offer, as well as table sweets lovingly laid out all around the Arts Centre.

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And lookey lookey over here: it’s only Johnno Casson taking to the stage to kick start Warm and Toasty.

There was a brief welcome, and then an unexpected instruction for eyes right as the main curtains at the Arts Centre revealed a full on brass band.

Blimey.

We weren’t expecting that.

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This wasn’t any old brass band. It was the Colchester First Class Brass Band who were doing their very best to live up to their name.

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Based at St John’s and Highwoods Community Centre, you couldn’t get more Colchester if you robed then up in Roman toggle and had then eating oysters in-between all the puffing and blowing.

They were brilliant.

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Johnno then explained a little more about the afternoon ahead. We were apparently part of an inter-generational social club. The table sweets were very nice.

And like all good variety shows, the acts kept on coming.

Another aim of Warm and Toasty is to help emerging artists from the region to receive more national radio play.

And whaddya know – Johnno has been busy working his magic with Marina Florance from Norfolk.

Marina is fresh from a 6Music recent airing, and fresh from Fresh on the Net – a 6Music off-spin that Johnno is involved with to help promote new music.

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We say new music – Marina was as upfront herself to admit that she isn’t going to win any 6th Form Battle of the Bands. But Warm and Toasty has helped her to receive some national airplay.

It was most deserving too, given the gentle strumming and quiet vocals that somehow managed to hold court across the entire Arts Centre space.

Fine work, Madam.

Next up was My Little Brother.

It’s the musical joke that keeps on giving…

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Our Friends in the North had made a mammoth trip down from Cumbria to be in Colchester for the afternoon. Johnno is a very hard man in which to say no to.

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The distance and dedication towards Warm and Toasty was well rewarded. The boys might not have #SUNNYCOLCH tattoos on their backside, but it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at, etc.

Which just happened to be Colchester Arts Centre for esteemed social historian Andrew Phillips.

We think he’s been here before…

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Anyone that has had the pleasure of hearing Andrew address an audience will recognise instantly the commitment that he has for Colchester, past and present.

As part of the Colchester Recalled project, Andrew and his team have managed to accumulate over a solid year’s listening of audio from voices that have helped to shape the history of our town.

Andrew shared a few snatches of audio, adding a little commentary in-between. We heard how Colchester was once made up of many rival territories. Lexden was viewed by some as ‘the North.’

Travel between Colchester and Brightlingsea in 2015 and you are likely to experience car sickness. Andrew explained how back in the day the local dialect between the two towns was very different.

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It was the richness in Andrew’s story-telling that made this such a welcome part of Warm and Toasty. The Colchester jokes section deserves a headline show itself at the Arts Centre.

And then the jammy dodger that is Johnno returned to the stage.

It’s only BISCUIT OF THE MONTH.

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Who are we to argue with Johnno’s jammy choice?

It’s his show and so the slightly inferior version of a stale bread sandwich was shared amongst us.

Plus TOAST.

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Beer breaks are not fitting for a Sunday afternoon variety show. Literally plates and plates and PLATES of lightly browned toast was there for the taking.

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It was the attention to detail that made Warm and Toast so delightful. The TOAST break had Labie Sifree, Robert Wyatt and even Uptown Top Ranking playing out as you dined on your toast. This type of detail makes an afternoon.

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Many folk went to explore the Warm and Toasty Mini Marquee. This was a wonderfully camp construction helping to explain a little more about the project and artists. It was a pop-up without the pretension – or even the cupcakes, the ENEMY of everything Warm and Toasty.

First Class Jazz opened up the second half of the show. Mr Blue Sky summed up the feel good mood; Summer Nights had many of the more mature guests foot-tapping along.

Anyone for a washboard?

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Step forward Geoff from Brightlingsea, a man sharp on rhythm and plentiful in tales.

Johnno and his team have produced a short video showing a little more about the life of Geoff.

He probably wouldn’t describe his own day-to-day activities aboard his Brightlingsea boat as being remarkable. But the social story that Johnno was able to draw out made you want to know more.

And in true Cilla fashion – Surprise! Surprise!

Our Geoff was sitting in the audience and received a hugely infectious cheer of support.

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A little more from Marina, the “living embodiment of Warm and Toasty” as Johnno described her. He let slip for the first time in the afternoon with a slight loosening of his cravat.

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It was at this stage where the true spirit of Warm and Toasty came through. Johnno took a little time to explain a more about the ethos of the project and the club.

Storytelling is essential here. Some short clips were played from the current podcast.

Johnno has been able to draw out some personal stories and even songs that might have been lost as the next generation to continue to write their own history.

It was a genuinely moving moment.

The Warm and Toasty Club Podcast-Episode 1 by The Warm And Toasty Club on Mixcloud

As was This is Essex, Johnno’s own celebration of Sunny Colch.

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We still get a slight tingle whenever we hear This is Essex played live. The Jaywick line managed to raise a few guffaws.

Steady the buffers, Madam.

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My Little Brother were then invited back. There was an audible GASP in the Arts Centre when one of My Little Brothers declared that he had never previously been to Essex.

You bounder! You cheat!

But he more than made up for it by saying some very charming words about our town and the people, and then adding some whistling to a song – always worth a bonus point, Sir.

And then it was time to pack away the toasters and return the Arts Centre to the slightly chilled climes.

But Johnno and the Warm and Toasty celebration will be back at the Arts Centre on 17 May and 16 August.

And so shall we.

Sunny side up, #SUNNYCOLCH.

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