House Concert in Penge

When we first started performing we looked at the gigs that artist friends were playing, especially those artists who we think we are similar to in style. In fact we still do this in order to get ideas for venues to approach. One of the acts we admire most and who we count as friends are Adam and Jayne (aka Wildwood Jack). They were promoting a house concert they would be playing – Live At Thornsett Road (LATR) in Penge, South London. We contacted LATR via Twitter and low and behold got a reply fairly quickly from Chris, saying he liked what we did and we arranged a date. At that time LATR’s format was one performer per show and we had a brilliant time and felt like we’d made new friends – not only in Chris, Gerri and their beautiful family – but with several audience members. This is what happens with house concerts and small gigs.

We have played two other venues for Chris: Southey Brewery just before the first COVID lockdown, then at the Three Hounds Brewing Co. Chris is the perfect host and we were so delighted when he asked us to play their final show for 2023. We were to share the evening with Erica Steenkamp and Chris Newland and once we had looked at their music, we were very excited!

We had decided a while ago that, as much as possible, we would use public transport for gigs and this was a perfect opportunity to do that. The gig is within Greater London’s ULEZ area, so it would have cost us to drive in on top of the fuel. So when we checked rail ticket prices for next day returns, remarkably we found a price of around £20 for the two of us! Yes, we have a 20 minute walk from the station and yes, we would probably have to get a rail replacement bus for some of the return journey on Sunday, but it would definitely be cheaper than driving. We’d like to talk about the insane mess that is rail ticket pricing (if we travelled a slightly earlier or slightly later train, the cost would have nearly trebled!) but we’ll save that for another blog. Suffice to say, we arrived early and relaxed which may not have been the case if we had driven – anyone who has driven through Croydon would know that!

House Concerts are great, especially when they are a regular event. The host is more relaxed and has got the measure of their audience numbers and knows, to a certain extent, how the evening will pan out. Chris has been hosting Live At Thornsett Road (LATR) for a long time now so he really does know what he’s doing. The only unknown this time was how little Ruby, the dog, was going to behave because she’s usually not around for the house concerts. She was a bit over excited to start with, a bit of barking and jumping up as people arrived, but she soon realised that this wasn’t anything to bother too much about and that she could just relax with her chew and give the occasional bark when people were clapping.  Of course dogs like to be the centre of attention so she relaxed in the front of the performance area with her chew.

This was an evening of two halves, Erica Steenkamp and Christopher Newland were playing the first half then we were on after a short break for drinks. The audience bring drinks and food to share plus the hosts provide some – in this instance Josie was particularly impressed by the Banana Bread prepared by young Jake! There was a lot of food – pizza, baked cheese, crisps, dips, olives, puddings, cake, garlic bread. In fact Josie had a little too much garlic bread so was very conscious of garlicky breath while performing to a very close audience.

We are used to Bluebell Roots and the great sense of community so it seems quite natural to us that everyone who arrived was welcomed into this house as old friends, but it really is something very special.  To open up your home to people you don’t know, to invite in musicians not knowing how many of the people who have booked a seat will actually turn up, it’s a big risk but it obviously is worth it. There is a community on Facebook of House Concert organisers and performers and LATR is very well regarded.

We are finding it more and more important to warm up before a performance and before the audience arrived we took the opportunity to run through a few things and get the feel of the room. With plenty of time we were able to chat to Erica and Chris (the other performers) when they arrived, hang out with Chris and Gerri (the hosts) then relax for a bit. Then the doorbell rang and it seemed everyone arrived at the same time. Suddenly the kitchen was full of people and conversation. Many people knew Erica from when she ran a local coffee shop. Chris Newland is an experienced professional session guitarist. When they started, it quickly became clear just how good Erica’s songs are, how good her singing is and what a great guitarist Chris is! The style of music was melodic, laid back, beautiful, heartfelt ballads, with blues and jazz influences. Quite different in style to most things we perform. Jim’s insecurities emerged and he worried slightly that some of the audience were really there to see the local act, that our songs weren’t good enough, that he couldn’t play the guitar well enough, etc, etc. Confidence is sometimes so fragile it seems! Erica and Chris finished, we all had a drink and a chat and then it was our turn to perform.

As soon as we finished our first number we knew how foolish those thoughts were. The audience simply love live music in the company of fellow music lovers, especially in this kind of intimate environment. We played for about 50 minutes and received generous applause from the audience of 30 or so and afterwards really relaxed into the conversation. Jim was slightly in awe of Chris Newland’s beautiful electric guitar work and was a little overwhelmed when Chris was extremely complimentary about his playing. A couple of the guests busked songs on Jim’s guitar, then everyone had gone, Josie turned in and Jim and Chris (our host) shared a whiskey before going to bed!

We didn’t  sell any CDs but got one sign up to the mailing list and an entry in the Audience Book. We also had lots of chats, in particular to one audience member who said they enjoyed how close they were to the performers and could see how the guitar was being played. 

What a great night – it really put a spring back into our step. We’d arranged to stay over, so after breakfast, Chris paid us from what must have been very generous donations from the audience (he had already paid Erica and Chris Newland, as well as making a donation to homeless charities) then delivered us to the station for our trip home.

More house concerts please!!