Great War Composers and Poets: Final Thoughts

So, we have now returned to England and have wended our way north to Chester and Sheffield. It’s been a remarkable few days, for a whole host of reasons.

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First and foremost, the horrors of the First World War became slightly more real. I say “slightly” because nothing could ever reveal its true nature to us of course. But seeing the monuments listings tens of thousands of names of the missing; being in cemeteries where thousands of graves (in one case over 10,000) lay; and seeing signs for Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries what seemed like every few hundred yards just began to give an indication of the gargantuan scale of the conflict. In addition, in following the stories (and battles) of a few individuals - who just happened to be composers and poets - we could envisage some of the particular action, including individual heroism and tragedies, and could see the sheer futility of some of the decisions made.

Incidentally, on the subject of cemeteries, we have to pay tribute to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, whose cemeteries are kept absolutely wonderfully. We would also like to thank everyone who helped us along the way, and allowed us to play in places where we might not have expected it automatically; including the Thiepval monument and Talbot House. There was nowhere that we asked to play where we were not allowed to, and the respect and friendship shown by everyone - locals, staff, and visitors alike - was a real hallmark of this particular tour.

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Of course it had its lighter moments too - including the car being towed away (which we could laugh about eventually), and some wonderful food and drink (well, we were in France after all!). But it is the likes of George Butterworth and Wilfred Owen who will stay with us. Requiescat in pace.

We will, of course, be back for more adventures in the future... we expect to have another major challenge in 2020. Watch out for more information on that in due course, either here, or on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts (or via our newsletter). We’ll be doing a few smaller things in the mean time too... we’ll write the occasional blog post about those too!

It merely remains for us to leave you with a collection of photos from the trip (see below*), and to give you our highlights of the tour.

(*These may not appear in the email version of the blog: if not, then visit the web site).

Highlights of the tour (one from each of us):

  • James: Playing at the side of the Sambre- Oise canal, at the spot where Wilfred Owen was shot merely a week before the end of the war
  • Clare: Playing at the cemetery at Anzin, where her grandfather had served (and where it is likely that some of his fellow soldiers were buried.
  • Jeremy: Playing at the Thiepval Memorial, under the Francis Purcell Warren inscription, with an appreciative and emotional audience.

 

Great War Composers and Poets Day 5: Peace in Wartime

For our final full day of the tour we decided not to focus on a specific composer and poet, but instead look at events of the Great War that gave hope and peace - however briefly.

We were greeted by an unfamiliar site when leaving our hotel: clouds. After four days of constant blue skies, it was rather overcast. Of course this did not last; the sun burned them away by lunchtime, although it was slightly cooler today - the high temperature being a comparatively measly 31 Celsius! After a slightly later breakfast (it was Sunday, after all), we drove north back to Belgium.

Our first port of call was somewhere we had been earlier in the week, but had not stopped for long: the monument (donated by UEFA, the European football governing body) to the famous “Christmas Truce” football match in December 1914. I’m sure you’ll know the story: on Christmas Day, Allied and German soldiers put down their weapons for the day, and had a game of football in no-man’s land. The monument may not be in the precise place of the game, but it is certainly nearby. Adorned by football scarves of many colours, and quotes from football dignitaries such as Michel Platini, it occupies a significant position close to the various Ploegsteert battlefields, cemeteries and monuments.

Our decision to return here was prompted by the realisation that we hadn’t played right at the monument earlier in the week, and it would make sense to play something with a football connection. The hymn “Abide with me” is known as a particular football hymn - it is sung every year at the FA Cup final - and so we played this, as you can watch in the video.

We then went north west to the Flemish town of Poperinge, and specifically to Talbot House (which became known as “Toc H”. This was a place of convalescence for British soldiers set up in 1915 by the charismatic British Army chaplain Philip “Tubby” Clayton, and provided an opportunity for rest and respite while soldiers were recovering or on leave. In particular it played host to much music and entertainment - we watched a great short film that recreated some of the music hall numbers of the day - and gave an opportunity for peace and laughter amongst the maelstrom of the surrounding war.

The house also has a wonderful garden - it’s difficult to believe it’s in the centre of a sizeable town - and after we’d had some lunch at a nearby restaurant we came back to play a set of music in the garden, including Ivor Novello’s “Keep the home fires burning” - a very popular song of the First World War, and something that would definitely have been heard there on many occasions! We had a highly appreciative audience, and the wardens were very welcoming - for the first time this week we actually sat on chairs to play, which certainly made things easier!

All in all, this felt like a wonderful and uplifting way to finish the playing on this tour. It has been a real rollercoaster of emotions, but a highly worthwhile thing to do. We’ll post one final blog tomorrow, as we journey home; now we’re off to enjoy our final night in France (but not too much, as we’ve got a very early start tomorrow!).

Highlight of the day: Playing in the garden at Talbot House (and actually sitting on a chair to play the cello!)

Quote of the day: “Do you guys play the guitar as well?” A member of the public in Poperinge was obviously disappointed with our lack of musical flexibility! We think he was joking...

Great War Composers and Poets Day 4: Bliss, Warren and Owen

Today started with more excitement (of the wrong sort) than we had expected. Our now-established routine of loading the car, and getting a quick breakfast from the local boulangerie, was interrupted when we found our (James’s) car was not where we had left it. We had failed to spot the different parking restrictions on a Saturday morning due to the Arras market, and we quickly realised that “Bruce”, as the car is affectionately known, must have been towed.

We went back to our hotel, where the receptionist was incredibly helpful (top marks to the Arras Ibis!), and phoned the police to ask what we needed to do. We walked the 15 minutes to the police station, where the gendarmes were far more helpful and polite than we had feared. In fact, after the paperwork was finished, they even gave us a lift to the towing company, saving us a 45 minute walk! Even there, the service was helpful and efficient, and once we had paid a fine we were on our way quickly. The whole episode was done in little over an hour, and could have been far worse!

And so, after a hasty (and sugary) breakfast, we set on our way to Cambrai, about 20 miles south west of Arras. The site of a major battle in late 1917, and where the English composer Arthur Bliss (1891-1975) was gassed. The battle at Cambrai was a truly horrific one, with over 50,000 Germans and over 44,000 allied forces losing their lives. Bliss did not die there - he went on to compose great music over the following decades - but it did represent the end of his war.

We first went to the main Cambrai memorial to the missing, some 10 miles out of the town, and in the absence of any appropriate music by Arthur Bliss, we played amongst others Francis Purcell Warren’s “Ave Verum”. Warren (1895-1916) had already gone missing, presumed dead, by this point in the war, but this felt like an appropriate commemoration. While his music is not as well known as some of the composers we are celebrating on this trip, it still has a real poignancy to it, and if he had lived beyond the age of 21 he would doubtless have written many more works that would be known today.

We then travelled to the other side of Cambrai, where there is a cemetery for over 10,000 of the German soldiers killed in the battle (as well as some English and Russian soldiers). We wanted to do this in the spirit of reconciliation and friendship - and so we played the Adagio from Beethoven’s trio for three cellos (one of our old favourites since 2004). You can see an extract from the performance in this video clip.

After a crêpe for lunch in the centre of Cambrai, we headed 40 minutes further west to the village of Ors. This was the site of one of the final battles of the war, and for us was noteworthy because of the involvement - and death - of the poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). Just a week before the end of the war, Owen was part of a British battalion attempting to cross the Sambre-Oise canal by using a floating bridge. Sadly, the operation was a disaster due to the Germans occupying the opposite bank, and able to shoot at will once they saw what was happening. Owen was one of those shot and killed, at the age of just 25. His war poem “Futility” was obviously not about this incident, but could not be a more appropriate description of it.

We parked in the sleepy village of Ors, and walked the kilometre or so up to the point of the fateful crossing attempt. It was easy to see how straightforward it would have been for the Germans to spot the attack even under the cover of darkness. We played an arrangement of Parry’s great choral anthem “My Soul, there is a Country”, a setting of words by Henry Vaughan, written during the war (see video). We then went on to see Owen’s grave, in the village itself. Chillingly, almost every grave in that section of the cemetery had the same date of death.

Before leaving that part of the world we paid a visit to the Wilfred Owen Maison Forestière, the forester’s house a couple of miles down the road where Owen had stayed in the cellar before the attack was launched. Movingly, his final letter to his mother was read out through speakers in the cellar. At the end of all this, we’re feeling emotionally and physically drained (temperatures again into the mid 30s!), and as I write this we’re on our way back to Arras to recuperate before our final day of the tour tomorrow.

Highlight of the day: Playing by the canal, at the spot where Wilfred Owen had been killed.

Quote of the day: “Our taxi’s here!” - said by James (jokingly) as a police car pulled up outside the police station. Little did we know then that this car really would give us a lift to the towing company!

Great War Composers and Poets Day 3: Butterworth and Sassoon

Today took us right to the heart of the Somme, that infamous battleground for several months in 1916. Although we focussed on George Butterworth and Siegfried Sassoon, there were several other composers and poets who fought here too.

Our first port of call was Mametz Wood: the location of some major battles in May-June 1916. Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) was a key part of this: he captured a trench, almost single-handedly, from the Germans, and was awarded the Military Cross for his endeavours. His poem “Aftermath” describes some of the horrors faced at Mametz, and the difficulty of remembrance. Also serving in the same battle was the poet Robert Graves: his poem “A Dead Boche” is a somewhat gruesome description of coming across a deceased German in Mametz Wood.

The battle here had significant numbers of Welsh casualties, and there is a monument in the form of a Welsh dragon next to the wood. We played by the monument (with our first audience of the day - albeit only one person!), and went into the wood itself to play there too.

From there we went a couple of miles west to Contalmaison, another key war site and where the composer George Butterworth (1885-1916) was first sent into action. We discovered, however, that the site is particularly commemorated for the involvement of a Scottish battalion that included several professional footballers, and we played by a large cairn that was placed there as a memorial.

The Butterworth connection grew stronger with our next calling point at Pozières. It was here that, in an effort (ultimately successful) to capture a series of trenches called Munster Alley from the Germans, Butterworth was shot and killed by a sniper. A popular officer, his men renamed the attack trench they had dug “Butterworth Trench” in his honour. Aged just 31, it was a tragic loss as he was regarded as one of the brightest composers of his generation. In the video here, we are playing his setting of the A. E. Housman poem “The Lads in their Hundreds”, referencing all of the young men who lost their lives at war: “the lads that will die in their glory and never be old”. We played this by the site of the Butterworth Trench, and then again by a memorial in the village of Pozières; a very poignant moment.

After this we went to “Crucifix Corner” - a short distance away, which is where Ivor Gurney had written the music to “In Flanders” - to see more about this, and part of a performance of it by us, see the blog from day 1.

After a pleasant lunch in the town of Albert, our final playing stop of the day was at the hugely impressive Thiepval memorial. An absolutely massive monument, this commemorates  over 72,000 British and South African soldiers who died at the Somme but have no known grave. Included in these are two composers - not only George Butterworth, but also Francis Purcell Warren, whose music we will celebrate tomorrow. We were allowed to play in the monument itself, and so gave an appropriately reflective recital (including music by all the composers we are commemorating) to the appreciation of plenty of visitors.

At the end of a long, hot day (temperatures hitting 35 Celsius at Thiepval), we have now returned to Arras and are looking forward to enjoying some more French cuisine tonight before heading west to commemorate Francis Purcell Warren, Arthur Bliss, and Wilfred Owen tomorrow.

Highlight of the day: Playing in the Thiepval memorial and seeing people genuinely moved by the music

Quote of the day: “It just serves to make a poignant setting even more so” - a Welsh visitor to the Mametz Wood memorial on hearing our music.

Great War Composers and Poets Day 2: Vaughan Williams and Thomas

Today’s leg of the tour saw us stay much closer to Arras, our base for the week. After enjoying a local café breakfast, we headed North West to the village Écoivres, where there was a substantial military cemetery, containing the graves of many French and English soldiers amongst others, including a few Germans.

Our reason for visiting Écoivres was that the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) served here during the first world war. He began to write his pastoral symphony while here, and although we couldn’t play that between the three of us, we did play a version of his setting of George Herbert’s poem, “The Call” – you can see this in the video above/right.

On the way to Écoivres we had spotted the ruin of a significant abbey up on the hill, so after leaving the cemetery we went to find this. It was every bit as spectacular as we had hoped, and the view in all directions was fantastic on a hot, clear day: it was easy to see why this was a position of strategic importance during both world wars.

After this, we headed back towards Arras, and first of all to the cemetery at Anzin. This had particular significance for us, as Clare’s grandfather had served in Anzin during the Great War, before being posted to Greece. Here we gave our first rendition of the tour of Parry’s “My Soul, There Is A Country” – a piece written during the war, and although Parry did not serve on the front line himself, the words are deeply appropriate.

After a spot of lunch we went on to the military ceremony at Agny. The particular interest here was the grave of famous poet (including war poet) Edward Thomas (1878-1917). He was killed in a major battle in Arras in 1917 at the age of 39. Not being aware of any appropriate musical settings of his poems, we played instead, next to his grave, Douglas Guest’s setting of “For the Fallen” by Lawrence Binyon, which you can see in the video above/right.

Our final stop of the day was the memorial and cemetery in Arras itself. The battle here in 1917 led to tens of thousands of casualties, and nearly 35,000 unrecovered soldiers are commemorated at this impressive memorial; the individual graves of 2,678 soldiers are in the adjoining plot of land. The experience was somewhat overwhelming in scale, and serves to demonstrate what a massive, tragic event the Great War was.

Tomorrow we will be heading slightly south from here, and will be commemorating in particular the composer George Butterworth and the poet Siegfried Sassoon.

Highlight of the day: Playing in the cemetery at Anzin, where Clare's grandfather had fought

Quote of the day: "Do you think we should turn back?" - Jeremy gets a bit uncertain driving down a small track while trying to find the cemetery at Anzin. We're relieved to say that the car survived a very bumpy, puddle-infested mile or so!

Great War Composers and Poets Day 1: Gurney and Harvey

The first full day of our Great War Composers and Poets tour, and today we particularly commemorated the Gloucestershire pair F. W. Harvey and Ivor Gurney. Both were situated around the Belgian/French border during the Great War, and so that is where we headed after a highly satisfactory breakfast.

Our first stop was the French town of Laventie. The site of many battles during the war, the poet F. W. Harvey (1888-1957) was captured by the Germans here in 1916; the poet and composer Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) also saw action here, and wrote the poem “Laventie” about his time there. We went to the Fauquissart Military Cemetery to do our first playing of the tour. Like all the cemeteries we have visited so far, this was beautifully maintained. Although we didn’t see too many people, those we did see were very friendly: workmen just outside the cemetery turned their loud equipment off while we played (unbidden!), and the parents of the owner of the neighbouring farm came over with a bunch of flowers for us and chatted a while. A wonderful way to start the tour!

We then proceeded into the small town of Laventie itself: Gurney had described the friendly, airy place, with cafés and other attractions. We had a good look around, and drank a quick coffee; however we didn’t play in the town but instead proceeded out West to the hamlet of Riez Bailleul. Gurney had trained here (and wrote another poem about it), and although there was was no sign of anything there, we stopped and played by the side of the road anyway.

From there we crossed the border into Belgium, and after a spot of lunch at a village friterie we went up to Ploegsteert. This was a key battleground throughout the war, and is marked by a wide range of monuments and cemeteries. It was here that Harvey wrote his poem “In Flanders” - this was set to music by Gurney a little later in the war, after he found out that Harvey had been captured.

After playing at the impressive Memorial to the Missing, which commemorates over 11,000 allied soldiers whose bodies were never recovered, we strolled with cellos over a mile to the UEFA monument to the famous “Christmas Truce” game of football in 1914. A very different monument, with a number of footballing elements, it is flanked by two reconstructed trenches, where we played for a few minutes. Then into Ploegsteert Wood (via a couple of other impressive memorials where we also stopped to play), where we found an absolute gem of a cemetery right in the middle of the wood. This was a fantastic opportunity for us to play “In Flanders” again, which you can see in the video above/to the right.

We finished the day with a short trip to Ypres, where we had a good look at the Menin Gate - a very impressive monument to all of the missing Allied Forces in the Great War: over 50,000 names are individually inscribed in this massive arch.

So, back to Arras for an evening meal, and thinking about tomorrow - when we will be particularly commemorating Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Thomas.

Highlight of the day: Being given flowers by a stranger when we played at the Fauquissart Military Cemetery

Quote of the day: “...” - the mechanical diggers go silent at the same cemetery to allow us to play in peace. This was entirely the work men’s doing; we did not even ask them!

Day 0: Extreme cellists venture to France...

So here we are, off on another tour. Our first outside the British Isles... we have travelled to France so that we can spend the next five days commemorating the centenary of the end of World War I; in particular, we will be playing at sites where British composers and poets saw action, and will be playing music written and inspired by them.

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We’re staying in the French town of Arras, not far from many of the battlefields of the Somme. It was a long drive today from Chester, including a trip with Eurotunnel, but we are now safely ensconced en France, and have begun the tour by practising our new repertoire before heading out for some dinner. Our cellos are enjoying having a French bed to sleep on too, as you can see from the picture...

Tomorrow we’ll actually be crossing the border into Belgium, as well as playing in France. Each day until Saturday we’re going to focus on at least one composer and one poet; tomorrow it’s the turn of the Gloucestershire duo, poet F. W. Harvey and composer & poet Ivor Gurney. We’ll say more about each individual, and their works, on subsequent days’ blogs.

We're not expecting much (if anything) in terms of audiences, but if anyone does happen to be in this part of the world in the next few days and wants to come and see us play, let us know via the contact form and we'll let you know where you can find us!

Highlight of the day: Arriving in Arras to see what a wonderful small city it is - magnificent architecture!

Quote of the day: "You should play in the square! People will give you lots of money!" - a passing Frenchman as we took our cellos out of the car on arrival in Arras.

 

New Extreme Cello tour setting off soon...

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At the end of this month we'll be setting off on our next adventure. Currently we are just finalising the details of this, so more will follow in due course... however, we can let you know that this will NOT be a fundraiser, that it will involve foreign travel, and that it is highly relevant for the year 2018.

To find more about our plans, check back here in about ten days!

From Piers to Peers...

Well, actually not peers, as that would imply the House of Lords. But today we were very lucky to have the opportunity to play our cellos in the House of Commons for a couple of hours.

Not in the chamber itself, of course, but in the Terrace Pavilion - a lovely room below the chamber that has a terrace overlooking the Thames (see picture). The occasion was an afternoon tea, hosted by Geoffrey Cox MP, in aid of one of our charities of the year - CHICKS. We had raised over £4300 for them as part of this year's Pier Pressure tour, and they invited us to play for the event and also present them with a cheque.

CHICKS is an incredible charity - with three retreat houses in Cornwall, Devon and Derbyshire, they provide free respite breaks for children from various disadvantaged backgrounds. These include children who have suffered abuse/neglect, children in extreme poverty, and young carers. The one thing they have in common is that they would not otherwise get a holiday. The week they spend at CHICKS offers the chance to try all sorts of activities that they would not get the chance to normally - indeed, many believe they couldn't do at all (e.g. rock climbing, horse riding, surfing), but with gentle encouragement many overcome their doubts and build confidence as a result. We have seen ourselves the great work that CHICKS do, and are delighted and proud to support them.

Many thanks to all at CHICKS for giving us this opportunity to play at one of the most iconic buildings in the country, to Geoffrey Cox MP for hosting it (and lots of other interesting people for attending), and to the House of Commons staff who were very helpful (including the security staff who had the interesting job of putting three cellos through an airport-style security scanner!). But most of all thanks to every one of you who sponsored us (whether for CHICKS or Alzheimer's Society), which really has made a difference. We know that several extra disadvantaged children will be able to have a life-changing holiday thanks to your generosity!

Pier Pressure: The Pier Review

First of all, some statistics. 2925 miles travelled across 41 counties, including six ferry journeys. 83 hours and 7 minutes travelling time (in 15 days – 14 pier days plus one travelling up to Scotland at the start). 58 piers visited (53 played on the pier structure itself, four played under, and one – Colwyn Bay Victoria – played outside the front as there is no way on or under). At least 20 different pieces played (including one, “I do like to be beside the seaside”, well over 60 times).

But the most important statistic: over £9000 raised for Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS, with donations still coming in. This is thanks to some fantastically generous donations from supporters both online and who have seen us in person, friends and strangers alike. It makes it all truly worthwhile, and knowing that extra support to people with dementia, and that several more children like the little lad we met in Paignton will be able to have respite breaks as a result of this, is just wonderful.

We’ll post occasional updates on the blog over the coming months, as we have more things to report (and of course in our occasional newsletter: subscribe here if you want to receive it!), including the current status of the fundraising. But for now, there are a couple of subjective ratings that we need to report…

Pier of the Tour

As we have done with our piers of the day, this is a subjective view about our overall experience of visiting each pier: taking into account the architecture and set-up of the piers, the reception we received from pier staff, locals and visitors, and the general enjoyment we had from them. The three of us each nominated a top five, and when collating the ratings this left us with the following top three…

In joint second position, we have Saltburn-by-the-Sea and Swanage. Saltburn was a delightful surprise to us all: we hadn’t anticipated such a beautiful structure and setting, and a fantastic start to the English part of the tour. Well worth the long drive for! Swanage was also a lovely Victorian structure in a delightful setting, but we had the additional joy there of playing for the Purbeck Pirate Festival, giving us a brilliantly large and receptive audience, and the experience of playing in pirate costumes!

 Clevedon

Clevedon

In first place, however, was Clevedon. This is an absolute gem of a pier, with stunning architecture, and recently restored in quite brilliant fashion. Despite the weather being dreadful when we were there, the new visitor centre gave us a sheltered place to play, but still with a marvellous viewpoint. We also had a large and generous audience here, and were made very welcome by the pier staff. Congratulations!

Honourable mentions also go to Southwold and Colwyn Bay, each of which made at least two of our lists.

Fish and Chips

As regular blog readers will know, we had fish and chips every single day of the tour (and now need to go on diets!). We each rated these on ten categories, with a mark out of ten per category, giving each meal an overall score out of 300. The top three were:

3. Pieseas Chip Shop, Harwich (239 points). An excellent traditional chip shop.

2. Gatehouse Grill, Southampton (258 points). Slightly upmarket, on what remains of the pier itself, but great quality food and lovely view.

1. Beach Hut Café, Mumbles Pier (270 points). A wonderful café, beautiful setting, and top quality fish and chips. It’s worth disclaiming that we were given these free of charge by the staff, but we discussed how our ratings may have differed even if we’d paid for them in full, and it would have still been clearly in first place.

Thanks to...

There are some thanks we need to give, of course. First, thanks to all the pier owners and staff who allowed us to play on the piers, including some who went out of their way to welcome, support and promote us. Thanks also to the many friends, old and new, who have accommodated us as we went round: your help is critical to making this work, as we probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to do it if we’d had to pay for accommodation each night! Thanks to our corporate sponsors, who have both donated to the causes and provided other forms of help: Allianz Musical Insurance, Jargar Strings, The Jolly Design, Captain Fawcett, Henderson’s Relish, and Thornbridge Brewery. And finally, thanks again to everyone who has donated to Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS, and/or come to support us along the way. Your support has kept us going!

So, what next? Well, there will certainly be more Extreme Cello antics in the future… we anticipate another major event in 2018, so look out of details for that in due course! We’ll have some more smaller events between now and then too, so we’ll keep you informed of those too. For now, though, we’ll leave you with a few images from the Pier Pressure tour, and a video clips of us playing "Under the Boardwalk" - more videos can be found at our YouTube channel!

Pier Pressure Day 14: The End of the Piers Show

Wow, we did it. 58 piers in 14 days, and a lot of money raised for Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS. But I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let’s go back to the start of the day…

We left Chester at a very civilised hour of 9.00, giving James the opportunity to spend some more time in his own house! The journey to Southport started to worry us, however, as the rain set in – this hadn’t been in the forecast we saw! By the time we arrived about an hour and a quarter later, there was a distinct chill in the air, the wind was still strong, and the rain was a steady drizzle. We’d visited Southport pier last year to do a bit of busking, so we didn’t feel the need to explore fully or hang around: we found a shelter towards the sea end, played one piece, and there being no audience around for us, then headed back for the car. When we were just about to leave, however, one of James’s former colleagues turned up with his family, so we got the cellos out again – this time under the pier – and played them a tune before we left!

St Anne’s is only about 7 miles north of Southport, but due to the Ribble estuary, the trip around in the car takes around an hour. When we did get there, however, we were joined by a crew from BBC North West Tonight, who accompanied us for our final four piers. They’ve done a nice piece on us for their evening bulletin today: it starts at about 20:45 here. By this time the rain had relented, but the wind was if anything even greater. We played a few pieces, and did a few bits for the camera, before heading for our fish and chips. When we did so, however, James looked longingly at a MASSIVE éclair in the café window, prompting the café staff to bring it out for us free of charge (which was gratefully appreciated by all!).

Then the short distance up to Blackpool, where we were met by a few friends, including several members of James’s family. Blackpool is the only town in the country to have three piers, with the South and Central piers being largely covered by traditional amusements and rides, but North pier including a lot of clear space and some more old-fashioned features. We did both the South and Central piers relatively quickly, with plenty more filming along the way, including a good sing-along to “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” on South pier after we spotted a West Ham fan passing by… but then made the walk up the shore to pier number 58 of the tour, Blackpool North.

A final spot of filming outside the pier itself, then a few tunes on the lovely Victorian main deck of the pier meant we had completed our challenge. Well, almost: after the film crew had done their bit, we headed to the far end of the pier and the Sun Lounge, where the pier organist, Trevor Raven, graciously allowed us to interrupt his set to play a few more pieces to the audience there. This was a truly lovely way to end the final day, and helped us boost the donations even further.

So, there we are. We’re now all back home, and completely worn out, but very happy that it all went so well! This won’t be quite the final blog post of the tour: tomorrow we’ll post one more, in which we’ll reflect on the tour as a whole, and reveal (amongst other things) the top three fish and chips places we visited, our favourite three piers to visit, and give an update on money raised. Suffice to say for now, we’ve smashed our initial target, so many thanks to all for your generosity – both the charities, CHICKS and Alzheimer’s Society, are truly grateful!

Weather report: Still quite blustery, with a bit of everything thrown in. One final word of support for Jargar Strings here: despite all of this, we seldom had to retune any of our strings, even from one day to the next. Today’s temperatures varied between 15.9 and 22.4 celsius, with humidity between 63.7% and 71.6%.

Quote of the day: “Can we just have that one more time please?” Said several times by the TV crew: one of the joys of being filmed in this way!

Pier of the day: Blackpool North

Pier Pressure Final Day: The Pier Pressure is off!

We've done it! Our final pier, Blackpool North, has just been conquered, and we've played on (or under) all 58 surviving piers in Great Britain.

We'll post a proper blog entry either later today or tomorrow, depending on whether I've got any energy left after driving back to Sheffield, but we thought we should share this with you for now. And for those in the North West TV region, look out for a piece for us on the 6.30 BBC news tonight (I'm sure it will be available on iPlayer for the rest of you in the UK too!)

Phew - now time for an ice cream...

Pier Pressure Day 13: Blowing a Gale in Wales

Actually we’re starting this write-up with the end of day 12, where we left off yesterday, in Aberystwyth. We had a concert at St Michael’s church there, and although the audience was on the small side, they were very enthusiastic! After this we retired to a local hostelry with a couple of Sheffield friends who were at the concert, Andrew and Mary, and two of their local friends, before all going for a very nice curry together. At this point, we decided to head back to the pier, where the club is named after our tour, “Pier Pressure”. Sadly (perhaps) it was shut, so we didn’t get to enjoy the Aber nightlife, and just got this selfie instead…

However, through the night we could hear the wind picking up, and by the time we left there was truly a gale blowing across north Wales. A long and beautiful drive through the heart of Snowdonia wasn’t enough to abate this, and when we arrived at Bangor at 11.30, the wind seemed stronger if anything. Certainly walking down the long pier here was difficult with the cellos being blown about, and fortunately there were a couple of shelters at the far end which enabled us to play. In these winds, I don’t think we’d have been able to even hold the cellos in the open, let alone play them effectively! This pier was also notable because James’s wife Zoe, and their young son, came out to meet us, which was lovely (and explains why there’s a small child in the picture below!).

After this we headed over the Menai Straits to the Isle of Anglesey, and a few miles up the road to the coastal town of Beaumaris. The pier here is not so long, and although unspectacular in many ways has a beauty in its simplicity. It was also busy with people (old and young) fishing, despite the even stronger winds, which caused both sand and water to buffer our faces as we walked up. Like Bangor, we were grateful for some shelter in which to play (a covered bench, at least), and we were delighted to see our old friend Emily turn up here. Nevertheless, we were pleased to get out of the wind after about 20 minutes’ playing to go and get our fish and chips – our thirteenth portion, and we are now starting to get slightly sick of them…

While on the road round the coast to Llandudno, we got word from BBC North West Tonight that they’re going to follow us round tomorrow, so that put a spring in our step. Llandudno is a lovely pier in a lovely setting, and fortunately the strong winds here were mitigated by the massive hill behind the town – the Great Orme. It was still quite cold however, and started to rain as we played for about 30 minutes with lots of passing holidaymakers. We were also met here by our old friend Shaun and his daughter Catherine, who then followed us around to Colwyn Bay for the last pier of the day.

Ah yes, Colwyn Bay. This was one of the piers where we knew we couldn’t get on: it’s been closed for years, but we had contacted the Colwyn Bay Victoria Pier Trust, a local organisation who have been battling to save it (the County Council preferring to demolish it, although they are unable to due to its listed status). The Trust put the word out far and wide, and we turned up to find dozens of local people (including two professional cellists!) waiting to see us perform outside the locked gates of the pier. They gave us such a warm welcome (as well as donating generously to our charities, Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS), that we felt really moved by the whole thing. The pier itself is obviously in a poor state of repair, but there was nothing to us that seemed worthy of demolition, and clearly it was a great traditional pier in its day. Hopefully it will be again at some point in the future. We played for about half an hour there, before having all sorts of photographs and conversations with members of the Trust. Good luck to them for their continued battle!

And so we’re staying tonight in Chester – James will be sleeping in his own bed, which he is greatly anticipating! One more day only to go… and five piers to play on; Southport (10.30), St Anne’s (12.30), Blackpool South (14.00), Blackpool Central (15.00) and finishing the whole tour at Blackpool North at 16.30. Nearly there!

Weather report: More cold and wet weather at times, but it was the gale-force winds that really threw us off. Fortunately the Jargar Strings held up not only through this but also through James’s cello case taking a serious bump in Llandudno! The temperatures varied between 18.7 and 20.1 celsius, with humidity between 66.5% and 70.5%.

Quote of the day: “I tell my pupils about you to inspire them to play the cello!” A cello teacher we met in Colwyn Bay, who has also taken lots of her pupils up Snowdon to recreate what we did!

Pier of the day: Colwyn Bay

Pier Pressure Day 12: Shouting about the Mumbles

Today has been a long day – and at the time of writing, we’ve not even finished it yet in terms of performances. Having stayed in Gloucester last night with Clare’s dad, there was a 90 minute drive to our first pier, at Penarth (just south of Cardiff). The Welsh leg of the trip encompasses two days – today and tomorrow – and so it was with some despondency that we noticed heavy rain setting in after we crossed the River Severn. On arrival at Penarth this barely abated, but fortunately for us there were a couple of small sheltered sections on the pier – one opposite a small café operated by a lovely lady, Nicola. We played a couple of tunes while having a morning coffee, much to Nicola’s delight, and had a good look up the delightfully structured pier which was mostly empty except for a large pavilion at the shore end.

We then headed further west, past Swansea – to the Mumbles pier, at the Eastern tip of the Gower peninsula. Not really knowing anything about this in advance, we were completely thrilled to find a beautiful Victorian structure, set by some stunning rocks, which leads out to a lifeboat station (see picture above). The views were great, and if you haven’t been (as we hadn’t before), I can certainly recommend it! Unfortunately, due to the extreme weather (the rain having now been joined by high winds), the majority of the pier was closed for safety reasons. However, this didn’t put us off: the shore end included something for everyone, and they asked us to play in their lovely café area, which we were very happy to do. We were even more delighted that they then offered us our lunch for free: of course this was another portion of fish and chips each, and it didn’t let the side down. We’ll reveal the top ratings for all our lunches at the end of the tour!

Then we had to face the long and winding road to Aberystwyth, some two and a quarter hours away, much of it on smaller roads through the rolling hills and valleys of west Wales (and a fair amount stuck behind a lorry…). When we got to our destination, though, we found that Aberystwyth Royal pier contains a lot of commercial units at the shore end, a snooker hall and bar in the middle, and a smaller outdoor seating area at the sea end. We were joined here by James’s colleague Delyth, and also our old friends from Sheffield, Andrew and Mary, and their friends who live locally whom they are visiting. We played for around half an hour in the outdoor seating area with a wonderful backdrop of cliffs and a gorgeous façade along the curving coastline (just seen behind the Welsh windmill in the picture!). Fortunately by this time the rain had cleared, and the wind was low enough that our pages didn’t get turned over too often…

And so onto this evening. I’m writing this before the final performance of the day, as I’m not sure whether I’ll get a chance afterwards. We’re performing a concert at St Michael’s church at 7.30pm (not sure how much of an audience we’ll get – we’re not expecting a sell-out, that’s for sure!), after which we’re going to go for a pint and a meal with our visiting friends. And then maybe, just maybe, we’ll head down to the nightclub on the pier itself. Its name? Pier Pressure!

Tomorrow starts with another long drive (Aberystwyth is a long way from anywhere else of any size!), and we’ll play at Bangor (11.30), Beaumaris (13.00), Llandudno (15.00) before completing the Welsh leg of the trip at the slightly derelict pier at Colwyn Bay at 16.30.

Weather report: Some real variety in the weather today, but mainly in terms of different levels of wind and rain. The temperatures varied between 19.5 and 22.6 celsius, with humidity between 74.6% and 88.1%.

Quote of the day: “I do think you’re brave.” The café owner at Penarth presumably is confusing the word “brave” with something else, such as “stupid”…

Pier of the day: Mumbles

Pier Pressure Day 11: Burned by Burnham

Somerset certainly wasn’t summer-set today, as it was the first truly awful day of the tour weather-wise. There was another first too – but more of that in a moment.

We set off from near Taunton after a lovely evening (and breakfast) with our old friends Liz and Guy. All four piers today were in Somerset, so the distances between them (and indeed to get to the first one) were all fairly short. Although the weather wasn’t great, the rain hadn’t properly set in by the time we got to Burnham-on-Sea. We were in good time, so we went and had a cup of tea at the shore end of the pier before playing. This gave us an opportunity to have a word with the staff about playing there. We’ve contacted many of the piers in advance, but not quite all when it was more difficult to get hold of them. Burnham was one we hadn’t managed to get hold of, so we explained what we were doing in the hope that we could play somewhere near the café.

However, the response we got was “No – we don’t do that sort of thing. We don’t have the room or the space.” 43 piers in, and our first refusal. To say we were a bit miffed would be an understatement – not least because we were the only people in a large café area at that time (and we’ve played in much smaller areas previously)! However, rules are rules, so instead we took our cellos down to the beach and played just under the pier. So far there are four piers we haven’t been able to play on, and we’ve played under each of them instead. The difference is, though, that we knew we wouldn’t be able to play on the others, and this one came as more of a shock.

Anyway, up the road to Weston-super-Mare, where the Grand pier was our first port of call. A large pleasure pier, from what we had been told we were expecting it to be a bit tacky. However, that wasn’t what we found. There is a very large pavilion at the sea end, housing a mammoth amusement arcade (and a much posher restaurant); this is certainly highly commercial, but much less tacky than some other piers we have seen. The promenade leading up to that was much more serene, and although there was some piped music, it was far more discrete than in some other places. In fact, there was a covered walkway up the middle, which was great for us because the rain had now started in earnest. We played for nearly an hour as there were a lot of passing punters, some of whom had a sing and a dance along with us!

After a good portion of fish and chips (we’re not getting as sick of them as we thought we probably would – not yet, anyway), we went up the road to Weston’s other pier, Birnbeck. This place is astonishing. It has been closed since 1979, and was obviously a great pier in its day: a massive iron structure leading out high above the sea to an island just off the coast (see picture). We couldn’t get to the pier itself – it is structurally unsound and out of bounds – but we scrambled down the rocks to the shore below, and played under it, despite the rain. One of the most incredible experiences we’ve had yet.

But there was another to come, as we went the few miles up the coast to Clevedon. I had been told about this pier and its Victorian architecture, but even then had not expected something quite so exquisite. Even better, they have recently opened a visitor centre at the shore end (but on the pier), with a new room below the deck level, with a porthole looking down the underside of the pier: the understucture is as delightful as what is above the deck. Now the rain was pouring down, it also provided us with a great venue to perform in. We played here for a good 45 minutes – with lots of people listening, no doubt not wanting to venture out into the wet! – before visiting the wonderful far end of the pier, then coming back for a cup of tea. We all agreed that this was one of the best experiences of the tour so far (and not least because of the many donations we got for our charities, Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS).

And so concluded day 11, and pier 46. We’re staying in Gloucester with Clare’s dad tonight, before having our first Welsh day tomorrow. We’re playing at Penarth pier at 10.00, Mumbles pier at midday, and Aberystwyth Royal pier at 4.00. We’ve then got an evening concert at St Michael’s church in Aberystwyth at 7.30pm, so do come along if you’re in the area!

Weather report: By far our wettest day so far, including one truly outdoor performance at Birnbeck – despite this the Jargar Strings held their tuning just perfectly. The temperatures varied between 15.4 and 20.9 celsius, with humidity between 62.3% and 93.8%.

Quote of the day: “No – we don’t do that sort of thing. We don’t have the room or the space.” The pier staff at Burnham-on-Sea are the first of the tour to refuse us permission to play. As you may see from the picture, we didn’t necessarily agree about not having the space!

Pier of the day: Clevedon

Pier Pressure Day 10: Devon, we’re in Devon…

OK, that’s another slight bending of the truth in the interest of including a song lyric pun. But although we started the day in Cornwall, and are finishing it in Somerset, the bulk of the afternoon was spent on the English Riviera on the south east Devon coast.

We began the day with a hearty Cornish breakfast near Bodmin, before driving down to Falmouth for the first pier of the day. The Prince of Wales Landing pier there is not a pleasure pier: there is a short promenade to where people can board boats, some benches, and that’s about it. We were expecting it to be deserted at 10.00 on a Sunday morning, but there were actually quite a few people about – some fishing, some waiting for a ferry, but several just walking around. This gave us more of an audience than was anticipated, which was a nice start before the long drive east to Devon.

The next two piers were both in the Torbay region: Paignton and Torquay. None of us had been to either of these towns before, and did not really know what to expect. We certainly hadn’t expected such a contrast between the two. Paignton didn’t really fill us with joy from the start: we spent ages trying to find somewhere to park; the fish and chips we had were OK but not great; and then the pier (despite being very nice structurally) was not the most appealing: lots of arcades in the shore half, and lots of other attractions in the other half, which wouldn’t have been so bad were it not for the loud piped music giving us competition as we played!

As we walked back to the car, however, something magical happened. A young boy of about 10 or 11 cycled up to us with a friend, and shouted “Are you from CHICKS? Is Steve still there?”. He’d seen the CHICKS t-shirts we were wearing, and assumed we worked there too. We explained what we were doing, and he told us that he’d been on a CHICKS break himself, which he’d really enjoyed. James let him (and his friend) play his cello for a few minutes, and we could tell that he was really grateful to the charity. Having seen what great work they do when we visited their Daleside retreat house in June, this just redoubled our determination to raise lots of money to enable more disadvantaged children to get these respite breaks.

Then a few miles round the coast to Torquay Princess pier, which despite being in a very busy resort, had a much more relaxed feel. In fact, there is pretty much nothing on it besides some benches, but this just revealed the lovely architecture all the more. We gave a slightly longer performance here, looking at the boats in the harbour and the hotels on the hills overlooking it. A beautiful setting indeed, but we needed to press on and get to the final pier of the day.

Teignmouth Grand pier has seen better days in some ways, and the far end of the pier is shut off (we think for structural reasons). We were met here by a couple from CHICKS as well as some other friends, so we had a warm welcome! We played out on the deck beyond the amusements, but as there was limited footfall here we moved after about 15 minutes to the front of the pier where there were many more people about. The sun was shining strongly by this point, but the wind was also gusting occasionally, blowing down our music stands on at least three occasions! Nevertheless, we played on and made the most of our last Devon slot.

And so onto Somerset, where we’re staying tonight with our friends Liz and Guy. Tomorrow we’re keeping fingers crossed for better weather than forecast, and we should be playing at Burnham-on-Sea at 10.00, Weston-super-Mare Grand pier at 12.00, Birnbeck pier at 14.00, and Clevedon pier at 16.00.

Ten days and 42 piers gone, four days and 16 piers to go!

Weather report: More consistent good weather today than we’ve had recently. The temperatures varied between 18.1 and 27.3 celsius, with humidity between 39.5% and 57.2%.

Quote of the day: “Are you from CHICKS? Is Steve still there?” As reported above, when we see the benefits of the charity work that is done, it just encourages us further. And we’re pleased to report that Steve is still there! (Although we didn’t know that in time to tell the boy in question, unfortunately.)

Pier of the day: Teignmouth

Pier Pressure Day 9: Shiver Me Dorset Timbers

Boscombe.jpg

Back to a much busier day today, although it was a fairly unconventional one in many ways. We started the day in Christchurch, having enjoyed an evening off (and a spot of Ghostbusting) down the road in Bournemouth. But we headed back there first thing, in order to play at the two local piers – first Boscombe and then Bournemouth.

Boscombe pier is a curious but delightful little one, notable for a couple of reasons. First, on the beach next to it are some rather glorious rocks which enabled James to get some interesting cello photos (see picture). Second, the pier itself is a so-called “musical pier”, with a number of large tuned percussion instruments along the way down. The crowning glory here is a set of 88 tubular bells, which when struck in order, sound “I do like to be beside the seaside”. Naturally, we played this on the bells, before playing it on our cellos, as we have done on every pier!

We then headed down to Bournemouth – barely a mile down the road – where we met James’s old friends Ashley and Claire and their young daughter. The pier here has a massive zip wire going from the end to the shore: we were sorely tempted to try this with our cellos, but our schedule would not allow! We did find some other audience here: a few people had turned up having heard about us in advance. We played for a good 20 minutes or so before we got the impression from the pier staff that we should move on.

So our next pier was a particularly interesting one. Swanage pier has to go down as one of the most beautiful Victorian structures we have seen, but it wasn’t the architecture today that provided the most notable element. We were playing as part of the Purbeck Pirate Festival – a weekend-long festival involving all sorts of pirate-related activities, including a tall ship moored at the end of the pier, cannon battles re-enacted, and so on.

We had a half-hour slot to play (wearing pirate uniform), and a crowd of several dozen people were waiting for us and seemed to love what we did! This included our first performance of a “hornpipe” arrangement, which we maybe took a little bit quickly… but the crowed joined in with “Last night of the Proms”-style movements and clapping, which was great Because of the particular theme of the festival, we did not collect for our usual causes of Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS, but donations went towards the appeal to Save Swanage Pier.

Then onto Weymouth. Now, Weymouth is an absolutely glorious seaside town, with a fantastic beach and beautiful setting – especially in the afternoon sun of today. However, the two piers don’t really do it justice. The first one we played at, the Bandstand pier, is barely a pier at all: it is a building that juts out above the beach, presumably allowing the sea under it at high tide, but as the tide was out and there was nowhere to play on the pier itself (it being taken up entirely by a restaurant and other businesses), we played under it, on the beach itself. We then headed around the esplanade to the so-called “Pleasure pier” – I think that once it actually met that description properly, but these days it is a small fishing promenade adjoined to the harbour car park. There were a few people fishing around, as well as a few teenagers diving into the harbour, but not a massive audience for cello music. We did here, however, play “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” – to celebrate West Ham’s contribution to England’s solitary football world cup victory, 50 years ago today – before going to find a drink & ice cream a little back around the beach.

The day finished with the long drive down to Cornwall, where we’re staying in anticipation of Falmouth tomorrow morning. We’re playing there at 10.00, followed by Paignton (13.30), Torquay (15.00) and Teignmouth (16.30). We’re particularly looking forward to the last one, as we’re expecting a bit of an audience there, and it might be the last one in dry weather for a day or two…

Weather report: A bit of a mixture today, although the Jargar Strings are really sticking well in the conditions. Today’s temperatures varied between 20.6 and 24.5 celsius, with humidity between 53.0% and 86.2% (we had a bit of drizzle in Swanage!).

Quote of the day: “If you’re wondering what the connection of that last piece with the sea or pirates is, it’s called Nessun Dorm-aarghh!” Jeremy raises a groan from the audience at the Purbeck Pirate Festival…

Pier of the day: Swanage

Pier Pressure Day 8: All Quiet On The Southern Front

We always knew that today was going to be one of the quietest days of the tour; although we hadn’t planned it that way, it was nice to have a bit of respite before things start getting busier again tomorrow. Even yesterday’s jaunt to the Isle of Wight, relaxing as it was in many ways, still involved a very early start and two ferry crossings.

So today’s leg of the tour (which still included four piers, mind), gave a chance to catch some breath, and even have a bit of free time during the day – for the first time in a week! We didn’t have to go far for our first two piers of the day. We’d been staying in Portsmouth overnight at the flat of a friend, Oliver, and we’d enjoyed a pint in the Dolphin Inn and a fine Indian meal before having a much longer sleep than we’d experience the previous night. We left at 9am, had a quick breakfast, and went the short distance along to Southsea South Parade pier.

Unfortunately, this lovely old pier is currently closed and undergoing renovation (see picture above), meaning we couldn’t get properly on (or even under) it. However, the canopy at the shore end of the pier was open as usual, so we played one piece there to no-one in particular before remembering we’d not paid for our parking, so Jeremy ran back to sort the car out while James and Clare packed up and took some photos.

The next pier was Southsea Clarence pier – a short drive around the coast – so we got there in plenty of time. So much, in fact, that we had time for a coffee and to do something we’d been threatening to do all tour but hadn’t had time: get a big bag of 2p coins and play on the slot machines in the arcade! Of course they all went in a relatively short time, but that’s how it goes. When we did get round to playing, there wasn’t much choice about where to do it: the entire short length of Clarence pier is taken up by the amusement arcades & outdoor activities, so we played on the short bit of decking to the left of the main pier. Not much of an audience, but it did give us the chance to have a photo under the “Pier Pressure” sign: they’ve obviously had the same idea for their assault course name as we did for our tour name…

We then made the trip west to Southampton – a city that none of us knew well, and a pier we had only read about. The main part of the pier is derelict, with a great chunk of it having collapsed into the water; it’s completely inaccessible to the public. The only part of the pier to be open is a restaurant (or, more accurately, a pair of restaurants) at the shore end. Seeing that one of these, the Gatehouse Grill, serves fish and chips, we decided to have lunch there, and then asked to play out on the terrace, so we would actually get a chance to play on the pier itself. Fortunately the restaurant agreed, and indeed were very happy to take photos & videos of us playing! When we went out, however, we found a small audience of three people who had travelled to see us specifically (including the membership secretary of the National Piers Society), so we gave a longer performance in the public area just outside the end of the pier. Having the derelict pier in the background made this rather special (see picture below).

Our final pier of the day was Hythe – another that none of us knew much about, but we were delighted to find a sweet, mainly timber pier, going out to the landing stage for a small ferry going across the water to Southampton; a small train took people up the 600m length alongside the walkway (but of course we chose to walk it!). We played briefly at the far end, before coming back to the shore end and playing for about 20 minutes outside the station ticket office. It was still only about 3.30, so we decided to take a bit of time to have a look around Hythe (a delightful small town) and grab an ice cream and/or drink before heading off!

The 45 minute drive to our home for the night in Christchurch (another absent host – many thanks to Mr and Mrs Morris!) was lovely too, right across the heart of the New Forest. We’ve even got a nice blank evening ahead, so we’re thinking of going to see a film! This concludes a relatively restful day,

Tomorrow we’re doing Boscombe (9.00), Bournemouth (10.00), Swanage (12.30), Weymouth Bandstand (15.00) and Weymouth Pleasure (16.00). Note that the first two times are half an hour earlier than originally advertised, and that the Swanage performance is part of the Purbeck Pirate Festival, so is likely to be quite busy!

Weather report: A much stiller and more consistent day; largely overcast but with sunny spells. Today’s temperatures varied between 21.6 and 24.4 celsius, with humidity between 55.2% and 66.9%.

Quote of the day: “Ah, you’re obviously musicians!” Someone states the obvious as we unload the cellos from the car…

Pier of the day: Hythe

Pier Pressure Day 7: Ticket to Ryde

Actually, a ticket to Fishbourne, just up the coast from Ryde – only passenger ferries to to Ryde, so given we needed our car to get around the four piers on the Isle of Wight, the car ferry to Fishbourne it was. This meant an early start (up at 5.30) from Worthing, where we’d spent a lovely evening with our old friend Damian – beer, pizza, whisky and conversation bringing back the good old times!

The ferry from Portsmouth was straightforward enough, and a short journey down the coast to Ryde saw us reach the first pier of the day. We didn’t realise it was actually possible to drive up the pier, so we parked on the land and walked up – this felt more authentic anyway! A strange pier this was, as not only is it possible to drive up it, but there’s a train that goes up to the far end too – linking the foot ferry passengers. We just played three pieces in the car park, and also met up with some friends who had come to meet us and follow us around the island.

Then off to Sandown, which although only a few miles round the coast, took nearly half an hour to get to thanks to roadworks. We also ended up having to park quite a way from the pier, though the walk did help build up our appetite. Sandown Culver pier is a fairly typical commercial pleasure pier in some ways, with a large arcade section at the shore end, and various rides including dodgems further up the pier (and a fishing platform at the far end). It also included large old-fashioned (i.e. saucy) seaside postcard images, with cut out heads for tourists to stick theirs through, and create their own images. All a bit bizarre! We played here for about 15 minutes, and were joined here by another couple of friends (one the same as this morning!) before moving on. A lovely setting, but the pier felt a bit stuck in the past (and not necessarily in a good way).

We got our fish and chips before leaving Sandown – amazingly there didn’t appear to be a proper chippy in the town, so we got a café to do some as a takeaway. Then the longer drive right across the island to Totland Bay, which provided one of the highlights of the day.

Totland Bay pier is derelict (see picture), and there was no way onto it – in fact, there was barely any pier to walk on at all; it is mostly only the structure that remained. By this stage it was raining and the wind blowing, so we found a spot on the beach under the few remaining planks at the shore end, and managed to play “Under The Boardwalk” actually under a boardwalk for the first time! We were also joined there by our old friend & long-time supporter Martyn, together with his wife and parents (who live nearby). Martyn had recently composed a piece, “Dan’s Waltz”, especially for us, and we were proud to give it its first proper outing here.

Then out of the cold and wet, we headed a few miles up the coast to Yarmouth, where we were treated to a nice cup of tea and piece of cake by Martyn’s family in Gossips café at the shore end of the pier. Yarmouth has the longest fully timber pier in the country (see the picture at the top of this post, in which James's cello is sitting on one of our great Jolly Design stands), and is a delightful promenade, used copiously for fishing. After our tea and cake we walked up the pier and back, before playing outside the café itself for those enjoying the refreshments there. This included a second performance of “Dan’s Waltz”, and some impromptu sight-read Gilbert and Sullivan for Martyn’s parents who are big fans of their music!

So, overall the Isle of Wight was very different from what we’d experienced recently: more laid back, only four piers in the day (and no extra media commitments), but still with huge variety of piers. And now, seven days and 29 piers in, we’re exactly half way through! Tomorrow we’re back on the mainland (staying in Portsmouth tonight), and playing at Southsea South Parade (10.00), Southsea Clarence (11.00), Southampton (13.00), and Hythe (15.00). Another quieter day, before it starts getting more hectic again at the weekend…

Weather report: Despite the varying wind and rain conditions, the Jargar Strings did a good job yet again. Today’s temperatures varied between 19.9 and 22.4 celsius, with humidity between 53.3% and 77.7%.

Quote of the day: “Here are eight pieces of cake. Choose whichever one you want!” Our supporter Martyn knew just what we wanted to hear on arrival at the café this afternoon!

Pier of the day: Yarmouth

Pier Pressure Day 6: Brighton (and the rest of Sussex) Rocks!

Following the seven performances of yesterday, just the five today, all on piers. And all in Sussex, moving from East to West. The day started with our hosts in Kent, Nick and Sue, who provided us with a hearty breakfast before Jeremy did a live interview on Radio Sussex. Not the last media operation of the day!

We were slightly late setting off, and were disappointed to encounter our first rain of the tour. By the time we got to our first pier, Hastings, a lot had passed by, but it was still rather wet in the air, and very windy indeed. Hastings is somewhere we’d performed a few weeks earlier, at the National Piers Society AGM, and therefore we knew what to expect of this newly (and tastefully) refurbished pier. A BBC crew from South East Today met us there, and began filming us – something they continued at the next two piers, resulting in a rather nice article on the news this evening (available here: starting at about 19 minutes 35 seconds). A few friends met us here as well, which was another theme for the day, and improved our mood despite the espieglerie of the weather.

As ever, we couldn’t hang around, and had to head off West to Eastbourne. There we were met by Jeremy’s sister Mary, as well as some other friends. A relatively short performance, this time in much wetter weather, but enjoyed by several passers-by, including quite a few who seemed to be out catching Pokemon…

Then onto Brighton, accompanied by Mary. This was always going to be one of the bigger events: we knew that some of our corporate sponsors from Allianz Musical Insurance were going to join us, as did Clare’s brother Paul, and several other friends and family. Given the footfall on Brighton pier, we also had a large number of passers-by. We were very well looked after by the pier staff too: one of the nicest welcomes we had (thanks Brighton!). But the performance, accompanied by dancing toddlers at times, went down very well!

We’d barely had a chance to catch our breath at this point – by now about 2.30pm – so we stopped for some fish and chips as we left the pier. The weather by this stage was starting to improve, so we had higher hopes as we set of for Worthing.

Ah, Worthing. We were about 15 minutes late arriving, so we had thought there might be one or two people waiting for us. It turned out there were lots – including the Mayor of Worthing, who had turned out to welcome us and support us! A few other friends and family came along too, including our old friend Damian, who is hosting us this evening. The performance here though was memorable – not only is it a fine pier, with many lovely Art Deco features and displays of current local artists, but the presence of so many children observing the performance gave us a real sense of satisfaction.

This was something that continued in the final performance of the day, at Bognor Regis. A smaller pier, with lots of people fishing at the end, there were still a variety of people who turned up to listen (either by accident or design). In particular, a pair of young children who sat cross-legged immediately in front of us for the whole 20 minutes we played were hugely inspiring – one of the purposes of Extreme Cello is to give exposure of cello music to kids, and we did that lots today. Bognor also had the largest gaps between boards on the boardwalk so far, resulting in a good view of the sea below but also two lost pegs (which we had been using to stop our music from blowing around…)

So overall, Sussex was a great success and we have enjoyed today immensely – despite the adverse weather in the early part of the day. Lots more donations for Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS. Tomorrow we’re onto the Isle of Wight, playing at the four piers there: Ryde (10.00), Sandown Culver (12.00), Totland Bay (14.30) and Yarmouth (16.00).

Weather report: By far our wettest (and coldest) day so far, but the Jargar Strings still held up well and didn’t lose any tuning at all! Today’s temperatures varied between 16.7 and 21.6 celsius, with humidity between 75.3% and 95.6%.

Quote of the day: “Hi, I’m the Mayor of Worthing!” We’re welcomed onto Worthing pier by local dignitaries. We could get used to this…

Pier of the day: Worthing