Pier Pressure Day 5: Hectic!

Today was by far our busiest day so far, even without the dramas of car breakdowns. Five piers, an evening concert and playing a garden party (which we are still working towards as I write this)!

We started the day in Basildon, where we’d stayed with our hosts Paul, Mike and Mary, and made the short journey to Southend where we encountered the longest pleasure pier in the world. At around a mile and a third, it was a long way to the far end, so we walked there and back before playing at the shore end for a small audience (including a couple of old friends) and getting on our way. Brief performances and dashing off has very much been the theme of today, although we managed a quick bacon sandwich for breakfast before departing Southend and leaving East Anglia behind.

Over the Thames to Kent we went, and our first stop was Gravesend Town Pier. A short pier that is mainly taken up by a restaurant, with a walkway down to a boat departure point, we played a single piece here before getting on our way again. We were however filmed by our first cameraman of the tour – by a strange coincidence one of James’s former pupils! We were also accompanied here – and for all the piers today – by Andy and Suzie from the National Piers Society, for whose support we are very grateful.

Along the north coast of Kent to Herne Bay – a lovely little seaside town, with an old-fashioned feel to it. Our daily fish and chips were consumed before going along to the end of a short but very pleasant pier, full of fun for the family. There was evidence a long way out to sea of the former end of the pier – it used to be one of the longest in the country, but unfortunately (or fortunately for our legs!) much of it was destroyed. Again, just a couple of quick pieces before we had to move on, this time to Folkestone.

Ah yes, Folkestone. We had thought of this as our nemesis – it was only recently classified as a pier again, after it was reopened last year, and until a few weeks ago we thought we would “only” be playing on 57 piers. When we found out that Folkestone Harbour Arm was now recognised by the National Piers Society, we struggled to think how we would fit it in. In the end we decided to slot it in before Deal today, and slightly resented it. What a wonderful surprise it was then to find that it is a very tasteful (and different) pier, with all sorts of nice cafés, stalls and art to keep people entertained. In fact, we got to the café at the end where the owner greeted us (he hadn’t been expecting us), and was delighted to find that we would be able to play. He and the pier designer were extremely welcoming, and playing with a view of the White Cliffs of Dover (see picture) was rather special.

We were a bit delayed by the time we left, however, and a bit late getting to Deal. However, when we did, we had another great surprise – a crowd of dozens of people waiting to hear & see us (most of whom we didn’t know – although Clare’s brother, Paul, was amongst them!). Well done to the people of Deal for getting the message out there! We played for about 25 minutes, to rapturous applause and generous donations to our charities, before we had to leave for our next appearance – a concert at St Margaret-at-Cliffe, a few miles down the road.

A beautiful old church, we had a lovely audience who not only welcomed us in the concert, but one of whom (Clare’s old friend Deb) provided us with a very welcome spot of tea afterwards! Now we’re on to our final thing of the day – our hosts tonight are holding a charity garden party, so we’re going to play there too, before finally getting a rest…

Tomorrow is another busy one though, as we do all of Sussex in one day – Hastings (10.00), Eastbourne (11.30), Brighton (13.30), Worthing (15.30) and Bognor Regis (17.30). We’re expecting a bit of media coverage tomorrow too, so watch out, especially if you’re in the south east region!

Weather report (in which we test out the range of conditions in which Jargar Strings operate well!): Another hot and dry one – the hottest so far, in fact. Today’s temperatures varied between 23.9 and 32.8 celsius, with humidity between 29.4% and 52.0%.

Quote of the day: “I suppose you shouldn’t have Champagne?” The café owner from Folkestone making us realise what we are missing out on…

Pier of the day: Folkestone Harbour Arm

Pier Pressure Day 4: Lots more East Anglia!

Fortunately, after the dramas of yesterday, today started more serenely. A lot more serenely, in fact, as we had one of the nicest breakfasts we’ve ever experienced, courtesy of our fantastic hosts Rachel and Clare, who had put us up a few miles outside Southwold. With a 9am departure time, it felt almost as though we were on a proper holiday! Of course, this couldn’t last, and so we had to get on with five more piers to play on…

And what a contrasting five piers they were. The first of the day was Southwold, which we’d visited briefly last night, and so we knew what a gem this pier was. We played near the old water clock towards the end of the pier – one of many wonderful features along the way – and with a great view of the town & lighthouse behind us (see picture). A good crowd greeted us, and donated generously towards the causes.

But we had to move on soon enough, and travel down the coast to Felixstowe. This was a complete unknown quantity to us, and there was very little of the pier open after the arcades at the shore end. So we played one piece very quickly, and moved on! Harwich is only a few miles from Felixstowe as the crow flies, but it’s a long drive around the estuary, and so it was nearly an hour before we got to Harwich and our fish and chips (which were great today!).

Harwich was a revelation in many ways. A far nicer town than we had anticipated given its port status, the pier is only a small one, but has a real charm about it. We were also greeted there by some members of the National Piers Society, who had come along especially to hear us! It was one of those places where we’d like to have stopped for a bit longer, but unfortunately two more piers awaited us…

Walton-on-the-Naze was another very interesting pier. After a largish amusement pavilion at the shore end, there is about a third of a mile of simple, old-fashioned boards, full of people fishing. This gave it some real character, and the exposed girders at the far end proved a great place to play the cellos! This was also the hottest place of the day – another great summer’s day, ideal for bringing out the seaside crowds.

Finally we went on to Clacton-on-Sea, which was as busy as you’d expect a seaside town to be in the summer, even at 5pm when we played. Another fairly long pier, this one is mostly filled with amusements, and so we walked along to almost the very end before we could find a spot to play quietly. Unfortunately, this meant that the music stands were more susceptible to the sea breeze, and two of the three toppled over while we were giving a rendition of “Summertime” – a nice bit of irony, perhaps! I think this may have been captured by a photographer in attendance from the National Piers Society, so watch this space for relevant images…

The day finished with James winning a giant “Mr Angry” cushion in an archery contest on the pier. Fortunately this didn’t represent our state of mind after another successful day, in which think we made well over £100 in donations for Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS (but will count later). Thanks to everyone who’s been out to support us today, or made donations via our JustGiving pages. You can of course donate to the two charities here!

We’re just now on our way to Basildon where we’re staying for the night, before starting tomorrow in Southend (9.30am), then playing at Gravesend (11.30), Herne Bay (13.30), Folkestone (15.00) and Deal (16.15). We’re then giving a short concert at St Margaret-at-Cliffe at 18.00, so expect another long day to report on tomorrow!

Weather report (in which we test out the range of conditions in which Jargar Strings operate well!): Today’s temperatures varied between 22.1 and 28.6 celsius, with humidity between 36.0% and 46.5% (by far our driest day so far).

Quote of the day: “Is that a new type of fishing rod?!” A fisherman on Walton pier reacts to seeing James carrying his cello!

Pier of the day: Southwold

Pier Pressure Day 3: A Hot and Tyre-ing day

Today started with a bang. Well, a very short bang followed by a prolonged hiss. As we were leaving our overnight accommodation (we’d had a lovely evening in Norwich), the car hit a severely exposed drain cover, which punctured one of our tyres and required emergency assistance from the AA and KwikFit before we could leave Norwich. Not exactly the start to the day we’d wanted – a blisteringly hot day which involved performances on five piers, and then an evening concert.

Sadly this means that our visit to Cromer was delayed by about two hours, and we were playing catch-up from that point onwards. Cromer was at least a delight – we met up with people from one of our corporate sponsors, Captain Fawcett. A maker of fine moustache and beard products, I can personally vouch for the quality of their moustache wax and beard oil – and given I’ve grown the facial hair specifically for this tour, that is something I have come to love quite quickly! They are also great hosts, and didn’t mind waiting around for our delayed appearance at Cromer; in fact, provided us with tea and helped us generate some good donations!

But we couldn’t hang around, and needed to get off to Great Yarmouth, where our next two piers resided. For a busy weekend summer day, we got very lucky with the parking, and after the obligatory fish and chips we headed for Britannia pier to perform two very quick pieces before walking to Wellington pier to perform not a lot more. Both piers were fairly busy, but we didn’t really hang around long enough to take many donations.

Still trying to make up time, we headed down to Lowestoft for two more piers. Very different piers here: South pier was mostly a long, exposed but unadulterated concrete jetty that had a strange charm of its own. Claremont pier similarly had a building at the shore end (full of arcades etc.), but the rest of it was closed to public access due to its poor state of repair (see picture). Nevertheless we played outside the front for about half an hour as the public passed by, many stopping to listen (and to donate to our charities, Alzheimer’s Society and CHICKS).

Even after five piers, though, we needed to press on. We were still at least half an hour behind schedule, and we had an evening concert to give in Southwold. At least the journey wasn’t very far, and when we got to Southwold we had an early evening meal on the pier (which we’ll see again tomorrow - the pier, that is!), before heading up to the spectacular mediaeval St Edmund’s church where our concert was to be held. The concert itself was fine – a highly appreciative audience, and a setting that could scarcely be surpassed for beauty. Thankfully we took a good retiring collection for the charities too.

And so on to tomorrow. We’re expecting to play at Southwold (10.00), Felixstowe (12.00< Harwich (14.00), Walton-on-the-Naze (15.30) and Clacton (17.00) – but following today’s excitement, do check our Twitter feed before coming out to see us!

Weather report (in which we test out the range of conditions in which Jargar Strings operate well!): Today’s temperatures varied between 22.6 and 29.2 celsius, with humidity between 41.0% and 72.1%.

Quote of the day: “I’m struggling to get it in – as the actress said to the bishop…” One donor comments as she struggled to get her £5 note into our collecting bucket!

Pier of the day: Cromer

Finally, here's a video clip of us playing on Cleethorpes pier yesterday...

 

 

Pier Pressure Day 2: The Long Haul Begins

 Cellos need to relax too, sometimes!

Cellos need to relax too, sometimes!

And so we’re off again – the English and Welsh leg of the challenge began today! A lot of travelling again, to visit three very contrasting piers… more of which later.

Leaving Sheffield to head north for the second time this week, our first stop was Saltburn-by-Sea, in Cleveland – a place that none of us had visited before, and we were all very taken by it. A simple pier in some respects, it had a classic Victorian air to it, and the setting – under the local cliffs – was spectacular. We were surprised to be met there by Anne, an old friend of Clare’s who lives in North Yorkshire – not the last time we’d be met by friends today! Playing for about 20 minutes in the calm morning air, with just a handful of people around, was a great way to begin the day and the main part of the Pier Pressure challenge.

What a contrast the next place was, then. Cleethorpes – a drive of more than two hours away – was full of typical seaside tourist traps, and was packed by lunchtime, as you would hope a seaside town to be on a sunny summer Saturday; this was exacerbated by several thousand Sheffield United fans, there to watch a pre-season friendly with Grimsby Town. As two thirds of the Extreme Cellists are ardent Wednesday fans, this was something we could only mitigate by playing “Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday” to them! Anyway, we were met in Cleethorpes by our Sheffield friends Meem, Max and Monty (and Meem’s sister Lynette), who directed us to a most delightful fish & chip shop for our daily dose, before going to play for 30 minutes on the pier – which had been voted this year’s “Pier of the Year” by the National Piers Society. This performance also included one of the more bizarre moments we’ve had, in which four people dressed as aliens came and danced in front of us for a few minutes while we played “Good Vibrations”! This was also probably our windiest pier so far, and so it's great to report that the Jolly Design stands we're using stood up very well to the task.

 Serenading the masses on Cleethorpes pier

Serenading the masses on Cleethorpes pier

Sadly there was no time to hang around, as we had to press on to Skegness – very much pier of two halves. The shore end is under cover, and full of arcades, bright lights and noise. The outer deck, though, resembled a typical Victorian pier, occupied mainly by deck chairs. It was a lovely setting above a large beach, being well-used on a warm sunny day. Clare’s old friends Kate and Shaun, and Kate’s sister Jane, were there to meet us, and supply us with ice creams as we played for about 40 minutes. We’ve now got a fair repertoire going for this tour – in addition to our usual pieces, we’re doing arrangements of “Tom Bowling”, “La Mer”, “Summer Holiday”, “Sea Fever”, the aforementioned “Good Vibrations” (as it’s by the Beach Boys), “Summertime”, “Under the Boardwalk”, and of course “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside”. They all got an outing here!

And so we’re now on our way to Norwich, where we’re staying with another old friend of Clare’s, Jo, before tackling East Anglia. Tomorrow we’re playing at Cromer (10.00); Britannia (12.00) and Wellington (13.00) piers in Great Yarmouth; and South (14.30) and Claremont (15.30) piers in Lowestoft: and then giving an evening concert at St Edmund’s church, Southwold at 19.30. I’m not sure whether we’ll do tomorrow’s blog before or after the concert, so it may appear a bit later than usual!

Weather report (see day 1): Today’s temperatures varied between 21.3 and 23.1 celsius, with humidity between 62.2% and 67.0%.

Quote of the day: “So, at this roundabout you go round to the right, and then come off to the left. Hold on, that’s what you do on all roundabouts…” – Jeremy showing all the intelligence needed to become a professor…

Pier of the day: Saltburn (for its simple charm and calmness)

Pier Pressure Day 1: Scotland!

There are only two surviving piers in Scotland. Dunoon and Rothesay piers are both located west of Glasgow, and to make things more difficult they both require ferries to access.

We started the day in Edinburgh, slightly surprised that the forecast storms had not materialised by the time we left. The journey west however certainly brought some of the most inclement weather we'd seen for a while: thunderstorms and very heavy rain making the 2+ hour trip (which saw us approach Glasgow at rush hour) very uncomfortable.

By the time we arrived at the ferry for Dunoon, however, the skies had cleared and after the 20 minute crossing we were able to play in dry conditions! Dunoon pier is mainly used as a landing stage for the foot ferry, and is only short compared with many - but a beautiful Victorian pavilion provided a great backdrop for us to perform some of our seaside-related tunes. We were pleasantly surprised that we actually had an audience, some of whom had come along especially! (including a reporter and photographer from the local paper).

Such is our schedule, though, that there's no time to hang around. So we headed back to the ferry, then a few miles south, and then another ferry to Rothesay on the island of Bute. We found some fish and chips when we got there - we've decided to have this each day of the tour, and are rating them as we go along... we'll let you know all about the best-rated ones at the end of the tour!

The pier at Rothesay is little more than the departure point for the ferries there, and there was not much audience around, so we played one piece before getting back into the ferry (stopping briefly to admire and use the old Victorian loos!). Then the small matter of a 5 hour journey back to Sheffield...

As described yesterday, we've now got a couple of days without piers due to having to reschedule the Scottish leg of the trip - but we'll be back in earnest on Saturday, and then the 12 days following that!

Weather report: Our friends at Jargar Strings have provided us with strings for the tour (as well as making a donation to our charities), and so we're keeping track of the different weather conditions in which the strings have played. Today they worked well in temperatures between 19.8 and 21.6 degrees Celsius, and humidity between 76.5-78.1%.

Quote of the day: "You've really brightened up my birthday!" - one of our audience at Dunoon pier.

Pier of the day (as voted for by the three cellists): Dunoon

Pier pressure: Day 0

We're here in Scotland. We've not actually played on any piers yet - that starts tomorrow - but we had the long journey up today, and are staying in Edinburgh tonight (courtesy of Clare's friend and long-term Extreme Cello fan Caroline). The picture is from her flat - looking up at the fantastic escarpment in Holyrood Park. We head west tomorrow to do Scotland's only two piers, Dunoon and Rothesay.

Exact timings will depend on ferry crossings - not to mention the weather, which is looking somewhat stormy after the balmy summer weather of the last three days - but we're hoping to play on Dunoon pier at 11.00 and Rothesay pier at 14.00, before heading back south to England.

In some ways this feels like a bit of a false start: we had originally been planning to do this two days later, and go straight into the English piers on Saturday. However, plans went a bit awry after Clare's daughter's graduation was scheduled for Thursday, so we need to be back in Sheffield for that! The 56 piers in England & Wales will be done in 13 consecutive days from Saturday, which still sounds quite impressive I think. It's certainly challenging enough!

Quote of the day: [on the phone] "Are you really going to play at the end of Southend Pier?" - a local newspaper reporter queries our intentions for the world's longest pleasure pier...

 

The Pier Pressure is growing...

Well, it's just a few days away now. Later this week we will begin our tour of all 58 surviving piers in Great Britain, giving performances on each.

Currently we're scrambling to get everything in place - final bits of music arranged, accommodation sorted, travel plans finalised - while also praying for some decent weather over the next three weeks!

We'll be blogging daily as we go around; we'll also be posting regular updates on our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, and occasionally uploading videos to our YouTube channel too.

We begin in Scotland on Wednesday (20 July), finishing in Blackpool on Thursday 4 August. Check back here over the next few weeks to see how we get on!

Our new Blog!

We'll be using this new blog when we start our Pier Pressure challenge in July 2016 - and possibly occasionally before then. Please do come back then, and read all about it - as well as commenting if you like!

Our previous blog, at extremecello.blogspot.co.uk, is still available to view, and includes many posts particularly from the Four Peaks Challenge (2008), Coast-to-Coast Challenge (2010), and Bordering on Madness (2014) (although many of the posts have been copied onto the relevant pages on this web site). However, we will not be updating that blog any longer.