Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Sea and I" concert at the Academy Performing Arts Woolwich

Went to the Academy in Woolwich last night with some Art Plumstead members to see "The Sea and I" featuring Irwin Sparkes formerly of the Hoosiers. Given it was this venue's first ever gig I would have to rate it a total success. The building, if you don't already know it is the very stately pile set back over a small parade ground fronted by a tank near the Dial Arch pub. Here in other words.

There were a few anxieties related to the weather but despite the end of the world weather reports it was very mild and the bus down to Woolwich took no time. But would the musicians be able to make it? Would the turn-out be embarrassingly low? And could the old building deliver the necessary thermal comfort to those that actually did turn up?

Our group primed themselves with a glass or two of beer at the Dial Arch - this over priced Youngs venue with normally rubbish customer service , variable beer quality and under-heated food was in one of its better moods. It was almost a wrench to set off round the corner.

I had been to see another live performance at the Academy - a proper piece of musical theatre called "The Last Five Years". The principal focus of the Academy is educational, running a number of music and dance classes, so it requires a hefty amount of work to convert the main room into an auditorium. Among the problems is the need to protect the new sprung floor.

We found the atmosphere in the room was spot on with thick church candles blazing away in the giant fireplace and the electrical lighting subdued. It felt warm. And best of all it looked full. Yes full of real people. There was also a bar which was well stocked apart from the fact that the thirsty masses had wiped out the bottled beers by the end of the interval. I had to make do with spirits. Life is hard sometimes.

The support act Jon Mills was sweet, humble and funny as he went through a set of guitar-ed, harmonica-ed and lyrically astute ballads with heavy flavours of Dylan, mostly accompanied on vocals by his beautifully serene-looking chum Dearbhla. Jon was also the moving spirit behind getting the main act to make the trip out to the wilds of SE18.

"The Sea and I" is a self confessed work in progress but their progress report so far scores as "highly impressive". Just seeing the six of them take up their places on stage created a stir of anticipation. Sitting in a high vaulted venue (I'm told it was once the office of the Duke of Wellington) in Woolwich listening to a band with violin and cello is not an every day experience. This was real chamber music and as they surged their way through the, disappointingly short, set of slow burn vocally complex numbers you could begin to dream that the Academy has a real future. Just bung on a small group of local classical music students every month, trios/quartets/whatever, and I'm sure it'll find a regular audience in no time. Add in some contemporary musicians seeking a better class of venue and Woolwich will take another step forward in its fitful struggle for self improvement.

Well done to the performers and to the Academy's management.

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