in Age UK, brixton, community, dub, music, older people, reggae, vida walsh centre, volunteering

Harry Belafonte meets Shirley Temple Uptown

Gloria (right) and other members of the Vida Walsh centre enjoying Solid Gold: Music from the 50s, 60s and 70s

One of the main reasons I set up the Intensely Relaxed blog was to capture my thoughts and feelings about the changes I am currently making in my career. I think Bowie may have hit the nail on the head when he said, ‘every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet‘. Nonetheless, I’ve got to say this past week has definitely been one of the sweeter ones of my life, and I’d like to use this post to explain why.

As part of a long standing in-joke, Natalie, a good friend of Sarah’s will often ask, what’s been your champagne moment of the weekend/holiday/trip to Sainsbury’s?* (*delete as appropriate.) I’m not going to explain why she does this but, trust me, it can be a surprisingly entertaining line of questioning. If pushed to answer this question, my sensible side would probably say my champagne moment was contributing as an external expert to an event on co-production Lambeth Council had organised, as part of its work to deliver on its goal of becoming a co-operative council.
Returning to my old stomping ground of Lambeth Town Hall as a guest brought home to me how committed I remain to local government. Even more than this, however, it also confirmed how much I have changed and developed as a result of having the chance to work for organisations such as FutureGov and thinkpublic over the past year. This event, together with a a number of other promising developments on the work front this week, has given me renewed belief that I can turn the changes that I am currently experiences into positive new opportunities.
As important as today’s event at Lambeth Town Hall was, from a purely personal standpoint, my champagne moment (or should that really be cava or even Lambrini, given the current parlous economic situation?) actually occurred earlier in the week, when I stopped by Age UK’s Vida Walsh centre in Brixton to attend the Solid Gold: music from the 50s, 60s and 70s music afternoon. The session provided me a great opportunity to find out about how older people feel about music and find out what they make of plans to bring older and younger people together through the power of reggae and dub.

Situated just off of Windrush Square, the Vida Walsh centre provides a range of activities for people over 55.  Upon entering the centre, two things struck me. First and most importantly was the warmth of the staff who run the centre. Erica Tate, the centre’s manager, thanked me for visiting and immediately made me feel part of the team. I also greatly enjoyed chatting with Trevor, who oversees the kitchen, not to mention Joyce, who plied me with more patties than one person should ever eat in one sitting. The second thing thing that struck me was, the actual warmth of the centre. Age UK definitely like to keep the place toasty – check the thermostat if you don’t believe me.

Keeping things toasty at Vida’s

Once I’d acclimatised to the room, I set about testing out my plans for a reggae and dub-based project with members of the centre. Recognising I was a guest at members’ music session, I did this in a low-key way, focusing on ensuring members were enjoying themselves and making the most of opportunities to informally discuss my ideas. To this end, I took on the role of DJ (or should that be selector?), asking members to suggest songs, which either myself or Erica would then find on YouTube and play via a surprisingly nifty set-up comprised of a laptop, video projector and portable speakers.

Centre manager Erica enjoying the music

While I had come along to the session with the intention of road-testing older people’s reaction to vintage ska, reggae and dub sounds, it soon became apparent that members’ tastes were surprisingly eclectic. So while Sound Dimension’s Real Rock instantly elicited some top skanking from Eric and even an impromptu toast from Trevor, Violet was just as pleased to hear Abba kick it it far from freestyle with Dancing Queen. Whether it was Gloria’s sweet singing along to Harry Belafonte’s  surprisingly suggestive Jump In The Line or Joan doing Karaoke to Elvis’ The Wonder of You, it was clear how much music meant to everyone at Vida’s. And yes, I’ll admit it, after some initial trepidation over losing my carefully cultivated indie image, I found myself enjoying even the more syrupy numbers in the infectious company of the staff and members of Vida’s.

Violet, Joyce and Pat enjoy the tombola raffle

So what does my experience of Vida’s mean for my plans to use the power of reggae and dub to bring older and young people together? In pretty good shape, actually. In between lining up the selections I managed to have a chat with quite a few people about my plans and everyone was very encouraging about my ideas and expressed interest in attending a community-based event.

Some of the songs requested

While it is clear from the requests we  received from Vida’s members that not everyone is a fan of reggae and dub, for those who had grown up with the music, my selections hit a nerve and sparked memories (to mix metaphors) of family life and good times. Although I do believe Erica is right to adopt an eclectic music policy for the Solid Gold session, I am not entirely convinced sure shots from the likes of UB40 and Shirley Temple would bring in the younger people I am also looking to engage through my project. Instead, I believe by deliberately focusing on reggae and dub I will be able to attract both older and younger fans of the music.

Thanks for sticking with me for what’s turned out to be a rather epic blog post. Still, how many other blogs do you know of that can turn you onto everything from David Bowie to Harry Belafonte and Shirley Temple by way of Sound Dimension? On second thought, maybe don’t answer that question …

The sounds of Vida’s

Sound Dimension – Real Rock. An absolute classic from Studio One. I used this as a statement of intent and it got Erica and Trevor moving and grooving.

 Harry Belafonte – Jump In The Line. Requested by Gloria. This really got members of Vida’s going. The message of ‘shake, shake, shake seniora’ shows that pop music really hasn’t changed all that much in the past 50 years.

Shirley Temple – On The Good Ship Lollypop. One of the more sugary numbers selected but, heh, what do I know?
Elvis Presley – The Wonder of You. Joan gave a great karaoke performance to this number.

UB40 – Red Red Wine. What can you say about UB40 that hasn’t been said before? Yes, they may have have only recently been declared bankrupt but there was no sign that this affected their popularity at Vida’s. For me, Red Red Wine is a true guilty pleasure.

Labi Siffri – Something Inside So Strong. A moving song and a Magic FM classic to boot. As requested by Pat.

Abba – Dancing Queen. Violet was keen to hear as many Abba songs as possible. Here’s one of them.

John Holt – Mr Bojangles. A nice slice of pop-reggae as selected by Erica.

 Theo Beckford – Easy Snapping. I learned from Erica that this song falls is technically blue-beat and not reggae. Apparently blue-beat is the link between ska and reggae.

Billie Holiday – God Bless The Child. Erica is a big jazz fan and enjoyed sharing with members three different versions of God Bless The Child. Two more to follow.

Stevie Wonder – God Bless The Child. This is more my cup of tea. Stevie smooths things out with his cover.

Jill Scott – God Bless The Child. A fresh, neo-soul take on a jazz classic. Gotta love Jill Scott.

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