Three evenings before Christmas, and the small village of Garsington, outside Oxford, population circa 1750, puts on a Christmas Concert. Location, The big barn that forms part of the Garsington Manor estate.
Some venue. The space is lined on four sides with panels from Glyndebourne when it was redeveloped, by Leonard Ingrams, the previous owner and has a little raised stage put in when Garsington Opera was staged in the grounds.
You would think that the performers would be just talented locals each stepping up to perform their party piece. How wrong could you be.
It all started innocently enough when Roger Heath-Brown the previous head of Mathematics at Oxford University read out three tracts that all had an anti-christmas message. This was followed by Kate Saunders (violin)& Simon Stafford (acoustic guitar and vocals)who did three songs, Richard Thompson’s I want to see the Bright Lights Tonight, followed by a tremendous version of Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean. A stonkingly good version to. The last number I cannot recall.
Next up were the Lagden twins, from the village and at 16 sung like they were already touring, They finished with a version of a Staves’s song. Amazing .
Then Hugh Blaza, a solicitor and lived practically next door to the barn, donned and acoustic guitar and sung three number including yet again a good rendition of Joni Mitchell’s River which begins with the lines ‘It's coming on Christmas, They're cutting down trees, They're putting up reindeer,And singing songs of joy and peace’ Hugh being one of the organisers.
Then followed Robin Bennett, who set up Truckfest and recently Woods Fest nearby but also with brother Joe form the g roup Dreaming Spires. Now a veteran of Glastonbury, he was then joined on stage by Sarah Cracknel of St Etienne and yet another local and but for a field, next door neighbour to Hugh. A duet or two were sung before a break was held.
Break over and up stepped John Hall to read and extract from "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" to be followed by a young girl, Jo Jo Blyth who played the Harp. Standing ovation at the end which called for an encore. Unprepared and slightly nervous the encore was duly dispatched. I was left thinking where did that come from?
Then Ed Harcourt stepped up, we had missed seeing him at EOTR a couple of years back when he headlined the Garden Stage (where incidentally we had seen St Etienne in 2016) as we had gone to see Sigur Ros on the Woods Stage. He sang a couple of songs but was then joined on stage by both Sarah Cracknell and Debsy Wykes for another.
They then gave way to Romeo Stodart who I think did one number before introducing Ren Harvieu who I was currently standing shoulder to shoulder to, but worse still I had not realised. I had followed her from the release of her first album so I was pleasantly shocked. A couple of songs from them to be joined again by Ed Harcourt. A couple of Christmas carols were sung with prompt sheets before most of the singing performers joined them all on stage for a rendition of The Band’s The Weight. A great song with the obvious but modern reference to the nativity.
The final song performed by all was Slade’s Merry Christmas (which I do not like) with Ed H in the Noddy Holder role. A good majority of the 150 present got up off their feet and sung/shuffled along.
We walked home afterwards slightly stunned with what we had just witnessed. A big thanks must go to Martin Kelly, Sarah’s husband and director of Heavenly Records who must have twisted a few arms to get the likes of Ed, Ren and Romeo up to the village on a Friday night just before Christmas and to Hugh Blaza. But also a big thanks to one and all who had all helped in putting the whole show on to such a success.
So with the departure of the Bloomsbury set before WWII under the Morrells,and Garsington opera going up to John Paul Getty’s estate nearby on the death of Leonard Ingrams, will we see another reincarnation of the artistry at the manor but this time with Indie music.