Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Picnics for pop pickers

As regular readers of my weekly Chronicle column and blog will know I am somewhat obsessed with music.

The very first single I can remember buying, at the tender age of about 12 (before the punk rock explosion made me worry about whether things were cool or not), was a very uncool ‘45’ by one John Miles.

It was called Music and although the chorus of this ditty didn’t seem that apt to me at the time it certainly seems so now. For Mr Miles crooned:

‘Music was my first love,
and it will be my last,
Music of the future and music of the past’.

Ok, I admit in black and white that does look a bit corny (and look at him in the pic!!) but it is amazing how that first single predicted the way my cultural life would later develop.

One of the things that has characterised my musical love affair is that my taste – though obviously incredibly refined and sophisticated – is not shared by many others.

As a result, I reckon that of all the various concerts I’ve been to over the years, the vast majority have been on my own. When I tell some people this they are a bit surprised, but I think music, like film and books, is something which can be enjoyed communally but is often even more enriching on your own when you don’t have to compromise what you want to see or hear.

At the weekend before last however, here in Bath, I enjoyed two concerts which simply aren’t designed for solo entertainment.

For Dyrham Park hosted two evenings of what are known as Picnic in the Park concerts.

As the name suggests, these aren’t shows where you turn up and are ushered to a set seat and they’re not quite traditional modern festivals either, these are just very pleasant outdoor concerts where you’re invited to bring along not only your ears for the music but your mouth and your stomach for a feast.

I’ve been to a number of such highly enjoyable shows now – including a couple of very good classical ones – but this weekend belonged to ’80s pop on one night and the ever likeable Jools Holland on the other. The music was great - but what about the picnics, I hear you cry?

Well, it struck me the fayre was very much determined by the fact that the two shows attracted very different audiences.

Friday night – which featured the Human League, ABC and the rather delectable Belinda Carlisle – attracted a somewhat younger, funkier crowd and as such, the main ingredient of the vast majority of the visible picnics appeared to be alcoholic (well, it was a wet night!).

Friday night’s revellers had come to dance, drink and eat – in that order.

Saturday night’s picnickers were an altogether different breed however.

Jools Holland attracts a very wide audience base and the average age at his show was probably 45-55 – a good decade or so older than the night before.

As befits this slightly older, more sedate audience, the picnic was clearly at the heart of the evening.

We were greeted on arrival by a sea of tables laden with some fantastic delicacies which frankly would have made you feel a bit inadequate if all you had brought was Pringles and a cocktail sausage or two.

The group in front of us, for example, had staked out their very large spot with some intimidating looking umbrellas and appeared to be having a multi-faceted feast that wouldn’t look out of place at a banquet for Henry VIII.

It appeared there were a number of couples who had all been given responsibility for a course each and clearly no-one wanted to be outdone looking at the amazing array of goodies on view. At one point I expected Gordon Ramsay to pop up with the next dish and one couple to say: ‘there, that trumped you all’.

OK, this lot may have been a bit extreme, but it was the same everywhere you looked – the order of the entertainment on Saturday was definitely eat (a lot), dance (a little bit) and drink (to soak up the food).

All of this culinary fun just added to the atmosphere of a truly splendid couple of nights where the ‘main course’ on stage always delivered.

And it proved to a ‘one ticket please’ kinda guy like me that, yes, music can be enjoyed on your own, but it can be just as fun with people by you and a slice of cake in your hands.

Next course please - for if music be the food of love I say play on.... .

No comments: