On Sunday, a group of hugely talented people gathered in Richmond to perform at a concert raising money for a locally based charity, SeeAbility.
In particular, they were raising awareness of a campaign called ‘Children in Focus‘. Did you know that a child with a disability is 28 times more likely to have some form of sight problem? They find it difficult to access sight tests, and therefore their eyes don’t get the care they need, risking loss of sight.
Take Nathaniel, for example. He has learning difficulties, is non-verbal & deaf, putting him at a greater likelihood of having sight problems. When SeeAbility helped him to access a sight test, they found that he was profoundly short-sighted, only being able to see a few centimetres ahead without glasses. Thanks to SeeAbility, he now has glasses and his world is no longer a blur!
SeeAbility began its life in the 18th century as a school for the blind, earning patronage from King George V in 1911 and becoming the Royal School for the Blind. Over the years it has developed from basic accommodation where everything was done for the residents, to enabling residents to gain independence – and, for over 20 years, providing services in communities and homes. Its ethos is “Seeing beyond disability“.
The night was hosted by comedian Tim Clark, who kicked off the show with a bit of stand-up. We very quickly established that there were several Russians in the audience – and a Swedish family… This was a running theme throughout the evening! He did a brilliant job of getting the audience livened up & ready for what was to be a truly memorable event.
The first act was Samuel Ford, a singer-songwriter originally from Sussex. I’d first heard his music last summer and was very excited when I learned that he had been added to the bill. He usually performs with a band, but you would never have known it – his voice has an otherworldly quality that had the audience entranced as soon as he began. And his guitar skills are enviable, switching between acoustic & electric, and even playing the acoustic on his lap as percussion as well as guitar! My favourite of the songs he performed was The Storm, a beautiful tune with a haunting melody line. This was definitely not the last time for me seeing him perform.
Following another interlude from Tim, we were introduced to award-winning comic John Moloney. And he picked up where Tim left off, soon leaving the audience rolling in the aisles. His whole skit about taking the cat to the vet… I will never forget the sound he said the cat made when he had his temperature taken (the traditional way)!
To close the first half we had a short set from Sunny understudy Robbie White & his band (Charlotte Harwood, Alex Turney & Max Milner). I was lucky enough to see his performances at Summer Streets in July, but this was just at another level. The enjoyment on Robbie’s face was absolutely infectious – as were his tunes. Catchy, beautiful, glorious! It’s always fantastic to see Sunny folk outside of the show, especially when they get to be themselves. Watching Robbie perform with a very skilled group of friends (I was especially captivated by Alex’s bass playing) was a sheer joy, and something that needs to happen more often.
All this was just the first act!
What my friends & I had congregated on the front row for was the reunion of what seemed like a lifetime: nearly the whole original Sunny Afternoon cast. The full band (John Dagleish, George Maguire, Adam Sopp & Ned Derrington). 15 weeks after cast change and they were sharing a stage once more! Everyone’s dream come true.
The reception as they took to the stage was electric. A cliché, I know, but there is no other way to describe it. The noise, the obvious excitement… As Adam launched into the drum introduction to ‘I Gotta Move’, I could feel my grin growing ever wider. They’d had just the one major rehearsal, but the magic was still there! In all, they managed over twenty songs from the show, and they seemed to love every minute.
Joining the boys were Amy Ross, Ben Caplan, Dom Tighe, Emily Goodenough, Tam Williams, Vinny Leigh and, in a late addition (to our great joy) Liz Hill. They were accompanied by Steve Pallister (the current Mr Davies), Steve Holness (keys) & Nick Kendall (guitar). Former Kinks backing singer Debi Doss even made an appearance!
There were so many things that I’d missed – from Tam’s “hello” to Ben’s inimitable drumming style, from Ned’s bass playing in ‘You Really Got Me’ to George’s amazing high note in ‘Till The End Of The Day’. But regular readers will know the one thing that I was wishing would happen. That’s right: an Adam Sopp drum solo! And was it worth the 106-day wait? I think I can safely say it was. Undoubtedly my highlight of a very special night, and an epic addition to the drum solo collection. There was even a brilliant comedy moment with a confused Ned just before it properly got going. And I got a selection of my favourite bits chucked in as well. Perfection.
Everyone had their own moment, with my favourites being Amy reprising her Rasa for ‘I Go To Sleep’, Emily getting to do the ‘Denmark Street’ tap, and Liz & Steve leading ‘Dead End Street’. Dom even managed to describe the show as being about two characters called Robert & Grenville..!
The remaining original cast members were missed (Lillie, Carly, Philip & Ashley), but it really was a remarkable achievement to get so many people together on the same stage in such a short amount of planning time.
Along with the all-out entertainment, there were some poignant moments, the most wonderful of which was the surprise inclusion of the a cappella ‘Days’. The boys begged our indulgence, before holding the whole theatre in their thrall. It was a very moving moment for us and the cast.
There was even an opportunity to pay tribute to the incomparable David Bowie. The band’s penultimate song of the night was a wonderful rendition of the classic ‘Starman‘. A moment brimming with emotion, but a fitting celebration of the world’s most individual individual – filmed here by Brigitte Jeffs:
And as they closed the show with the finale medley, I can guarantee that every single person in the auditorium was in a state of ecstasy, after one of the best nights of their lives.
I’d like to echo the thanks given on the night – to Lucy Baker-Swinburn & Ashley Gadd (sound), Chris Sopp & Fabio Cutulo (vintage guitars), Debi & Malcolm (backing vocals & bass amp), and Terry & George Maguire (basically making the whole thing possible).
A fantastic show in aid of such a worthy cause. Whether anything like this will happen again, who can say? But if this was indeed the last hurrah, what a way to go out!