Bringing positivity and light
Updated: Feb 3
Musicians: Nat Keen (guitar) and Graham Hughes (double bass, harmonica, trombone)
When performing, our job as musicians is to entertain and to inspire. At one level this just means performing ‘good music’ well. I put this in quotation marks, because it’s not simple to define what good music is. It’s not actually so easy to define what playing music ‘well’ is either – a school choir of enthusiastic children may be far more inspiring than a group of professional musicians just going through the motions. I have come to the simple conclusion over the years that if we’re having fun, this is infectious, and we’re most of the way to winning over an audience.
We bring this approach to performing to Bridgeside Lodge. We perform for residents with a variety of conditions, their friends and relatives as well as staff. We perform for (and with) them all. We try to find out what a resident might respond to – songs they know, styles they recognise, and we try to fill our music with the joy that it deserves. It has involved exploring repertoires and styles less familiar to me which has been a pleasure. If we inspire a smile we know we’re getting it right.
There are obviously occasions when we’re just not wanted. Some residents might politely listen, some might ignore us, some might be more vocal in their distaste, (but this is rare.) It is usually clear that we’ve lightened people’s day, and possibly teased a few positive memories out of them that they can continue to enjoy after we’ve gone.
Friday 28th January seemed to be a little more serene than on previous occasions I’ve visited Bridgeside Lodge. We first played on the ground floor in the dining area where one gentleman was peacefully snoring, one sat at a table reading a book, one sat in a wheelchair looking a bit lost, as a fourth resident made his was to the balcony for a smoke. We played Fly Me To The Moon, during which another resident, JG and a member of staff came in. Then a traditional folk song (The Leaving of Liverpool), a jazz standard (Body and Soul) and a Robbie Burns song called Ca’ The Yowes. By this time the audience were smiling and the beaming, and carers were throwing song suggestions at us. After looking up the lyrics we attempted a version of Cockles and Mussels and Dave Brubeck’s iconic standard Take Five. We moved on, knowing there were dozens of other people to play for...
Resident JB is non-verbal but is able to express herself through facial expressions and especially her eyes. We gave her a couple of reggae classics as her dedicated fiancée filmed us. She responds to the music with a sparkle in her eyes.
On the first floor we played in the lounge overlooking the canal, with sun pouring in. Two residents were enjoying a mellow moment, one of whom also had a visitor. After performing ‘It Had To Be You’ we had a chat with one resident who told us how he had sung bass in a choir called The Tudor Singers some 50 years ago. We played a jazz ballad and another song (Only You) before moving on.
GH, Bridgeside Lodge’s keen Beatles fan, was sitting in his usual chair outside the lifts. Nat had been playing a selection of Beatles numbers over recent weeks and we were delighted when he joined in with the John Lennon Song “And I Love Her” with gusto. This was the most inspired I had seen GH in all the time I’ve been performing at the home. Nat asked GH how he knew all the words; "from you!" was his reply. It's quite astonishing to think that these very intricate lyrics are being being retained by GH and recalled when the songs are being sung.
Another resident GH can be quite boisterous and vocal. On this occasion though she switched her TV off when we arrived and was calm and attentive throughout our performance of various folk songs, joining in where she could.
We finished on the top floor playing for JC, the Chuck Berry fan. I had written a Bridgeside Lodge sea shanty, and we performed it for him. One part of the song required some input from him, suggesting what he might take on a sea journey to keep him feeling positive. John’s first thought was a kettle. He also suggested a bottle of bourbon, and with Nat’s encouragement he reckoned a Chevrolet might also be a good idea! We finished with one of his favourite numbers, Jonny B Goode, and left with us all feeling positive.
Playing at Bridgeside Lodge is always an eye-opening experience, and very sobering on occasions. It is a privilege to be invited in to the residents’ home purely to entertain and inspire, and we hope that our contribution brings light, positivity and even an element of healing for people with very challenging conditions.