Probably the most bizarre review ever!
When our Arts Consultant, Linda Cowley, suggested (or rather insisted) that The New Rope String Band appear at The Exchange, I probably replied with an unenthusiastic "who?" After looking at their website I started to understand Linda's enthusiasm, and started looking forward to seeing them in action. Then it hit me. We had done it again and booked a really good act for a Friday night. For those of you that are blissfully unaware of my geographical dilemma, despite working at The Exchange for a year (or 12 months community service as I like to put it), I still live in Chelmsford in Essex and therefore travel home on a Friday evening to see my fiancée (I usually call her my wife in the hope that one day she'll realise what the engagement ring was for) and children.
Anyway, the afternoon of New Ropes' performance arrived and I briefly met the members of the band as they were setting up. Disappointed that I couldn't stay, I asked where they were performing next. "Marks Tey Village Hall," they replied. Now most of you won't know this, but Marks Tey is a tiny place just south of Colchester, approximately 20 minutes from where I live! I phoned the hall the following morning and despite being sold out they managed to conjure up 4 tickets.
So we arrived at the hall to find our tickets waiting at the door, on which was taped a large sign which read "Tea/coffee and Hot Mince Pies - please make a donation". We snaffled seats in the second row and I went back for the food and drink. The importance of this part of the story is that the gentleman in front of me in the queue (in response to the "make a donation" part of the sign) offered one of his kidneys in exchange for a mince pie. This, for me, set the tone for the evening.
This was followed by the gradual realisation that some members of the audience were greyhounds. This isn't some Essex euphemism; they were actually greyhounds. Now we hadn't realised, until someone got up to introduce the band, that one of the aims of the evening was to raise money for a greyhound rescue charity. Up to that point I had felt a bit like someone who had been invited to a 'bring a bottle' party but had forgotten to stop at the off-licence. Knowing how difficult it is to borrow a greyhound at short-notice we just sat there hoping someone would have a spare.
With a fanfare of fiddle vs. accordion the show started. Within seconds of the musicians introducing themselves the tears were rolling down my cheeks. The mince pies really were HOT and the roof of my mouth felt like it had been napalmed. Luckily I got away with the tears as, by this time, the entire audience was in hysterics (apart from the greyhounds who may be the seventh fastest land mammal, a useful fact that Tim the accordion player was to impart later, but have no sense of humour whatsoever).
After a while the music died down and an hysterical game of violin tennis ensued (my children thought this was the best bit). This was followed by a whole host of hilarious nonsense courtesy of Pete Challoner (fiddle, banjo), Tim Dalling (accordion, double bass, trumpet), Jock Tyldesley (fiddle, flip-flop) and Vera van Heeringen (on every stringed instrument you can imagine). The star of the show, for me, was poor old Tim; forced to stay on stage though he desperately needed the loo, so annoyed with the rest of the band at one point that he ate a boiled egg and drank from his flask in protest. It really is one of those situations where 'you had to be there'. It's just impossible to put into words what it is that the New Rope String Band does. The important thing though, is that they do it so well; their musicianship is excellent and the way they combine that with the rest of the show is what makes it work.
I can safely say that it was one of the most enjoyable nights out that we have ever had. I can also say that, without a doubt, I will do everything I can to make sure that the New Rope String Band returns to The Exchange in the not-too-distant future. Don't worry if you haven't got a greyhound, we'll still let you in!
Robin Savill, Centre Manager, The Exchange, Sturminster Newton, Dorset
Text © Robin Savill; originally published in the Sturminster Newton Community Magazine and reproduced with permission.