REVIEW – Devizes Winter Wonderland of Music 17/18th December 2022

Proving That There’s More To Life Than Football!

Andy Fawthrop

Another perishingly cold weekend in D-Town, but there was plenty of music and entertainment on offer to warm the heart.  So I went off on a Winter wander to see what was on offer.

Unfortunately I had to miss Friday night’s Butch Hopkins Memorial Gig at The Corn Exchange, featuring Jon Amor and Innes Sibun.  I would dearly loved to have gone, but was prevented by another commitment.  Talking to people who did go, however, I was told that a great night was had by all.  

But by Saturday I was fully on my mission.  Whilst the editor of this esteemed digital mag was indulging his nostalgic love of Ford Cortinas and Slade tribute bands in Marlborough, I took to the mean streets of D-Town.

First off to St John’s for the Big Sound’s Christmas concert.  This was a gig of two halves.  The first half featured songs by a number of individual guest singers, including some very young soloists, each one of whom knocked it out of the park, despite the daunting prospect of standing up alone in front of hundreds of people.  Hats off!

The second half moved up a gear and featured the big guns of the eponymous The Big Sound – a massive and marvellous choir, marshalled by the enthusiastic Jemma Brown.  The choir was not formed particularly with formal concerts in mind, but more as an ongoing exercise in what Jemma herself describes as “music, singing, wellbeing, friendship, laughter and fun” (the choir meets and sings every Tuesday night).  Those values certainly shone through as the choir strode their way through a number of Christmas-related songs.  The highlight, particularly in the fun department, was the audience participation in The Twelve Days Of Christmas.  Everyone on stage looked as if they were enjoying themselves hugely, and the audience were kept warm both by singing and by the mulled wine being served at the back.  And to top all that, it would appear that the two charities being supported last night (Devizes Open Doors and Dorothy House) would have benefited somewhere in the region of £2000 – a terrific performance all round.  Given that this was the choir’s first-ever gig, it was what I can only describe as a stunning success.

Of course there was other stuff on around town, but my next venue of choice for the night was The Southgate.  Unfortunately, due to Covid, Dr. Zebo’s Wheezy Club had had to cancel at the very last minute, but the ever-resourceful Debbie had managed to find her friends (and fantastic musicians) Tim Madden (guitar and vocals) and Melinda Rozsahegyi (12-string pedal-steel guitar), both of The Duskers to play at the last moment.  From a relatively quiet start, the crowd grew as the evening wore on, and the place was pretty packed by the end.  Tim’s laid-back and mournful vocals, accompanied by gentle and under-stated guitar proved a perfect foil for Melinda’s pedal-steel.  I think it’s the association with Country music and the heart-rending lyrics of you-done-me-wrong songs, but there’s something infinitely sad and haunting about the sound of pedal-steel.  As it was, we had two great hour-long sets, and I left for home with just a liddle biddy tear in my eye.

But there was still more to come.  D-Town doesn’t stop after Saturday night, it carries on until we all have to go back to work on Monday morning.

So Sunday got off to an early start.  When there’s a Market Place full of farm machinery, why would you want to be anywhere else?  Due to (as I understand it) insurance issues, Devizes Young Farmers were unable to stage their now-usual Tinsel & Tractor run through the Wiltshire countryside, ending up in D-Town, and so they did the next best thing – a static display.  Whilst this might have been a little less exciting, and to feature rather less units, having the machines parked up in neat rows in The Market Place gave everyone a chance to get really close up.  I’ve never seen so much clean (and often new) farm machinery – just makes you appreciate the level of modern technology that goes into producing the food that we all take for granted.  I’ve also never seen so many strapping and weather-beaten chaps proudly displaying their vehicles.  There were loads of stalls, including food offerings, and stuff for the kiddi-winkies to do too.  Hopefully the day raised a shedload of money for Dorothy House, so another hats off to the organisers.

Afternoon is the time to go the pub, right?  Keen to observe this custom in full, and never one to shirk my reporting responsibilities, I fearlessly went to two of our finest establishments.  It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. 

First to The White Bear to see my mate Jamie R Hawkins in a now-rare solo performance away from his Lost Trades buddies.  It was really good to see and hear him in action again, and good to see that he’s retained all his good humour and singer/ songwriter skills. The songs were still there, that distinctive voice was still in evidence.  Always a class act.

Finally it was back up to The Southgate, following the football, to catch It’s Complicated’s Christmas party.  Again it was good to see an old mate, this time in the shape of Tim Watts behind the drums.  Accompanied by Jacqi Sherlock (keys and vocals), Tom Evans (guitar and vocals), and Adrian Mundy (bass guitar), it was another of those gigs that really built momentum ass it went along.  They’re a covers band, but definitely a musical step up from yer average pub band.  They don’t just play the more “obvious” cloud-pleasers – they’re happy to take on some less well-known stuff.  The musicianship, and their ability to use their own arrangements to lift a number out of the ditch of a mere slavish copy, means that they’re a notch or two better than the mere average.  Jacqi’s vocals, in particular, really lifted some of the songs.

And because it was a Christmas party, the set-list included a number of Crimbo classics that we could all belt out.  You don’t have to go all the way to Marlborough to see a Slade tribute act to get a dose of “Here It Is – Merry Christmas”.  Tim did a passable impression of Noddy Holder, belting out the song, whilst doing some heavy-duty tub-thumping.

So – all-in-all – plenty of stuff to keep me out of trouble.  And away from the football.

And – as a final note – I’d like to add a massive thank-you to all those shakers and movers, the organisers and planners, those people who get off their arses in our little town and put all of these events on for us to enjoy.  There are lots of them throughout the year, and at a lot of venues, but just based on the above things that fed my particular week-end, a big hats off to Ian Hopkins (Long Street Blues), Dave & Debbie (The Southgate), Marc & Georgie (The White Bear), Jemma Brown (The Big Sound) and the Devizes Young Farmers.  Hats off.  Well done to all of them.


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