St Agnes Fountain – December 2014

Experience: 9/10

Venue: Hailsham Pavilion

Date: 11th December 2014

Back again at Hailsham for a pre-Christmas treat – the Aggies were back in town! Another mix of old favourites, new songs, spoken pieces and lots of warmth, humour and charitable activities. The stage was dressed as before – I took some pictures this time – and a table at the front held the prizes for the raffle, which included items made by the people helped by this year’s charity. (I fancied the elephant, but no luck this year in the draw.)

They began the concert with Good People All, and followed up with a song version of Chris While’s spoken piece from last year, Christmas Is Not Far Away. This is also on the new album. In fact, it’s the title track. David brought his gravelly voice to bear on A Virgin Most Pure (that sounds a bit dodgy, sorry) and then Shadow Of The Past led into an instrumental which Chris Leslie dubbed Old Time Christmas On The Old Front Porch: it comprised Cold Frosty Morning, The Grey Eagle, Billy On The Low Ground and The Eighth Of January. (Or The Grey Snow Eagle and Billy On The Snow Ground, take your pick.)

The Aggies' Christmas tree

The Aggies’ Christmas tree

David’s spoken word piece came next. Inspired by a recent Songs of Praise, it considered the return of a man to a church he hadn’t visited for many years. The pews had been removed, the altar and other bits taken out (I’m not good with technical church terms) and it had been generally opened up to make it more attractive to the discerning consumer of religion. The final revelations were no surprise, but still entertaining, and the point of the story was underlined by David’s adaptation of the hymn Immortal, Invisible.

A Russian Christmas story was the basis of the next song, One Cold Winter’s Eve, and then Chris gave us his spoken word piece, a tale of travellers passing through a haunted forest who encountered a sweet little white kit-kat (the animal, not the biscuit). It all ended happily, and then we could join in Drive The Cold Winter Away. You Stole The Fun Of Christmas Day and Let There Be Love finished the first half, and again we neatly sidestepped the interval retail opportunity; we’d bought our CDs before the start.

We’d also bought lots of raffle tickets, but then there were lots of raffles. The ukulele on offer was in support of SAFE@LAST while the Pavilion’s own raffle was to help a charity based in India. The draw was made at the end of the interval by Chris (While) and Julie, ably helped by Hester, a young lady from the audience who was wearing a reindeer-adorned jumper. The final bit of the raffle, an auction for tickets to a host of shows at the Pavilion, raised a fair bit of money, and then a couple of tickets (plus camping) were offered for some event in Cropredy in August next year. Chris Leslie didn’t seem to know much about the event, but despite the camping aspect, the tickets were auctioned for a goodly sum.

With the glow of that behind us, the second half began with I Saw Three Ships; nice and lively, and to correct something I said in last year’s notes, this is the song where they only sing the first verse, not Good King Wenceslas. Well warmed up by now, they treated us to the Billie Jean/Hark The Herald Angels Sing hybrid; not only did we enjoy the music, but thanks to the new parody ruling, the band are able to record this version at long last – watch out for next year’s album. The Tex Logan song Christmas Time’s A-Coming was paired with an instrumental called Jerusalem Ridge; again we had a chance to join in the song’s chorus.

Julie’s spoken piece was a very moving description of the famous WWI Christmas truce, and she followed it with an absolutely beautiful solo rendering of Silent Night – just gorgeous; I was wiping away a few tears with this one. For a complete change of pace, the band gave us their ‘theme song’ – Good King Wenceslas – and we were encouraged to ‘spot the band’s name’, which we did, vociferously. Follow The Shepherd Home was another audience participation number, as was Mary Had A Baby; all very enjoyable. David’s Jingle Bells also kept our vocal chords in action, and the penultimate number was Follow That Star. Although I’d forgotten to bring my phone with me, I was able to join in the light show with a small torch I had in my handbag.

We Three Kings finished the show, in theory, but we gave them such rousing applause that they came back in front of the stage to do their encore: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. This year’s version involved all of them playing the guitar. The same guitar. Julie had the instrument and stood in front of the microphone with David and Chris Leslie to her left and Chris While to her right. She had to hold the guitar very carefully; once she started playing using the lower strings, David added in some plucking of the upper strings, and then Chris wrapped his hand around the neck of the guitar to do some fingering of the middle area. I’ve never seen four hands on the same guitar neck before – quite amazing.

As if that wasn’t enough, Chris While reached in and started tapping the body of the guitar to give the percussion, and the whole sound was pretty fantastic. After a short spell of this, Chris While stood back and started singing the song while the others carried on playing. It was a lovely version, and made for a great end to the evening. Roll on next year.

© 2014 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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