I liken the atmosphere in Bath on the evening of Friday the 1st of June to the sanguine splendour of Christmas - when one spends endless weeks anticipating the full throttle of the event to the excitement and merriment of the occasion and finally the indefinite buzz that comes the morning after and several mornings after that. Bath's ancient streets were littered with hungry-eyed civilians from the early hours after lunch until the early hours the following morning when eventually all the animation began to die down. By animation I simply mean pure entertainment - bands, street theatre, singer-songwriters, comedians and even choirs were singing, playing and acting their trade for the distant traveller and the hometown gang who came out of the woodwork to enjoy the freedom of one evening that, like Christmas, only comes around once a year. This was Party in the City.
It felt like I had been forever crossing off the days on my calendar until the 1st of June finally came around and so when it did I intended to make the most of it. There's nothing better than spending an evening out on the town than with a couple of friends and so after a late lunch / early dinner, (let's call it 'linner'), at the wonderful Wagamama's, my best friend and I headed on down to meet up with some other people and explore the city in all it's glory. When one thinks of Bath, they are inclined to indulge in thoughts concerning history and diverse culture and there's no shortage of that to be true. However, there is a scene in Bath that is truly authentic and that is it's music. Bath is home to talent beyond that of the oh so favoured celebrity's and this full scale event made sure that the locals, the visitors and the unknowns-but-should-be-knowns could showcase their feats to the audiences that really care.
Kicking off at 6pm and where to go? My itinerary listed numerous acts that I was desperate to see in venues all over the city - the main thing to think about was how fast I could run to get to each establishment before the desired artist could begin. So, logically, I prioritised a certain few and manipulated my unschedueled schedule around those favourites.
I was a little more than surprised to see that the rugby ground was hosting out its training field to a venue known as the Spiegeltent courtesy of Bath Fringe. To me, that conjures up expressive images of trickery, circus antics and regaling revelations so when coupled with the intended act's name 'The Hot Potato Syncopators'... yeah, say no more. After traipsing across neatly mowed but muddily dishevelled lawns, no rugby players in sight, we were welcomed by the entrance to a looming, well, tent but stepping inside proved it to be so much more. Arranged in a circle with the tables forming the circumference of the said shape, people leaned in to look upon an empty dancefloor and a small stage to one side of it. Drinks in hand, people waited eagerly for the act to arrive and when they did, expectations were certainly met. A trio of penguin-suited gentlemen staged themselves before the audience and, after elegantly executed R.P introductions, took up their ukeleles and began to play. Children swarmed to floor and adults tapped their feet in time to the jazzy 1920's classics that effervesced not just from the delicate instruments they bore but from their faces also - comically British and decidedly effusive bringing smiles to all ages. The mute man especially with his strange talents at playing the saw - and when I say a saw I mean, literally, a saw - incredible control and skill at juggling and even balancing an umbrella on his head set the standards for the remaining artists I planned on seeing that evening. All three Messrs were quizzically refreshing and their music perfectly charming.
We moved on to the nearby location the Pavilion, well known for hosting comedians as renowned as Jimmy Carr and other music events also. We stumbled through the doors into darkness and then suddenly multi-coloured lights and heavy rock music from rising stars 'Under the Driftwood Tree' who stood high up on the stage towards the back of the vast hall. Despite obvious difficulties with microphone leads getting in the way of bare feet, the band had a natural rapport with their chosen variations of music: acoustic, rock and pop, with the occasional twang of the electric guitar and the rich base of drums giving their music depth and tone. I understand how the lighting was an attempt to reflect the music of the band however I couldn't help feeling somewhat uncomfortable stood there in the darkness amongst a decidedly unenthusiastic and minimalistic audience, (nothing to do with the band themselves), and I was gasping to get back outside into the summer sunshine.
The city centre was wher everything was at and we headed towards the magnificence of the Abbey. Rounding the bend into the courtyard we came face to face with crowds of people, illustrating the popularity of the Party on one level and on another the value of entertainment provided by whatever it was going on before them. Bang! Something sounded behind us and I turned to see two grown men resplendant in attire similar to that off of Harry Potter. At last, some street theatre. The courtyard was alive with comical improvised scenes where various spells were being exploited in a duel so twee you could see the actors blushing under their make-up. But all for good effects - the pair were funny and engaging and really, that's all it needed to be.
By now the clock was near to striking 8pm and that meant it was time to move up to Milsom's Place where a highly anticipated performance was about to begin. For me and my friend, Party in the City really started the night before in St. James Wine Vaults where an intimate gig was being staged in the depths below a bar on the higher levels of the city, courtesy of Bath's own singer-songwriter gem Joshua Porter. Everyone that evening was in for a night of real rustic entertainment and although the tickets clenched in everyone's hands read the names of each man and woman to perform, no one really knew what to expect. Playing that night was Tallis Morris, a young woman with an earthy voice rich in deeper tones; Joshua Porter, a resident of Bath proudly promoting his new EP with a voice so stunningly slick that listening to his music was, as an audience member, an absolute privilage; Dominik Boncza-Skrzynecki and Sam Gotley whose musical covers were diverse and epic, especially the later redition of Hotel California which allowed the evening to end on a perfect high note; and rising star Antonio Lulic. It was Antonio Lulic I expected to see again at 8pm at Milsom's Place with the hope of spreading his musical talent around some more of my friends.
Milsom's Place is one of the dishier places in Bath and so Antonio's epic undertones suited the location well as swells of people laid back in their chairs enjoying refreshing beverages. This guy sings from the heart with warming lyrics, subtle melodies and the occasional blasting chord to send home his ability for variety and skill for musical composites on one of his 2-3 guitars that he carries around with him. Most notably, his voice is uniquely recognisable - chiselled and grilled but husky and smooth reflective of the song he is singing and the message he wishes to convey, all of which he did successfully and effortlessly that evening to a crowd who quite clearly wanted to be there. All I can say is 'uh-oh' although I say it for all the right reasons.
Unfortunately, that is where my evening ended. However much I wanted to stay and soak up the evening's culturally glorified event, prior commitments to the following morning meant an early night was on the cards. Despite this, Party in the City for me began and ended on a high note with general highs inbetween them as well. Music was played how music should always be played and music was appreciated how music should always be appreciated. Party in the City, bring on next year.
(Image 1 taken from bathfestivals.org.uk, image 2 taken from musiquedada.com and image 3 taken from lionfest.co.uk)