This month the spotlight falls on our band leader, Will Lenton. As well as being a composer, player and teacher, Will is also a Finzi Scholar.
A what, I hear you cry? Founded in 1969, the Gerald Finzi Trust seeks to promote the music of Gerald Finzi and to further his ideals. Finzi Scholarships are awarded annually to support exceptional, international learning experiences for artists. Will’s scholarship enabled him to visit New Orleans during the French Quarter Festival in April 2015. There he experienced NOLA’s world renowned second-lining tradition and parades first-hand.
I asked Will, “What parts of the New Orleans experience really stayed with you?” and his reply is immediate; “The quality of the musicianship. The kids in the school bands all the way up… they’re all really amazing.”
“The other thing that is interesting is the canon. There are tunes that everyone plays, really old tunes and new stuff, but all the bands play them and no one gets sick of hearing them again and again. New Orleans has a very specific canon, it’s like the gumbo, everything is mixed up together but everyone knows all the tunes because they’re played over and over. That’s different to here, because even at Jam Nights in England, people don’t really want to repeat the same old standards, or they’re always trying to play new tunes or do something different with them.”
“What’s Second Lining like?”
“I learnt when I was there that Second Lining is totally different to Parades. People line the streets and watch a parade. But with Second Lining, it sets off and everyone walks with it and everyone is dancing, some people film a bit on their phones but literally everyone is involved, they’re all really in it, everyone is moving and it really takes over the whole street.”
So when Mr Wilson’s came back from performing at Hastings Fat Tuesday last month, I was surprised to discover how authentic Will had found it. “What was is about Mardi Gras in Hastings that made you think of New Orleans.”
“For one weekend, the whole town was about music. Every pub had live music, and the bands went from venue to venue. It wasn’t just street bands like us, BBC Introducing were there and there were loads of young bands with big synths and loads of acoustic folk. Everything really. The programme felt really busy and exciting and varied. Unplugged Saturday in Hastings was very similar to the French Quarter Festival where there’s loads of free outdoor gigs on the streets and in bars and theres fringe stuff like films and ticketed venue gigs with bigger acts.”
On viewing the Fat Tuesday’s website, he’s not joking, there were over 200 bands playing across 20-30 venues.
“The Umbrella Parade along the seafront on the Sunday turned into a second line. The road is a big promenade and it was closed so people just joined in with the parade and walked with us and danced. The costumes in the parade looked like they were really influenced by New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and the whole tow has a similar seaside, faded grandeur. Then we arrived at St Mary’s in the Castle and there was a big party. It was cold cause it was February, but I’m glad they did it on the right dates.”
(Mardi Gras is supposed to begin on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on Shrove Tuesday, or “Fat Tuesday”.)
“They did it properly, from Friday Night all the way through to the Tuesday, and didn’t just cut it short just because everyone’s supposed to be at work on Monday morning.”
Fat Tuesday is defintiely playing a role in Hastings cultural and economic renaissance, maybe we need to get the word out to similar seaside towns like Morecambe, Scarborough and Skegness and tell them to look to their long lost cousin NOLA for inspiration.