Scrumpy & Western - March 2015
Cider barrel full of merry laughs
It was standing room only at the Curzon on Friday night for the premiere of Scrumpy & Western written by two local playwrights.
In fact the sell-out Arts Council funded performance was so popular the Clevedon cinema had to turn people away!
So what to make of this music and words show about the life of Avonmouth bard Adge Cutler and his ‘branding’ of a band?
Given this was a rehearsed ‘first draft’ reading the evening was filled with laughter, ad libs and amazement, performed by a six-strong troupe who only got five days to rehearse.
Everyone was great from Alex Dunbar as Adge; Andy McGillan on banjo and guitar as Reg Quantrill; Rowan Talbot on double bass as Brian Walker; Gwendolyn Scott on accordion as Reg Chant/Yvonne Tucker; Joe Hall as PC Genge and Ben Crispin as record producer/folk singer.
Well I can tell you sitting in the stalls surrounded by ‘luvvies’ and a couple of ol’ country boys was an theatrical experience.
Prior to curtain up I think the upstairs bar sold lots of red wine and rough cider ...
Next to me was an old boy from West Harptree who chuckled continuously and thought it was ‘brilliant’ while the opinionated person sat directly behind said he could see it doing a fortnight at The Playhouse, Weston-super-Mare but not much else!
It does need choreography but not line-dancing as suggested by aforementioned know-all.
I can see Morris and country dancing against a moving backdrop of images of old Somerset and a revolving middle section for the club scenes.
Line-dancing to my mind is country and western not scrumpy and western but I could be wrong.
During the performance there was hardly a pub in North Somerset that didn’t get a mention from the meat raffle at the Sawyers Arms, Nailsea, to a jar at The Star, Tickenham, via the lock-ins at the Black Horse at Easton-in-Gordano but it was the High Street Royal Oak and a ‘live’ recording session back in 1966 that was centre stage.
Okay I probably can’t see this playing Broadway but the West End or Glastonbury perhaps.
What needs developing is the other music of the era but then I suppose there would be copyright issues here and maybe that is why we didn’t hear The Wurzels number one hit about combine harvesters?
So was Adge – real name Alan John (AJ) – a straw-chewing Somerset lad who could pen a ditty or two or a well-versed, Spanish speaking, Rioja loving poet who came up with a good gimmick?
Thanks to this play we get to know Adge was his own person – not many Somerset young men in this era would marry a single mother-of-four who was a life model for budding artists.
I forgot to mention wife Yvonne was like Adge an accomplished jazz musician but most people wouldn’t have got beyond the first pen sketch.
The couple married in 1972 and set up home just down the road from Nailsea at Tickenham.
One thread in the play follows devoted fan and Nailsea policeman George Genge who was fond of a free pint and with some irony turned a blind eye to drink driving.
The Webbington Country Club gig with PC Genge in attendance was poignant for this point.
One of the best bits for me was the Chippenham folk club with a cameo of a pro acoustic ‘artiste’ with abhorrence of anything amplified electrically.
From labourer to roadie Adge once worked for Pensford born clarinettist and vocalist Acker Bill of Stranger of the Shore fame.
A comparison between styles and music similar to the exchange with the Wiltshire traditionalist would be a welcome addition to the story at this point.
Between the authors it all seemed seamless but more dialogue rather than less may be better and sticking to just a rousing repetitive chorus rather than the complete works?
An attempt for a singalong of all 12-verses of Virtute Et Industrial, the city motto, stalled as few could read their song sheet in the semi-darkness!
Clapton-in-Gordano impresario John Miles is credited both with securing the recording session at the Abbey Road EMI studio, at that time the London base for the Beatles, and for keeping the Wurzels together after Adge’s early demise.
So the music lives on for Adge who sadly died on his way home from a Chepstow gig in 1974 when his sports car crashed into a roundabout.
Since his death his ditties full of double entendre sung in dialect including Drink Up Thy Zider which has become the anthem of his beloved Bristol City FC have maintained a strong enduring appeal.
This play could also achieve cult status.
Adge is buried in Christ Church graveyard, Nailsea, and his silhouette statue can be seen at the Millennium Park.
Scrumpy & Western is written by former journalist and Nailsea resident Tom Henry and Long Ashton playwright Shaun McCarthy and based on a book by another former Nailsea resident author John Hudson.
Critic John Graham said of Scrumpy & Western performance: “Great cast and I really think it has got legs.”
Few would disagree with the exception of the posh plonker sat behind me.
After another success Scrumpy & Western show at Trowbridge audience on Saturday night Tom said: "We'd just like to thank the cast, the director Amanda Horlock and musical director Martin Pring - also from Nailsea - for working extraordinarily hard to pull off something amazing in just five days.
"And also big thanks to the good people of North Somerset for turning out to support this and giving us the impetus to carry on and take it further afield.
"Watch this space!"
The next opportunity to Drink Up Thee Cider is at the annual beer and cider festival at Nailsea & Backwell Rugby Club from Friday to Sunday, July 10-12, with free live music all weekend.
Adge Cutler in rehearsals
No show about the life of Wurzels legend Adge Cutler would be complete without two essential props - a pint of cider and a ‘Wurzel stick’ of the kind Adge used to beat time on stage.
For playwrights Shaun McCarthy and Tom Henry, pictured below right, the first was easy to find.
The second item proved more elusive.
Scrumpy&Western, a play with music to be performed at the Curzon Cinema on Friday, March 6.
Shaun said: "This is a script-in-hand version of the play but we want to make sure we get the ‘feel’ of the piece right, so obtaining a Wurzel stick was essential.
“We looked high and low, and in every hedge in North Somerset, to get a straight stick with a forked end, but without success.”
That is, until Adge Cutler’s own family stepped in and located the kind of stick that Adge would’ve been proud to use.
Adge’s stepdaughter, Su Elliott, heard about the search and retrieved a Wurzel stick that had been hiding in her loft for years.
Tom said: “Su has generously lent us this lovely piece of memorabilia and although she doesn’t think Adge actually used it, it’s great to have something so authentic from Adge’s family. "They’ve been so helpful to us over the course of this production and we can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done.”
Scrumpy&Western follows the band’s 1966 recording of their first album at the Royal Oak pub in Nailsea, flashing back to Adge’s past and the inspiration for his songs.
It features six professional actors and many songs from that famous album, recorded live by EMI engineers who travelled from London to get the concert on to tape.
A small grant from the Arts Council has helped to pay for this development stage of the play.
And yes, cider will be served at The Curzon on the night!
Shaun added: “The Arts Council funding means that we can afford to pay professional actors, plus a director and a musical director, to deliver this ‘rehearsed reading’ version of the show which we hope will attract extra funding and be able to go into full production later this year.
“Ideally, we’d love to take this show on tour and we’re hoping that if we can attract as much support as possible, in terms of a packed house, on the night of the rehearsed reading, we will be able to do just that.”
The show, directed by Amanda Horlock with musical direction by Martin Pring, is also being performed at the Town Hall, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, on Saturday March 7.
Tom and Shaun hope that members of the audience will join in the fun by dressing Wurzel-style on both evenings.
With just 24hrs left to book and seat selling out fast click HERE to book your ticket online or call the booking office on 01275 871000.