PERCHED on stairs, crammed into the kitchen, squatting on the floor, sinking into the settee, circled around the dining table and occupying just about every other mode of seating that she has resourcefully amassed… it is another full house down at Joy’s Joint.
On stage – or rather sitting on a box underneath the living room mirror, between the bookcase and the foot of the stairs – singer/songwriter Steve Leigh is coaxing the gathering, with commendable success, to bawl the refrain “pretty boy” during a caustic song about politicians who are all image and no substance.
Three hours later the same horde, predictably the worse for wear, are tunelessly bellowing along to the 19th Century sea shanty, What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor, their rousing but ragged efforts all but drowning out the fine harmonies of English folk revivalists Splat The Rat.
Most people with a penchant for popular music are aware of the BBC’s Live Lounge, where artists are encouraged to perform unplugged.
Now Swindon has its own version; not from some plush, expensive studio patrolled by jobsworths but somewhere much nicer and more intimate – the front room of building society worker and tarot reader, Joy McNally-Bells.
Surrounded by a tell-tale mountain of discarded tinnies and empty wine bottles, Joy reflects on her third Live in The Lounge experience.
“It’s been great,” she laughs, gulping down a well-earned glass of Pinot Grigio before fishing around for another. “Everyone’s enjoyed it. People are smiling.”
Over the next couple of days mother-of-two Joy is bombarded with thanks and congratulations from Facebook pals who had a ball – and a few who wish they’d been able to make it.
“Brilliant – a wonderful thing for you to host”….
“Great collection of artists again and all quite different”… “Brilliant musicians, great nibbles and excellent atmosphere”… “Yet another great evening of music”….
“Next time I'm home in the UK I expect an honorary place in the lounge, even if it means I’m on the floor or in the loo”… “I reeeeeeeeeeally hope I can make the next one”...
“You’re getting so good at this Joy you really should consider a career change.”
But she has created a dilemma for herself. Those who have been to Live in The Lounge want to come back again; and those who for various reasons missed out don’t want to miss out again.
“Mmm,” ponders Joy, a senior advisor at the Nationwide Building Society: “It’s always been open to everyone but I have to limit the number to 25.”
So the event will pretty much continue on a ‘whoever responds to the invitations first’ basis, she says.
In typically eloquent, effusive and flamboyant fashion, Joy explains how it all began.
“I wanted to start a musical fire, a fever across the land to combat austerity, to crush complacency, to indulge that sweet taste of musical jelly in that creamy trifle of hundreds and thousands we call life.” Phew!
“As Danny Kaye once said – ‘Life is a blank canvas; you want to throw all the paint on it you can’.”
Instead of going to B&Q she resolved to ask musicians to “come to my two up one down Swindon terrace and play a 40-minute set to an audience of random people. For nothing! That’s right… just for the love of it.
“I garnered the ‘random people’ from my Facebook friends and mobile phone contacts. I created the event, added about 350 members and sent out a general invite.”
The said invitation spoke of an “informal, intimate acoustic evening every couple of months in my home for – on the one hand – local bands and musicians who have a passion for performing or want to showcase their music. And on the other, for people who enjoy listening to live music.”
The response, she recalls, was overwhelming.
“I had to put people on a list for ‘next time’ because they hadn’t got back to me in time to get into the first Lounge event.
“I had the audience; I just had to find the entertainment.”
Having been wowed by the “soulful lyrical clarity” of watching singer Mel Hughes at The Vic in Old Town Joy knew she wanted her at The Lounge.
Wondering how to contact the singer while sunning herself outside Piri Piri in Havelock Street the next day, who should stroll by but Mel.
“I jumped up waving and shouting manically. She walked over. I had my first musician,” says Joy.
Richard Skidmore, “all raw emotional lyrics and complicated guitar” stepped in after Joy lost a performer to a paid gig, while Steve Cox and Rob Beckinsale, well known from other Swindon bands, formed a duo for the occasion.
It was a “chaotic night of pin drop silence and folk rock revelry,” recalls Joy. “People ate, drank, socialised – but most of all they listened.”
She had assured nearby householders that there would be nothing to worry about decibel-wise as her gigs would by and large be jingly, jangly acoustic affairs: no Black Sabbath tribute bands terrorising elderly neighbours.
She was a trifle perplexed, though, when David Marx of the Berlin-based AK Poets lugged a tasty-looking amp into her house for Live in the Lounge Two.
David and cohorts, however, displayed commendable restraint, performing delicately picked folksy fare with echoes of Nebraska-era Springsteen, before slipping – c’mon, they couldn’t help themselves – into a rock‘n’roll medley.
A blinding night, anyway. Joy has recollections of “Bhangra dancing, bounding about and arm waving carousers.”
However, she reluctantly found herself “turning people down again and adding them to the list for next time.”
Steve Leigh normally performs with Johnny Dawson but Johnny’s double-bass is way too bulky for Joy’s front room so Steve goes solo for Live In The Lounge Three, singing his poignant, angry and amusing kitchen sink dramas just a few feet from the kitchen sink.
Everyone brings drinks and nibbles and as Rob Beckinsale fills The Lounge with his presence, personality and tracks from his fine auralcandy CD (Drinking Song is an especially good choice) Joy is doing the rounds, fussing over whether we’ve all got enough to eat and drink, seemingly unperturbed at the cleaning-up that soon awaits.
So, this is House Music then!
This is how singer-songwriter Steve Leigh described performing at Joy’s recent Live in The Lounge Three gig:
“It’s rare that one has an opportunity to play and be properly listened to.
“It gave me the chance to play a more delicate set than usual, one that would get lost in a pub.
“I’m grateful to Joy for creating such a wonderful intimate setting for live music.
“My lyrics are very important to me and it was lovely to have people chat to me after my set about particular lines that I'd written.
“Rob was as brilliantly entertaining as ever and Kevin’s (Fitzgerald) folk troupe Splat The Rat were the icing on a great three layered cake.”
Philip Flop Heasman of Splat The Rat, added: “Such a unique experience bringing everyone together for live music in Joy’s home. And it must be hard work too! Things like this make life less dull. Brilliant.”
Artists who have performed at Live In The Lounge: Mel Hughes, Richard Skidmore, Steve Cox/Rob Beckinsale, Tomasso Galati, Tamsin Quinn, David Marx and The AK Poets, Steve Leigh, Rob Beckinsale (solo) and Splat the Rat.