We arrive in Lyndhurst, to find Cranleigh Paddock, the care-home venue of our first gig. We are fresh out the forest, from the roundhouses where we’ve been building to keep ourselves hidden and warm.
We are welcomed in with coffee and biscuits, served in ‘World’s Best Gran’ and ‘Everton FC’ mugs. Will takes sugar. It’s all pretty show-biz.
Then Andrew arrives, who invited us there, and we are introduced to the carers.
A tape player is plugged and loaded, sheets of lyrics passed about, and into each person’s hand is pressed an appropriate drum, clacker or shaker, to each hand the right toy. This is the care home’s fortnightly music morning, and if we are a little unsure of the plan from here onwards, everyone else knows exactly what the score is. The whole main room is full of sofas, the heating is on ‘full to drowsy’, and deep within the softened chairs linger small shaking humans, whose eyes do not seem to focus on the world around them. They all appear healthy, if fragile, but absent.
Then Andrew presses play on the tapedeck, and a recording of ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ starts. He joins in with his oboe, dancing like an imp from chair to chair, a mad sprite of lively prancing leaps and soaring counter-melodies. As he passes each resident, he smiles or squeezes their hands, and they pick up the beat he seems to exude like an aura. Soon, nearly everyone is joined together in the rhythmic accompaniment, and the whole lounge is tinkling, clapping and ringing with the music of 50 people. Even those who twenty seconds ago seemed most distant, are now here and fully involved, shaking to the lilting tune and tapping their feet. Some folk sing along. We are the quietest, watching stunned, absolutely amazed at this transformation.
“What happened? What did you do?” we ask Andrew after the song. He laughs, and says “It’s music. It does that. I’m sure you must know.” More songs follow, and Andrew’s oboe dance enlivens the people time and again. He takes a rest after 20 minutes, and introduces us as “men who are walking round England, living out in the woods. They’re folk-singers.”
We find we are by no means as smooth or confident in performance as Andrew, but we soon get in the flow of it. People again sing along, in warbles if not lyrics, and it feels a little like statues are turning their heads to watch, as the eyes of the residents focus on our bobbling songs.
The audience may be captive, but they are also receptive, and we are given full uninterrupted time to try and paint the stories of the songs. As we finish, an old dear grabs Ed, and says “You’ve come to take me out of here, haven’t you? I’m to come with you walking, aren’t I?” We don’t know what to say, and so mutter about staying outside, and it being so dreadfully cold at night. She looks crestfallen, but understanding, and then folds into her sofa in silence.
As the music ends, the last shaken tinkling fades, stillness returns to the room. The shaking instruments lie limp in hands that now rest on laps, and eyes glaze all across the room. Andrew packs up his gear, and explains about the academic studies that he has helped to publish, showing how music can alleviate dementia.
“Many of the people here are chronic, but they respond like children to the music of their early lives. Sometimes its all the nurses can do to stop them dancing away, when I play a foxtrot, or a waltz.”
We’re then invited to lunch, and told “Well, my family know all about you. Jenny, my wife, has made bread, and the children have made soup. They won’t be around, it’s a school day, but they hope you’ll like it.”
And so we went and ate, talked, and sung, with our good new friends in the fine New Forest.