By 2000, however, we were lucky to have met and worked with local amateur musician Mark Pritchard, whose enthusiastic involvement across a number of Confluence events was insatiable. Mark expressed the desire to establish a music club inspired by Confluence, which would act as an exchange for new music from local writers, for the dissemination of music already written as part of the project and a place to play together.
A great many people had taken part in Confluence projects, both in concerts, performing their own material or hearing it performed by others. As Confluence constantly moved downstream, it was not always possible for us to engage in new work with enthusiastic people. Our aim has always been to inspire people to work that they can continue without our guidance. Mark's efforts in setting up the Performing Club proposed a way that might help all the people who have been enthused by Confluence, music and the river to keep writing and performing - and to give a platform to interested people who so far have not been involved.
People of all ages and levels of musical experience can sing or play all kinds of music on all kinds of instruments in a friendly, constructive atmosphere.
Mark writes: 'The aims of the club are to preserve a living legacy for the Confluence Project both in terms of the works and performers which arose from the inspiration of the River Stour, it's immediate environment, and encouragement of the skilled professionals working with the Confluence Project.
Organisation and Problems
I bore an aspiration that the more experienced performers would assist the less experienced and, at points, possibly provide music for others to sing or play along with. The most important issue was to ensure that it was inclusive. I had hoped that this element would also apply to the organisation of the club in that it would be collectively "owned" and run by the participants.
There are several influences that are problematical in the organisation of events. It is natural for the venues for the club to range along the course of the Stour and its tributaries to enable participation from all areas of the catch ment. Not all potential participants are able to travel across the county. The solution is for the club to lead a semi-nomadic existence using varied venues including Village Halls, Pubs, and other suitable places. I believed that to gather a level of regular participants it was necessary to keep the same venue for more than one occasion and thus, to date, the club has stayed at each venue for two Friday nights on months in succession. It is a problem when nights and venues keep shifting as this can cause difficulties for performers but this is the only way the club can maintain the presence of Confluence over the widest possible area in addition to being accessible to as many people as possible.
The selection of venues is also a problem as the club is run free of charge to participants and audience alike, again to make it accessible, and is financed by a raffle and the generosity of Mr Paul Barwick owner of Harmony Music in Dorchester. Paul provided the original funding to initiate the club in addition to providing further funding and supplying equipment at short notice for PA etc. Thus the venues have to be very cheap to hire. The raffle generally clears a maximum of £14 -£16 profit and thus the venue needs to be £10 or less. This does tend to limit availability. In addition although I have personal knowledge of possible places north of Sturminster Newton I have experienced problems in moving further down the Stour in regard to finding suitable venues. Appeals on club nights have not yielded any suggestions. I have ambitions to move closer to Blandford before the end of 2001, but cost will be a factor. In addition I do need to ensure a "core" of performers are prepared to travel to fill the evening if we can t encourage the locals to "turn out".
Due to the nature of funding, resources are a problem, particularly in regard to publicity. Confluence / Common Ground have been most influential in helping out in this regard both with press releases, printed matter, mail outs and word of mouth promotion. However now that the project is formally closed and Common Ground do not have official funding at the moment it would seem unlikely that this level of support can be offered in the long term. As I have stated above I am not a professional musician and thus hold down a full-time job, often working away from home, and therefore do not have time or resources to properly manage the promotion of the club. I do ensure leaflets are distributed as widely as possible, and have involved the specialist folk press but I don't have good contacts within the local media. This will, I suspect, cause a drop off in attendances in the medium term, particularly given the unavoidable format of shifting dates and venues.
The final major problem with the club is that it is currently too reliable on one individual to organise and run it. I have had good support on the club nights by a couple of local musicians namely Richard Gallop and John Anderson, both of whom have provided PA equipment and have hosted part of the evening. However the entire preparation and logistics behind the night is conducted by myself This is not too onerous but I had hoped there would be more collective "ownership" of the club. Perhaps taking turns to organise it. My fear is that if events conspired to not make me available I suspect the club could not continue. I am unsure as to how to address this problem.
In addition, to date (September 2001) I have funded all administration costs, phone calls, internet, postage, petrol, etc personally. The only costs recovered have been for some raffle prizes and for venues. I plan to associate the club with the Southern Counties Folk Federation to gain the benefit of insurance. But at some point, due to my personal circumstances, I may need to recover some of my expenses.
A further minor point is that due to the catholic nature of some of the material performed, for example performance poetry, I have had one or two complaints regarding language, although prior warning has been given by the performers in question. I feel that I am not qualified to act as a censor and that a level of tolerance should be shown unless the material or performance is illegal in some way, for example racist.
The problems regarding organisation as described above could be summarised as follows: (i) Venues (ii) Finance (iii) Publicity (iv) Management.
The Performing Club at Stourhead was part of a bigger event organised by Confluence (see Music at the Source). and for this event was run on slightly different lines. This was used as an opportunity to showcase the club and regular performers provided scheduled 20 minute sets of music to a passing audience. This was a high risk as there was no shelter provided. Fortunately the weather was outstandingly good and the performances were very warmly received. There is a need for non professional performers to have longer periods to play as the usual slot is fairly limited in time and performers find they have finished just as they are getting used to the experience of being in front of a crowd. This event took a considerable amount of organisation as the schedules had to be arranged in advance and various details confirmed with the performers, some of whom were appearing as part of other ensembles in the gardens during the afternoon. In the event it ran very smoothly in part due to the good weather. I suspect rain would have caused many problems to the entire event.
In summary events have been well attended and on each occasion have resulted in some remarkable performances enjoyed by both audiences and performers alike. Each club night has had it's own dynamic and characteristic which have differed on each occasion dependent on who has played and the surroundings. This is a mixed blessing as until the night is underway I have no idea of how things will turn out, this make planning problematical, however each event has had a "fresh" feel to it.
It is my belief that some progress will have to be made in moving further down the Stour. If this does not happen the common links established by Confluence within the catchment will be in danger of being lost and thereby the reason for the Club being brought into existence will cease. The Club should act as focus point to enable the works created and the human bonds established to remain as a lasting legacy for the project. The problems as outlined above will need to be addressed to achieve this.
In my experience of Folk Clubs they often appear to have a finite lifetime of 3-4 years. In regard to this enterprise only time will tell, perhaps the "nomadic" existence and the vast variety of performance and genre will keep it strong and fresh for a longer period than this, but whatever happens to the Performing Club it is my sincere belief that the Confluence Project has already succeeded in changing how many people interact with their environment'.
These meetings have been useful both in giving a platform to Confluence 'stalwarts' and for introducing new people to the project: Matthew Roche (age 22), for example; his mother rang to ask if there was any way he could become involved and he was encouraged to go to the Performing Club. Subsequently he joined the Otter choir, later appearing at Stourhead as part of Music at the Source.
Also, as a consequence of the Club, Mark joined together with Helen Pengelly and Robin Walter to form a new group called Full Flow.
More gatherings are planned - it certainly looks like the club will outlive Confluence and establish itself as a vibrant outlet for local musicians and writers.