Monday, 26 May 2008


Saturday evening, 24th May, I went with my husband and daughter (who had travelled from London specially for this event) to listen live to Polly and The Billets Doux, plus singers Rowlie, and Ryan O'Reilly, performing at the Winchester Discovery Centre. It had been agreed with Polly that my husband could record the show on his newly acquired camcorder, so we were looking forward to seeing just how good this machine actually was.

The centre was originally the Winchester Library, a beautiful old sand-stone building (originally Winchester Prison), which was closed for about two years to be modernised internally and for a modern, glass-fronted extension to be built, including a performance room and cafe, with an outside paved seating area for those of us dinasours who still smoke.

This area, at the top of Winchester, which is called Jewry Street, is being rejuvenated, with luxury flats (plus balconies - and I love balconies!) and the conversion of an old building into a Raymond Blanc Bistro: well worth a visit for fabulous food - the chocolate pudding is to die for - at surprisingly reasonable prices.

This part of town already looks really attractive and The Discovery Centre fits in beautifully.

The library section has, unfortunately, become rather a children's playground with lots of running around and shouting (can't help this observation - once a teacher always a teacher) and my other bugbear is the fact that most of the audio books, which I'm very keen on, are mainly in cassette form and my audio cassette has bust (as they always do eventually) and I can't find a new one so choice is limited, for me, to CD's.

However, it's still a great place to visit and I am particularly fond of the massive embroidered wall hanging that covers the back wall and can be seen through the glass windows from the street. I think I'm right in saying that it cost £50,000. Some Winchester residents think it's a waste of money but I don't. As an embroider myself (purely as a hobby), I think it's worth every penny. Winchester doesn't have many visible works of art (unlike most towns in say France) and I'm all for displays of creative excellence.

Back to the gig and the Centre is a super venue for intimate performances. The performance room itself holds either 100 people cabaret style or 150 in tiered rows, which was how this gig was presented. The place was packed out and there was a really friendly, relaxed atmosphere to it, particularly as the performers were so close to the audience and were, themselves, relaxed (or so it seemed to us) and inter-acted with us, which added to the atmosphere.

For the first half of the show, we were treated to two separate performances, each lasting 30 mins, for what I would describe as folk singers with electric guitars, playing, I think I'm correct in saying,their own compositions.

The first performance was by Rowlie, a very personable and talented young man and we were charmed by his skill, his voice and his lyrics. Later, we discovered that we had friends in common, and the next day we looked at his website (he produces print work plus other art work, having studied at Winchester College of Art) and you really must check this website out - his work is phenomenal. I'll post a link at the end of this blog.

Then came Ryan O'Reilly, whose style was very different and had echoes of Bob Dylan, harmonica and all. I was totally entranced by his lyrics and the range of his voice, all very personal and heartrending. I've just listened to my husband's recording of him and don't think it does him justice: it's difficult to capture the emotional tension through such a recording but it's still worth a listen. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a national success.

And then we had a break and the dinosaurs went outside into what was a pretty nippy evening to have more beers and a ciggie, until we were called back for the main gig of the evening: Polly and the Billet Doux.

I've already written about this group in an earlier blog and already knew that they were good, having bought and enjoyed their EP. And playing live, they were even better. They both looked right and sounded right. There are 4 of them in the group and I've posted some of the photos I took, although I couldn't get all of them in the same frame.

Polly is a star in the making: she's a charismatic presence on the stage, chatting away with us from time to time and looking sensational with her long, brown hair, striking red dress and matching shoes and flower in her hair, but looks don't count for much if you can't sing and Polly can certainly sing. It was impossible to take your eyes off her or not to be moved by the depth of her singing, with its range from controlled to the full-on wow factor. And her group complemented her, providing a layer of sound and vocal harmonies that created a powerful performance.

Polly's hubby, Ben Perry, plays on drums, Dan Everett on double bass, guitar and vocal (he did a solo that was both funny and showed his skill as a bass player and singer) and Steeny (Andrew Steen), who has the look of a heavy metal rocker, plays a mean guitar, slide guitar and vocal.

Polly and the Billet Doux will be playing at this year's Glastonbury Festival and I'm sure that the audience will love them. We paid £6 per ticket on Saturday night. I doubt if we'll be paying so little to see them in the future.

What I loved about the whole experience was that all these young performers show that we have a wealth of musical/ visual talent in this country and that Winchester is an exciting place to be for creativity.

And, as you know, I'm all for creativity.

The photos:
* the first 5 are of Polly and Billet Doux
* the sixth is of Ryan O'Reilly
* the seventh is Rowlie

* for auditory and visual
videos, photos and further comments and links:
* Rowlie's websites are:-

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