Venue: The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth
The humble Christmas cracker! Every time the festive season arrives, thousands of crackers are shared between family and friends around the world to celebrate the Christmas period. In Old Portsmouth however, within the twenty-foot thick walls of the historic Square Tower, a rather king-sized and extraordinary cracker was about to be pulled…
For the first time in three years, the return of the “ColvinQuarmby Christmas Cracker” was to take place within the very confines of the Square Tower. Previous “Crackers” sold out within a month and this year was no disappointment, with tickets being sold out in a few weeks. The Square Tower, which was built in 1494, has seen its fair share of historic occupants under its beautifully arched, red-brick ceiling. Yet as the doors are opened to the public, a surge of guests arrive carried by a wave of eagerness as if they were about to meet their childhood heroes! Tea-lights tucked between uneven wall bricks, and mulled cider complemented by mince pies, served to calm the anticipation of the room as the audience settled.
The venue, decked in boughs of holly and medieval banqueting wares awaited the arrival of its final five visitors. The lights began to dim and the buzz of the crowd rose once more. In the venue now full of darkness except for the flickering tea lights, a single light came into being on the balcony above the stage. As the audience’ eyes are drawn upwards, three familiar figures saunter across the balcony into the light, revealing the faces of Al Maslen, Marion Fleetwood and Gerry Colvin. The contained excitement of the audience is too much to hold within, and the room erupts into cheers and applause like the snapping of a giant Christmas Cracker. A Harmonious, acappella greeting of “Love Don’t Need To Knock” rings out from the balcony; setting the tone for the rest of the concert.
It was certainly to be far different from any regular concert, with many historic ColvinQuarmby favourites of past years coming to the forefront. The re-visitation of these songs shows how versatile the CQ outfit has become since its inception in the 1990s. The crowd were treated to a Christmas rendition of “The Bell”, followed by many requested by the audience such as “The Right Stop” and “Dylan Thomas’ Pen”.
Audience participation at any ColvinQuarmby show is key, as mercurial front-man Gerry Colvin’s songs are brought to life by the euphoric violin of Marion Fleetwood, the guitar noodlings of Al Maslen, and the rock steady beat provided by Martin Fitzgibbon and Nick Quarmby. Audience members were also given a souvenir shaky egg which was to feature in most of the songs played, at the instruction of the band.
A short interval for the serving of more mulled cider, mince pies and Christmas pleasantries was taken before the show continued. The second half featured Gerry performing two songs solo, before the band were re-hired to continue the set. “The Shakespeare Carol”, Colvin’s Christmas song of tolerance and tradition was to go down a storm, before old favourite “Giants” was to stun the audience thanks to some atmospheric violin.
As the band reached their last number, another vintage crowd-pleaser; “Riversong”, even the band were taken by surprise when bubbles began to fall from the rafters of the Square Tower! Despite the (rough) translation for the second half of the song ‘my Ford Fiesta is full of squirrels’, the audience were too captivated by the performance to check that their cars were in fact safely untouched by the said fluffy animals. They were however, left feeling fluffy themselves when the band left the stage, only to be practically hauled up again by the wall of applause from the audience.
For a band that has such strong connections with its audience, it was not surprising that the “Christmas Cracker” was topped off with a requested song. The beautiful and gentle “Feathers” saw the walls of the Square Tower reverberating with the sound of a voluntary choir singing, “we’re lying on our backs watching feathers fall from angels” – a very apt way to bring this Christmas extravaganza to a close for another year.