How Cheryl Underhill brings live music to Pewsey - and some very popular soup
Former primary school teacher, Cheryl Underhill, is in the middle of organising her latest Music Live Pewsey event. The FB Pocket Orchestra will play the Bouverie Hall on November 19. This time round they will have been on the road since the end of October on a tour which sees them performing across the south of England right up to New Year’s Eve – when they’ll perform on the Isle of Wight.
Music Live Pewsey is now in its seventh year and is still evolving. After a year living in the village, Cheryl recognised an opening to do something for the Pewsey community and started to research potential opportunities.
Drawing on her experience of bringing music to children in primary schools, Cheryl discovered Rural Arts Wiltshire (RAW). This initiative is a rural touring scheme which provides local communities with professional arts performances in their villages. Funded by Wiltshire Council, RAW offers a selection of high quality arts events at no financial risk to the village.
To be eligible to receive RAW sponsorship two events a year have to be organised - chosen from RAW’s own menu of acts available for performances in locations across Wiltshire. Eighty per cent of the money made from each performance goes back to RAW, with organisers entitled to keep the remaining twenty per cent.
Her first event ‘Travelling by Tuba’ certainly had the desired effect of bringing the Pewsey community together, proving such a success that, with their encouragement, Cheryl decided to extend into a programme of live music.
“One, because I’m really passionate about getting people to listen to live music; and the other thing is to be able to give a platform for musicians to perform and it is very hard in the music industry for musicians starting out to find places to perform” says Cheryl.
With RAW sponsorship safely secured, so Music Live Pewsey began. Now successfully promoting several performances a year, Cheryl sources acts from arts centres across the country, as well as looking through reviews for inspiration and quizzing festival-goers about what music is cropping up.
As their website states, Music Live Pewsey is “an initiative to hold musical events, with professional musicians, that are reasonably priced, in the Bouverie Hall, Pewsey”.
Cheryl holds strong views as to what should happen to the remaining 20% of sponsorship returned to organisers. Whilst the events are run by volunteers at no cost, “I also do believe musicians should be paid a proper living wage. So many events are run where musicians are expected to do it for charity, but they’ve got to earn a living so usually if I make a good profit I do make sure we pay them well.”
Organisers are entitled to keep any additional, non-sponsorship money raised, so that there is always a pot of money available for damage or niggling hidden running costs. And that’s where the famous soup comes in.
In the early days, events were accompanied by a raffle, a Cheryl-tactic designed to entice people to attend more than just an evening of music: “I don’t think this is the same in other places, but in Pewsey you can’t do anything without a raffle!”
But the Music Live events seemed to buck that trend and – even in Pewsey – the raffle stopped the flow of the evening. So a decision was taken to swap the raffle for food.
Cheryl organised a ‘Soireé le Parisienne’ and, with the assistance of an expert cook, served French onion soup, which went down so well that soup is now served at every performance and has attracted a regular fan base of its own: “People can come out and make it an evening, settle down, enjoy the soup and watch the brilliant entertainment.”
Pewsey Live Music's audience age range varies according to what’s on, but Cheryl does admit that so far it’s mainly made up of the retired population, something she’s trying hard to change: “I have always enjoyed a large spectrum of music myself,” she says. “When I was a teacher I didn’t have much time to enjoy it, so that’s why I’ve now managed to explore other musical avenues”.
The acts range vastly in material, from Tashi Lhunpo Monks, who as it turns out, have proved so far to be the most popular, to the FB Pocket Orchestra who approached Cheryl direct early in their performing career, played at Music Live Pewsey and were so good that they’re back for the third time.
“I really enjoy the fact I get to choose different genres too, we’ve had folk music and music such as Bakka Beyond who involve African rhythms. A great variety.”
Visitors to the FB Pocket Orchestra show will be treated to an evening of hot jazz, blues, ragtime and popular dances from the 1920s and 30s and earlier: “What’s brilliant about them is that they gel so brilliantly together, they play as one”.
Impressively, the band don’t use very much amplification, mostly just for the singer - other than that it’s an acoustic set.
Tickets are £8 each and available directly from Pewsey shops The Gallery and Around the World, or can be reserved by ringing 01672 562584 or online at the Music Live Pewsey website (tickets bought online are £8.50.)