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The View From the Stage

NRTF associate members Mambo Jambo reflect on their experiences of rural touring:

We’ve been working with Rural Touring Schemes over the last few years, and have been lucky enough to have been involved with 11 areas to date (Arts Out West, Highlights, Creative Arts East, On Tour, Northants, Air In G, Live and Local, Live Lincs, Village Ventures, Centre Stage, Rural Touring Lincolnshire). We actually did 9 of these schemes before we joined as members; but the advantages of being a member mean we can find out latest news and developments.

We often find ourselves chatting with the promoters about what a great scheme Rural Touring is for us and for them, and for their communities. In fact I can’t think of an occasion recently when that topic hasn’t come up! Under the umbrella of the scheme we can reach people who wouldn’t necessarily take the risk to go to a regional venue to see an act they hadn’t heard of. And, very importantly, folks from wide areas and all walks of life, can go out together, enjoy all kinds of shows and performances, whilst enjoying each others’ company, keeping in touch and making new friendships, through positive and life-affirming experiences – which are exactly what artists work hard to provide!

Shops, post offices, even churches in many places have closed down, and it’s a fact that rural community life has been eroded. Without things like Rural Arts and other social activities, neighbours can become increasingly isolated from one another. A social space, village hall, or whatever it’s called, can be a massive asset for a community, but only if it is used. We have met so many people working hard to keep communities lively and active, using these spaces through the schemes, and also in many other imaginative ways. We are very grateful to these people because they want to make a difference, and with support from the touring scheme, all the helpers, promoters, and artists like ourselves, we feel that they, and we, all succeed.

Rural Touring has helped enormously in the development of what we do – we’ve always strived as musicians for quality in our musicianship, whilst making sure that we remain accessible, and the Scheme seems to suit our approach. We enjoy the aspect of contact with the promoters and the audience; we make a point of encouraging people to ‘come and say hello’. We are very approachable, and love it when someone from the audience comes up to us to share some story that might relate to something we’ve touched on, some aspect of local life, or expand on a story we’ve told in the concert. This is very rewarding for us because we feel a real exchange going on here. From onstage we learn through these exchanges about aspects of local life. We really enjoy finishing an evening having learnt a bit about what goes on or what might be a distinctive local feature. We tell the audience that as we’re going round the country we’re taking notes – and we are! We get a lot of good feedback from the audience once we’ve come off stage, and that immediacy is very special to us. People often comment that they are ‘amazed at how many instruments you play’ and ‘what a great evening it was’. One comment we enjoy and we hear regularly goes something like this…..”You know I didn’t think this would be my cup of tea, but I’ve really enjoyed myself, and in the end I’m ever so glad I made it out tonight!” At that moment all the work we’ve put in on the night, and all our practice and experience over the years becomes worthwhile.

From our point of view the conditions are good for the musicians;  The fact that it is a regional scheme and you can get gigs in succession or rely on getting a few gigs in a season. Having secured those dates in the diary, there’s a security that is so often lacking in the working life of artists and musicians(!).

The way the NRTF is set up means that meaningful feedback can reach all levels of the chain, so that suitable acts get to play in suitable places. The worry for the promoters of making that ‘lead balloon’ booking can evaporate, and bookings can go ahead with confidence, felt by artists and audiences alike, that a show or event enhances local life, and is, and was, more than worthwhile – and that the next show will be great too!