It’s a few days before Christmas 2020 – the loneliest year of my life and now also the loneliest Christmas of my life. Not being able to travel to spend the holidays with family and New Year’s Eve with friends has hit home, and I spend my days in a haze of long walks, working overtime from home and watching films and shows on streaming services. It’s fair to say that this pandemic with lockdowns coming and going, tier-systems that contain us in the confinement of our local neighbourhoods, and social distancing that keep and tear us apart from friends and family has got the better of me. Some days it feels like my new best friends are the people working in the various cafes that have stayed open and from which I buy more takeaway coffees than I’ve ever bought in my life, partly to have an excuse to talk to people, even if they’re strangers.
Today, as I walk in search of my daily coffee fix and, hopefully, an accompanying conversation with the person selling me the coffee, I notice a band setting up their instruments in front of a pub – long since closed, of course, on a street corner on Columbia Road. An upright piano, double-bass, acoustic guitar, and trumpet. Oh yeah, and a tap-dancing singer. This is Sparky and the Misfits, a band that has played Columbia Road many times over the last few years. Their music consists of old jazz standards, Irish-style folk music, old-fashioned dancehall, and good vibes.
They launch into a version of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, sung by the bass player. Though it’s a song I would categorise as a family-friendly song suitable for this time of year, he still ends the song with an apology to nearby parents standing with their small kids: ‘Sorry I played that in front of your children.’
In between songs, singer/tap-dancer Jess does her best to promote the nearby shops telling us we can buy wine ‘over here’ and cheese ‘over there’. Times are hard for many; lonesome homeworkers, shop owners with empty shops and bands with no venues to play in. This certainly seems more like a case of ‘riding out a storm together’ than when celebrities bray on about ‘we’re all in it together’ on their precious social media accounts.
It’s cold and grey, but the dreary weather accentuates the joyful warmth of the band. Several people stop to listen to the whole 30 minutes or so they play, many wearing masks, keeping their distance, but all joining together to enjoy the music and togetherness that comes with sharing a live musical experience. I’ve bought a mulled cider for the occasion. As the hot alcohol spreads through my veins by way of my mouth, so does the music by way of my ears. The music itself is endearing. The tap-dancing adds another dimension of quirky charm that is guaranteed to cheer up even the most frosty hearts and makes most of us, if not quite tap-dancing along, then at least tapping our toes along to the infectious beat.
At a time when people are being isolated and kept apart, the furthering isolator, Brexit, is heading towards a possible no-deal, and rumours of an even stricter lockdown are looming, Sparky and the Misfits provide us with a much needed musical relief. The holidays just got a little bit less miserable.
Sparky and the Misfits setlist