Yesterday the Samba band I'm in took part in a big bash in Manchester to raise funds for tsunami relief. There were about six bands there in total, well over 100 people. We met up in the Royal Exchange Theatre building. I'd never been in there before, and it is a most impressive building. It was the Victorian Manchester cotton exchange, and as Manchester was once the cotton capital of the world, the building was built accordingly. The building was very badly damaged by the 1996 IRA bomb, but it's been sensitively restored, and the theatre has been integrated into the original fabric in a very innovative way.
As well as us there were other far more well-known names from the northwest Samba scene, including The Manchester School of Samba and Sambangra, so it interesting for us hicks from the sticks to see how we stood up against the other more well-known bands. We all moved to the corner of Marks and Spencers, but as there were a group of PLO protesters there we had to move to the end of the building, after negotiating with the very friendly policemen and policewomen who were keeping an eye on things. We had joined forces with Laszlo's (our musical director) other group, Zambura from Bury, and as a result we were the biggest group, so we got to play first. Pretty soon we'd drawn a sizeable crowd, and the security chief from Marks and Spencer's came scurrying out to see what was going on. We had a license from the city council, so apart from scowling at us there wasn't much he could do. The folks from Oxfam got busy with their collecting buckets as we were playing, and after a couple of numbers we moved back to the corner of M&S that the PLO folks had finished with and kicked off again. After our Timbalada, Tony from MSS came up to Laszlo and complemented us on our playing, which really chuffed us no end.
MSS took over from us next, so we moved our kit round the corner before taking a break for lunch, which unfortunately involved a rapid visit to Macdonalds - so we really were suffering for out art ;-) After lunch and a handful of antacids we wandered back over to where everyone else was and joined the massed bands for a huge 50+ player jam session. The directors of each band took it in turns to lead a piece, with those who knew the piece playing it and the rest of us winging it and joining in as best we could - great fun. Once again we drew quite a crowd, and as we got a round of applause and cheers at the end of each number, I guess we sounded OK! We only had a license to play for two hours (we stretched it a bit!) so by about 3:30 we had to pack up. My 11-year old son James was the youngest player there, and he had a blast - he was on an absolute high when we finished. From looking at the sea of grinning faces of all ages, it was clear he wasn't the only one who had enjoyed it, it was a truly memorable experience.
Five minutes after we finished the heavens opened on us. Bearing in mind the terrible weather we have been having over the last few days, we were extremely lucky. We decamped to the cafe in the basement of the Manchester Cathedral Visitor's centre to count the dosh. I'd never been in there before, and one side of the cafe was made up of the medieval hanging bridge (no, nothing to do with executions!) which had been buried and lost as the city grew around and eventually over it. After discarding the pre-decimal currency and used watch batteries that someone had kindly donated, we raised the magnificent sum of £750, not bad for a couple of hours of work!
We finished off the day with a few drinks in a convenient pub, followed by a (as usual) superb meal in the Yang Sing before catching the train back home - all in all a top day.