venturing south: daylight music at the union chapel;

Perennial Last Year’s Girl faves the Second Hand Marching Band have recorded a new album, Faults, with their long-term friends and collaborator Benni Hemm Hemm, and a thing of marvellous, folky, harmony-laden wonder it is, too. To launch it into the world, they will be playing shows at Edinburgh’s Wee Red Bar and Glasgow’s Old Hairdresser’s (17th and 18th March respectively). Finally, they will descend from the frozen North for an assault on London at Daylight Music at the Union Chapel in Islington on Saturday 19th March. Which is where I come in.

Daylight Music at Union Chapel - Queue

I’ve been volunteering at Daylight Music now for six months. Returning to live in the south after a decade spent in Glasgow, I was searching for a new community of music lovers, and boy, did I find it. Daylight has been running for seven years now, and puts on some of the finest bands from London and further afield for 30 Saturdays of the year, for free (with a suggested donation of £5). I’ve been introduced to all manner of fantastic new bands (Grasscut, Ex-Easter Island Head and Jess Bryant, to name but three). No two weeks are ever the same, and the sheer diversity of music is one of the very best things about it. Last Saturday, for example, was a Cornish special to celebrate St Piran’s Day. Previous weeks this season have involved jazz, folk, electronica, indie, swing, stand-up comedy, traditional songs and on one unforgettable occasion, a Japanese pop band playing super-catchy punk rock songs about public transport, octopuses and the joys of Tippex. (Hey, NO CARS!)

Aside from the bands, the Union Chapel itself really makes Daylight Music events special. It’s a beautiful venue and it provides a unique atmosphere. When bands ask for audience participation, the effect can be electrifying, with a kind of collective hum resonating through the chapel. Hearing Grasscut play “Curlews” (a song written with the Union Chapel in mind) was incredibly moving. And on a slightly less serious note, I don’t think I’ll ever forget hearing “Bills, Bills, Bills” being played on the chapel’s 200-year-old organ, echoing portentously around the walls. That particular occurrence was to commemorate a Daylight bill that was made up entirely of artists called… Bill.

Daylight Music at the Union Chapel - crowd

As you may have guessed, a rich vein of eccentricity, fun and community runs through Daylight Music. A week before Christmas, any early attendees queuing outside the chapel would have been treated to the sight of one of my fellow volunteers wrestling manfully with an enormous, sinister inflatable polar bear. Thanks to a recent James Bond special, I now know exactly how many masks of each Bond to make, if I ever need to plan such an event again. (Loads of Connerys, a Brosnan or two, at least one Craig for form’s sake, but no Daltons. Nobody ever wants Timothy Dalton.) There’s a Eurovision special being planned as we speak, which promises to be spectacular.

And food. I must mention the food. The Margins Community Café, run by volunteers, provide delicious homemade quiche and cake, teas, coffees and soup, as well as snacks and drinks for children. All ages are welcome at Daylight Music. As it runs between 12 noon and 2pm, it’s family friendly, and it’s not at all uncommon to see several generations there to enjoy an afternoon of music. Seeing a toddler dancing in the aisles to one of the bands is enough to melt even a hardened, cynical heart like mine.

Daylight Music at Union Chapel - cafe

So if you happen to be in London on Saturday 19th March and fancy seeing the Second Hand Marching Band and Benni Hemm Hemm in these unique surroundings, do come to the Union Chapel at 12, and check out future Daylight Music events, including the special line-up on Saturday 26th March to celebrate Piano Day. When you emerge, blinking, into the sunlight after a Daylight show, the world always seems like a different, happier place.

Kate Connolly is a Brighton-based connoisseur of live music and enthusiastic collector of useless facts related to bands, who is often to be found snoozing in the corner of a London-bound train. Thanks to Cath Dupuy and Paul Hudson (cafe photo) for the use of their photos in this post.

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