Summer’s swansong in Bardic Margate for the Fellowship of the String

When I asked for some bardic tales of the summer I was delighted to receive this lovely account of Justin and friends’ adventures on Margate sands with guitars, eccentric eateries-turned-theatres and all the quirky joys that only the English Seaside offers. With thanks to Barnaby for the wonderful photo of the sunset over Margate.

Let’s not forget that the painter Turner declared that Margate had the greatest skies in Europe.. as you shall shortly hear:

Literary lunch… on sea…!

8 graduates of the literary lunches, and among them 2 contributors to Heartspeak, met up for a musical bank-holiday weekend at the seaside, staying at my parents’ house, Ecclectica Cottage, in Margate. We brought guitars, voices and a determination to entertain them on the beaches and wherever cliffs and seagulls would allow.

There is a new feel in Margate of a resurgence of creativity and the arts and the old town numbers different cafes and studios and galleries which have sprung up of late: there was a performance on the beach on the Saturday night entitled ‘Blink: Margate’ which was amazing:

There were a hundred performers, fireworks, acrobatics, son et lumière, dancers, and the roads were closed and the street lights turned off for maximum impact- the night sky was full of explosions of light reflecting off the glass in the harbourside buildings. Beautiful!

We were due to be performing at a pop up venue cleverly titled ‘theatre’ (with a bit of paint), at an old cafe, where the shop sign had previously said ‘the eaterie’! This was a venue that had been given to the owner of the pop up cafe next door, John McKiernan from Platform 7 (there are 15 platforms at London Bridge- number 7 doesn’t exist!) The venue had made a mention in The Times recently.

In the end, however we performed at a nightclub/cafe on the beach and we also found a church barbecue where 40 to 50 people were happy for us to entertain them, and let’s not forget our afternoon playing and singing at Bob Dic’s wonderful tea garden in Botany Bay in the sunlight the day before.

We also serenaded half a dozen children, their parents and a few seagulls on the Saturday at Dave Osbourn’s cafe at Palm Bay on the Saturday, having had a good gander round Margate’s Turner Contemporary art gallery, newly built and much reported and seeming to be bringing new life to the town.

The three venues we played asked us to come back some time and we may have generated some business for ‘The Fellowship of the String’, members of which were playing, formed to entertain at a Christians in Government barbecue at Westminster Abbey this Summer.

A couple of the group said they had liked the feel of the town so much they would be interested to know about properties in the area: I spent much of Monday looking at a couple of houses with Miles Blackley, an Anglican clergyman friend. I saw a sign today down here at R.Scot’s furniture emporium, that they had 2 workshops to rent from about £100 a month. There is an artist with a studio shop in the old town that he opens two days a week and paints in at other times right on the street with a large window to see him at work. A two bed house in Margate is about £100k.
The town is two hours from London.

6 of us had breakfast together on the Sunday at the remarkably eccentric Walpole Bay Hotel. As Barnaby Hughes and I grazed our way along the smorgasbord we found the napkin on which he had illustrated a poem of mine, framed on the wall in their Napery gallery. If you go to Margate and have a special memory of the place to share in words or drawing, Jane Bishop the owner may give you a napkin to illustrate and add to the exhibition. It was lovely to see one’s work shown in this way and it was hugely encouraging to us both.

Turner reputedly said (somewhat unfortunately) ‘The sun is God’ as he lay dying. He painted a great deal in the town and described the skies there as the best in Europe: the staircase at the gallery named after him has an artwork exploring the ambiguities and possible meanings and reverses of that statement. Amongst the wordplays produced is ‘The Son is God’: certainly the skies over Margate are a sign of His Lordship of a wondrous creation.

Justin Harmer.