by The Rev’d Martin Little, St John’s Church, Highbridge
September saw the launch of a new venture for St John’s church in Highbridge: a live music and jam night called Blues in the Pews. Around 70 people came along and made the opening night a huge success! Many came simply to listen and enjoy. But Blues in the Pews also all about joining in. The format is quite simple: the house band kick off the night with a short set, and then musicians and singers are invited to ‘sit in’ with the band for a song or two. We have had some fantastic performers already - and there’s definitely room for more. It was also a delight to have people of all ages in the church (both on stage and off) - under 18s can come accompanied by an adult.
So why Blues in the Pews? The idea came to me while I was walking around the town one day and thinking about what the church could offer beyond the ‘normal stuff’ that churches do - wonderful though that stuff is! As a Church of England church, St John’s has a strong remit to be there for the whole community, not only those who regularly worship with us. Added to that, St John’s is a great venue with a good legacy of live music events in the past. In the wake of the pandemic people have really missed being able to enjoy the atmosphere of a gig - especially in their home town. With all that in mind, the germ of the idea began to form.
Two people who really helped get it off the ground were Jane MacPherson at the Morland Community Hub, and Ollie Davies of GC Sound and Light. Jane helped enormously with funding sources and with marketing; Ollie provided the technical support and mixed the sound on the night, while also helping to spread the word.
Blues in the Pews is supported by SEED Sedgemoor, which is partly funded through the National Lottery, and part of Arts Council England’s ‘Creative People and Places’. This is a scheme to nurture the arts in places which perhaps get overlooked. Highbridge is a place with loads of talent and enthusiasm, but perhaps less in terms of opportunities or investment. That’s why when Jane told me about the funding, I leapt at the chance to apply, even though I’d only been here for a couple of months. Thankfully, both SEED and the church loved the idea and have been supportive from day one. Blues in the Pews will run for a total of 10 months, after which we’ll review the financial options for keeping it going.
What’s this got to do with church? Our vision at St John’s is to be a people of courage sharing God’s love across our community. Running a gig night in the church, with PA, lights and a bar in the corner certainly felt like a courageous move! But it has paid off with a wonderful atmosphere and a great celebration of the gift and power of music. Sometimes people worry that coming to an event at church will feel awkward or uncomfortable if they don’t sign up to all that the church believes. But music is a universal language that, to me, speaks of God’s goodness beyond words and beyond borders. If you come to Blues in the Pews, we hope that the atmosphere, the music and the people will make you feel that you belong. That’s what were here for.
Blues in the Pews upcoming dates this year:
18th December - Christmas Special!