Friday 1 March 2024

Needed Time

I am in the final stages of writing my latest book on music and memory. It follows the food and memory book, My World Café'. I am now finalising the chapter on The Spitz, a music venue that was based in the old Spitalfields market in East London and run by Jane Glitre. We first met when we were both involved in the Bosnian war in the 90s. After returning to London I became a Spitz regular and enjoyed hearing their eclectic mix of artists. One of the most memorable for me was the blues/folk guitarist Eric Bibb who performed there in 2000 and the chapter title will be Needed Time, one of his songs which was first brought to prominence by Lightning Hopkins.

The Spitz closed in 2007, a victim to corporate greed. This London said of its enforced closure, “investors take advantage of London’s unique creative environment by destroying it.” They couldn’t destroy the woman who had climbed over Bosnia’s Mount Igman to reach besieged Sarajevo and she set up the Spitz Charitable Trust.They take live music into care homes and hospitals. Their first work was at Bridgeside Lodge care home in Islington, but now also work at Northwick Park, Great Ormond Street and Ealing hospitals. They help in geriatric, stroke, mental health and childrens’ wards and have recently been asked to work in children’s hospices.

I visited Bridgeside in February 2024 to witness a musical morning with guitarist, Marcus Bonfanti and saxophone player, Pete Wareham. At a time when the world seems to be fast-tracking its way into barbarism, it was mightily refreshing to witness a strong dose of love, tenderness and excitement. They first visited the common room on the ground floor and played Music is Friendship, a song which had been composed by Big Joe (his preferred stage name) who smiled with happiness from his wheelchair. He is a younger man for whom creativity and song writing works wonders for his mental health.

Music is friendship
Music is life
Music is friendship
And it takes away my strife

They went on to play Bill Withers Lean on Me, and Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry about a Thing. No more Vera Lynn.
They then moved on to residents who are unable to leave their beds. I stood outside Jean’s room as they played her one of her favourites, Love Me Tender. As they left I heard her say ‘Bless your hearts, that was really great”.

On the next floor there was John, whose face lit up when he saw that Marcus had brought him a guitar to play. His likes included Chuck Berry’s No Particular Place to Go' and Memphis Tennessee. Care worker Vivian added to the percolating joy with a routine that involved joyful dance with the tender holding of the hands of the immobile. The two musicians completed their set with John Martyn’s May You Never.

And may you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold

Back in the corridor and we passed a resident who told the musicians he loved Balkan music. Both Jane and I could have helped here if only we played guitar or sax, but the two of them managed to oblige with little past experience of this genre.
What a morning. Care home residents who could forget their problems with music and their care workers who have the skills to transform troubles into a blaze of light, helped with song and music and a hand to hold.

"I have been working for the Spitz for over 5 years and it has made me fall back in love with music. I’ve been able to approach the day to day life of being a musician with a new attitude. Because of this I have sought out similar work elswhere and currently run workshops in a prison. I would not have had the confidence to undertake something like that had it not been for the work I do with The Spitz at Bridgeside Lodge."
Marcus Bonfanti, guitarist

"Before working with the Spitz at Bridgeside Lodge I had been recording, writing, touring and playing with a range of artists. I felt completely burnt out and realised that my life / work balance was in serious need of repair. This experience has repaired my love of music and given me a strong sense of its healing power. The effects of live music on people with physical and/ or neurological issues have been breathtaking and the deeply nourishing relationships I have built with residents have been transformative."
Pete Wareham, saxophonist

If you would like to know more about the Spitz go here

and if you’d like to support their work go here