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Twenty Years of Glory (and impressive teenage responsibility)


There are so many things that make Hurtwood unique as a school – but one of the most joyous surely has to be the celebration of teenage rock anarchy that is the Gig of Glory, which has recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.  This is the brainchild of the evergreen Dave Fonseka (all puns intended) and revelling still in its freedom from conformity.  It is unquestionably, for many, the highlight of the final years of school education.  Time to celebrate, time to establish a little background and explore the legend.


Where did it start?  On the simplest of levels, with Dave and his guitar, and a load of teenage talent and passion.  Assigned to Peaslake House, in the lively student common room after prep, making music with increasing numbers of students seemed the perfect end of demanding school days for Dave.  The energy and collective buzz was immediately obvious, along with the incredible range of talent.  Privileged to play in one of the amazing Hurtwood concerts, and aware by now of the considerable rock talent amongst the students, the germ of an idea was born.  How to showcase the passion and creativity of so many kids? How about a rock concert?


The idea was not dismissed but where to find the time in the almost manic school schedule?  When, finally, a half hour slot on a cold February afternoon was allocated, the creative hub of the Hurtwood Theatre found itself rocking to a very passionate teenage beat.  Alongside the ‘extraordinary talent’ of student Matt Greaves, and with both their guitars plugged into ‘a PV Deuce – a big old valve amplifier which had a great sound’, a single microphone serving the singers various, with a bunch of kids sitting on the floor, the idea became a reality. This would work, this would go forward, these kids had everything to play for – literally.


Unsurprisingly, it took another couple of years, until 2006 in fact, for a formalised slot to be created, for the theatre seats to be pulled out, and what Linda was often heard to refer to as ‘that dreadful noise’ to become part of the many outlets and showcases of quite exceptional Hurtwood talent.  With Matt still on board, and like Dave, committed to the concept an unchoreographed and ‘no frills’ concert, there was much to be done.  Student input and decision-making was central and this autonomy remains vital to this day.  Gradually over the years, and now decades, the Gig has consolidated its format, focus and reputation.  So many extraordinary line-ups have followed; moments of collective creativity between students, as well as with teachers, mining the rich depths of two-way collaborative enrichment.  ‘I have learned so much from the kids’, Dave tells me, in genuine awe at their knowledge and skills.  It is no surprise that so many of the most disciplined, passionate and brilliant performances over the years have come from students who have ‘done time on Dave’s bench’ – a Hurtwood shorthand for those who have struggled to conform to educational expectations.  It is no exaggeration to say that the Gig has given purpose even as it had demanded maturity from students who have rejected other elements of formal education and conformity.  It has also fostered the kind of relationships between staff and students that are at the heart of the Jacksons’ Hurtwood vision, relationships of which other educators can only dream.  Yes, there are auditions for those wishing to take part, but the responsibility to create a performance – from line-up to presentation and material – these are all down to individual choice. There is also lots of encouragement.  ‘You don’t have to be the best singer or musician’, Dave tells the would-be rock ‘n rollers.  What they have to be, however, is passionate and professional in their commitment, and prepared for lots and lots of work. The hard graft begins in February, building increasingly towards the end of May. The end product speaks for itself.


Advice?  Of course there is plenty.  In terms of their choice of material Dave reminds them ‘to be mindful of their audience’, as well as their awareness of how much individual musical performance feeds off response, and this has proved self-regulating.  Rock classics abound, along with more idiosyncratic and personal choices, and although Dave does cast his eyes over lyrics, he is clearly proud to see students rise to the challenging responsibilities of performance, consolidating line-ups and running lists, making vital choices at every level. He also waxes lyrical about the sheer joy of making music with both students and teachers (in touch with their inner teenager) in a collective ‘synergy of passion’.  Heady stuff!


Over the years there have been so many highlights, so many performances by such talent, not least amongst the staff.  As we have seen, Matt Greaves’ input has been invaluable, not least in his role as ‘loyal drummer with the staff band’, to quote Dave.  He moves on to praise the ‘musical genius and legend’ that is Dan Pearson, recalling what he has added in the eight years since his arrival in the Music Tech department.  Dave had already taken note of his guitar skills while interviewing him, and within weeks of the new term, Dan found himself summoned, and on the bench for ‘naughty teenagers’ outside Dave's office.  He need not have worried (although he did).  Could he play the opening riff of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’?  Of course, and beginning to play, he was joined by Dave, as Dan recalls, ‘on the powerful rhythm section – and it sounded pretty good!’  An invitation to join the staff band was given immediately, and by the following week he was enriching the line-up in the lunchtime concert.  Dan is unquestionably part of the texture of music in the school, and Dave still in grateful awe of his skills and commitment to ‘make the show even bigger and better’.  Over the years highlights have included Ted truly belting out classics from AC/DC and Guns ’n Roses.  Indeed, who could forget his version of the same classic ‘Sweet Child of Mine’.  Ted – you are much missed, but I have to say that Hayley Williams, one of the singing teachers, gave us a pretty neat version this year.  In the same show it was great to see Dave Parsons step up to the plate on the keys, alongside, of course, the totally unique talents of Mike Timpson. Thank you, staff!


So – this year’s 20th celebration: now running over two days, with afternoon and evening performances, it was, frankly, a triumph.  Some thoughts from Sam – someone who is certainly still in touch with his inner teenager, and who celebrates the ‘20 years of Fender Strats and Marshall cabs. 20 years of smoke machines and ripped jeans. 20 years of shredding solos and brain-exploding falsetto. It’s ‘Gig of Glory’ on steroids – as though it needed to be.’


So many amazing returnees performed, on top of the buzzing talents of today; Mike Asaturov, Jenny Shen, Alex Wadstein and Zaza Veyssiere, were all able to join this special celebration, and Dave recalls ‘how enjoyable it was to see how far these talented young people had  come’.  In paying tribute to them and their ‘stunning performances’, he commented on what a privilege it was to play alongside ‘fully established professional musicians’.  All of them ‘had cut their teeth in the Gig, doing their own thing’, and all had found the time to revisit for this extra-special show.


And it was special: one big tiger-print and aviator-cool show, with black t-shirts, bodices of satin and lace, platform boots, fishnet tights and lashings of eyeliner, certainly not all confined to the girls of course, though it was rock-chick heaven.  With more hormones and duelling guitars than you could shake your vibrating drum-sticks at, it was one big rock ‘n roll blast of a show.  And boy did they love it, the performers, the audience, all of us.  This is how to do it.  This is where to take all those complex emotions, the ones that frankly never leave us.  Let the music speak for all.  School of Rock? No; this was more effortlessly cool, actually.  Cool kids showing us how it is, giving their all, in that oasis of a week, between external exams, when other schools are taking half-term breaks.  They can take a bow, know they are heard and valued, and then get on with the serious business of A levels.  Thank you, Dave, and your truly marvellous tradition, because that is now what it is.  The Glorious Gig.  It might be only rock ‘n roll, but we like it.  We really like it. Here’s to the next 20 years!









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