Blog post by Paul Rhodes

The Woodentops – A Musical Odyssey or a Musical Oddity?

The Woodentops have been ploughing their own rather obscure furrow for a few years now. Having been regular performers at the Eynsham Acoustic Club, we got together as a trio of guitar, ukulele and double bass to do a performance at the Christmas party of the West Oxon Woodturning Association a few years ago (hence the ludicrous band name). Since then, we have developed a repertoire which dredges the musical backwaters of skiffle, trad jazz, community singing, country, comedy and The Wurzels. The aim is fun for all first, and musicality second. Sadly, the musicality side of things can be a distant second at times, but we do try.

Being retired, we are able to get out and play at lunch clubs, stroke clubs and day centres, and pre-lockdown we performed all over Oxfordshire. We suspect that the regularity of return invitations is less related to the quality of our performances than the fact that we only charge for expenses and a cup of tea, but we were quite busy before March. Our ‘home fixture’ is at the Eynsham Day Centre who meet every Monday in the Village Hall – our gigs there are always fun and uplifting.

Lockdown has made us all feel more isolated, and the closing of the Day Centre is especially miserable for those who are living on their own. We were fed up, too – band Zoom meetings couldn’t make up for the joy of getting together to make music, share gossip and jokes. We decided to do something about it.

Was this our moment of destiny? Probably not, but we hatched a plan to perform ‘Front Door Concerts’; we would play in the street outside the homes of Day Centre members whilst putting the word out to others who may wish to come along. The double bass was dropped in favour of me playing a mandolin to maximise portability, and our repertoire was adjusted to concentrate on upbeat, sing-along songs. We knew that we would need to keep a social distance from our audience and also each other. We wondered whether it might affect our performances, but since we are never quite in time anyway, it hasn’t seemed to matter.

Through the summer we had enormous fun making music in the Eynsham streets. Often we’d arrive to find a small crowd, settled on benches or portable chairs, and some on mobility scooters. We’d set up quickly and play for about twenty minutes before moving on. It was always pleasing when neighbours emerged from nearby homes and join in the fun. One of my favourite occasions was when a lady with two young children halted on the pavement to listen, and when we moved on to our next venue, they turned up there too.

We also played three concerts in the village square, the last one at the very successful, if blustery, One World Sale. Our smallest audience was one – a lady who politely sat through our ragged renditions of Lonnie Donegan and pretended to enjoy it. We performed in Marlborough Place, Greens Road, Swan Street, Merton Close, Mill Street Mews, Station Road and others. We’ve now invested in small battery-powered amplifiers and worked hard to prevent Larry from converting our music to heavy rock. Playing outside has worked well for us and I’m sure that we’ll continue our street performances once the current miseries are over.

Was it successful? Well, to say that the The Woodentops invoked the spirit of ENSA would be going too far, way too far, but I hope that we did bring a little cheer to the unsuspecting residents of Eynsham during some tough times.

… And yes, times have been tough. For many it has been financially crippling and for others it has been isolating and lonely. Playing in the Woodentops, and the companionship of John and Larry has been important for my well-being – thank you so much for your fun and friendship lads! Knowing that we have brought some cheer to our wonderful community is hugely pleasing too. Only some can change the world and The Woodentops will never enter that category, but seeing people laugh and sing along with our daft songs will always be a memory for me to treasure.

The Woodentops are Larry Poole: guitar and vocals; John Richards: ukulele and vocals; and Paul Rhodes: double bass, mandolin and vocals.

Author: Eynsham Lockdown Editor