Just why I had left it so late to buy the usual array of books, CDs, DVDs and the much hinted perfume to go with the big present (similar to the big light or the big shop) for the better half back in 2007 is beyond me now but there I was, waiting in the queue on Christmas Eve of our now dear departed HMV, with arms full and a budget stretched to almost breaking point. That’s when I saw the DVD for the first time.  A film that, over the course of the next six years would lead me on a quest overseas to Dublin, New York and back to Manchester and London. Well, almost. Certainly Dublin, Manchester and most recently London but New York, well, that was for another Marsden lad.

Regular readers will know, any film that claims to be ‘the best music film of our generation’ is going to grab my attention and in the twenty seconds (see there are themes for regulars) whilst in that queue I couldn’t think of one reason not to buy the film, Once. The characters looked good, he was carrying a guitar, it was set in Dublin and I was vaguely familiar with the song, Falling Slowing by The Frames which in fact was found later languishing in a dark corner of the Halls.

Starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the film was written and directed by one time Frames bassist, John Carney and filmed on a budget of around £100,000. Every film, music and performing arts student needs to see this film. It became an instant January Saturday birthday night hit and possible one of the best music films I’d seen in a very long time. Falling Slowly went on to win an Oscar in February for best original song. The music sits somewhere between folk rock singer song writer piano pop grunge which is general why no one has ever actually heard it.

Glen and Markéta went on to form The Swell Season. This, a couple of years later, is when our quest took us to Manchester where, in the intimate surroundings of the Lowry, the stage became a curious space where reality slipped back and forth into the realms of Once fantasy which was fascinating. Glen currently tours solo. During the intervening years, our quest as also taken us to Dublin where open top buses have assisted with grand tours of the city and locations used in the film. I know, I’m stretching the point but yes, we are fans.

A history lesson:

In the mid eighties my parents took on the task of running the Marsden Bandroom, locally known as the Band ‘ole; a large club with members’ bars and rehearsal rooms. It is home to the Marsden Silver Prize Band who are one of Yorkshire’s finest bands and have recently celebrated their 125th anniversary.  You can find out more at http://www.marsdenband.com/

There are many fond memories from those days: the reward of half of Tetley mild for bottling up every Sunday morning and the free game of pool on a Tuesday night but none more so than the people involved both with the band and the club. Christmas mornings would be filled with bandsmen filing through our small terrace for ‘a little sommat to keep cold out’ before shuffling off ‘round streets while we went and opened up for the regulated two hours. With community and the club came children and lots of them and as such there was never any shortage of friends. The children’s Christmas party was legendary for two points: that it was held in mid-February when all band commitments where over and that there seemed to be hundred of us.

John was the son of a bandsman. He was a couple of years younger than me, which is a big deal when you’re thirteen and fourteen, but as he had a sister my age we all seemed to be friends. He seemed to be a musical lad.  That’s the last I heard.

Until:

That John was staging Once the musical in London. The fact that John Tiffany had left Huddersfield and gone off to become a world famous theatre director had somehow passed me by. The fact that he had won a Tony award for the Broadway version of Once seemed a nice way to find out. The fact that the show was now coming to London seemed an opportunity (as part of our quest) too good to miss. I happened to mention it to Mrs C. So it was with bated breath on Christmas morning that I opened the envelope to reveal two tickets to the show and a night in London, together with a flutter of coupons from the Yorkshire Post to ensure our ten pound return rail travel.

There is nothing better than a mid-winter trip to hearten the soul and remind you that life goes on outside our valley. The fact that we travelled through one of the worst winter storms the country has ever seen seemed to cause little fuss. It was a whirlwind tour, quite literally. Starting off with David Bailey’s (almost) retrospective, Stardust at the National Portrait Gallery before a craft beer with a tester on Shaftsbury Avenue (was it me or is London much happier and more welcoming nowadays?). Next day was the Constable collection at the V and A before lunch at the Troubadour – a special treat because I keep reading about all these great events and can never get down – and then on to the show. I’m not going to spoil a thing; you can do that by You Tubing. All I’ll say is arrive early to enjoy one of the most innovative creative devices I’ve ever seen employed by a musical performance. I can see where he gets his Tony from.

A standout moment from the soundtrack, enjoy.