Theo (theoclarke) wrote,


John Kelly first caught my attention as a lead singer in productions by Graeae Theatre Company where he displayed an engaging wit and a rough charm. I was, therefore, excited to learn that he was bringing a band to Ipswich as part of the Pulse Festival. I had been planning to go to Hove to see Pete Atkin launch his new CD this evening but I was having doubts about the three-hour drive home after that gig and the opportunity to see Rockinpaddy tipped me towards staying in Ipswich.

Each night of the Festival, after the last stage show, there was free live music in the New Wolsey Theatre bar. Kelly and his band had one of these slots. The bar was busy enough to be lively without being crowded and the space is sufficiently small for personal interaction between musicians and audience. With his South London accent and infectious glee there is an informality to Kelly's performance that is perfect for small venues even though his personality is big enough to fill a stadium. Delighting in his Irish heritage, his enthusiasms embrace folk, rockabilly, rock and roll, ska, metal, reggae and punk. And all of that was on display in an exuberant set interspersed with chirpy patter. My friends with physical disabilities all tend towards advocacy* so it does not surprise me that Kelly is such an articulate supporter of disability rights. In among the covers of favourite hits from the past forty years are his own melodic protests on behalf of the disabled and pleas for inclusion and equality of treatment for everyone. He is passionate about equality and humanity but never solemn. One moment he is mourning the imminent ending of the Independent Living Fund that has given him the freedom to work; the next he is teasing the New Wolsey's Jamie Beddard for the grandiosity of his 'Agent for Change' job title (which, incidentally, I love!). When he is heckled for 'only having four friends' after he name checks some of the audience he responds 'I left you out, Simon'. It is as warm and natural as the music. I feel sure that Ian Dury would have been proud of him.

Next to Kelly the versatile virtuoso Helen Jackson-Lyall sits bopping to the beat when she isn't playing the flute or the saxophone or scatting, singing or clapping. And when she isn't dissolved in laughter at Kelly's banter. Next to her, beneath his shock of heavy metal hair, David del Cid is doing something very special on guitar. They are skillful, talented, and (as becomes apparent when I speak to them after the show) modest. "I am glad you liked it" said David "but you should hear it when we are all here". And, one day soon, I hope to do just that.

*It may be that I simply like outgoing passionate people irrespective of their capabilities.
Tags: music, new wolsey theatre, pulse festival, rock, theatre
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