Square Roots Lewisham

Rotherhithe: How Debut’s classical concerts are returning to the Brunel Museum

Lizzie Holmes’ monthly series presents musicians performing in the historic Thames Tunnel Shaft

Debut performances take place in the Thames Tunnel Shaft

Subscribe to our free Wharf Whispers newsletter here

Debut has returned to the Brunel Museum, bringing a fresh series of classical music concerts to the venue’s subterranean Thames Tunnel Shaft.

The monthly events – set to run this year from March until September, 2024 – combine the delights of cocktail pop-up Midnight Apothecary, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches from Lo Viet and performances by musicians for audiences of up to 65 people sat at cabaret-style, candle-lit tables.  

The vibe is welcoming and accessible, based on a format created by Debut founder – curator, host and soprano Lizzie Holmes.

“I launched the company back in 2015, with concerts in different locations,” she said.

“The Shoreditch Treehouse was our first regular series and it became really popular.

“I’d attended an acoustic pop gig there through Sofar Sounds and told the owner that it was an amazing experience but that they needed to get some classical pianists and opera singers in to match the size and volume of the venue’s Steinway Model D concert piano.

“We also did performances in places like the Old Operating Theatre and at the Cutty Sark, but that’s more challenging as there’s no piano. 

Debut’s Lizzie Holmes

“Then a friend mentioned the Brunel Museum – we went along and saw the Grade II listed Thames Tunnel Shaft and remarkably, there’s a piano that lives down there.

“The environment and the atmosphere are beautiful – the acoustic is like a church and it’s steeped in history.

“It dates to the 1840s and so much classical music was created around that time.

“With Midnight Apothecary on the roof, it’s a match made in heaven.

“It’s very exciting to be able to breathe new life into the space and to encourage audiences to discover it.”

A typical Debut evening begins at 6.30pm with botanical cocktails created by Brunel stalwart Lottie Muir and her team.

“At 7pm the Tunnel Shaft opens with the first performances starting at 7.20pm.

“There’s a half-hour interval at 8pm, with the second half finishing around 9.15pm with the bar (and its fire pits) open until 10pm.

“When people come to a concert, first of all they’ll be greeted on arrival and then encouraged to chat to the performers,” said Lizzie, who trained at the Royal College Of Music.

“In London, or any big city it can be hard to find connections and we want everyone to leave feeling they’re part of a community – that they’ve had a communal experience for an evening.

“The energy is electric. During the concerts the musicians will share anecdotes to connect with the audience – something we often don’t get the opportunity to do, having performed to thousands of tiny faces at bigger venues.

The Brunel Museum’s roof garden above the venue

“We make sure that audiences are never spoken down to – we just share the music.

“If a performer just enters a room and breaks out into an aria, people’s jaws will be on the floor. Sometimes you don’t need to do any more.

“It can be amazing and thrilling, but it has to be presented in the right way with the right story. 

“People like seeing that the incredible skills of an instrumentalist or a singer are coming from a normal person who you might see going to the shops or queuing up at the dentist.

“It’s about creating that sense of normality alongside the extraordinary.”

Debut’s next date at the Brunel is set for March 14, featuring mezzo Leila Zanette, flautist Rianna Henriques and pianist Przemek Winnicki alongside host Lizzie and resident piano improviser Sam Peña.

Lizzie said: “People love Sam, he takes lots of requests and is also a brilliant collaborator.

“Prezemek is a superstar from Poland who has a big following on Instagram – he’s flying over from Europe.

“The whole idea is that people get a real mash up of different composers and musical feelings throughout the evening.

Audiences sit cabaret-style in the Thames Tunnel Shaft

“Leila is a wonderful singer who I met six years ago and Rianna is a woman of many talents who is joining us for the first time – she also plays clarinet and saxophone and has just graduated from the Royal College.

“We’ve got Debussy, Chopin, a little bit of jazz, Offenbach, Bizet, Mendelssohn and Mozart, with the Flight Of The Bumblebee to finish.

“It’s nice to have that variety and a combination of rising stars and people who are firmly embedded in the industry and making waves already.

“We’ll always have a guest singer and a guest instrumentalist, and sometimes a duo, such as guitar and flute. It’s always a very healthy mix.”

Lizzie finds musicians for Debut through her extensive contacts, word of mouth and via direct application.

She said: “We get about one a week applying and our doors are always open.

“In 2020, we also ran an artists development programme called the Horizon Project, which attracted 150 applications.

“This year we held an open stage for the first time where we had 25 new musicians we hadn’t worked with before coming along to play a couple of pieces. 

“It was like a Debut night, but without an audience.

Midnight Apothecary’s botanical cocktails are available at the events

“To perform with us, you need to be a brilliant musician, but it’s also about personality.

“The audience will miss so much if you can’t show them that inner person and so that event was really helpful in identifying the right performers for Debut.

“For some musicians, it can be quite disarming to be that open with an audience – it’s an interesting balance.”

Lizzie often performs at Debut nights herself, but says her main interest is in providing a platform.

“I do a solo here and there – I love to sing – but I revel in seeing other musicians flourish,” she said.

“Discovering new talent and sharing it is such an amazing thing.”

Tickets for Debut’s March 14 concert at the Brunel Museum cost £32.

Other events at the venue and Shoreditch Treehouse are also available.

Find out more about Debut here

Audiences begin the evening in the roof garden

Read more: How Canary Wharf Group has launched Wharf Connect, a network for early career professionals

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to our free Wharf Whispers newsletter here

- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Leamouth: Nashville Meets London returns with fresh acts and a new East End venue

Two-day festival of emerging USA and UK country talent arrives at Trinity Buoy Wharf, partly by boat

Shy Carter will headline the first day of Nashville Meets London

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

Nashville Meets London (NML) is back in the East End with a fresh line-up of country talent from the UK and the USA in a new location.

Taking place at Trinity Buoy Wharf on August 24 and 25, 2022 (plus a river cruise on August 19), the festival promises cutting-edge sounds and a good ol’ country welcome.     

“One of the key things we’ve proved is that NML seems to be a taste-maker for identifying artists, particularly from the US, who are about to break in the UK, Europe and beyond,” said Peter Conway who co-founded the festival.

“Russell Dickerson, for example, has gone on to become a major artist and Laura Elena is now massive in America and her profile is very wide in Europe too.

“For this year, we’ve got headliners in Shy Carter and the young Priscilla Block, both of whom have a huge fan base already. 

“We always want to break a new artist too and we have Manny Blu playing exclusively for us both at the opening night party and in a major slot on the Wednesday.

“He’s really starting to make waves in America and all his socials are growing exponentially. 

“On the UK side, we’re delighted to be offering The Wandering Hearts who are based in Hackney and are one of the top three country bands over here. They’re a stunning act and we are predicting great things for them.”

Shy – the main act on the first night of the festival on August 24 – is full of excitement when we connect on zoom between London and Tennessee.

He’s primarily worked as a songwriter, having been discovered by Nelly and his manager Courtney Benson, before going on to create a string of hits with other artists. 

Now the 37-year-old is making a name in his own right on the country scene and can’t wait to take the stage in London.

He said: “I put so much time into being in studios, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to get in front of an audience and see all these different people who come out and really appreciate the music.

“I really engage with the people when I do my shows – I walk into the crowd, get a handshake and make up a song with that person’s name.

“I do a lot of freestyle, it’s real free and a lot of fun, and anything can happen. I sing some hits, some new songs, and it’s really heartfelt.

“Something about being on stage just makes me feel good – if there are people out there, it makes me feel even better. 

“If they’re moving to something you’ve created, it’s one of the greatest experiences and one of the best feelings I’ve had in this life. It’s party time and it also helps me as a songwriter.”

Shy has worked with a plethora of artists, including co-writing Someday, a No. 1 hit for Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, and songs for the likes of Keith Urban, Jamie Fox, Jason Derulo, Billy Currington and Charlie Puth.

Born and raised in Tennessee he was “always around music” at home and in church, learning his first chords as a child and developing a love for r’n’b before recording his first song aged 16 at a home set-up in a friend’s apartment. 

He said: “I was addicted to the process – hearing my voice on a CD. From then on I continued making music all the time and tried to find a way to make music my career.

“Now it’s a real blessing to put my own soul and my own flavours into the music. It’s good to write for others, but this lets me be a little bit more myself.

“I don’t think it really matters, but I’d say my music is country because the songs are no different to the ones I’ve written for artists in that genre.

“As a person of colour, my songs might sound a little blacker – but that’s what I’m trying to do, to bring country music to people who don’t normally listen to it. At its heart, it’s storytelling.

“Being on stage makes me a better writer because it helps me to see what songs people connect with most.”

Day tickets for Nashville Meets London cost £34 and can be booked here.

  • A selection of VIP packages are also available for Nashville Meets London. The Festival VIP Ticket costs £150 and includes entry for the festival on both days at Trinity Buoy Wharf, access to the VIP backstage area and the VIP bar from 2pm and access to the meet and greet area.

The Premium Nash Pass costs £200 and includes all of the above, plus a ticket on the NML River Cruise and entry to the invitation-only Opening Night Party at Pizza Express Holborn on August 22, which will feature performances by Juna N Joey, Kaitlyn Baker, Robbie Cavanagh and special guests.

  • Ticket holders for Nashville Meets London can travel directly to the festival via Uber Boat By Thames Clippers as a special request stop at Trinity Buoy Wharf has been arranged. Journeys on the river bus service must be booked in advance to take advantage of this offer. 

–––––––––––––––––––

Nashville Meest London's DJ Hish
Nashville Meets London’s DJ Hish

THE LINE-UP – NASHVILLE MEETS LONDON

Aug 19, doors 6.45pm, £45-£560

Billed as a “voyage down England’s longest river” this trip along the Thames sets off from Bankside Pier for an evening of music hosted by Absolute Radio Country presenter Matt Spracklen. Expect performances by Kyle Daniel, Vicki Manser and a set by DJ Hish (pictured).

Manny Blu is set to perform on Day One
Manny Blu is set to perform on Day One

Aug 24, doors 4pm, from £34

The first day of the festival at Trinity Buoy Wharf will see performances from Sarah Darling, Manny Blu (pictured), Ruthie Collins, Arbor North and Matt Hodges. Shy Carter will headline the first night, with music selected by DJ Hish between sets. 

–––––––––––––––––––

Priscilla Block is set to headline Day Two

Aug 25, doors 4pm, from £34

The second day of the festival, now enjoying a renaissance following a two-year break, will be headlined by Priscilla Block (pictured) with artists Kyle Daniel, Candi Carpenter, The Wandering Hearts, Tebey and Essex County also taking to the stage in east London.

–––––––––––––––––––

Peter Conway co-founded Nashville Meets London

REFRESHING THE FESTIVAL

Cut a slice through Docklands culture over the last 40-plus years and you’ll find Peter Conway woven through the rings of the tree.

His CV includes stints at the Half Moon Theatre, a decade as principal arts officer at Tower Hamlets Council before going on to arrange music events at Cabot Hall – a former venue in Canary Wharf in a space now occupied by Boisdale.

After that was closed for redevelopment, he went on to run Blackheath Halls on the other side of the Thames, before returning to Canary Wharf in 2000 to programme outdoor music events on the estate, creating the Canary Wharf Jazz Festival and more recently Nashville Meets London in 2016 – relocated to Trinity Buoy Wharf for 2022.

“It was a moment of serendipity in Nashville in 2015,” said Peter.

“I bumped into Jeff Walker of AristoMedia and from that meeting came the idea for the festival – an event to promote the best of emerging country music talent in both Nashville and the UK.”

Sadly, Jeff died suddenly later that year, but his daughter Christy Walker Watkins and son-in-law Matt Watkins, who worked with him, joined forces with Peter to make their vision for the festival a reality.

After four years in Canary Wharf’s Canada Square and a two year break due to Covid, NML is back at a new venue in east London.

“This is a kind of new beginning for the festival – we’ve got a great person supporting us in terms of Eric Reynolds at Trinity Buoy Wharf,” said Peter.

“We’re using the Chainstore as the main venue and the building it’s attached to as a VIP area and artists’ dressing rooms. 

“Then you have the wonderful terrace outside that looks over the Thames and the Lea where we’ll be having food and bars. 

“Each day there will be shows running from 5pm to 11pm with non-stop music – we want people to come down and experience the joy of country music, get converted and help us on our journey to build and develop this festival into a much bigger event over the coming years.

I’m very keen to foster a sense of country community and to make this a real East End event.” 

Read more: Trinity Buoy Wharf consults on plans to put flats on a bridge

Read Wharf Life’s e-edition here

Subscribe to Wharf Life’s weekly newsletter here

- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
Subscribe To Wharf Life

Isle Of Dogs: La Nina Caffe And Mercato brings Italian flavours to Pepper Street

Monica Olivieri has opened a coffee shop and grocery store complete with tastings and live music

Monica Olivieri has opened La Nina Caffe And Mercato – image Matt Grayson

“It would be amazing – if we could have the right support from Tower Hamlets Council, we could make the Isle Of Dogs a real food district,” said Monica Olivieri. The exuberant owner and creator of La Nina Caffe & Mercato is abuzz with ideas, when we meet to talk about its recent opening.

Located in Pepper Street on the western side of Glengall Bridge, Monica’s shop and cafe is decked out in white furniture and natural wood, completely packed with Italian produce, ready-to-cook meals and savoury and sweet treats to consume on the premises or take elsewhere.

Like the cheery looking sausage dog-shaped draft excluder that holds open La Nina’s door, it’s playful – with art on the walls and an ebullience that matches its owner.

“It was born during the first lockdown,” said Monica. “I’m a marketing and events expert, mainly working in food but with the pandemic I was completely closed. I couldn’t do anything, because I usually work with chefs and restaurants, and they were shut and events were banned.

“So I said: ‘Let’s do something’. I moved to the Isle Of Dogs four years ago and, at home, I have art, good food and good music and I just wanted to take it out and put it along the street for the community.

“I grew up in my grandmother’s shop in the province of Lecce in Italy and I’d always had these feelings to create something similar here on the Island – something authentic, familiar but with my spirit in it.”

UPCOMING GIGS AT LA NINA CAFFE AND MERCATO in 2021

June 4
E&E Acoustic Duo, Guitar and piano

June 11
Mackerel Skies, Guitar and percussion

June 18
Mariska Martina, Guitar and piano

June 25
Cinelli Brothers, Guitar and percussion

With branding drawn from an old family photo of Monica on her grandmother’s hip, the celebration of family is clear, but the logo is also an expression of deeper roots.

“My grandmother Joanna opened her first shop in my home town – a very tiny village in Lecce – just after the Second World War, so I consider her an entrepreneur,” said Monica.

“In Italy you have Joanna, then Joannina and the nickname is Nina, so that’s where the name of my shop comes from.

“My grandmother was a businesswoman. She started selling paper and pencils, because she was living in front of a school and understood the demand.

“Then, after that, she started to sell pasta, vegetables, clothes, everything. I grew up inside that shop and for me it was like a funfair because I could eat everything.

“My grandma was probably the first to have a TV in the village and, every time we were watching, there was advertising going on often for biscuits or chocolate or whatever.

“She’d ask me and my sisters which we wanted to eat and then she’d buy them so we could try and decide whether to stock them. I think that’s where my interest in marketing came from.”

La Nina offers a wide range of produce from across Italy – image by Matt Grayson

Monica’s career has seen her working with numerous chefs and restaurants as well as for big brands such as Hard Rock Cafe, Starbucks and Ducati. Islanders may also be familiar with Carbonara Day In London, which saw more than 3,000 people come to Mudchute Park And Farm to enjoy the classic Italian dish in 2019 and is set for a second physical edition this year. 

For now, however, her focus is on establishing La Nina with an energetic   programme of events and a monthly roving spotlight on different Italian regions. 

“In the shop, customers will find cheese, salami, pasta, tomatoes and olive oil,” said Monica. “We pick some products where we know the producers, have visited them, and stock others recommended by friends of friends.

“We want people to try gourmet food and to understand that it is not always expensive – for customers to take advice from us because, for example, you can buy good quality olive oil without spending a fortune.

“Eventually we want people to visit the farms and companies that produce these products so we can say to people: ‘If you like this, here’s a business card, go and stay there and eat there. This is how people gain a proper knowledge of food.

“Italian food is, of course, some thing that comes naturally to me because I eat it every day. When I speak with English people they often say they love Italian cuisine, but this doesn’t mean anything because our food is so varied. 

“Italy has 20 regions, so it’s wrong to say the food is just pasta and pizza. We are rich in vegetables and there are so many varieties of fish and different ways of eating meat.

“As a cuisine, it’s very diverse and very different, so my goal is to tell our customers about food from different parts of Italy, changing the focus each month.

“We’ve already looked at Puglia, Sardinia and Campana and in June we‘ll have Tuscany, with olive oil, wines and some special dishes available at the shop and online.

“We’ll also be launching our Pranzo Con Opera – a set lunch menu available to pre-book on Saturdays and Sundays with a performer from the Trinity Laban Conservatoire  Of Music And Dance. 

“In July we’ll move on to Veneto with a selection of products as well as launching Aperitivo Veneziano, serving spritz cocktails.”

Furnished in part with unwanted chairs and tables found on London’s streets by Monica, the space’s other key function is as a cafe, having opened for outdoor guests in April as lockdown restrictions eased. 

“Mercato, of course means market and caffe, because La Nina is a coffee shop,” said Monica. “We serve Italian coffee and only one size with no syrups or anything like that. 

“If people want to make their coffee sweeter, they can use sugar. It’s been going fantastically – we’ve had queues outside and we really love to invite people in.”

Each month there’s a special focus on a different region of Italy – image Matt Grayson

La Nina has also become a venue for live music, as Monica works to attract more people to a part of Pepper Street that has suffered mixed fortunes in recent years, with a busy programme of events.

“It should be more active,” she said. “I want it to be vivid – an honest food district like Brick Lane or Borough. I want it to come alive.

“In England attention has completely shifted onto food. People really know about the quality and authenticity of Italian food and I’m very happy about that.

“To complement that we have a very rich calendar in June including wine tastings on 10 and 17 and olive oil tastings on 18 and 25. 

“The space also acts as an art gallery and we have artist Stefano Pallara Vernissage introducing his exhibition on June 19. We’re also set to have a jewellery making workshop with glasses of wine for participants, hosted by Isle Of Dogs-based designer Yago on June 12.”

As well as working on the second edition of Carbonara Day In London, Monica’s ambition is to open a second venue – Tavola (table in English), which will have a kitchen to serve Italian food. Until then, watch this space, there’s bound to be something going on. 

La Nina also operates as an online shop with free delivery on the Isle Of Dogs for orders over £35. Ticket inquiries should be made in person at the shop or via its website. 

Read e-editions of Wharf Life’s print edition here

Subscribe to our regular newsletter here

Subscribe To Wharf Life