Finding a home to hit the right note
Why not buy a house in the heart of your favourite music scene, says Fred Redwood – outside London, they’re available for a song
These are good times for live music in Britain. Audience numbers for everything from clubs and gigs to major concerts and festival performances were up by 12 per cent to 30.9million last year, according to UK Music. Assuming you hanker for the thrill of a live show – either playing or listening – where, outside London, will you find hotbeds of your favourite musical genre?
Here are the recommendations of experts who have travelled the length and breadth of the country to perform the music they love.
The success of singer-songwriters such as Ed Sheeran and Laura Marling ensures that acoustic and folk music remains relevant for another generation. Dave Pegg, who has played bass with veteran folk-rockers Fairport Convention for almost 50 years, believes Oxfordshire is its heartland.
“I love the clubs where you can see the whites of the punters’ eyes,” says Pegg, who also organises the band’s annual Cropredy festival, which gets crowds of 20,000 people. “I have had some great nights at The Crooked Billet in Stoke Row, near Henley-onThames, and the Nettlebed Folk Club is probably the best in the country. Banbury puts on terrific musicians in The Mill Arts Centre, the two pubs in Cropredy regularly feature folk-rock, while The Bell Inn at Adderbury holds traditional folk nights, when anyone is welcome to join in.”
To relocate to Henley-on-Thames could cost you dear; the average price of a home sold there last year was £712,000, according to Rightmove. Detached homes sold for £1.2million. It’s a different story in the bustling market town of Banbury. Popular because of its excellent train link to London and M40 to the Midlands, you can pick up a modern semi-detached for £250,000. The north Oxfordshire villages outside the town – such as Milton, Williamscot and the Barfords – have chocolate-box cottages built from dark-flecked Hornton stone and generally cost 15 per cent less than their counterparts in the nearby Cotswolds.
According to Barb Jungr, once described by The Daily Telegraph as “an alchemist among jazz singers” and “a marvel who should not be missed”, individual clubs often put a town on the map for jazz lovers. “It’s certainly true of Annie’s in Southend-on-Sea,” she says. “It has a lovely vibe because it is run by a singer. The weekly performances are well attended – packed when I was there – and it’s a great, friendly place to meet other jazz enthusiasts.”
There is something just a little bit seedy about Southend, with its pier and fun park, that makes it compatible with jazz. Hipsters with an eye for vintage lap up the Remedy Tea Shop, while the theatres and galleries add to the artsy vibe. Being one hour by train to the capital makes it commutable and the average house price of £250,000 – 60 per cent below the Essex average – is a further attraction.
About a quarter of the homes in Southend are Edwardian, according to Knight Frank, and the family homes that line Southchurch Park sell for £340,000. For London émigrés, that’s worth crooning about.
Choirs – both male voice and mixed – are still incredibly popular throughout Wales – nowhere more so than in the valleys around Neath, home town of Katherine Jenkins, the country’s most popular operatic singer. The shopping centre in Neath has seen better days (the out-of-town supermarkets have seen to that) but the surrounding villages are a revelation.
In Cimla, substantial Thirties-built family homes on the woodland-named roads (Poplars Avenue, etc) sell for under £200,000; The Gnoll Estate Country Park, a former great house and grounds with ornamental ponds, miniature waterfalls and woods, is nearby. Bryncoch and Dyffryn on the north side of the valley have staggering views across Swansea Bay and inland towards the Brecon Beacons. Being on the edge of the M4 means you are spoilt for choice of choirs to join. Pembrokeshire or Brecon are under an hour away and the bright lights of Cardiff just 40 minutes. Others are already talking up the area’s potential – notably Bear Grylls, who is setting up his own Survival Academy, due to open in 2020. It will be in the Afan Valley Adventure Resort, east of Neath, where 400 lodges are currently being built with prices starting at £175,000 for two bedrooms.
Ellis Davies, chairman of the Welsh Association of Male Choirs, believes that becoming a member of a choir is a great way to get accepted in the community. “If it’s a bi-lingual area then singing in Welsh will also help
you learn the language,” he says. “Don’t imagine you need an excellent singing voice to be in a choir. If I could sing I’d be a soloist but I’m a chorister, which is a different thing altogether – I sing harmonies. If only for the travel and the camaraderie, joining a choir is well worthwhile.”
“Lots of people, particularly retirees, relocate here for the classical music,” says Barry Smith, coordinator of the Chichester Festival. “Apart from the 250 events we put on for the festival, we have choral societies, chamber concerts, groups playing baroque instruments and another specialising in forgotten musical pieces.”
The architecture of this mini-city, which takes 20 minutes to cross on foot, is similarly classical, with the cathedral steeple looming over the Georgian streets. As for the demographic, you only have to see the variety of restaurants and the number of shops selling expensive sailing clothes to get the idea that austerity has not reached Chichester yet. New builds generally take the form of luxury developments where homes are priced at £500,000-plus. Less expensive schemes are sprouting up a mile outside the centre at Shopwyke Lakes. The flat terrain, not to mention the theatres and the galleries, makes Chichester popular with retirees but it is by no means an OAP ghetto. It has three primary schools and one secondary, Chichester High School, rated outstanding by Ofsted.
Show an ex-bandsman the 1996 film
Brassed Off starring Ewan McGregor and Pete Postlethwaite and he’ll soon be searching for his old instrument.
Grenville Moore, the musical director of Dobcross Silver Band, believes that Saddleworth in Greater Manchester is the heartland of brass bands. “They vary in standard from the premiership, for which you’ll have to audition, down to the fourth section, where they’ll quite likely welcome you whatever your standard,” says Moore, a former professional French horn player. “But be aware that it’s a big commitment, with band practice at least two evenings a week.”
Brass bands symbolise a certain northern grittiness and the Saddleworth area, with its sturdy cottages, windswept moors, excellent pubs and Huddersfield Narrow Canal, is the perfect backdrop. It includes villages such as Dobcross, Diggle and Grotton – names to evoke an Alan Bennett yarn. Schools are good, it is 30 minutes by train to Manchester and you can pick up a terraced cottage for £162,000 on average, according to Rightmove – yet prices are up 11 per cent since 2014. That’s something to toot your horn about.
‘Singing in Welsh will also help you learn the language’
Folksy: two-bedroom Peartree Cottage in Banbury is £315,000 with Strutt and Parker
Harmonious: Moordale Paddock in the brass band hub of Diggle, main, is £750,000 via Hunters; a four-bedroom house in jazzy Southend-onSea, left, is £735,000 with Abbotts; new lodges at Afan Valley Adventure Resort in South Wales, right, start from £175,000
It’s a classic: a 17th-century house in Chichester, right, is £1.275million with Savills; Barb Jungr, below, is “an alchemist among jazz singers”