Book review: ‘Hastings Old Town Music Scene’ by Sean O’Shea

Having been resident in Hastings only some six months or so my perceptions of the town’s lively, thriving music scene are still those of the enthusiastic newcomer. I can’t pretend to know the scene inside out and back to front like many of the people Sean O’Shea interviews in this 140-page book, but that helped make it a fascinating read for me.

For a smallish town of 90,000 Hastings has an unparalleled live music scene, particularly in the old town which this book focuses on: dozens of pubs and bars putting on live music, a healthy mix of larger venues, too, and numerous events and festivals. And for a long long time the town has exerted an almost gravity-like pull as a place for musicians of all types to set up home here and play here. But my perception is that unless you are familiar with the town, either as a resident or frequent visitor, all of this is pretty much under the radar. I think this is probably because, although it’s long had a very healthy live music scene and is teeming with musicians, it’s not given birth to a really big name band that comes to define the place musically and put it on the musical map. Andover forever has The Troggs, Guildford – the Stranglers, Wolverhampton – Slade. Yet Hastings just seems to have dozens and dozens and dozens of very talented musicians, but not necessarily ones who are household names. This book, therefore, is not filled with interviews of mega-successful rock icons reflecting on their long-past musical roots, but rather is a series of interviews with musicians who live and perform in the town today. A few of those interviewed were born here and reflect on a Hastings childhood and teenager-dom. But most have been drawn here at some point by the pull of the town’s music and arts scene, many it appears via south-east London – a journey I, too, have made.

It’s packed with stories and reflections and covers interviews with musicians from a wide range of genres: folk, jazz, rock, blues, classical and more. Some like Lorna Heptinstall of the internationally acclaimed Skinny Lister or Liam Genockey of the iconic folk rockers Steeleye Span, both of whom ended up in Hastings, have profile and reputations that stretch far beyond Hastings. But others, like the four women who make up the a capella harmony vocal group, Rattlebag, renowned for their folk sing-arounds in the Stag Inn, are little known outside Sussex. But their passion for and insight into the Hastings music scene makes for a genuinely enjoyable read.

Whether you’re a music-loving resident familiar with scene or a curious visitor who wants to find out more, ‘Hastings Old Town Music Scene’ is well worth a read. At the back there’s a list of old town music venues as well as a calendar of the key musical events, festivals and fairs that Hastings has built up a considerable reputation for.

Published 2016 by Hastings Press

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