Spring Dinner – February 2020


This was a night when the Society was taken right back to its earliest roots.

In November 1910, the Society held its first formal dinner with over a hundred members and guests sitting down to what was described in the Stationers Gazette as a “Capital Spread”. The dinner was then followed by a music concert which, it was said, “few west end music halls could excel” – and an evening of “freedom and jollity prevailed”!

110 years later, 85 members and guests got together for another capital spread and a concert full of jollity!

Our Master of Ceremonies, Richard Birtchnell, once again presided over the formal proceedings.

The President welcomed all with another quote from the Stationers Gazette which said that the Society was formed in 1909 and “there arose a spirit of great friendship”. He then talked about the important part that music has played in the Society’s more recent history referring to the excellent Markus Michellucci at last years Summer Cruise, the West End Wonders who sang hits from the shows in 2016 and, of course, the wonderful Rick Wakeman evening in 2014 to name but a few.

Then, after the Loyal Toast, at 9pm precisely, the Society took a moment to think about absent friends, and especially Old Friend, Simon Robbins.

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Then there ensued the tremulous excitement of the Raffle. The £25 cash prize and bottle of champagne was won by guest, Andrew Greening. The £50 prize and champagne was won by Leon Jolly. And to much cheering, the £100 cash prize and champagne was won by Ian ‘Magoo’ McAra. Andrew and Ian then, very kindly, donated their cash prizes back to the Society.

The brief and humorous introduction lead onto load cheering to welcome The Bootlegs Band, Justin (Guitar), Graham (Bass), Maria (Vocals and Percussion), Ashley (Drums), and finally our great friend and Old Friend, the Lead Singer, Chris Exner.

The Bootlegs Band applause reached fever pitch with the re-appearance of Richard Birtchnell, now adorned in a bright red sparkling Master of Ceremonies jacket that Graham Norton would have been proud to wear!

The band kicked off the rock and roll fiesta and, after 3 or 4 songs, invited up the first of the talented Society performers and Old Friend, Steve Haworth, CEO of EVO Group took to the stage and gave magnificent performance of Daydream Believer and Sweet Caroline which both got the room rocking and set the ‘talent’ bar very high.

After a few more classics, the next performer, guest Rob Bartley took on lead guitar duties and rocked the crowd with his lead of both Sweet Home Alabama and Rocking All Over The World.

Rob was then joined on stage by the Bootleg-ettes, Old Friends Tina Russell and Sammy Bartley who did brilliant backing vocals for Chris Exner and the band, performing Mustang Sally (or Mustang Sammy as it was aptly renamed!) and Honky Tonk Woman.

By this point, the dance floor was full and nobody required any encouragement to Twist and Shout to Great Balls of Fire. Then VOW guest, Rebecca Charlesworth blew everyone away with her performance of Teenage Kicks.

This was followed by a most memorable moment when Old Friend and Past President, Mike James took to the stage to sing The Mighty Quin, in a thinly disguised homage to his favourite rugby team, and he then delighted the audience with Sloop John B.

After a raucous rendition of Delilah, which may well have woken many a sleeping hotel resident, and the classics, American Pie and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, the President was then pulled up on to stage to perform two Elvis classics, Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear (with its ironic line as he sang; “Run your fingers through my hair”) and then a duet of Hound Dog with Chris Exner.

The evening rounded off after a few more songs and the band were enthusiastically thanked for making this such a memorable night.

How memorable? This is what some of those attending had to say:

Thank you for an excellent evening” Amy Hutchinson

Great evening and well organised – well done” Steve Haworth

Amid all of the raucous and (slightly) out of tune singing last night – great night by the way” John Watson

Very many congratulations on an excellent and most enjoyable Old Friends dinner last night. It was great fun.” Mike James

I haven’t been to an Old Friends event for 10 or 11 years – but I’ve had an absolute blast tonight – thank you!” Derren Stock

Great night – we’d like to take a table to bring some of our customers next time” Jane McAra

An excellent night last night, thank you. Monika and I thoroughly enjoyed all of it. A great night.” Sean & Monika Starkey

What a great night.” Steve & Carol-Ann Cafferty

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