Epicentre Book Cafe was a Paignton institution that existed from March 2010 to August 2013. It was owned and operated by Croydon Tourist Office member Bryce Dumont and it was intended as a haven for people who were looking for vegetarian food, good coffee, rare and used books, a place to share their art, or all of the above.
Epicentre held a number of writing workshops, book launches, and spoken word performances in those early days. It was a great way for like minded artists to meet up and share their creativity. The cafe was open for just over a year before the Entertainment Law of England allowed music to take place on premises without a special (and costly) license for it, and the first music nights started up shortly after.
As a new enterprise, looking to make the most out of every penny and to funnel it into what we did, Epicentre was never signed up with the Performing Right Society. Fortunately for us, PRS agreed that music could be performed in the space, so long as it was original music with the express permission of the creators of that music that it could be played. So, what better way to handle this than to turn the whole cafe into a writing, performing, and recording space for original music to be made?
We always wanted to call them Jam Nights, but in England, Jam Nights conjured up the idea of people in a pub playing bad Green Day covers, not the California image of musicians getting together and making music in the moment and seeing what sticks. The Epicentre music nights followed the latter approach as a rule. The music was written in collaboration, quickly rehearsed, and then recorded by Bryce with his extensive recording equipment, often live and generally in the first take.
The first session happened on 14 June 2011. It was a sunny day. Many musicians and performers were invited but at 7pm, Bryce was only joined by poet Robert Garnham and writer Bob Hill. Bryce had an acoustic guitar and a melodica while Robert brough a collection of musical toys. We consider this to be the birth of Croydon Tourist Office, but we didn’t know it at the time.
The writing and recordings brought about the songs, all of which can be heard on the first Croydon Tourist Office album. On some of the quieter songs, you can hear the traffic outside the window and the cafe’s espresso machine heating up:
- Three Bears
- Ghost Story
- Alien Invasion
As the sun set, and around the time that Bob Hill departed, Tom Victorio-Jones and Solomon Walter-Kelly arrived with keyboard, melodica and drums to join Robert and Bryce in writing and recording some more music into the evening. This resulted in the recording of:
- My Bike, it Only Has Five Gears
- The Night That Something Happened at Ed’s Place, of Which We Will Not Speak
- Going Out in Limousines
- Some Things I Might Do, Being So Happy
These recordings, in addition to some sessions that Bryce did with bands and musicians from around the area, became part of the musical backdrop at Epicentre. The more we played the music that was made there, the more people were interested in coming along to the next Music Night.
The second session was recorded on 2 August 2011. While there were more musicians present, the musical output was a lot less than that first session. Bryce on acoustic guitar, Julian Lee Seager on percussion, Baz Von Strak, a visiting horticultural student, on bass, and Toya Harvey and Em Bullions on vocals on one song. Robert did not attend the session, but did add some vocals later.
The three recorded songs were:
- It’s a Long Way to Basingstoke
- You’re Gonna Die
The third session was recorded on 10 October 2011. Bob Hill had suggested that some writers from his community arts project come together to join in with a session. He knew a sax player and brought him along to accompany Bryce on acoustic guitar and Robert with his collection of toys. The session took on a much more abstract feel and at times the sax player seemed like he didn’t want to be there.
There were four distinct tracks recorded, but they were mostly meanderings that tried to find themselves. The most distinct piece of music is a song called Call & Response.
Sometime on a dark night in February 2012, Matt Spalding brought a cello to Epicentre for a music night. Max and Robert came along and were accompanies by Toya, Em, and Holly Collings.
Rather than record a live session, we decided to use Epicentre as our studio, making looped beats by stomping on tables, tapping on teacups, and clapping hands. We abused the cello and recorded some melodica, we babbled and layered the recording, then Max did some rapping and Robert told a strange story. And that whole session turned into the two-part song My Own God/Warships in South Wales.
Epicentre started doing monthly open mic sessions. Rather than sessions to make new material, these were sessions that allowed artists to try out new material in front of a supportive audience, allowing artist to meet each other and start new collaborations. Like most things at Epicentre, they were all recorded. Robert and John’s improvisation piece It Wasn’t Magic was recorded at one of these sessions.
In April 2012, after a long time of trying to get John involved in the music writing sessions, John brought Maddo Painting, Giles Bown and Paul Caddick from Future Ghosts along to a session. A lot of non-musicians and writers turned up to the session as well.
Going back to the jam nature of the first session, but with a much bigger band, this session recorded:
- Scaffolding Poles
- A Mouse That Wishes to Be a Cat
- It’s All Kicking Off at the Bus Station
- Click Clack
- Book Johnson
On 11 September 2012, we did another session which was attended by a lot of people, but very few of them were musicians. The motivation to get going wasn’t quite there, so in an attempt to get things moving, Bryce pushed the people there who could sing to come up with something. Jokingly saying, ‘I don’t care what you sing about, it could be apples and oranges for all I care,’ the vocalists were divided into an Apple group and an Oranges group. As the layers grew, the Green Grocer Song took shape. Another song was recorded during that session taking up more of the improv style of writing as before, which was titled The Other Song for lack of any other title.
In the autumn of 2012, Epicentre had a live music showcase night with various musicians who had supported Epicentre over the years. Croydon Tourist Office performed their first proper gig here, but rather than rehearsing and playing any songs that had already been made, they decided the whole set would be written on the spot, just like all of those past sessions. They operated on the pretence of having written thousands of songs on various themes and asked for audience requests for a theme, as they probably had a song that suited.
In this way, the whole 20-minute set was fabricated, featuring Bryce on acoustic guitar and melodic, John on mandolin, Max on his strangely tuned guitar and a keyboard taped to his leg, Robert on vocals, and Matt Spalding on some plastic dish monstrosity that was called The Eliza Mockingham which served as the percussion.
As well as various bits of banter in between songs, the live debut of:
- Post Office Mice
- Nazi Cow
- Sad Dubstep
- Croydon Tourist Office
- This isn’t Nandos
In 2013, Epicentre began the slow descent to closing its doors. While the space was used to record elements of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and a few other bits and pieces, no other music nights would take place.
In 2014, about a year after the door closed, Croydon Tourist Office picked the tracks that everyone felt fit best together and the album Epicentre Nights was released as a sort of tribute to those sessions. It was only at this stage that the idea was cemented the idea that Croydon Tourist Office wasn’t a band that could be defined by its members, as the members were the ones who turned up at the time.
Croydon Tourist Office is more about the spirit of the project. It can feature any style, any instrument, and any combination of musicians or non-musicians. If it feels right, then it is Croydon Tourist Office.