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Oh What a Night!


Photo: Eszter Halasi


Epsom and Ewell has been a place of huge cultural significance for Gypsies and Travellers for hundreds of years, thanks to Epsom Derby and the annual gathering of Gypsies and Travellers on Epsom Downs on Derby Day. The Surrey borough is also home to two Gypsy caravan sites and hundreds of community members that live in houses.



Photo: Eszter Halasi

 

But on June 15th this year it wasn’t Derby Day but Romany Night that was celebrated in Bourne Hall’s theatre. Thanks to Dee Cooper and her tireless family, we were treated to a night of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller themed cabaret. From French Gypsy Jazz to the showgrounds of yesteryear we were treated to a magical night of entertainment.

 

The evening kicked off with some wise words from John Hockley of the Surrey Travellers Community Relations Forum, the Mary Frances Trust mental health charity and Surrey Police, reminding us that entertainment must always have a practical purpose of breaking down barriers.  Act One was made up of the powerful women writers of the Write Into Culture Group, followed by amazing singing by Travellers favourite Billy Pidgely. Billy Pidgley is a celebrated artist from the Romany Community, who has taken part in many Romany day events, he is well known live performer on Facebook andTik Tok and Billy’s music can be found on YouTube.



Photo: Mark James

 

Next up came Florence Joelle, who is a French Gypsy jazz singer, songwriter and harmonica player. Her music draws on the Gypsy Jazz she heard at home, American

jazz, blues and early rock’n’roll. She is a regular performer at Surrey’s Romany Day and her songs have been included on Amnesty’s compilation ‘Roma Rights Are

Human Rights’, played on the BBC and Jazz Fm. Her albums have received 4-

star reviews in national newspapers and music magazines. She has

performed at jazz festivals across the country, at venues like the 100 Club

and the Pheasantry, as well as for Dale Farm and Amnesty. She was

accompanied by guitarist Dave Wilson and John Davis on Steel Guitar.



Photo: Eszter Halasi

 

Act Two followed with more crowd pleasers from Billy Pidgley and Rebecca Johnson, also known as Missy Macabre! Rebecca comes from a long line of fairground boxers and boxing booth proprietors. Growing up her grandmother would tell her stories of performers at the fair, such as the strong man, and the sharp shooting show, inspiring her to pursue a career on stage.



Photo: Eszter Halasi

 

As a teenager Rebecca learnt to eat fire, and to walk on broken glass. She now is one of

the few women in Europe who still performs traditional fairground stunts that have

largely been forgotten and overlooked. Rebecca has performed her stunts internationally and at venues such at Stockholm Opera House, the City of London and Milan Fashion week.

 

She later returned to the stage as a talented French painter who completed an abstract portrait of an audience member using a paint brush inserted deep into her nose!

 

Act Three featured Johnny Doherty from the Irish Travelling community. From his home on South Mimms transit site at the London end of the M1, he has long wowed people with his operatic voice.  Johnny has also been a campaigner for GRT rights for many years and he was nominated for a lifetime achievement award this year for his many services to the community. His rendition of Sinatra’s My Way caused a standing ovation.



Photo: Mark James


Drive 2 Survive supported the event by bringing community members to the performance.


A Gallery of images from the evening by Eszter Halasi and Mark James in below.



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