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Published Summer 2022

A new mixed Arts evening held at the Victoria Institute has been created by Mike Carey. Clare Toole-Mackson went along to meet him to hear more.

YOU may have heard mention of Arts Junction, the new mixed Arts evening that runs on the second Monday of each month at the newly refurbished theatre at Arundel’s Victoria Institute. “It’s a way of bringing together all the artistic creativity that abounds in our town,” explains Mike Carey, the founder of Arts Junction. “From my own experiences of providing musical interludes within poetry reading events, I got a sense of how well different art forms complement one another. And there is such a rich diversity of artistic expression in Arundel that it seemed a logical extension of the music and poetry combination to include as many of those other art forms as possible.”

Currently the evening brings together music, poetry, theatre and visual art into one eclectic and entertaining mix. Mike brings his own background in music to bear when it comes to inviting contributors, both in terms of finding the musicians and of ensuring a balanced programme. He has brought in experienced practitioners in their own field to curate the other art forms; Karin Moorhouse for visual art, Bill Brennan for theatre and Barry Smith who runs South Downs Poets for the poetry. “We’re constantly looking to mix it up and keep it varied,” explains Mike. “The Arts are about expressing your view of the world and your experience of it in a creative way, and any expression is valid! Some responses will challenge us more than others, but the more we open ourselves to alternative ways of seeing and experiencing, the richer our understanding, the deeper our empathy and the greater our tolerance of others.” Mondays may never be the same again!

It is that passion for sharing artistic expression that has characterised the many musical ventures that Mike has been involved in during the 10 years that he has been living in Arundel. It all started with the Jazz at the Jailhouse evenings that Mike co-started with “the local font of all jazz knowledge”, John Nurse. “We both love jazz and happened to be thinking of the same ambition at the same time,” muses Mike. “That was back in 2016 and we’ve been going strong ever since.” The monthly jazz club at Arundel Jailhouse- “it takes place beneath the Town Hall, but at night when the Town Council have all gone to bed”- features guest performers and bands from the professional circuit of jazz musicians that play local jazz clubs as well as more high-profile spots like Ronnie Scott’s.

“It was through our playing as the house band at the Jailhouse that we evolved our own band, Big House,” explains Mike. You may well have experienced Big House, even if you’re not aware of it! They play regularly on the Cobbles in the High Street, at the Farmers’ Market and at local events and venues. “I have met many wonderful musicians in the years that I’ve been playing but the three of us at the Jailhouse really hit it off. I’ve never had so much fun and musical pleasure as I have playing with Mike (Comber) and Stephen (Cass). And it was their support and reassurance that gave me the confidence to start writing my own material.”

And write he certainly has. Since he ‘retired’ from his work as a computer programmer – Mike ran several successful small IT businesses over a 40-year career – he has not stopped writing. “It just keeps coming out!

So, make hay while the sun shines, I say”. The band, augmented to include a mix of other like-minded musicians, have recorded three albums, all original material. Mike has recorded a solo piano album as well as producing, and recording, a piece of musical theatre about the life of Duke Ellington – you may well remember it from last year’s Festival.

There’s no let up at the moment either. Big House now host a monthly jazz night at the Victoria Institute where the trio invite a different guest to join them each time. “We love playing at the Vic,” adds Mike, “it’s the perfect space for jazz. Small, intimate, the audience right there with you at every step watching the creative process unfold.”

And then the follow-on from Ellington… “I loved doing the Ellington show last year. As the audience were leaving and we were saying good night, several people independently joshed, ‘What’s next? Basie?’ And then the opportunity arose for me to take on the Musical Director role with the Phoenix Big Band, at which point the writing was on the wall. So, this year, “Count Basie, his life in words and music” comes to Arundel with a full 18-piece big band playing the original Count Basie arrangements interspersed with an insight into the life and times of the man himself.

“I have lots more plans,” adds Mike as we come to the end of our interview in the idyllic surrounds of his home in Crossbush where he lives with his wife, Clare, their cat, Pops, three beehives and anything up to 17 pheasants, hiding from the shooters! “For starters I’d like to get a folk evening going at the Vic, and also bring some more classical music to the town. I think music is such a vital part of our lives. As listeners it speaks to us at an emotional level that we don’t access in the day- to-day of life. And as performers it provides a creative outlet that allows us to communicate with others at a deeply intuitive, instinctive level like no other. The joy of making music together is something I have been lucky enough to experience throughout my life, and in a world where the value of the Arts on the one hand is acknowledged, yet on the other hand is side-lined, I would like to play my part in encouraging the next generation to engage with the Arts, to remain open to any art form, any creative expression, to listen to all music with an open mind and to experience the joy of making music together.” See you at Arts Junction!

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