Bandathon: Giving Back to Grassroots

It goes without saying that volunteering for a charity of your choice is a hugely rewarding experience, but in February 2024, our Office Manager Sarah was lucky enough to take part in an event that took the enjoyment to another level of exhilaration, a 26-hour ‘Bandathon’ at Off the Cuff (OTC) in southeast London, with thanks to Tapestry’s Volunteer Days scheme.

We’re incredibly lucky at Tapestry, not only to be given the opportunity to participate in Volunteer Days, but also to be given a huge amount of support where health and wellbeing are concerned.

As well as being Sarah, Tapestry’s Office Manager, I’ve been part of ‘A Star is Bjorn!’, an ABBA tribute band, for nearly a year. Agneta (Una Gibney) used her experience to give a voice back to four people whose wellbeing needed a bit of TLC, in their search for the perfect work-life balance. Our initial aim was to perform a two-hour charity gig in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, which we performed in June 2023. That was just the beginning…

Little did we know that eight-months later we would be privileged enough to share the stage with literally tens of upcoming and established bands at OTC’s incredible two-day Bandathon, held in February 2024. This was all thanks to the team behind the event, led by community gurus Andy Gray and Paul Koloi.

The point of Bandathon was to raise awareness of the potential closure of the grassroots music venue, where rate rises threaten seal its fate. And on the night we performed, comedian Jo Brand was compere for the evening. Not scary at all… Actually not. She was amazing.

This Herne Hill hotspot has been serving its south London community for many years and while OTC’s history is something that needs preserving, it is the future of the musicians we were singing to save.

As well as being a vibrant watering hole and music venue, OTC run a weekly Jazz Jam, and Chapter Songwriter Sessions; its monthly Junior Open Mic (JOM) sessions nurture young performers, and draw young musicians from much further afield than its SE24 postcode, thanks to its outstanding reputation.

Andy, Paul and the Bandathon community worked tirelessly for months before the free event, to ensure both new and old footfall made its way under the arches by Herne Hill station, and all that was required was that they bought a drink, celebrated the sounds and spread the word.

They continue to use every resource they can muster, even giving permission for Paul, an ex-professional Tongan rugby player, to host live Six Nations screenings for the duration of the competition – at all hours – bringing in hundreds of rugby fans!   

Since the event, OTC has been given a bit of a reprieve from closure – in the short term. This formidable and passionate collective cannot take their foot off the drum-pedal, especially with the constant threat of financial concerns, affecting so many grassroots venues. This is outlined in a report by The Music Venue Trust.

If you’re hankering after a bit of post-Eurovision fun to celebrate ABBA’s 50th anniversary, in May visit A Star Is Bjorn! (Donations going to Peer Power). And if you’re in southeast London and fancy listening a variety of great music, you know where you’ll be welcome – Off The Cuff.