Regular readers will recall we recently spotlighted plans for bringing Supergirl star Chyler Leigh to Liverpool, a visit in support of THE FAB 4000, a brilliant new comics project developed by comics creator Tim Quinn, artist Jorge Pacheco – and the staff and pupils of St Vincent’s School for Sensory Impairment.
Well, the event was an incredible success – as Tim himself reports… and this is just the start of an amazing comics project that rightfully earned plenty of press attention across the North West in the past month!
”It was a fantastic night. The most emotional and uplifting gig I’ve ever seen. You’re all doing amazing things…”
Alan Cowsill – author
I’ll agree with Alan, and so will every member of the audience crammed into Liverpool’s Cavern Club for the two shows by Nathan West’s East of Eli featuring Chyler Leigh gigs last Monday. I can honestly say I have never been more moved, rocked and rolled by a performance.
Let me tell you a few behind the scenes tales from a magical couple of days….
The shows came about because actress Chyler Leigh and her husband actor/musician Nathan West heard about a project I was working on with the students at St Vincent’s School for the Blind in Liverpool. The simple idea revolved round the creation of a comic book showcasing the work the students were doing to help less advantaged people round the world… anti-Trump… anti-political… anti-bollocks… Power to the Pupils, if you like.
The concept chimed with Chyler and Nathan’s own glorious organisation, Charity Pulse, the aim of which is to bring about social change via the arts. They generously suggested flying over to the UK and dropping in at the school to meet the pupils. Also, they came up with the idea of playing a local benefit concert in the area. I suggested the Cavern Club. Happily, Cavern owner Bill Heckle, and director Jon Keats, went out of their way to give us the club for a whole day free of charge. Amazing.
Chyler and Nathan’s Director of Music Operations, Jorge Costa, flew in first to help coach the school choir so that they could join the band on the legendary Cavern stage. He brought with him the extraordinary Gina Badenoch, who specialises in workshops featuring photography for the blind. Jetting direct from their base in Mexico City, I met Jorge and Gina for the first time by the Ken Dodd statue in Liverpool’s Lime Street station. A very good meeting place as, you’ll recall, it was Ken who kicked off the whole thing in the first place.
Arriving at St Vincent’s we found the Head Dr. John Patterson running the Stars and Stripes up the school flagpole as a welcome gesture to our “American” friends. I theatrically soto voced him: “Ahem, you do realise Gina and Jorge are from Mexico? Why not just build a wall round them and have done with it?”
Cups of tea and biscuits rebuilt diplomatic relationships pretty swiftly and Gina was soon encouraging the students to create fabulous photographs from their own ideas. Jorge meanwhile was being blown away by the school choir’s ability to pick up a song and take it to the heavens in minutes. Jenny, the school’s Head of Music, was a wonder to behold. Three songs were chosen. Two Beatles and one East of Eli. The choir absolutely “got” the mood, tone and lyrics of Nathan’s songwriting. The words seemed to go straight to their hearts.
Speaking of hearts, it looked as though all our plans would disappear a week before the gig when Nathan’s father died. But full-of-heart, Nathan instantly decided the shows must go on in honour of his Dad. There are no words.
I met Nathan and the band for the first time over a full English at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel round the corner from the Cavern. They were buzzing to be in Liverpool. They had asked me if I knew of anywhere they could spend the day rehearsing. I knew there was only one place that would suit and, a few days earlier, had paid a visit on Roag Aspinall Best down The Casbah Club. Standing in front of the spiderweb stage I asked: “Do you know of anywhere suitable for the band to rehearse?”
Roag looked around the room, rubbing his chin in deep thought: “Anywhere suitable for a rehearsal? Hmm… let me think…there must be some place somewhere…but where? You know why I love you, Tim? Because you are the master of bullshit!”
I took that as a compliment as he instantly agreed to throw his legendary basement open to the band.
And so it was that I led Nathan and East of Eli up the garden path to the Casbah Coffee Club basement. To say they were over many moons would be an understatement. Plugging in, Nathan paused and turned to his bandmates: “Okay, this is in respect of all the musicians who have played in this amazing place since The Quarrymen took the stage at the opening.” And then the band began to play. I’d seen them on Youtube, of course, but nothing prepared me for this. The sound and the performance in that historic place gave an instant shiver down my backbone. Music at its Best!
Listening to the sounds, I turned to Roag who gave the Best nod of approval. We wandered outside and I told him how the children of St Vincent’s had been the inspiration for all that was happening. With perfect timing, the opening notes of “Imagine’ floated out of the basement door to join us as the band reached the Lennon & McCartney part of their set.
A little while later, I met Chyler for the first time as she walked into the basement, the sun beaming brilliantly behind her like some perfect stage direction. “I can’t believe we’re actually here,” she said. I’ll second that. She was in awe wandering the hallowed halls and marvelling at the Lennon/ McCartney /Harrison /Best paint job. After signing one of the walls, she and Nathan took to the stage as “Love Lit the Sky’.
We were all sagging as we hit town again, but this was rectified by an injection of 15 meats at Viva Brazilia. For the next 4 hours we got to know each other and laughed long and hard as we swapped tales of the theatrical, music and just plain life world. The evening culminated for me by being asked to arm wrestle across the restaurant table by Nathan. I insisted we do it the English way…in the nude. When in England and all that. After 15 meats, I was ready, baby!
Walking back to the hotel, the West’s youngest, Aniston, all of eight years, took a look at some of the local talent wandering the streets in skirts up to their midriff with must-have tree trunk legs, plastered make-up and little to the imagination tops. “Look at the sassy girls!” she cried. Sassy is the word. By the time we reached Mathew Street, Chyler was covering Aniston’s eyes in motherly protective mode. I wish she had done the same for me.
Funnily enough, I was the only one who pulled as a camp chap came over to run his fingers suggestively through my locks. I’ve still got it. If anyone wants it, you’re welcome to it.
So, next day, up and at ‘em. Show day. In town by nine with Jorge for a Rococco bucket of coffee to get the brain in gear. Chyler and Nathan suddenly appear with exactly the same idea. The Cavern awaits. Jorge and I set up seats for the choir in front of the stage. One by one the band appear, still in disbelief to be following the Beatle trail from Casbah to Cavern. The stage is taken for one final rehearsal. Oh, that music. So beautiful. Lyrics from heaven.
The choir arrive, dressed to perfection. They are thrilled that the day has finally arrived and they are in this amazingly atmospheric venue. They take their seats and then Chyler and Nathan come and greet each and everyone of them. They have such an extraordinary ability to instantly communicate on a warm and personal level. Hugs from the heart for each pupil. The room is filled with Love…Love…Love.
A surprise comes next as Chyler and Nathan are ushered out to Mathew Street to be presented with their own brick in the Cavern’s Wall of Fame. The pair of them are overcome at such an honour. A zillion cameras appear as the brick is cemented into place. A fabulous start to proceedings.
By now the audience are in place and it is decided I should go on and give a introduction to the how, why, what and who of the event. There are a whole lorra people to thank as well as attempting to explain the tale that has led to this day. I blab on way too long, which I’ve been regretting ever since (I really do need a good editor…). However, eventually I get round to announcing East of Eli and the music erupts. Instant joy!
I wander the venue trying to get the best of views as the music takes hold. The faces of the choir at the front are a picture. For most of them this is their first concert with drums, bass, guitars and keyboards. And they are in the best (and only) seats.
A few songs in, Chyler and Nathan come forward and sit on the edge of the stage, to sing their first number with the choir. ‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles. I’d made the mistake of wishing Chyler luck in managing to get through the line “Take these sunken eyes and learn to see…” Sure enough, as it approached I saw her eyes fill up and her lip tremble. She got as far as the word “and” and had to leave the rest of the line to the choir and Nathan. No problem, the choir caught the true beauty of the lyric and took it to the skies.
The audience went wild. Those that weren’t sobbing. Such beauty.
The show grows and grows as it proceeds. Nathan’s communication with the audience is a joy to behold. His words between each number are as lyrical and moving as the songs themselves. The Love grows, especially on the front row. A never to be forgotten moment as the first show comes to an end to thunderous applause. Chyler and Nathan leave the stage and hug, looking round them in wonder at the moment. Here they are having played a smash show in the Cavern… in Liverpool. And then it got even better. Jorge went over to them and said that Len Garry of The Quarrymen and his wife Sue were in the dressing room. Chyler lost it again for the sixth time that day. It was so lovely to be there and see one generation of musician meeting another. Mutual respect was in the air.
And then the show had to go on. The Meet and Greet was to take place between the two shows. However, we were running a little late and the queue seemed to stretch several times round the Cavern. Regardless, Chyler and Nathan met, hugged, selfied, chatted and brought blazing sunshine into the lives of each and every person in that queue.
And then, time for the second show. Every song a highlight but then an even higher highlight as Nathan stopped the show to bring the front row of the choir up onto the stage itself. It was time for them to join him in his masterpiece, “The Siege”. He upped his game for this song. I’d never heard him sing it so brilliantly. The choir recognised what he was doing and went for it. By now I was sitting back in the front row. The sight and sound I will never forget. Nathan sang as never before and the choir matched him on every level. The roof came off. There was a force of Nature erupting from that stage.
I was sobbing uncontrollably. Me and most of the audience. Never seen anything like it in my life. Life changing moment for everyone in that choir.
And still the wonders carried on. A little later, Nathan called another student up onto the stage. He had heard that this boy was a drummer and so thought it would be a great opportunity to let him take over the drum kit. And take it over he did. East of Eli looked on in amazement at his natural skill and then they couldn’t resist turning the moment into a musical jam as one by one they picked up their own instruments and followed the beat. Organically the jam morphed into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. A musical magic moment like no other. A star was born.
Next, onto the stage walked eight year-old Aniston West. Impossible to sum up the talent(s) of this child. Let’s just say she took Liverpool in one song. That is one talented family!
After the second show, we held an auction with the collectibles Chyler had arranged for DC Comics to ship over. Two t-shirts alone raised £900! And then came the second Meet and Greet. It got out of hand slightly and went on for a bit. Like until five in the morning. I tell you, Chyler and Nathan have hearts bigger than the universe and more time for their fans than anyone I’ve ever met. I’ve got to say God Bless the Cavern at this moment. Their staff were fabulous throughout… even down to the last minute with this unexpected early morning stint.
And a few hours later we pulled up at the school itself in the band’s tour bus. They were going to spend the morning with the students on home turf. The BBC turned out in force to cover the event for TV and radio. Parents and staff gathered to watch. Sitting in the school hall, with cameras rolling, the students were able to interview Chyler and Nathan on all aspects of their life.
Finally, the Head presented the darling duo with gifts from the students and school: ceramic poppies made by the pupils themselves. Poppies turned out to be Chyler’s favourite flower, inevitably bringing on more tears from that most tender of hearts. She was also given a gorgeous ceramic figure of Supergirl created by the kids. And Nathan was given part of a stage from a demolished Liverpool venue. According to the letter of authentication, this was the part of the stage occupied by John Lennon on many a gig. Well, that finished Nathan off for the day.
The time had come for farewells as the band were heading off for a gig in Manchester. The students of the school lined the sidewalk to wave the bus off. I was left a total emotional wreck. I’m still vibrating, two days later. Such beautiful caring people. Such music.
And I’m very happy to report that this is only the beginning of my relationship with Chyler, Nathan and all in the good ship Charity Pulse. The best is yet to come. But I shall leave this happy memory with a few words from the students themselves…
“That was the best day of my life…”
“I loved every second being with Chyler and Nathan…”
“I think I hugged Nathan for too long…I couldn’t let go.”
“I love the words of every song…”
“The Siege is my favourite…the words mean so much to me.”
“Thank you Tim Quinn you have made me very happy…”
“Meeting these two amazing people was so incredible…They are so nice and funny…”
“They said lots of nice things about us and the school but the words that I will never forget are where they said that meeting us at the school goes up there with their wedding day and having children.”
“It was so nice to hear that of someone who had only saw us for two days…”
“They are both inspirational people and great role models for young children and their own children.”
“All my best thanks to all of the band and the Wests. Rainbow”
I’ll end specifically with this, from the leader of the Fab 4000 – Jayne and Guide Dog Witney.
“This week I got to meet two of the most inspiring people on this planet and I also got to meet their wonderful children too, they said the most wonderful thing that brought a tear to my eye: it was that meeting us and coming to St Vincent’s is up there with their top moments which are their wedding and their children being born.
“I had the best day ever meeting and talking to Chyler and Nathan they are role models to us all… Thank you to Chyler Leigh and her husband Nathan West his band east of eli and of course their children who are amazing.
“Thank you to the most amazing people on earth for being apart of our superhero team!”
• Thanks to Tim for his enthusiastic report and the very best of luck to everyone involved as the Fab 4000 takes to the world stage. Tim – now a member of Chyler and Nathan’s Charity Pulse organisation – tells us the story will continue. “Many extraordinary ideas hatched while they were here,” he says. “Some are comic book related”.
We’ll add a web site link to this and our previous report when we have it!
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.