In an age in which the making of entertainment and its consumption were more closely intertwined than is the case in our own time, when we are almost always the paying customers, distanced from the purveyors of culture, who work away before our dispassionate gaze, whether on stage or screen, an evening at the theatre or the catch club could be a lively affair: notwithstanding the studied relaxation of the men, who seemed to be ignoring the orchestra working away in the background as they lounged, chatted, supped, and smoked.
The tremendous activity recorded in the local papers seems to suggest more commitment than that casual demeanour might betoken. And when the testimony of the contemporary writers is considered, that languid pose seems disingenuous, to put it mildly: it must have been high-octane, visceral fun, bellowing those catches across a crowded room in the early hours of the morning, not least because it gave permission for the abandonment of any facade of respectability – or concern for socio-economic status – for a few precious hours. And for the musicians themselves, scratching part of a living from their art alongside the diurnal round of commerce or business, the club evenings represented a steady source of income (most of the singers at a Catch Club evening in 1855 were paid five shillings – about £24 in today’s money – which may not sound much. But multiply that by even 10 evenings a season, let alone all 30, and it’s not difficult to see why the wrangling over wages became so intense every year).
So a Catch Club evening was probably worth an hour or so in a bumpy coach, with a night on a straw mattress at a local inn before the morning ride home, whether you were a professional or amateur participant. The roads of Kent, it would seem, carried not only commerce, but culture; nourishing recreation as well as relationships, that spidery network on the map is much, much more than an inky archive: the heart and soul of the county’s communities pulse along those pathways, to the accompaniment of the most cheerful, inclusive, good-humoured music-making our land has ever known.
Price, Chris. The Canterbury Catch Club 1826: Music in the Frame. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars, 2019.
Scholes, P. ‘The Canterbury Catch Club’. The Music Student: XII(8). 1920. 468-469.