Birthday Memories with Tom Speight

As part of our 25 Birthday Year celebrations, we hear from Tom Speight, long time Promoter in Castle Carrock, Cumbria.

Once you get into rural touring, it kind of gets into you. It’s certainly got into me. And some.
There I was, having just moved to the picturesque Cumbrian fellside village of Castle Carrock, 10 miles east of Carlisle. With the most beautiful old fashioned, former reading room, the grandly named Watson Institute on my doorstep. And I heard about some organisation called Highlights which somehow magically got professional performance art into village halls.
The lovely Barbara Slack, who along with Rosie Cross got Highlights up and running all those years ago, agreed to meet me one cold winter’s day to size up the options. And I don’t mean just cold outside. The hall was freezing. It had those red glowing heaters which hung from the ceiling, enough to gently grill a bald man’s scalp and leave his feet freezing cold. They weren’t all working. She looked around at the hard brown plastic chairs stacked up in one corner and said – well, let’s try you with Hank Wangford and Reg Meuross and see what happens.
That was 14 years and about 40 Highlights shows ago – plus all the other ones which promoting through Highlights has given me the confidence to organise.
Since then I’ve had the most wonderful time as a Promoter.
Concert guitarist Richard Durrant always insisting on playing barefoot and using incense. That time when Avanti and Artizani made a revolving stage actually work in my little village hall. Or when the culmination of one show was the sudden appearance of an enormous inflatable lobster invading every nook and cranny. Kid Carpet and his beautiful tiny creatures. The poignancy of Farnham Maltings’ In Search of Elephants. Shoo Shoo Baby’s glamour. Or that time when the snow suddenly coming down thickly over the Pennines meant that All Because the Lady Loves Jazz almost became all because the lady didn’t leave enough time to get to the venue.
And as my confidence grew, I decided to have a go at trying to influence things too. I joined the Highlights Board to offer thoughts as to the direction of the organisation (always great coffee and biscuits at the Board meetings). And then, after attending my first National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) conference, I was invited to join the NRTF ( as a volunteer to help from a national perspective. Did you know there are over 25 rural touring schemes just like Highlights across the UK. And then I became Chair of NRTF four years ago.
25 years is an amazing achievement. Promoting Highlights shows has changed my life. It gave me the confidence to think “I can do this”, it helped me give something back to my community, and it scratched that itch that I had, to try to make the world a bit of a better place. There’s nothing like seeing a hall full of faces having a great time and thinking “I helped do this”.
Happy Birthday Highlights – and all who sail within her.
Tom Speight @tomspeight

The Watson Institute, Castle Carrock

Shoo Shoo Baby at The Watson Institute

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