It is not just wine that Richard Hemming MW has mastered, he also happens to be a very talented musician. Keyboards being his choice of weapon. When he discovered there were equally talented musicians in the trade he came up with the idea of forming a band, Skin Côntact LIVE, that could also help raise money at the same time. Here, as they prepare for their second gig on May 12, Hemming explains how music and wine appear inextricably linked.
How Skin Côntact LIVE is uniting our passions for wine and music to help raise money for Wine Relief
Music and wine are as inextricably linked as spittoons and splashback, and the trade is full of people who love both with obsessive passion. At their best, they each provoke an incredibly powerful emotional response. So what happens when you bring them together?
Skin Côntact LIVE is my answer to that question: it’s a live music extravaganza by the wine trade and for the wine trade. The first one happened in 2015, and the sequel is coming up on Thursday 12 May at the O2 Academy Islington. I wanted to stage something that combined all the conviviality of wine with all the adrenaline of live music. What I didn’t realise was how much I’d discover about the wine trade in the process.
The idea came about when I started to realise how much musical talent there is in the wine world. Matt James of The Bordeaux Cellar was the drummer in Britpop legends Gene, who headlined Reading in 1995 and sold out the Royal Albert Hall in 1997. Ben Smith of Concha y Toro used to play bass with 80s chart-toppers Curiosity Killed The Cat and 90s popsters Let Loose. Olly Smith was a chorister at King’s College Cambridge. If I could persuade the likes of them to get involved, I wouldn’t have a band, I’d have a supergroup!
The next thing I needed was a cause. Wine Relief was perfect: it was established in 1999 by Jancis Robinson and her husband as an initiative to raise money through the wine trade for Comic Relief, the UK’s biggest charity. It gave Skin Côntact LIVE the ideal motivation, while raising money for a really worthy and popular cause.
I’d already discovered that the wine trade is full of hidden talent and charitable spirit – but what I needed now was cold hard cash. I told wine PR specialist Emma Wellings about my idea, and she suggested InterRhône, the generic body who promote Rhône wines. They were inviting pitches for events at the time, and this turned out to be the perfect fit. They got the idea instantly and have been hugely supportive ever since.
Skin Côntact LIVE takes dozens of people to make it happen. Through wine trade connections, we’ve involved designers, audio technicians, promoters, DJs, lighting designers, caterers, photographers and volunteers who help with everything from pouring wine to giving the keyboard player a foot rub after the show. Okay, maybe that’s wishful thinking.
Then there are the real stars of the show: our singers. This year, ten brave souls are taking to the stage, and they are all brilliant. Three of them won a competition to get a place on the bill: Tristan Darby runs a wine school in Bristol, Anne Serres is a writer, Steph Barlow runs the Berry Bros shop in Basingstoke.
They join Olly Smith, Amelia Singer from The Wine Show, former Decanter editor Guy Woodward, Noble Rot co-founder Mark Andrew, Bancroft’s Sophie McLean, winemaker Leah de Felice Renton and ‘professional MW student’ Ali Cooper. Between us we have put together a 15 song set of guaranteed crowd-pleasing covers to keep the wine trade dancing.
Projects like Skin Côntact rely on a collaborative spirit. Above all, we need an audience. Nearly 350 people came to the original Skin Côntact LIVE and if you’re reading this, you’re invited this year! Buying a ticket means you will be part of the wine trade party of the year and experience first hand what happens when music and wine come together in the best possible way. We rock!
But don’t take my word for it: tickets cost £20 (plus booking fee) with 100% of the face value going to Wine Relief. You can buy tickets and find out more via skincontactlive.com