Jonathan Veira is an all-round entertainer – a raconteur, a pianist, and also an opera singer. Not long into the first lockdown last year, he started broadcasting live each Sunday evening, and these performances have not only won him an award, they have created a mutually supportive community. Sorted finds out more.
What made you start ‘JV Live from the Steinway Room’?
Like a lot of things, we can look back on it as a happy accident, but others would call it a God incident. Looking at how it has unfolded since April 5, 2020 until today in 2021, I would tend to go for the latter option! It started when Sue, my wife, suggested we film a song on a phone and post it on Facebook. She also asked a nephew of ours how to do a concert live online. Said nephew – Adam Elven-Boita – showed her that various options were possible, but it became clear that some technical assistance was necessary. At which point, our ‘friends in the North’, Barrow-in-Furness to be exact, offered advice and started to become involved in creating a technical set-up that was fit for purpose.
For that first show, we used the laptop camera and the sound equipment used on our tours. We did what we could. Subsequently, the addition of more technical help, camera equipment, bigger computers and graphics etc have enabled a much more stable, enjoyable experience for everyone. I named it (rather pompously) ‘JV Live from the Steinway room’ because our room has a 6’2” 1889 Steinway! To date, we have done 40 two-hour shows, with specials, and the half-hour JV interviews with various guests from all walks of life.
And how has it gone?
It soon became clear that the need for this programme of songs, chat, laughter and community was truly great in these dark days of loneliness and isolation. It just took off, in number terms, and quickly had a steady audience of thousands each week!
This has grown into what they now call themselves ’The JV community’ and it has got its own Facebook group, and they are a staggering bunch of people concentrated on showing kindness and love to each other and to the wider community.
We also started a charity, You’ve got a friend Trust, and they crowdfunded two albums, JV The Lockdown Sessions 1 [reviewed in this issue on page 24] and JV The Lockdown Sessions Volume 2, which we hope to have out by Easter this year. The JV community is certainly way above anything Sue or I could have conceived it would be, and it’s growing!
Tell me about the award you won?
This came about because one member of the JV community nominated us for the BBC Sussex and Surrey Local Heroes Make a Difference Awards. We were notified that we had been shortlisted, then that we were in the final, and finally we were announced as the winners on radio in an on-air ceremony!
It was a lovely surprise, and we shall treasure it because it truly was a community award and a testament to the goodness of others. It is that kindness that we’ve tried to model from the very beginning, quoting the poet laureate William Wordsworth:
‘The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.’
You have had some health issues?
I now have stage five kidney disease and am in dialysis three times a week, for at least four hours each time. It’s a total change of life and one I’ve not entirely got used to nor embraced with open arms, but it’s keeping me from complete kidney failure and death. So I’m sticking with it until my kidney transplant (hopefully!) in late April this year.
It is severely limiting but I continue with the show on Sundays and try to distract myself with this aforementioned kindness to others, wherever I can see the need and can practicably help. Life is tough but being around so many for whom life is so tough anyway, in amongst a pandemic that has sucked the lifeblood out of the whole of society, nationally and internationally... I try and stay focused on the good things. Not always possible but, with the help of God and those around me, all things are possible!
How do you feel now, entering another year and in another lockdown?
I feel like everyone else; weary of it all. Weary of not being able to speak to one another without a mask; weary of sidestepping every time you see someone approaching; weary of not hugging my children or even seeing my children and grandchildren; weary of seeing the distress caused to my 92-year-old mother-in-law, who has dementia, and does not understand the continuing situation… and yes, I’m tired of the ineptitude of the governing authorities in the handling of this pandemic! I’m also, on a personal level, wanting to go back to a point where I’m paid to do my job, which hasn’t happened since March last year. And I know this will be continuing until probably the autumn. So I am just weary but always hopeful for the future, and the eventual lifting of sanctions, so I can share a more normal existence with my fellow travellers in life. Oh, how I yearn for a big concert with loads of people laughing and cheering as I sing and speak. It’s going to happen!
What is the best way for Sorted readers to join in with ‘JV Live from the Steinway room’?
Go onto Facebook and send me a friend request. You will see my picture come up on the left-hand side. I’ll accept you, and then the show comes up, ten minutes before the 8pm start on a Sunday evening and Boom! You’re part of the show.
When and how did you become a Christian?
I’m going to be slightly obtuse here and give a multi-faceted answer. I think many people can remember the day, the hour they ‘found‘ faith, at their lowest ebb or during a particular crisis. They tell of a Damascene experience and I don’t have that to tell you. I have a gentle and rather slow path to real faith which involved years of listening, not understanding, then seeing that the claims of Jesus were real and had some serious implications on how I lived and where I was going. Being brought up in a very strict Plymouth Brethren set-up made me challenge everything I heard from men (as that was all you heard: no women allowed!) preaching every Sunday and most Saturdays at Bible conferences. The first book I remember reading was the King James Version of the Bible. I was about four and went to school, and they gave me ‘Janet and John Book One’!
I knew a lot about God, but it was leaving home and going to Uni in London that opened up the opportunity to meet new people with different perspectives on God and the Bible, and that got me to finally and gradually come to a real and living faith; one that actually does shape the way you think about the world around you most importantly, the people around you and how you’re going to interact with them in gentleness and kindness. It has been a growing and changing thing over forty-plus years.
Has your faith always remained the same?
The plain answer is a big ‘No!’
When I was younger, faith was firmly in a box that you pulled out to justify this action or that action, but over the years this has changed into an evolving thing that pragmatically looks around at the world that we live in and adapts. We don’t do faith certainly in the way it was done even fifty years ago. The thought that it is in a museum behind some piece of glass to be looked at occasionally and pondered on doesn’t make any sense to me. It is a living, breathing thing, constantly changing its way of understanding what is around it. My faith in Jesus of Nazareth, however, born of Mary, who lived and died and rose again... now that has remained the same: just not the way of interpreting that in a vastly changing world.
Tell me more about the one-man shows that you were doing before the virus struck?
The one-man show is an evening for people of all ages, as I sing songs from people as diverse as Billy Joel and Elton John and maybe songs by Mozart and Puccini ... it’s a relaxed couple of hours of very high-class entertainment from an international singer who accompanies himself on piano whilst telling stories from behind the stage. It will have people laughing at one point, then crying because of the beauty of a song and the beauty of the voice in an intimate setting.
By Ali Hull