Dave Dawson has worked as a professional entertainer since 1995, doing gigs in pubs and working men’s clubs. Nowadays, he performs for a very different audience, and one which he says is far more difficult to impress.
He began working in care homes six years ago when someone who saw him singing in a pub asked if he’d consider a care home gig. Though he admits that he wasn’t sure at first, he hasn’t looked back since and now performs regularly in a number of homes, including several run by Barchester.
“A lot of people ask me ‘What are you doing care homes for?’ Some people see it as a step down. They might even joke, ‘Is it because you’re not very good?’ But I tell them that it’s quite the opposite, that this is a very demanding audience. You’ve got to give the best show possible every time.”
“There is a stigma attached to it, yes. But when I did that first gig in 2010, my perception completely changed.”
“I see it as a privilege to perform for care home residents. You have to remember they aren’t on a night out, they are in their home. I’m performing in their front room.”
“It’s a very critical audience. If they don’t like it, they have no qualms about asking to leave. They’re also very clued up and they know what they like.”
Dave soon found that you need an expansive catalogue of songs behind you and knowledge of different genres and eras; “I thought the residents might just want to hear all the old wartime songs but I can easily go in and play Neil Diamond, Country and Western, Rock and Roll, Reggae... all kinds of music. As my Dad said to me, if someone’s 80 now, they didn’t stop listening to music when they were 15!”
Dave loves his work so much that when he relocated from London to the South West, he kept up his work in a number of homes which are no longer easy for him to get to; West Oak Care Home, in Wokingham, is one of those homes. Dave explains: “West Oak is really out of my radius now, but it’s one of those jobs that when you see it in your diary you think, ‘yeah!’ and you genuinely can’t wait. It’s just a lovely home and I know all the staff and residents. I have worked there for two years and I’d have a hole if I didn’t go there anymore.”
After six years singing in care homes, it is clear that Dave wouldn’t choose to do anything else; “I feel great doing these shows and I get some lovely feedback. Music is a very powerful force and can have a big impact in care homes. It really draws you in and certain songs can take you back to something that happened in your past.”