Island News

They Came from San Francisco: 'The Bench', Jelsa's Hottest New Concert Venue

By 19 October 2016

My musical career is not one that I am proud of. As a 13 year-old, I was forced to learn an instrument at boarding school, and having had my singing assessed by the teacher, I was dismissed as tuneless and allocated the violin, along with the other 30 tone-deaf kids in my year. My crowning moment came at the school Christmas concert, where we 30 music-deficient kids gave a rousing version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which brought the house down. Only one young violinist had his bow moving in the opposite direction, and there are no prizes for guessing who. 

With age, I realised that perhaps my musical talents lay in management, and I was given the chance to put the theory to the test six years ago, when I signed up a promising duet from the rough end of rural Stoke-on-Trent, whose parents had a holiday goat shed on Hvar, which I had happened to sell them in a previous incarnation as a real estate agent.  It took some time, but within a couple of years The Leedham Sisters were the main support act at Hvar's biggest festival, the Puhijada Dormouse Festival in Dol, and their teenage years singing in the village of Selca above Stari Grad inspired a young neighbour, one Dino Petric who would go on to achieve national fame on The Voice. 

Having orgnised gigs in illustrious places such as The Office on Jelsa's main square and Hvar Wine Association tastings, the girls realised that their ambitions were greater than their manager's, and they returned to university musical education and successful futures. 

The idea of some international musical influence in Jelsa would not leave me, and nor would a mild obsession I had about life here - The Bench.

Wise old men, bastions of Dalmatian tradition. At least until a Czech model walked past... 

My mild obsession struck a chord with some, and as I reported recently, Mariana from Sydney made a trip to the island specifically to sit on the bench. 

It was a story which seemed to tickle Californian band Cellar Doors, whom I met last week in Split during their 8-gig tour of Croatia. Two beers later, 8 gigs had become 9, and they were literally begging for the opportunity to perform on The Bench. A phone call to Jelsa's very accommodating mayor Niksa Peronja, and the stage was set. 11:30 Wednesday...

Now an experienced band manager having had to deal with the Leedham Sisters all these years (before they go on to fame and fortune and forget me), I was unphased to get a message at 08:15 this morning, requesting a guitar. I was even more unphased when the band rocked up, grateful for the guitar (thanks, Professor), then requested another one, plus - if it was not too much trouble - a tambourine. 

Where to find such things at short notice in Jelsa in mid-October? Fortunately, our resident olive oil gold medal winning Dutchman was at the next table and reappeared 5 minutes later with a second guitar. 

As for the tambourine, Dutchman Henk pointed the band in the right direction for the best compromise instrument.

A tough choice between a waiter's tray and a heart-shaped baking tin. You wouldn't get THAT back in San Francisco... (or would you?). 


Having granted permission for the inaugural concert, Jelsa's dynamic mayor Niksa Peronja was on hand for the photo shoot - many thanks for your support. 

The Bench was sadly free of wisdom, but this perhaps removed any performing nerves from the San Fran Trio, who quickly got into their groove. 

Check out their opening song here. 

Jelsa in mid-October - why would you be anywhere else?

But if they thought they were finished with their gig, they were wrong. Lunch at Me and mrs Jones happened to coincide with owner Josipa's birthday - happy birthday Josipa!

A birthday tribute above, before the guys from Cellar Doors headed off to go paintballing in Jelsa, with the aim of wine tasting with Andro Tomic before taking the last ferry back to Split. 

Jelsa in October - gorgeous. 

Cellar Doors are playing tomorrow night in Split, minus the heart-shaped baking tin - lovely guys. Why not catch up with them and ask them about their time on The Bench? More details of tomorrow's gig here