Review of Grand Union - The Next Generation gig by Rich Mix Youth Ambassador
26 November 2009
Young Ambassador for Rich Mix (a multi-arts venue on Bethnal Green Road) Samson Ikharia, reviews the Grand Union Next Generation performance
See the review on the Rich Mix youth ambassador website or read below:
“The original world music orchestra”
If you were to pay a visit the Grand Union website (at www.grandunion.org.uk) you would sooner or later come across an online video profile regarding the background of the band and the ideals of liberation and equality that unite the 25 year old London based musical organisation – in this clip long time member Gerry Hunt describes the multicultural collective as “an amazing family of musicians from around the world, we all learn from each other…it’s extraordinary and unique.”
The Grand Union Orchestra from the very beginning of their set emanated a warm feeling of real familial respect for each other, which naturally spread onto the audience as the night progressed. Upon arrival the main stage was cluttered with a wide variety of instruments from across the world - you could instantly tell you were in the presence of consummate musicianship, and before you could say “Happy Halloween!” the night was swiftly kicked off with a bouncy brass-led Caribbean calypso number – the song felt like an impromptu music lesson by the time every member on the stage was in full swing. Long time, founding members of the band; Welsh Ros Davies (trombone) and Australian Louise Elliot (tenor saxophone) led the way through the track –igniting the Rich Mix stage in a blaze of Caribbean colour.
I found myself hypnotised several times by the seemingly effortless musical mastery of South African musician Claude Deppa and Tabla maestro Yousuf Ali Khan. Ketan Kerai - A member of the Next Generation really proved himself to be a force of nature on the Sarangi and Dhol. There were numerous times during the evening when a member of the Orchestra would switch from playing one instrument for one song then progress straight onto another instrument - from a different musical family - for the next track with an unintentional ease and slickness. The relentless musicianship within the Union is what took centre stage within the Rich Mix Bar and it is what mesmerised the crowd.
Tony Haynes, co-founder and composer behind the Grand Union Orchestra held an impressive, quiet control over the musical proceedings and humbly took to the microphone several times to explain the story behind several of the tracks heard on the night. Many of the songs were riveting pieces about devastating personal or world events - Such has “Can’t Chain Up Me Mind” which celebrates the abolition of the Slave Trade:
“Master do your best
Let the Devil do the rest
But you can’t chain up me mind!”
The track was led by another member of the Next Generation of Grand Union - Jonathan Andre. Andre (on vocals) really managed to arouse some passion and fire into the venue with his memorable rendition of this song of celebration and defiance. Besides revelling for about an hour afterwards in the joy of hearing the Union serve up their own rendition of “Monkey Man” by the reggae group Toots and The Maytals - I was really impressed but not truly surprised - by the Orchestra’s ability to integrate all of the various instruments and sounds from all over the world together. This was done completely and cohesively to form rich, forward and textured music with none of the culture or authenticity lost in the process.
I managed to corner a few members of the Orchestra and probe them a little…
I spoke with Ros Davies, and New Generation member Jonathan André...
25 years is a long time! Could you tell me a bit about the band for all the newbies and comment on the legacy of the Grand Union Orchestra?
Ros: Ooh that’s really hard! Well, we are a collection of people from all the different walks of life and backgrounds in London. The group is expanding all the time, so at first we didn’t have a Turkish member but now we do! (Gunes Cerit – another talented member of the Next Generation shyly smiles at us) We are all pulled together quite a lot by Jazz - because Jazz has a cross-genre feeling.
Does the Grand Union have an aim…a creative mission that unites you?
Jonathan: To spread cultural music all over the place!
Ros: (Laughs) ...a pretty big aim….
Tell me some more about the Next Generation of Grand Union?
Jonathan: Well I am in the Grand Union Youth Orchestra. We do some work with the main orchestra. The Next Generation, I guess consists of people from Youth Orchestra who are a bit too old to be in the Youth Orchestra and too young to be in the main one – who are in a kind of transition period…in-between.
So are they testing you out?
Jonathan: Yeah (Laughs
Ros: No, no they are testing us out! (Laughs
Jon: It’s a way of bring other people into the actual orchestra who have been doing it for quite a while – it’s a good thing.
That’s a lot of meaty experience for the younger guys –
Jon: Yeah exactly I have learnt a lot, both the Youth Orchestra and Grand Union have been great for me.
Ros: It’s a great experience for all of us, playing with musicians - experts from different fields. It’s fantastic.
So it’s not like a student/teacher relationship between the New Generation and the Grand Union?
ALL: No…Not at all…
Ros: Jonathan has his own skill, Gunes has her own skill – we each have our own skill and then we try and find a way to play together, we bring everything to the table.
So we all live in London, birthplace of the Union – what exactly does London mean to you?
Ros: Well it is home for a start, it’s fantastic - London is a place where so many different people from different backgrounds live together. The Grand Union has a lot to do with respect, for me if we didn’t have respect we wouldn’t have anything really. In London there is the potential for much respect in regards to the different cultures, which you don’t encounter in the same way when you play outside of the city. In London you can get a group of people and find a way to play together, outside London that is not so easy. The great thing is we can meet up easier because we all live in the same area! (Laughs)