Bristol Reggae Orchestra hits the high notes

On Sunday 20 November, I was lucky to attend a concert at St George’s, Bristol by the remarkable Bristol Reggae Orchestra. Amongst other things, it was the culmination of a collaboration with young Scottish composer Kim Moore, who had been “adopted” by the Orchestra over a year ago. This was part of Making Music’s ‘Adopt a Composer’ scheme (together with ‘Sound and Music’, BBC Radio 3 and the PRS for Music Foundation), which I ran for eight years, during my time there. One of the last things I did before leaving for LMN was launch this collaboration, and it was a great pleasure for me to see (and hear) it come to fruition.

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Bristol Reggae Orchestra is an inspiring band. Created and led by local saxophonist and influential arts academic Professor Norma Daykin, it is made up of around 40 local musicians, all of whom are great performers. They draw their influence from reggae, ska, jazz and classical musicians, with most of the music composed or arranged specifically for them. They produce a gloriously bold sound, one of enjoyment and sheer exuberance. Lately, they have been working with local refugee musicians. Such people often struggle to find a voice in UK communities, but here they have done so with pride, giving delight to audiences and collaborators. The resulting influence of Persian sounds in particular was new to me, and very exciting.

Kim Moore is a Glasgow-based composer, who used to play with indie band Zoey Van Goey. I remember that she really impressed the selection panel with her enthusiasm and creative approach to composing. For this concert, the band had teamed up with a choir of children from three local primary schools (Bannerman Road Community Academy, Cabot Primary School and St Barnabas CEVC Primary). This aspect of the collaboration was supported by Bristol Sings Music and The People’s Health Trust, led by dynamic local singing leader Laurie Stewart. They were also joined by local singing star Melanie Marshall. So, Kim had taken on quite a challenge!

But I’m delighted to say that Kim had risen to that challenge. The resulting piece gave all of the various players space to shine, from the energy and enthusiasm of the children (who behaved like professional singers throughout, and sounded great), to the unique solo sound of Melanie Marshall, to the reggae-inflected engine of the Bristol Reggae Orchestra itself. Whilst the players clearly enjoyed themselves, so did the audience; but most impressively of all, I got the sense that Kim had remained true to her own compositional identity throughout. A true collaboration. Hats off to everyone involved.

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