Grand Union Orchestra

A concert to really look forward to. Rhythm of Tides by the Grand Union Orchestra in the magnificent 1730’s splendour of the Great Hall of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital(above).

This year’s City of London Festival has a theme: Lusophone countries. (I had to look it up too, it means the countries where they speak Portuguese.) A confession. I am a complete goner for the sounds of the Portuguese language – probably why I go upstairs for far too many cups of coffee here at Kings Place. And why I’ve been wasting time with the Instituto Camoes press release in Portuguese about the festival

Anyway, the Portuguese theme gives the perfect excuse for one of the hidden gems of London’s musical scene, Tony Haynes’ Grand Union Orchestra , to get out and perform a piece which hasn’t been heard in London for a decade: Rhythm of Tides, or “Por Mares Do Imaginario”. Grand Union Orchestra have been a force in world music since before the bandwagon got going. And it’s never just about sound. They take on issues The orchestra sent me a CD of the recording made by the BBC of a Queen Elizabeth Hall performance in October 1996.

Here’s the Festival’s page about the concert.

And here is a video about Grand Union Orchestra


Nice . It’s a substantial nine movement work by the Orchestra’s director Tony Haynes, pulling in influences and sounds and sensations from all over the world. But Haynes’ experience of Portugal and the legacy of its colonial empire is something which runs deep, having lived in Portugal and known many people there who had been conscripted to serve in Africa. There is a message about freedom here, about the pulling together of cultures. There is a fullnes from ideas, content, thought underlying this music.

The piece starts quietly, hypnotically, barcarolle-like, with the sounds of a simple arpeggiated melody on Portuguese guitar. Then, surreptitiously, the Portuguese guitarist finds himself duetting with…a sitar. The next movement is a second, very different piece of scene-seting, a kicking, lively overture with an African explosion of sound, a lively horn section led from the front by Claude Deppa’s trumpet. And busy koras texture underneath. On the live recording you can hear from the applause that the crowd absolutely loved it.

But the best treats are still to come. An authentic fado singer intoning Tony Haynes’ setting of a poem by Manuel Alegre. The poet was in exile when he wrote it. But its sugary-sounding nostalgia, Haynes tells me, is coded language for a subtle but strong political statement of resistance against the Salazar dictatorship. And like all the best lives, Manuel Alegre’s has had a second act: now in his seventies, Alegre is a socialist candidate for the presidency of Portugal next year. And later some of the band’s great jazz improvisers get let out of the box. I’m looking forward to the likes of Paul Jayasinha and Chris Biscoe really cut loose.

See you there.

Try the sound clips here. .

And book tickets

Categories: miscellaneous

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