|Grand Union Orchestra|
In 1984, the Greater London Council commissioned Grand Union – which had already made its reputation touring two remarkable music-theatre shows Jelly Roll Soul and Strange Migration – to produce a work to celebrate its Year Against Racism. In collaboration with co-founders John Cumming, David Bradford and Julie Eaglen I came up with The Song of Many Tongues, which under the auspices of Alternative Arts was first performed to a large and wonderfully responsive crowd on a glorious September afternoon in the Covent Garden piazza. Thus the Grand Union Orchestra was born.
30 years later GUO is still going as strong as ever, and of course its musical reach has broadened enormously. There is still a remarkable number of leading jazz players – Chris Biscoe, Tony Kofi, Louise Elliott, Claude Deppa, Shanti Paul Jayasinha and Kevin Robinson are among those who will grace the Hackney Empire stage – and a growing roster of artists from all major musical traditions worldwide. Above all – since lyrics always under-pin the drama of GUO shows – there is an amazing range of singers.
In the meantime we have also established our own Youth Orchestra, following the model of the parent GUO; an unusual young string ensemble; and more recently a ‘world choir’. These too will be part of the Hackney Empire show.
Most of the performers are from East London, many themselves migrants or from migrant families, and this in turn has determined the theme and musical flavour of the show. For over 500 years the East End has been the focus of migration to the UK, and at a time when anti-immigration rhetoric is becoming so corrosive, it is as well to remember how immigration has enriched – and continues to enrich – our musical culture. (After all, if a similar mixing had not happened in New Orleans a century ago, we would probably not have jazz at all…)
The title of the show (borrowed from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale) seemed to evoke aspiration, hope and even the spontaneity improvisers aim for; but what I could never have imagined thirty years ago is that Grand Union was itself setting out for Undream’d Shores, or indeed that the journey would still be going on….
HACKNEY EMPIRE, SATURDAY NOVEMBER 1ST 7.30pm SUNDAY NOVEMBER 2ND 5.00pm. BOOKINGS
Review of GUO On The Edge from 2013
Preview of GUO Liberation and Remembrance from 2012
Review of GUO If Paradise.. from 2011
Review of GUO Rhythm of Tides from 2010