Reviews

Here are some highlights from reviews from Grand Union’s recent performances. Click on the links below to view whole articles.

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LETTER TO THE GUARDIAN, MAY 5TH 2020

ref: The Long Read, Friday May 1st

Cholera – what an excellent and timely Long Read on Friday! We’ve heard a lot about the current pandemic being ‘unprecedented’ or ‘unpredictable’, but not a lot about ‘prescience’, which is perhaps more the realm of artists than politicians and scientists…

Three years ago, I created a music-theatre work in collaboration with the brilliant epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani called Song of Contagion for the Grand Union Orchestra. It explored attitudes to disease globally, how governments respond, who provides funding for treatment, the influence of the media and so on. A morbid subject, you might think, but it moved audiences deeply, and was ultimately upbeat in tone.

The first episode dramatised cholera – chronicling its rise in East London (and subsequent remedy) in the 19th Century, alongside its impact on Kolkata (still not properly addressed). The narrative followed exactly that of Neil Singh’s article, including a ‘Ballad of John Snow’, his battle against vested interests and the eventual building of London’s sewers. Interwoven with this was the story of West Bengal, where virtually nothing is being done to heed appeals for clean, fresh water.

What made it unusually powerful, however, was its authenticity. First, it was performed in Wilton’s (Victorian) Music Hall just off Cable Street, in the East End, where the epidemic was particularly rampant; secondly, the Indian sections featured three of the Company’s core Bengali artists.

I make this point to illustrate the role creative artists (as distinct from ‘creative industries’) can play in times like these, and even more importantly in the social and cultural reconstruction that will be needed in a post-Covid world. Imagination is key, and it is encouraging to see bodies like the Arts Council responding also imaginatively. I and my fellow musicians and singers – all freelance, self-employed – are already grateful for the emergency funding we have received.

Yours faithfully

Tony Haynes
Grand Union Orchestra
East London

(This letter as published can be read here on the Guardian website)

Since this letter was published (but not necessarily because of it!), we have received several generous donations, for which we are very grateful. However, we should like to thank particularly the anonymous donor of the munificent sum of £9999.99!

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Neon Nettle on Undream’d Shores (2014)

“Anybody living in East London today is witness to the generations of migrants who moulded the city, creating an identity of multi culture across all spectrums. The Grand Union Orchestra new show - 'Undreamed Shores', does just that with an elegant ease with a compilation of hundreds of performers, each adding flavour and dynamic to the overwhelmingly impressive soundscape.” Full review here

BBC Music Magazine on Undream'd Shores (2014)

"This show, based on themes of migration, is the latest Grand Union offering staged at the Hackney Empire. A dazzling display of instrumental and vocal talent, there are no doubts about its inclusive ambition. Music from Portugal, England, China, West Africa, Turkey, Latin America, Bangladesh, India and the Caribbean vies for attention with big band workouts, choral call-and-answer pieces and even the odd prog rock moment. It is an impressive feat of musicianship.

During the recurring rest points when fresh instrumental and vocal colours (including Chinese harp and Portuguese guitar) are given lyrical prominence, there are moments of true suspense and mystery. Equally electric, if speaking an altogether different language, is a jazz-rock explosion early in the show when trumpet, alto clarinet and alto saxophone soloists chase each other over a rollicking swing beat. The downside with allowing so many voices to be heard is that there is occasionally a feeling of wanting to lean in and allow some more time to a particular artist or tradition." Full review here

London Jazz on Undream’d Shores (2014) by Duncan Heining

“The Grand Union Orchestra has been making great, radical world jazz in the musical melting pot of London’s East End for thirty years. By rights, Undream’d Shores, their most elaborate and expansive show yet, should have filled the Festival Hall. Surely only neglect and ignorance keeps GUO out of such august venues. Wouldn’t you think these tales of migration, exile, loss and ultimate transcendence would strike a chord everywhere and melt even the most jaded and cynical of hearts? No matter, this is East End jazz in its rightful home at the Hackney Empire.” Full review here

A more detailed review by the same author appeared in All About Jazz

Jazzwise on 11.11.11 (February 2012 Issue) 

“There is really nothing quite like the Grand Union Orchestra. It reaches out to areas of the music and of life, that lesser ensembles would shy away from – or worse dabble in for vanity’s sake.” Full review here

Hackney Gazette On Liberation Street (2009), reviewed in local paper

“It took 12 weeks of rehearsals with a dozen schools and some 150 participants, but when the Grand Union Orchestra’s collaborative show, ‘On Liberation Street’, finally hit the Hackney Empire on March 20th and 21st, it was a joyful and exhilarating sight.” Full review here 

David Pullock, Australian evening news, Queen’s Hall in Melbourne, Australia (2003)

“Given the non-stop experimentation that’s obviously a by-product of fusing all these sounds together, the way they fit has a surprisingly practised naturalism, with the odd jarring moment which inevitably ensues, only colouring their vivid musical palette even more.” Full review here

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