Monday 3 June 2019

Musicianship & sheer engagement: Brixton Chamber Orchestra's Live Lounge at the Department Store

Brixton Chamber Orchestra, Matthew O'Keeffe, Maro Doucoure - Downstairs at the Department Store, Brixton
Brixton Chamber Orchestra, Matthew O'Keeffe, Maro Doucoure - Downstairs at the Department Store, Brixton
Live Lounge; Brixton Chamber Orchestra, Matthew O'Keeffe; The Department Store, Brixton Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 June 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Acoustic covers of a wide range of songs from this lively Brixton-based ensemble with a range of talented local vocalists

The Brixton Chamber Orchestra, artistic director Matthew O'Keeffe, is a lively large-scale chamber ensemble which seeks to involve itself in Brixton's diverse cultural life whether it be classical music, gospel, rap, or Michael Jackson. All these styles and more were on display at the ensemble's Live Lounge at the Department Store in Brixton on Saturday (1 June 2019). Directed from the keyboard by Matthew O'Keeffe, they performed acoustic covers of Michael Jackson, Desiree, Adele, Justin Timberlake, Rap, Gospel, Fleetwood Mac and much more with a talented group of local vocalists, Maro Doucoure, Camile Reid, Daniel Lewis, Megan McArthur, Ruth Brown, Terra the Kid and Rowlando Morgan.

Downstairs at the Department Store is an event space linked to the club Upstairs at the Department Store in the Department Store development in Brixton where architects Squire and Partners have revivified an old department store building.

Matthew O'Keefe directed an ensemble of 14 young classically trained musicians, string quartet, double bass, single woodwind, horn, trumpet, trombone, guitar and percussion, with only the guitar, keyboard and vocalists having any amplification. The imaginative arrangements were done by Matthew O'Keeffe and provided a new an intriguing view of some well loved classics.
Brixton Chamber Orchestra, Matthew O'Keeffe, Ruth Brown - Downstairs at the Department Store, Brixton
Brixton Chamber Orchestra, Matthew O'Keeffe, Ruth Brown - Downstairs at the Department Store, Brixton

For many people the stand out vocalist amongst a talented group was Ruth Brown who displayed an incredible belt voice and sang a terrific piar of power ballads, Justin Timberlake's Cry me a River and Radiohead's Creep. As striking in a different way was the rapper Terra the Kid who has performed with Brixton Chamber Orchestra before in their Grime Reorchestrated event, and here he returned to show us what rap could be like performed with a live, acoustic accompaniment. He performed Get Mash by Yakub and Terra the Kid with its catchy rhythmic accompaniment, but the real cross over came when he rapped to the first movement of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony (in Matthew O'Keeffe's chamber arrangement) displaying stunning verbal dexterity.

Brixton Chamber Orchestra, Camile Reid - Downstairs at the Department Store, Brixton
Brixton Chamber Orchestra,
Camile Reid
Camile Reid sang Adele's Chasing Pavements and Gnarles Barkley's Crazy, whilst Maro Doucoure gave us the Michael Jackson song Rock You. Daniel Lews sang the evocative Led Zeppelin number No Quarter, with some terrific cello rifs from Ruby Moore, and Usher's You Remind Me. Megan McArthur sang the Desiree song Kissing You, and joined with Lewis and Reid for a version of Fleetwood Mac's Songbird made all the more effective for the close-harmony vocals being delivered completely acoustically. Gospel singer Rowlando Morgan, who has also worked with Brixton Chamber Orchestra before, sang his own Rest my friend.

There was a bossa nova version of Ravel's Pavane pour un infante defunte (and it worked too!), Satie's Third Gymnopedie (in Iain Farringdon's orchestration) alongside Cornflake by the Psychedelic Porn Crumpets. We ended with all the singers joining the ensemble for Bony M's Sunny (which the ensemble had performed at the Brixton Disco Festival.

It was a stirring and striking evening, and everyone enjoyed the variety on offer, the musicianship and the sheer engagement of the performers. The instrumentalists of Brixton Chamber Orchestra provided sophisticated accompaniments which brought another dimension to the songs whilst never radically transforming them into something they are not. Matthew O'Keeffe, as well as directing from the keyboard, filled in as vocalist at one point and made an entertaining compere.

Brixton Chamber Orchestra:
Deronne White - Flute
Ed Holmes - Clarinet
Khemi Shabazz - Oboe
Florence Plane - Bassoon
Olly Davies - Horn
Elias Atkinson - Trumpet
Michael Ruddlesden - Trombone
Ana Vandepeer - Violin
Alice Millar - Violin
Abby Bowden - Viola
Ruby Moore - Cello
Stevie Lawrence - Guitar
Will Henderson - Bass
Rhys Davies - Percussion
Matthew O’Keeffe - MD, Keys & Arranger

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