PREVIEW: Grand Union Orchestra's Song Of Contagion at Wilton's Music Hall (13-17 June 2017)

Part of the Grand Union Orchestra


The Grand Union Orchestra tackles a serious subject in its distinctive charismatic and theatrical manner and unveils it over five nights next week. Peter Bacon reports:


"Why do some diseases around the world attract media attention and generous funding for effective treatment, while others equally devastating are virtually ignored? Is it because they are only found in distant parts of the world, or affect mainly poor or marginalised groups? How can this be expressed in musical and dramatic form?"

Nope, it's not your average starting point for a new composition and stage show. But then the Grand Union Orchesta is not your average big band.

The project, so the story goes, was suggested by the epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani, who approached Grand Union's Tony Haynes - its artistic director and one of its co-founders - with the idea after seeing the band's Undream'd Shores at the Hackney Empire.

Tony explains the result of that meeting:

"The Grand Union Orchestra is presenting a brand new work for a week-long run at Wilton’s Music Hall [from 13 to 17 June]. Called Song of Contagion, it is funded by the Wellcome Trust, and its theme is the inequality with which disease is regarded around the world – who gets the funding, the treatment, the media attention. A serious subject, perhaps, but a very appropriate one for Grand Union – in this case a 25-strong group of global musicians and singers. It’s been quite a challenge to write, but largely for that reason it’s drawn out of me some of my most imaginative and ambitious music yet."

And, among the band's many well-known players, there's an unexpected, illlustrious surprise.

Tony, again:

"As usual, of course, I have the benefit of some extraordinary performers. They include 
most notably such GUO stalwarts as Tony Kofi, Claude Deppa, Chris Biscoe, Louise Elliott and Shanti Jayasinha – all great jazz soloists – plus GUO’s roster of charismatic singers worldwide and even a small string section. Above all, however, it’s a particular pleasure to me and all of us that the show is the occasion for the return to London for the first time in seven years of Brian Abrahams.

"Brian Abrahams occupied the drum chair of the Grand Union Orchestra for nearly 20 years.
In the early 2000s he and I ran a series of very successful GUO-style projects in Melbourne, and eventually for family reasons he decided to settle there."

Tony explains that Brian is back in London just until the end of July and would love to make contact again with old friends. So, if you want to contact Brian, email tony@grandunion.org.uk and he'll give you Brian's phone number. And if you have a gig for Brian while he's here, all the better!

The Grand Union Orchestra presents Song Of Contagion at Wilton's Music Hall in Whitechapel, London from Tuesday 13 June to Saturday 17 June. For full details about the project, the performers and to buy tickets go to the special Song Of Contagion website.

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