The Matthew Herbert Big Band were the headline act in a concert to celebrate 75 years of the British Council – and a worthy celebration it was too. The 'Resound' event brought together musicians and performers from all over the world in a set of brave collaborations; Eminent West African musicians allied with a British blues guitarist – a traditional Scottish singer-songwriter dueting with a Palestinian who plays the oud and sings with painful passion, and the cheeky pairing of the Mercury Music Prize winners, Guillemots with a new generation of the Penguin Café Orchestra.
The Council showed us films during the turnaround time to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to sharing musical cultures. Informative though the films were, the live performances were the perfect articulation of the Council's role. All the musicians have benefitted from the Council's support enabling them not just to grow and develop but to take creative risks and to spread the word about Britain's creative energy around the world.
The British Council are friends of London 2012 in a number of key projects. They are founder partners of International Inspiration – a multi-million pound project that uses sport as a tool to help emerging nations to meet the Millennium Development goals.
The Council is the international partner of the 'Unlimited' programme, recently launched as the largest ever programme of commissions to disabled artists.
We have other projects in the brew and based on tonight we really must share their passion for international music-making.
Another link comes in tonight’s concert producers, 'Serious' – a talented and innovative jazz and world music agency responsible for, amongst many other things, the healthy state of the London Jazz Festival. Serious are already working on a major world music festival for London 2012, and there’ll be more news on this early next year.
So back to Matthew Herbert and his ensemble….a top notch professional big band augmented by the larger than life Jazz singer, Eska, and in the Goldsmiths Vocal Ensemble, the most theatrical high quality youth choir I've ever seen.
In my book it's shaping up well already, and then you add the mercurial and charismatic figure of Matthew Herbert. DJ, composer, producer, choreographer and stage magnet, Herbert samples live, scratches, re-mixes and over-dubs whilst the rest of the musicians perform his work. He twists and shakes up traditional big band sounds, yet it is clear that he respects and adores the form.
Have you ever heard the sound of a hundred or so musicians reading and then tearing up the Daily Mail? Herbert created a remarkable piece of musical polemic and stage mayhem as he sampled the sounds and directed a mash up of the paper, as choir and instrumentalists turned today’s edition into confetti. (His latest album features the many sounds of a pig – Herbert’s own pig from a farm in Kent. Alas he was sans pig tonight.)
My musicologist neighbour thought it something of a musical conjuring trick – curios on the eye and the ear, but ultimately vacuous entertainment. The rapturous response from the youngish audience in the Barbican suggested he was in the minority. I hope we’ll see more of Mr Herbert somewhere in the London 2012 culture programme in future, and if so, do seek him out and make your own mind up…