Preview: Glasgow’s West End Festival

West end Festival 2014. Picture: TSPL
West end Festival 2014. Picture: TSPL
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Musically speaking, Glasgow’s much-loved Kelvingrove Museum tends to be associated with the time-honoured daily organ recital which thunders around its vast, Spanish-Baroque interior.

Next month, however, will see music of a different sort echoing off its imposing red sandstone exterior as a dozen street bands congregate on the museum steps in the culmination of the flamboyant Mardi Gras parade which marks the opening weekend of the city’s West End Festival.

On Sunday, 7 June, as the bands – an expected 250 musicians – gather in riotous musical assembly in front of the museum, expect also a “horn section flash mob”, plus an attempt to break the Scottish record for the most sousaphones to play together.

The event, with a significant input of young players, is being masterminded by the Edinburgh-based Oi Musica, which provides specialist music education programmes with an emphasis on street bands, and Glasgow’s renowned 30-piece samba band, SambaYaBamba. It also marks the culmination of a highly successful, open-access youth project, Hoots on the Streets, run by Oi Musica and funded by Creative Scotland, which creates opportunities for youngsters of all backgrounds and experience levels to participate in band playing.

“Hoots on the Streets comes to an end this summer, so the West End Festival, with all these bands coming together on the streets, seemed the perfect culmination for the project,” explains clarinettist and tenor saxophonist Olivia Furness. Based in Edinburgh, she and her husband and musical partner Marcus Britton, established Oi Musica four years ago. When it comes to unleashing carnivalesque mayhem on the streets, the pair are singularly well qualified, being the co-founders of the exuberantly honk-steppin’ Orkestra del Sol, a street band which has delighted audiences in streets and dance halls as far apart as Andalucia and Beijing.

“The time that we’ve spent touring with Orkestra has been brilliant for getting a feel for what’s been going on in other places and countries,” says Furness. “We felt there was a huge demand here in Scotland but not a lot going on in terms of street bands – when Orkestra started out about ten years ago, there was nothing like it here.”

Furness had wanted to run a youth street band project for a while but couldn’t embark on it until Orkestra took a break, and, with funding from Creative Scotland, Hoots on the Streets was born. The result has included four youth street bands – TNT, combining three bands from the Highlands and Aberdeenshire, and the Edinburgh based Pulse of the Place.

“SambaYaBamba have a long-running relationship with the West End festival,” says Furness, “and have been bringing guests from across the UK and Europe, putting the festival on the map as a place that samba bands want to come to. So I got in touch and explained our youth project and they were up for anything.”

As the Hoots on the Streets project draws to an end, Furness says they are getting some very positive feedback from some of the youngsters suggesting that, while street music means a lot of fun, it can also get participants seriously involved in music. “I know that a lot of young people in these bands weren’t doing music at school. But quite a few have come back to me and said they’re now doing music or they want to go on and take it further.”

Furness, who is anticipating her own big production – the birth of their second child, in July – isn’t currently playing with Orkestra del Sol, who will be touring in a slightly reduced form this summer.

In the meantime, Saturday 6 June sees TNT and Pulse of the Place take part in rehearsals and play at a showcase event that evening, while on the Sunday, they join the Mardi Gras parade before the bands congregate at Kelvingrove.

As for that potentially record-breaking sousaphone assembly, Furness points out that at a Mardi Gras event organised by Orkestra in Edinburgh two years ago there were ten of the big, curly brass instruments, one of which, wielded by her husband Marcus, is a near-totemic feature of Orkestra’s performances. “So the natural thing this year will be to see if we can get 11 and break that record.”

As director of the Kelvingrove gathering’s horn section, Britton suggests that, “Anything could happen. To be honest, playing music together is the easy bit; getting that many people in position and ready to play will be the challenge. In fact the biggest challenge will be getting them all to stop.”

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