Free live classical music combined with great soulful singing and hip-hop, all conducted by Matthew O’Keeffe, artistic director of the Brixton Chamber Orchestra. Simone Richardson listened and thinks you should too
For one of the stops on its Summer Estates Tour at the weekend, the Brixton Chamber Orchestra (BCO) visited Lambeth Towers estate, invited by Diana Kinch, secretary of the Lambeth Towers and Lambeth Road Tenants and Residents Association.
The tour was “a great initiative,” she says. “A member of our association had heard about the initiative, so I got in touch with BCO and they told me they still had some free dates left in the tour, so I booked the late Sunday afternoon slot.’’
Flyers distributed locally showed venues and dates as did posters all over local shops, on notice boards, local church es and lamp posts.
“It was a really enjoyable way to pass a late Sunday afternoon as the music was both varied and relaxing for over an hour,” says Diana.
“The whole audience was focused on the music and really paid attention and even my children who thought it would be boring loved it!’’
Rightly so, as the mix of classical with hip hop and soulful singing drew all ages in standing around with and without masks.
Atmospheric is an understatement.
Matthew O’Keeffe, artistic director and conductor, set up the Brixton Chamber Orchestra about two years ago.
His family are originally from Ireland, but Matthew was born in London and grew up in Brixton. “I lived on a few of the estates in Brixton we now visit to perform, which is really nice to do,” says Matthew.
Nowadays he is mainly a conductor, but his interest in music goes back a long way: “I’m a trained singer and I also play saxophone and piano and a few other things pretty badly!’’
Matthew began singing at church as a kid and was getting into music properly at nine when he joined the Lambeth Junior Centre for Young Musicians (CYM) at Bonneville School [in Clapham Common].’’
Matthew graduated from there to the senior CYM to in Morley College on Saturdays, He then went to a “fantastic secondary school” – Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School – “where I was singing and playing music non-stop.’’
Matthew founded the BCO in 2018 with the help of some friends who he used to sing with in Brixton; they are now trustees of the orchestra.
“I am the artistic director and overall manager, so I design the projects and programmes and hire the musicians,” he says. “We don’t teach instruments directly, but we do offer workshops where we introduce children to the orchestra.”
His survival through lockdown was relaxed, he says. “I mainly read books, went for runs and watched opera on YouTube.
“I did end up giving a ten-week lecture series to my youth choirs at CYM (where I now work) on the history of choral music, which was quite fun. Trying to sing together over Zoom was a nightmare.”
Fortunately for people in the Brixton area, it was Matthew’s idea to create the estates tour project and he put it up to Lambeth council’s housing department.
“’They were supportive and part-funded it,” he says. “We put it together with the residents’ associations themselves mainly.’’
The BCO had already done two Christmas estate tours before and a stand-alone event in Cressingham Gardens.
His favourite moment of the tours so far came at the Stockwell Park estate. “Last Christmas a chap called Ags got up to freestyle over the beat we were playing and just blew everyone away – he kept going for five minutes. There is so much talent around – whenever we can tap into it, I’m thrilled.”
There was plenty of talent at Lambeth Towers on Sunday, including a wonderful singer, Georgia Blessitt. Her voice gelled with the orchestra mixing her soulful tones with the classical instruments. Find her on Instagram @georgiacansing.
Also performing with BCO was EM x M3 lyricist and producer Ezekiel Forbes. Check him on YouTube.
With the Brixton Chamber Orchestra, they were a formidable combination.
Matthew has no favourite type of music, but says: “I do have a favourite in each genre. Like most people, I have weeks where I’m really into one thing then it totally changes.
“For the first three months of lockdown I was listening to Wagner non-stop, but for the last two weeks it’s been country music and loads of Neil Young.’’
His favourite instrument is the violin. “It’s got so much oomph to it and can make a melody sing like nothing else,” he says.
Each to their own in music taste, but no matter what music is your preference, when you have the opportunity go and see the free live Brixton Chamber Orchestra next time they play in Brixton.
Watch this space for details.