As the Brixton Chamber Orchestra continues its tour of local housing estates, Simone Richardson meets marketing manager Silas Armstrong and more of the many people who work with the orchestra to make it a core component of Brixton’s cultural excellence
Silas Armstrong, marketing manager for Brixton Chamber Orchestra, mounted a recent fundraising event Downstairs at the Department Store in Brixton that included a great mix of music with classical, rap and soulful singing.
There were also displays of photography and work by renowned South London street artist PiNS.
In July PiNS collaborated with BCO to create a live canvas painting during an orchestra performance at the Stockwell Park Hall of Fame.
“We’re looking to raise £5k and have the canvas permanently homed with a plaque to commemorate its historical creation in Stockwell Park’s Community Centre.
“We’ve set up a #ChristmAsCanvasCampaign on GoFundMe to reach our goal.
“For those who can afford to support BCO on a more regular basis, we’ve setup the BCO supporters’ scheme which offers lots of perks, including early access to live shows and recordings, a bi-monthly open forum to have a say on the direction of BCO, and an exclusive invitation to our annual BCO block party each summer: more information.
Silas Armstrong has lived all over London, but has made Brixton his home for the past five years.
‘‘I always loved music, drama and art. I’ve been in bands, choirs and various groups since I was 11,” he says.
“After doing a music tech BTEC at Richmond College, I went on to University of Westminster to study for a commercial music degree.
“My first career job after university was as a radio producer/social media co-ordinator at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.
“When I started, I knew nothing of jazz, but I love live music and I had an open mind.
“Five years later I’d established an award-winning radio show, built live streaming capabilities and helped bring an analogue jazz club into the digital age.
“I went on to build a digital music agency for commercial pop artists with a close friend and, after growing that from five to 20 people, I decided to go solo, become a freelance consultant so I could spend more time working on my ultimate passion of songwriting.
“I’ve always immersed myself in music and love learning new skills and cultures.
“I’ve learned that I love building things from the ground up, taking something with great potential and helping realise it.
“When I stumbled upon Brixton Chamber Orchestra during lockdown I felt I had to find a way to get involved.
“The rest was persistence, bartering and proving myself before an official position opened up nine months later.’’
Brixton Chamber Orchestra has lifted many people’s spirits throughout lockdown, playing live through Christmas this and last year with director Matthew O’Keeffe.
When Silas saw him and the orchestra for the first time, he says: “It was the first live music I’d seen or heard in four months of total lockdown, and it brought tears to my eyes.
“As a singer/songwriter I’ve always wanted to work with an orchestra, and it was my wife’s idea to reach out to BCO later that year.
“I offered my social media skills to help promote their Christmas estates tour in exchange for a chance to perform one of my songs with the orchestra.
“I continued to work with BCO as a freelancer (at a very reduced rate) until a grant was awarded and an official position opened up as marketing and development manager, which I immediately applied for.’’
Silas managed early lockdown well for himself: ‘‘I tried to make the most of 2020, documenting early morning bike rides in a ghost town central London, writing and recording lots of music and creating content for my first solo artist project, and getting my wife pregnant!
“The long-term effects have taken their toll on me.
“As a freelancer working solo from home, with a nine-month-old baby who wasn’t here before lockdown, life has completely changed for me!
“Less time to exercise, relax and write music, more time working, looking after my family, and less opportunity to socialise – though I hope this will balance out in time.
“There is so much about Brixton I love. It’s hard to narrow it down: the people, the food, the smells, the sounds!
“Ultimately it’s the community and sense of belonging. no matter who you are or where you come from. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
“My favourite local haunts change weekly. Another reason I love Brixton so much – it’s constantly changing and evolving!’’
Michael Wharley is the photographer who captured atmospheric Brixton backgrounds with orchestra members in the foreground that were on display at the Department Store.
In Brixton for 20 years, Michael began his photography in 2008, training in darkroom photography at Photofusion – then on Electric Lane above Market Row, now in International House on Canterbury Crescent.
“One of my first paid jobs was shooting an event at The Ritzy,” he recalls.
“Since 2013, I have run a studio in Waterloo, so even though I shoot advertising and portrait campaigns for film, TV and theatre clients across the UK and beyond, most of my work is made in Lambeth.
“I love the energy and vitality of the place, which feeds into my work.
“I love the park, the Lido, the cinema, the market and the hustle and bustle of the streets.
“I love living in a place that is one of the most diverse in the country … plus Negril does (probably) the best jerk in London and is only three minutes’ walk from my house.
“I also enjoy shooting projects about the people who live and work here: cold water swimmers in Brockwell Lido, the football coaches of the St Matthew’s Project and the volunteer gardeners of Brockwell Park Community Gardens.
“Working with BCO to show off what they do for the area, while showcasing the delights of Brixton, has been fantastic.’’
To find out more about Michael’s work with BCO, check out his website and watch out for a Blog item – coming soon – featuring his images of orchestra members.
Michael Bangura – rap name MEGAMIKES – was born and bred on Brixton Hill, growing up there with his father Michael Senior and mother Haja Kamara until he was 13.
‘‘We then moved twice down the road in the Poynders Road area,” says Michael. He currently lives on the junction of the South Circular and Brixton Hill.
When not making music, Mike is an IT consultant from 10-6 on Mondays and most evenings
His love of rap was a relatively late development in his life.
“‘It’s ironic because I didn’t actually decide to make and release any music until my final year of university!
“I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed doing anything at school in general.
“I was always really adept at English literature and language. I guess it also helps that my Dad wrote plays in his youth and my younger brother acts – theatre and television commercials – so I’ve always been around creatives in my younger years.’’
He was inspired by “seeing other people in my local area pursuing music and succeeding in the industry and even shifting a change in perspective and culture.
“I also have to cite a very unique source of inspiration. The Flatbush Zombies, based in Brooklyn, New York.
“I’ve been listening to them since I was 17, and I have seen them grow from three teenagers, to one of the most successful independent rap groups in the world.
“I’ve always wanted to try making music and had always thought ‘will it connect with a wider audience?’ and watching them as well as other people, notably the Brixton Hill drill group 67, gain traction, gave me the faith I needed to pursue rap.
“During lockdown last year, I found that I had a lot more time on my hands to work on my craft and, thank goodness, I was working from home most of last year.
“My girlfriend bought me a mic and a digital interface for me to record on, so I decided to write, record and, with the help of my school friend, mix and master a five-track project aptly named Quentin Quarantino: Tales in Isolation – which has been streamed over 50,000 times.
“It has opened so many doors for me and given me the motivation to write and record lots more!”
“I make the most of the time I have to myself and continuously write and record more material of any ideas I have,” Mike says
Brixton has given him much inspiration. “Venues have given me a chance in the last couple of years to perform and express myself,” he says, “most notably the Ritzy, where they have held events such as MOE (Music over Everything) and Lost World.
“I’m always grateful to them for always giving up and coming artists such as myself a platform to showcase and express their talents.
“It’s also a good way to source undiscovered talent as well!.
“Another has to be the cHip sHop, opposite the Dogstar.
“I’ve definitely met some huge names over the years as well,” says Mike.
Discover more …
Forthcoming BCO tour events – all indoors – featuring guest vocalists BCO favourite soul sister Georgie Jade and Lambeth-born rapper Choze
Saturday 18 3–4pm, Holmewood Gardens, Christ Church, Streatham, SW2 3ET
Saturday 18 6–7pm, Moorlands Community Centre, SW9 8QT
Sunday 19 3–4pm, Slade Gardens Adventure Playground, SW9 0AB
Sunday 19 4.30–5pm, Myatts Fields bandstand, Myatt’s Fields Park, Cormont Road, SE5 9RA
Sunday 19 6_7pm Cressingham Gardens rotunda, SW2 2QG