Paraorchestra – preview of Smoosh!, Filwood Community Centre Car Park

Thursday 15th July, 2021

I didn’t think it would be 8 months before I wrote a word here, or that there would be such a gap between the event and the writing of this. The problems I have in my cervical spine have flared up very badly, one of the things that is painful to do is type. So as much as I wanted desperately to write this as soon as I got home, I have not been able to. If I’d been able to type within minutes it may have been more effusive, expansive and ebullient. I may have run out of superlatives to describe the experience of seeing Paraorchestra again.

How much do I love Paraorchestra? It might be easier to direct you to earlier entries of the times I’ve seen them perform. Desconstructed over the entire height of the Beacon’s foyer, the Nature of Why at the Old Vic or playing Kraftwerk at the Marble Factory. Now I was to see them in the car park of a community centre in South Bristol previewing their latest project, Smoosh! It was a hot walk to get there. Let us not talk of how dreadful Bristol’s buses are, nor of the safety of them without mask mandates. This was an afternoon about joy. Paraorchestra are all about joy. Everything they do is done with love, with joy, with a desire to connect and unite. That is why I love them.

I had been invited to be part of a preview of Smoosh! and however much pain it would cost me to be there (walking, standing and dancing are all painful activities), I was not going to miss it for all the world. I packed a bottle of water, donned a massive hat and slathered factor 50 all over and set off. Not knowing what I was likely to hear or see, but knowing that it would be emotional and powerful and incredible no matter what because that is who Paraorchestra are. A group of talented, boundary pushing, inclusive, brilliant musicians, composers, arrangers and dancers. I love them, all they do and all they stand for.

There was dancing, there was music, there was a sense of joy and fun and togetherness and of something intangible and magic. There were brass reworkings of Kate Bush, Adele and Fatboy Slim, slam dance take downs and just so much happiness. It has been such a long, long time since I heard music that made me want to dance and smile like this. And all I could see around me, socially distanced of course, were other smiling faces and moving bodies. We were united in movement and music. There were, of course, this is me, tears. But they were tears of joy. Of being back where I belonged. Of being who I am again. Of things I thought I had lost in the pandemic; I thought I had lost the emotional connection to music, that my senses had been dulled, that I had lost the way music can make me feel. You gave it back to me, Paraorchestra and I cannot thank you enough for that gift.

Every time I think Paraorchestra can’t get any more inclusive, they prove me wrong. Making events free, inviting you to walk among the musicians, being an orchestra of disabled and abled musicians, playing classical music in a nightclub, they’ve done all that already. Smoosh! will be free, outdoors, winding through the streets of working class Knowle West. They will be taking music to the people. Literally. I can imagine people indoors, hearing this weird mash up of brass instruments with tunes they know going “what on earth is that?” opening their windows and joining in. It will be a parade, a celebration, a conga, a carnival of music, open to anyone who happens to be nearby. There will be dancers, there will be movement and music and absolutely everyone is invited.

Smoosh! will hit the streets of Knowle West on Friday 17th September, a sonic street food event and I plan to be there to eat and drink in the music with the rest of the locals. Maybe I’ll see you there. I’ll be the one smiling, crying and dancing near the back. Thank you Paraorchestra for inviting me to experience the preview, and, well, for being you. I love you all.

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