Paraorchestra SMOOSH! – the streets of Knowle West, Bristol

Friday 17th September, 2021

I’d been invited to hear the preview of Smoosh! a while back and that experience, in the car park of a community centre, was joyous. So I thought I knew what to expect, but it was everything I could have dreamt of and more. So much more.

Every time I see the Paraorchestra I fall in love with them all over again. I can’t help it. Everything they do and stand for is about joy and love. They have truly reinvented what an orchestra can be and do. Every time I think they can’t be any more inclusive, they go and find a way to make what they do be more embracing, open and loving. A free music event played in the streets. In the streets of Knowle West. On a gloriously sunny Friday afternoon where all were welcome. No barrier at all between you and the music.

The first parade set off at 4pm and there were parents with kids freshly out of school waving flags and people stood on their doorsteps and in their front gardens watching, some slightly bemused and others dancing and singing along. I thought I’d be one of the few who would walk the whole route with The Band (which is what the local kids kept calling Paraorchestra and it fits) but I was among so many others who joined in the entire route. That alone was joy, a parade, a carnival of musicians and dancers moving together in rhythm and harmony and us walking/swaying/dancing along too. To hear Glorybox like that, played on brass and drums, a song that takes me immediately back to having my heart shattered for the first time at University, given new meaning, well it was one hell of a start.

Want to hear Kate Bush and Adele used as the backdrop to a West Side Story gang dance off that ends with one of the symbols of our times, the elbow bump? Then you needed to have experienced Smoosh! It was every bit as unexpected and brilliant as that sounds. And more. So much more.

When we got to the end of the parade, our last tune was Praise You and if hearing that played on brass and wind doesn’t make you want to jump up and down with joy then I don’t think you have a soul. I was smiling so much I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to stop.

Throughout all I saw was a sea of smiling faces. People enjoying music, dance, movement, together. As a community. As one. As a beautiful and joyous celebration of what music has the power to do; bring us together.

I had intended to go home at this point. But you won’t be at all surprised to learn that I got chatting with some of the musicians and ended up staying to watch the 6.30 performance as well. I mean, how could I not?

The second go round was even more joyous, people joined in more, danced along, sang, shouted MORE! and it started to feel like a Bristolian Mardi Gras. There were even more smiles this time and because the crowd was bigger and rowdier, or perhaps because I felt braver and more emboldened, I started to dance along on the road right next to the big drum. To feel it thunder through my chest as I walked right next to it. Heaven. I danced and I danced and I danced. Like no-one was watching, knowing everyone was and that it was ok. To be free, to feel, to express, while being surrounded by smiles and a feeling of warmth (and not just from the sun), well it was wonderful. There were happy tears from me, but they came from a place of deep joy and love. This time Praise You was performed in front of a Church, which made me laugh. Music is my religion and oh boy did I get to give praise and thanks last Friday night. I don’t think anyone wanted it to end. I know I didn’t.

Every single time I see Paraorchestra I am left feeling so full of love, light and joy and a sense of marvel and wonder that they do what they do. An orchestra of brass and wind playing Basement Jaxx in a moving street carnival in one of the most deprived areas, not just of Bristol, but all of England, to bring together a community of people united in love of music. Who else would even contemplate such a thing? Charles Hazelwood you are a marvel and I love you so much for bringing all this joy into my life. Emma-Jean Thackray what you composed and brought together was fantastic, I love you too. Tom Jackson Greaves and Beth Hinton-Lever you choreographed the dancers brilliantly, the symbiosis of music and movement, ebbing, flowing, arching, just makes me want to join in and I love you for creating that. Every musician and dancer who was part of Smoosh! I love you all. Every single bloody one of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Paraorchestra are joy unbound. I’ve never felt surrounded by so much love and acceptance as when I have been to see and hear you. Every time you’ve welcomed me, made me feel a part of what you do. There really aren’t words for that. It’s why we have music.

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