Last night some of the pioneers of the urban music scene and the BBC Concert Orchestra met to create what would unexpectedly turn out to be a real celebration of British culture.
To me British culture has always been two things; inclusive and creative. A look around the Barbican, usually a playground for middle England, was alive with vibrancy; young, old, black, white and every shade in between. Divas in sky high heels and painted on lipstick stood next to contemporary scholars with thick beards and black-rimmed milk bottle glasses. It was a sight to behold. The inclusive part.
The creative part; Ms. Dynamtie, Devlin, Skepta, Boy Better Know (BBK) and Fazer joined by the Jules Buckley and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Urban Classics, bringing together two things which couldn’t not be further apart on the spectrum to create something every bit beautiful and inspiring as it was energetic and raw.
This kind of things has been done before, Hip-Hop and Classical music have always been strange bedfellows. From the Rhapsody Project in the late 90s, MTV’s Hip-Hopera or indeed the first “urban classics” at the Hackney Empire in 2006, the serenity of orchestral music seems to perfectly compliment the brash aggressiveness of hip-hop (or in last nights case Grime).
Tube delays meant I missed the first few performances and entered just as Devlin was belting out Runaway, strings creating a glorious soundscape behind him. It was more like a gig at Hammersmith Apollo, people of all ages just letting themselves go – I don’t think I have ever seen the Barbican like it.
My pre-conception was that the orchestra would be giving a half-hearted performance, not fully appreciative of grime music. How wrong I was, the passion they exuded was palpable. Jules Buckley did a splendid job or getting them enthused. This was epitomised by the blond Double Bass player who was bobbing and weaving and seriously jamming through the entire gig. I thought at one minute she was going to throw down her instrument and break out with the Migrane Skank. It was beautiful.
The artists too where seemed to be over-whelmed by having 80 musicians behind them. Most seem gloriously lost in the moment giving the orchestra many a shout-out during the night (I do not think the orchestra has ever had that many “big-ups” in one show before and they deserved every one).
It was a show filled with highlights, Ms. Dynamite’s rendition of Dy-Na-Mi-Tee utilised the depth of the strings creating a picture worthy of the National Gallery, yet Wild Out was a primeval excuse to go crazy. The orchestral re-winds were immense (so good she did it twice and I think they needed a few more!). Fazer treated the us to a new song, An Englishman In New York, played so well I think even Sting himself would have been proud. The tribute to Whitney Houston would have had her partying up in heaven, a worth celebration of a sorely missed talent.
The highlight though was BBK’s version of Too Many Man; it sent the entire Barbican in to a frenzy. I’m surprised the foundations were not shaking after the reaction it got. Strings firing off at a million miles and hour, BBK dominating the stage as an archetypal grime song was fused effortlessly with classic instruments. It was genius, a completely unexpected combination that blew the roof off. It was so good it was used for the encore. After which the night was over far too soon. Chants of “we want more” went unheeded, the orchestra staying seated maybe a little too long teasing the crowd in to the possibility of a second encore (or more possibly soaking up an unbelievably raucous reception).
As we walked out to the after-party in the Barbican foyer, I was again reminded of the inclusive nature of British culture. Especially as people trickled out from the Barbican Theatre as the show their finished about 10:30pm. Some walked on by, however many stopped at the top of stairs and took in the sight. I noticed a few ladies, seemingly in their 60s/70s stopping to do a few bops and take in the scene, giving a nod of appreciation as I noticed them.
For all the pomp and circumstance associated with British culture, I think last night was the real expression. The very middle-class notion of classical music effortlessly combined with the grit and edge of grime music to create something unique, impressive and openly accessible to all. I hope Danny Boyle, Director of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, was in attendance because he could have learned a thing or twenty about what Britishness means in 2012 last night.