Writing about the Isle of Wight Youth Orchestra has been in the back burner for months, just waiting for a good moment when they could have a well deserved exposure. This good moment came with the delightful surprise of finding out that they would be sharing the same bill as Courtney Pine. Yet, when I spoke to Philip Chapman, the Head of the Isle of Wight Music Service, he was graciously modest by saying that this was something different from what they have done. Philip explained that the idea came from Rob da Bank, the organizer of the Bestival. Indeed, Courtney Pine’s concert in the Newport Minster was part of the Lost at Sea Festival, a floating event precluding the Bestival.
The Youth Orchestra is run by the Isle of Wight Music Centre, a partner of the Music Education hub. The Centre nurtures a valuable talent pool of 5 to 16 years old children, by offering them the opportunity to a wide experience of music making through regular performances. Courtney Pine, also known as the flag-bearer of modern jazz, dispenses any introductions. His own career was founded in youth bands. In an interview to the local paper, the Isle of Wight County Press, he told that youth bands are an important part of society: “They are absolutely essential. They give young musicians a chance to gain experience and grow. There is nothing like being in a group of musicians and getting out there and doing it for real.” Such validation comes handy in a time when youth bands, including the Isle of Wight Youth Band, are having their future under threat by the austerity cuts imposed across the country.
The place for the event, could not have been better. Catching the musical genius of Courtney Pine, in such an intimate and impressive gothic building, was a rare and unmissable opportunity. Newport Minster, also known as St Thomas Minster, is a 1855 reconstruction of the original 12th-century church. It is in the heart of the Isle of Wight and represents a landmark of cultural and historical importance to the Island. There, rests Princess Elizabeth Stuart, the daughter of the deposed King Charles the I, who was in-house arrest in the Carisbroke Castle before his execution in 1649. Following his decapitation, his children were kept as prisoners. Elizabeth, who died at the tender age of 15, was immortalised through tales about her intelligence and temperance. She was first buried in an unmarked grave and it was not until 1856 that Queen Victoria commissioned the Italian sculptor Carlo Marochetti to produce a white marble sculpture depicting the princess as a beautiful young woman, for her tombstone. The sight of such a serene art work, lit by candlelights in the background, when the Youth Orchestra performed magnificently, is something that could inspire a poet.
As soon as we arrived at the site, we accidentally met with the renowned Jazz musician, who was just popping out for a break, following rehearsal. Courtney immediately confirmed his reputation as unpretentious and approachable. He played jokes and took time to pose for quick snaps, while a long queue had been forming since 7:00pm.
At the opening of the doors at 7:30pm, St Thomas filled quickly by an audience that would not be disappointed. At 8:00pm, as planned, the musicians of the Isle of Wight Youth Orchestra gently enchanted everyone while performing film themes such as Lord of the Rings, Pirates of Caribbean and Les Miserables. The last one causing not only a few emotional tears from members of the public, but also some irresistible feet stomping during the upbeat finale. What a warm up to what would come next!
Following a half hour break, Courtney Pine entered the stage with his vibrant energy, accompanied by a very strong band of equal and dazzling talent. He brought with him Samuel Dubois (Still Drums), a veteran from the Jazz Warriors Afropeans band and the guitarist Cameron Pierre, the founder of Creole, a multi-cultural melange of musicians from Africa, Haiti, Cuba and the Caribbean, who were also highly acclaimed for their performances at the Glastonbury and Womad Festivals. It was certainly a privilege to be at such event.
With his natural and engaging style, Pine is one of those rare musicians who can give a completely new life to classics such as Summertime, Kingstonian Swing, Deuteronomy and Liamuiga. It was like getting to know all those pieces in a very fresh and different way. In as much as I might have heard all those songs before, there I felt that I was finally listening to them for the very first time.
The whole concert was specially eclectic and included songs from Nirvana, folk classics and even lullabies. Those going to the Bestival this weekend, should not miss his act for anything. In several occasions, Courtney referred to the Isle of Wight Youth Band and encouraged all the support that they not only need by also deserve, while reminding us all of a very wise African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child”.