UFO PROJECT REVIEW 2017 – Our Gigs, workshops, collaborations and fun!
Thanks to the Arts Council of England and RBKC Arts, UFO Steelband was able to create and deliver an exciting new project for summer 2017 /autumn 2018. “PAN UNITED” was exactly that… the project provided unlimited opportunities to create new arrangements, invent new collaborations, run workshops, realise and develop new ideas, and perform a series of exciting community gigs.
The project has just completed, and has exceeded expectations.
The new gigs were some of the best we have done, the VIP class developed a new set and included new players, and UFO has gone from strength to strength. Highlighs have been 4 mobile gigs on trucks, the main one being a fantastic experience of playing seven hours virtually non-stop at Notting Hill Carnival, playing through central London to a receptive audience on New Year’s Day, and a collaboration with St Michael’s Steel Orchestra.
But it has also been a summer of devastating times following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. One of the most moving and memorable parts of our project was being able to adorn our truck at Notting Hill Carnival – a 45ft articulated lorry and trailer – with collaborative artwork created by children directly affected by the Grenfell fire, the result of workshops we ran during July in schools in the immediate vicinity of the tower. Our Grenfell Children’s Art blog tells the story – click here to read.
Soon after the tragedy in June we started learning Jason’s new arrrangement of “Bridge over Troubled Water” as our tribute to all those affected and as a tribute to the resilient spirit of the area. It was a privilege to be able to perform “Bridge” on the road to pay respect in the ‘quiet area’ of the route, and also after the 1 minute silence. People in the crowd said it was unforgettable to see attention being drawn to Grenfell at Carnival in a heartfelt and meaningful way. Click here to see UFO play Bridge on Ladbroke Grove (and thank you to the person who filmed this from their window and posted on twitter – we are so pleased to have this memory)
We found this short video on youtube, taken by a passerby. We are so pleased that it captures UFO still finding the energy to enjoy making music for the crowd after 7 hours of playing with no one wanting to take breaks! Click here to watch. Seeing the artwork in its entirety (though this only shows one side of the truck) accompanied by music we had worked so hard to learn, gives us a real sense of achievement.
Our tribute was covered live on TV on Carnival morning, as a feature on ITV’s “Good Morning” (click here to watch) which kicked off the Carnival weekend. This was seen by millions of people all over UK and the impact was widespread. However ITV did receive many complaints from viewers as presenter Richard Madely somewhat hijacked the positives of the story to focus instead on the old cliche of crime at Carnival, which was difficult for Fiona and Colin to manage live on TV at 7am in the morning, when it was so unexpected! This is not the first time that Notting Hill Carnival and Carnival Arts have faced the challenge of being stereotyped by mainstream media seeking stories of crime and negativity. However it gives us all the more incentive to continue our positive and creative journey of spreading the joy of steelpan and including more people in carnival arts.
Through the project we worked hard to plan and deliver many gigs, workshops and experiences. We are so thankful to our funders for having had a rare opportunity to engage in contributing to the dynamic, exciting, creative diversity that is British Art. We are thankful for the opportunity to learn so much that will strengthen our methodology going forward, and thankful for having the opportunity to help build community and contribute to – and include more people in – Carnival Arts.
We asked the UFO players and helpers to review our project gig by gig. This blog is their words.
10th June 2017 – BANNER MAKING WORKSHOPS
This was a precursor to the project… we found out late June that we had won Arts Council Funding, which enabled us to embrace so many gigs from July onwards. Hanwell was already in our event diary, and the truck would be funded by the organisers. We had minimal funds in our bank account to just cover van hire to transport the instruments.
But we had no budget whatsoever for banners…. So in true Fox/UFO style we diecided to recycle!
We dug out the tarpaulins we had used to protect the instruments at the 2017 LNYDP, Coloursonic donated some sticky backed vinyl, and we had some energetic UFO players ready to go… so we had a go at making banners from scratch!
We made a template for each letter by printing on an A4 inkjet printer – then had to scale these up visually. There was a good bit of maths involved but luckily one of our players is an architect who was able to take the lead on this part!
Most of us had never done any thing like this before… but not only did we make successful banners, but the experiecne was team-building and skills-giving which was great for all, and especially for those who had just joined!
We then recycled our hot pink t-shirts from Carival 2015… using gold iron-on vinyl to cover the date.
So on a shoestring, we were ready for Hanwell Carnival!
17th June – HANWELL CARNIVAL
We had learned the first few songs of a new set, our recylced t-shirts and homemade banners were ready, and we had been so excited to play. But the mood had changed as Grenfell had just happened, and as the tragedy had directly affected several members of the band, the collective mood was low.
We played the gig and afterwards were reminded of the healing power of music.
It was a hot and beautiful day and the event took the form of both a road in procession and a stationary gig in the truck in a park. Once in the park, we could not quite believe we were in London – it was as green and open-skied as Cornwall… some players commented they never knew London had countryside within it. The crowd were so appreciative and it was great to bring music and colour and energy – it was what everyone needed, and we were so glad we played.
July 2017 – CREATING ART WITH CHILDREN IN SCHOOLS LOCAL TO GRENFELL
Back in June UFO had been busy planning our truck design for 2017 Notting Hill Carnival and LNYDP when the Grenfell Tower tragedy happened.
Many of us live in the community and were affected – band members lost friends who lived in the Tower, some of our homes were under threat of evacuation, others worked flat out from day one in volunteer centres – it was a devastating time.
Everything had changed, and there was now a question over whether or not Notting Hill Carnival should go ahead – how could we revel in the shadow of the tower?
But we remembered that Carnival itself originated as a message of hope amid the despair, trauma and pain of racism, segregation and subsequent poverty of Notting Hill in the 50s – it has begun as a collective creative response, and its aim was to celebrate community, demonstrate unity and build bridges. Notting Hill Carnival 2017 had to go ahead and we had to find a way for our input to help our community begin to heal, and contain the respect and integrity in a tribute to Grenfell.
Grenfell brought an outpouring of community support and voluntary projects to help those affected. In the past I had worked with many of the schools on Fox Carnival arts projects, and the staff of these same schools were now on the coal face of dealing with children’s trauma. We wanted to offer help and wondered if we could create a project that could give children something positive and creative to do at this difficult time, and engage them in seeing through from start to finish the ‘professional’ production of their drawings. We could also give them ownership and direct input to the art of Notting Hill Carnival – which would both remind people to focus on Grenfell, and at the same time give a message of hope to the community. There is no better way to do this than through the power of children’s art.
Having built excellent relationships with schools over many years of delivering Carnival arts projects, head teachers welcomed our new project in the period immediately after the tragedy. The schools were in the immediate vicinity and we worked with classes that were traumatised or directly bereaved. We created a design brief to enrol the children in the idea of together producing collective artwork that would be printed large scale on durable materials and would transform a huge carnival truck into something joyful and delightful, focusing on the positives of community, making people smile. The children completely understood the concept and created drawings with expression, beauty, kindness and generousity.
We kept each workshop brief so we could offer it to many classes and also not disrupt the school timetable and curriculum – we valued that amid trauma routine is important and the schools had enough to cope with with. Each session was only only 45 minutes – but the workshops were effective, and a fantastic success, and teachers asked us to offer it to more and more classes right up until the last few days of term.
The resulting children’s drawings were stunning.
Indeed some children drew the tower and shared stories and grief and loss as they scribbled away, but they also placed the fire very naturally in context, seeming to already have come to terms with the fact that life has to go on, and their drawings captured that sentiment.. a basketball game, children walking to school, people holding hands and smiling, dancing at carnival, making music together.
We ended up with 400 amazingly beautiful and compelling images of community – people, activity, buildings, sunshine – which I collaged digitally in my studio into collective scenes. These were printed onto canvas banners that I designed to completely wrap the 45ft articulated lorry, different bannering on both sides and the end of the truck.
It was very moving at Carnival to see people’s reaction to the artwork. One woman told us with tears in her eyes that she had lost family in the fire and “this was the first thing that had made her smile since.” Some children in the crowd were ecstatic to recognise their little piece of art within the large designs on the truck – a character or a scene they had drawn. In the crowd people just got it – the children’s art said it all.
The project received quite a lot of press coverage in The Guardian and Time Out and here is a link to the biggest one – Good Morning Britain (although it was so disappointing that Richard Madely changed the emphasis of the piece, which threw us, but still good that so many people saw the children’s art.) https://www.facebook.com/fiona.hawthorne/posts/1708560692507878
This is an image of the truck going down the ‘quiet zone’ by Grenfell Tower, the steelband playing ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ taken by a passerby and found on social media https://www.facebook.com/claire.simmons.16/posts/10154574317707315
1st July School Fair gig – Grange Primary School, Ealing
It is always great to be able to say ‘yes’ to performing at local community school fairs. This one at an Ealing primary school gave us the chance to try out our new set for the first time and to share steelpan with new audiences. As well as a two-set gig, we ran two workshops and introduced pan to many new children.
This was followed up with a taster session at the panyard where some of the children could have a longer go at pan. Many had immediate summer plans but several said they would love to join our beginners classes in September. It always feels great to spread the word.
Later that day, we repacked the van and zoomed off to another community gig…
1st July Greenford Traders
This weekend was a performance extravaganza with three gigs on one weekend! This was the second gig of the first day where we performed at a local street fair in Greenford High St.
We were set up at the corner of the road and the start of the street fair followed by different local business stalls and food and drinks. The fair had a great community vibe and we had lots of people of all ages walking past to stop and listen and enjoy the music.
It is always so rewarding when you see people smiling and dancing and letting the music take them away and forgetting any troubles or worries they had. It is also lovely to see parents showing their kids the steel pans and in between sets we spent some time explaining and let them have a go at it.
My highlight was the reaction of the people driving past as the last thing they were expecting to see was a steel band playing happy tunes on a Saturday afternoon. We had bus drivers, police cars, delivery vehicles, taxis and general commuters bobbing away, waving and smiling as they went past.
It’s really great to be given this opportunity through funding for our band to be able to attend these gigs and make people of all ages smile and enjoy themselves.
8th July Greenford Carnival
On a hot day in July, we played at the 2017 Greenford Carnival. A large marquee was erected for us right next to the main stage. We were very grateful for it to keep the pans and ourselves sheltered from the sun.
We played two sets of our carnival songs to a very appreciative audience. The warm weather and musical line up drew a large crowd in fine spirits who danced along to our songs.
It was great to have the down time between sets, gave us a chance to have a go on the fairground rides and eat ice cream to help cool us down.
Our second set was a nice opener for the headline band… Aswad! They thought so too, as after their set they actually invited UFO onto the stage to celebrate the closing of the carnival with them. UFO and Aswad – great pictures for the photo album!
We literally couldn’t stop smiling!
The crowd loved us!
Being on stage with Aswad was the highlight!
We discovered that Ealing has its own act who turn up at all community events and are loved by the crowd… introducing “The Twins”!
Some UFOs were exhausted after the gig.
Others remained full of energy!
9th July LONDON CITIZENS GIG IN EALING
This was part of “The Big Community Picnic” and a chance to bring the community together positively to commemorate the work, commitment and spirit of Jo Cox. It was hosted by London Citizens and Member of Parliament for Ealing, who gave a compelling speech about the value of community. We were proud to be asked to be part of this.
15th July ACTON CARNIVAL!
Acton Carnival was a brilliant experience. I thought the transformation of the truck after it had been decorated was fantastic. I was so amazed at how everyone decorated the truck so quickly!
As we played pan on the truck it started to rain. But that didn’t put people off watching, dancing and cheering as we played pan.
The best part of playing Acton carnival was getting the chance to meet one of the best drummers in the world Winston Clifford – and to play with him! As well as playing bass steelpan, I am learning to play the drums and it was so good to watch a professional drum player. I learnt quite a few handy tips such as being really relaxed when I play.
30th July GIG FOR CATALYST HOUSING, PORTOBELLO PARK, NORTH KENSINGTON
Mid August 2017 – NIKE… TRAINERS, TALKS AND TV!
We were asked by Nike if UFO would take part in several collaborations.
Muthoni took part in a Nike video, launched for Carnival on their website, and Fiona and Sasha took part in a panel discussing Carnival. The panel was part of an evening with invited guests, the aim being encourage a new audience of young people – who may not necessarily be Carnival goers – to see Carnival as something they could enjoy, be part of to help sustain into the future.
Muthoni made UFO proud! She played pan in an extraordinary setting!
Sasha co-hosted the panel of ‘ Carnival Experts’. She asked through-provoking questions that really made the panelists consider their responsibility to the audience, and she intelligently steered discussion away from the cliches.
Fiona was one of the panelists, and feedback from the audience was that her input was the most valuable – she challenged the focus on the ‘good old days of Carnival’ that for some meant reclaiming the streets by turning a blind eye to drug abuse and the prevolence of objectivication of women. She instead advocated for the inclusion and celebration of the art of children and young people – via mas, pan and art in general – as a way to create policy, leadership and sustain a positive future.
Of course this was all tied in to Nike product marketing… It was the launch of their re-done-over carnivalised air-force one trainer! Several UFOs were given a pair which in fact were perfect for 7 hours of lugging pans and dancing on a truck!
26th August – SATURDAY PREP FOR NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL
Seeing the printed artwork for the first time…
It was Saturday 26th August, two days before UFO would go on the road at Notting Hill Carnival.
The vast and empty 45ft articulated lorry stood under the trees, conveniently parked on a blocked residential street near Fiona and Colin’s home. From experience, we knew there was a LOT to accomplish in the several hours allotted, even with all hands on deck.
Over the past few years of UFO Steelband at Carnival, a system has developed to achieve Fiona’s vision for ‘truck design’ as efficiently and quickly as possible and always with an eye towards the impact – both visually and musically – of the final product. The lorry’s ‘curtain sides’ had been pulled back and secured, the floor of the trailer was cleared and swept, the pans in their cases were lined up on the pavement, and the stainless steel stands opened and ready for the instruments. The drum kit and large basses were placed on the truck first, then stands arranged on the flatbed, a puzzle woven by Jason to ensure a disribution of instruments that would create a perfectly balanced sound as we travelled the route, despite packing as many instruments and players as possible into the confined space. Steelpans were lifted on and off, as space was tested and adjusted to create an optimum arrangement that would allow players space to play, dance, perform and engage.
While this was happening on the truck, the substantial package containing our new banners was brought out. This year the banners had been carefully designed to be lifted over the roof of the truck like a giant sleeve, but first we needed to spread them out and assess the safest, surest way to achieve this.
So in the midst of a busy, active, exciting and almost chaotic atmosphere, the banners were unfolded and we all felt their impact. Work slowed as we took in what had been achieved in Fiona’s workshops. The drawings by children local to Grenfell Tower told a powerful story – of the importance of community and friends and music and carnival and creativity – in a way that many adults were struggling to express. Individual drawings voiced smaller stories – hopscotch, skateboards, steel pan, super heroes, an impressive sound stage, and lots and lots of friends holding hands – and collectively they provide a powerful, beautiful testament to the resilience of hope and the importance of a shared community.
We had to shake ourselves back into the task at hand, but as we secured the banners into place, we felt we had achived together the transformation of our huge lorry into something beautiful and compelling that would move gracefully through the streets of Notting Hill. Via the UFO truck were able to collectively reflect back to the community a strong clear message from children – that music, art, dance, friends, and hope can lift us all up, together.
26th August TV INTERVIEWS FOR BBC NEWSROUND!
When I found out that I was going to be doing an interview for newsround I was exited but scared at the same time. I thought that I was going to get stage fright and jumble up my words.
But when it was time to do the interview the lady presenter said that it was ok for me to make mistakes as they would be doing lots of takes and only use the best footage. That filled me with lots of confidence and gave me courage to speak about how it was my first time playing steel pan at Carnival and couldn’t wait to play steel pan on a large truck to thousands for people. I also spoke about how our truck would be decorated with children’s art work from the schools that were local to the Grenfell tower disaster and how there art work showed the coming together of the community.
The piece was broadcast several times that day and we got to see it on a recording. It was slightly disappointing that the permalink does not show us playing – it just shows the bief part of the interview, but we were still so happy to have had this experience. This is the permalink: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/41073898
28th August Interview on Breakfast TV
Notting Hill Carnival is generally on the receiving end of much unnecessary negative press that focuses only on crime and excludes the positive stories about carnival arts, camaraderie, community building, and of course the hours spent in preparation. We felt that we had a positive story worth sharing about what goes on behind the scenes. With Carnival after Grenfell already being controversial, we felt people may want to hear about the children’s art that adorned our truck, see and hear the childrens’ messages of the positves of community as seen through their eyes.
We sent out a press release which was soon widely picked up. As a result Fiona and Colin were invited to take part BBC Radio 4 World Service early on Saturday morning to talk about the project, and to pre-record a piece for The Today Programme that went out later the same day. Fiona also did a Carnival Panel for Nike, a piece for Time Out (click here to read) and another for The Guardian (click here.) We took part in London Live from the street while decorating the truck on Saturday, but probably the best coverage was apprearing on a live feed directly from the truck to the ITV studio where we did a piece for Good Morning Britian – click here to see it.
We knew we were spreading a positive message and felt honoured to be showing the world the heartfelt expression of children, sharing community via the joy and love in their art, after such a harrowing time. So it was very disappointing when – despite all the ground work put in by ITV researchers who filmed the lorry prep and really understood the positives of the story – presenter Richard Madely frustratingly resorted to the old cliche of crime figures at Carnival. Colin and Fiona were thrown but managed to get the story across anyway – so all was not lost. From experiencing live TV we know it is difficult and this kind of thing can happen… even an experienced presenter can mess up (and we know a lot of people complained to ITV afterwards!)
But at least the story went into millions of homes across the UK on Carnival Monday, so we felt pleased to have had the chance to do it… even if it was an astoundingly early start to have the lorry dressed and the whole band ready by 6.30am!! We filmed the unedited version of the piece and posted it on facebook – it has already had 13K views and over 100 shares. https://www.facebook.com/fiona.hawthorne/videos/1708560089174605/
But the best thing will be going back into the schools and showing the children their work professionally printed… and on TV! And that we will get to display it again for the London New Years Day Parade 2018.
28th August – Notting Hill Carnival
What a day!!! This video shows us playing for the neighbours who came out to support us in the street in Shepherds Bush at 7.30am, just before we set off for Notting Hill Carnival… and what an amazing day it would turn out to be!
Carnival 2017 was a great experience on so many levels. After years of trying to perfect the preparation I think this year we got 80% of the way there with Fiona’s new design for the sleeve banner, which made it easier to put on the truck, and also the new arrangement with our friends at Imperial College. This gave us Monday morning to set up and arrive in good time.
Our media impact was also a great development and the feedback for our band has been very positive. But for me the music was the highlight. I feel UFO sounds so much stronger now and that really was apparent on the road. The all year round rehearsal and learning process really does pay off. Our collaboration with St Michaels proved very nourishing and it was absolutely Incredible to play Full Extreme at Trinity corner in Unison.
Our ability to quickly learn new tunes is exciting and I think the highpoint was our rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Waters on the road and on the TV. Beautiful arrangement Jason!
It was a powerful moment and Carnival showed its self control by having the 3 minutes silence. When we began to play I have to say it was one of the most emotional moments of my artistic career. With the events of Grenfell tower so fresh in the minds of the community the beautiful children’s art on our truck, our rendition of Bridge and the general spirit of UFOs and what we stand for made it an absolute joy to be part of this amazing event once again. Judging by the words of locals who saw us on the road it was much appreciated.
28th August – A BAND MEMBERS EXPERIENCE… PLAYING NOTTING HILL CARNIVAL FOR THE FIRST TIME, AGED 74!
Being a senior citizen and losing my sight, I never though for one minute I would get to play Carnival, aged 74. But through this project that is exactly what I did, and I was overjoyed.
The last time I went to Carnival was in 1985 and I swore I wouldn’t go back – It was when I was sighted, and I got caught up in a situation that was not fun… people shouting and throwing beer. It put me off.
I lost my sight in 1994, and it is easy to fall into not trying new things. But through joining UFO I have met a new group of people, learned to play tunes on pan, and have got to perform all over London. But I still never thought I would play Carnival.
Through the new project the funding we won from the Arts Council, Ealing and RBKC directly enabled me and some other visually impaired people to take part, and it was a fantastic experience. We couldn’t go into carnival as spectators – it would be too difficult for blind people to be in the crowd. But because we were on the truck all day, and because we had a toilet on the truck and everything we needed – great food and refreshments all day long – it made such a difference. I also had a seat so that when I wasn’t playing I could still take in the atmosphere and keep my strength. What I loved so much was the band camaraderie, how everyone in UFO helped each other, and all the little extras that make it special – our green hoodies to keep us warm, the little treats that get passed around, the helpers who brought food and water to the truck all day long – it was so well planned and carried out, and I felt fantastic and elated all day.
I also changed my opinion about Carnival. What struck me was how many people were participating, not just spectating – there was so much to see and being up high on the truck I felt safe and it was a great vantage point to see so many people in costume, or just to people watch. A high point was my daughter spotting me playing pan as part of UFO Steelband – I was so happy, she was so proud!
My experience of UFO and Carnival can be summed up by this quote: “I came to see what I didn’t have, and I got what I didn’t expect.”
I would encourage other visually impaired people to take the plunge, join UFOs, learn to play pan and get to experience life changing events like being a participant in Notting Hill Carnival.
July and August 2017 – UFO COLLABORATION WITH ST MICHAEL’S STEEL BAND (SMASO)
As a tutor, you always want to work with as many people as possible. So when the opportunity arrose to arrange and perform a peice with two bands on the road, both playing at the same time, well – no one would resist that!
What made it interesting was the make-up of the bands – one mainly adult, the other mainly young people. The challenge therefore was to arrange a piece that appealed to all. What was pleasing about this was the extend of co-operation each band extended towards the other… St Michaael’s players practicing with UFO, and UFO running workshops with St Michael’s. I actually think this should be the way forward for the steelpan movement – more collaboration, less competition!
St Michales also took the arrangements they learned with UFO to the ‘Pan Clash’ Steelpan Jam events at Tabernacle, and it was great to hear the tunes being shared, played and enjoyed by many other steelpan players from different bands – this felt like creating community within pan, something we’d love to see more of.
One of our players, Antonia, said:
“Collaborating with St Michael’s brought some highly experienced players alongside UFOs, and having a few more highly experiences musicians among us for a while changed our performance measurably. It was a real privilege to play alongside them, they helped us to become tighter rhythmically and I felt they were very instrumental in assisting us in raising our game. We we also able to develop one of the tunes to a higher level, so that the two entire bands could play together in unison at Carnival – two trucks playing across the street – something which had never been done before!”
Another UFO player said:
“We noticed that Jason was thrilled to be able to work with young pan players who learned the tunes so quickly. He has endless patience with UFO beginners who often begin with little confidence. Here was a chance to work with super confident players and to fly!”
ST MICHAEL’S AND UFO… WORKSHOP TO CREATE CARNIVAL BANNERS
We also ran workshops with the young people from St Michael’s to create their own banners for their truck, with the intention of raising the game in truck design at Notting Hill Carnival.
Through this, we engaged in group discussion around the meaning of carnival arts, and considered who Carnival is for – who is the customer? Is it for the players, the judges or the audience? Steelbands bring lovely music, but should we as contributors better consider the audience in the design of our trucks? Do audiences really want to see huge ugly trucks on the road draped mainly in sponsor banners? Could we instead give better info on our banners about who we are, what we do, how people can join. Could we simply make our banners more vibrant and colourful and part of the spectacle, in other words make out trucks part of the art, rather than vehicles to carry our bands and our entourages?
The young players from St Michaels had been engaged in creating excellent music, and many admitted they had not taken part in this discussion, nor had considered who was the ‘carnival customer’, and what they are bringing to an audience in addition to music. It was great both to hear their input and ideas, and rewarding to help empower them as the carnival planners/designers/leaders of tomorrow.
We ended the discussion by asking the question: could we – as pan players – cross over into another art form – and actually create some dynamic artwork ourselves?
And so we did just that – St Michales players drew pan players – which were a) incredibly accurate given they know their pans well, and b) heavily featuring St Michael’s player Dylan in fellow band member’s drawings… Dylan is clearly very charismatic a great role model!
Fiona then used her computer art skills to do some on-the-spot computer collage to merge the young people’s drawings together and form a banner to fit the truck’s fold-back doors. By the end of the workshop the banner was ready, and it is something that the young people from St Michaels Steelband could be very proud of!
Thanks to the Arts Council we were able to fund the production of these banners so St Michael’s had a truck with both sides decorated, and featuring artwork designed by the young players themselves. They added colourful balloons, and the end result looked great.
So UFO and St Michaels could safely say we had done our best to raise the game in truck design for Carnival 2017!
In this project one of our aims had been to cherish young people as the artists of tomorrow – we feel this was achieved.
Throughout the project, St Michael’s were amid a time of transformation. They had sadly lost their premises and the support of the church they had been based in for 20 years and were struggling to re-establish premises and funding while learning tunes for Carnival, and they did it!
We were absolutely delighted that they won best band on the road in both the adults and children’s competitions at Notting Hill Carnival 2017!
Band leader Patrick McKay recently sent us these photos below of the band picking up their awards at the BAS Awards, and he said:
“This weekend was our first proper opportunity to look back and reflect on the most difficult 20 months in our history and for me to send a heartfelt THANK YOU for your support, without which we would not have achieved the outcomes that we have (despite the serious challenges faced) in this our most difficult and successful year ever. Despite all of the stresses and pressures on our group, you have clearly and successfully demonstrated how bands can effectively support each other. It is my hope that 2018 commences for us all on a positive and successful note.”
Actually it was St Michale’s AND UFO who TOGETHER successfully demonstrated how bands can effectively support each other, and UFO cannot wait to play with St Michael’s again at LNYDP 2018 and to continue to develop happy and effective collaboration going forward!
3rd September – BRENTFORD CARNIVAL
We played Brentford Carnival for the first time in 2016 and the organisers were very keen that we played again this year. Last year we were scheduled to play first on stage, and in a sense we were a wasted opportunity… there was not enough audience so early in the event. We had then moved our heavy instruments by hand the huge distance from the stage to the events field to run a workshop, which went down brilliantly. The organisers realised that because steelpan is acoustic it doesn’t need amplification, we did not actually need to play on stage – the events field would be the perfect space to play next year – the plan was for several sets alternating between running workshops for the public. We were looking forward to it.
Sadly it did not go as planned. For some inexplicable reason, the organisers situated us in the furtherest field from the heart of the Carnival, next to the Pony Rides! We had to liase with the Pony Ride people as to when we could play, so as not to alarm the animals. We could only play when the ponies were resting when the organisers took them further away from us.
The intention from the organisers had be to put us somewhere prominent – we play happy, uplifting Carnival music, which makes everyone smile and we ‘get things going’, so we do not really know what happened!
It was also cold and rainy that day, which meant on the upside, we got a lot of people taking refuge in our tent and ‘having a go’ at playing pan – so we were able to run effective workshops which gave people an opportunity to try pan, or just get close to it to see how the instruments work. Most people were fascinated as to how an oil drum can make such a gloriously beautiful sound! Several of our members, including myself, joined UFO through meeting at a gig and doing just that.
We would have to consider really very carefully if we would do this gig again. It is a free gig and took a lot for UFO to organise the workshops and learn the set, let alone raise funds to cover the vehicles, tuning and the access costs for our VIP players – it was thanks to our funders that we were able to take a professional approach to playing this event. However if all the effort is not ‘made the most of’ via effective staging, then it may not worth doing this gig if we are asked again next year. After putting in so much effort so soon after the massive event of Notting Hill Carnival, we simply wanted to maximise the chance to reach the eager crowd and bring the joy of steelpan music to the people – that energises us and makes all the hard work worthwhile!
7th September – GIG FOR THE EALING PUBLIC, AND PLAYING AT THE MULTI-FAITH CELEBRATION TO WELCOME A NEW MINISTER
Christ the Saviour church – who support us so much with rehearsal space and pan storage – asked us if we would play a gig in the church grounds aimed at the public. The reason for celebration was to welcome the church’s new minister and they had planned a multi-faith celebration, inviting many local dignatories and key people from Ealing’s diverse community, including leaders from Ealings mosques and temples – every religion in Ealing was represented!
This was a lovely gig – it is always nourishing to play for our local public, and to provide a musical backdrop as the guests arrived. The best bit was that – to our suprise – we were asked to wear t-shirts with father Richards face on them – which was also a suprise for him and it added a surreal and hysterical element to the evening! If only we had thought of getting one for Jamie, Noula’s guide dog!
9th September – Hanwell Hottie – Bond Street
This gig was special because it was the first time we played “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for the public. The Crowd were great – they loved our set, but when we played Bridge they were visibly moved – so we knew we were ready for Carnival.
10th September – HACKNEY CARNIVAL!
Hackney Carnival was not quite what I was expecting… We were exhausted after Notting Hill and Brentford Carnivals and could hardly get the energy together to take part, but we did. We hadn’t heard much from the organisers and I thought that it was going to be quite chaotic, but turned out to be really well organised… the organisers had not needed to be in touch until nearer the time because everything was in hand – we just had to turn up on the day, dress our truck and play. We managed to adapt our banners to a smaller truck and it was great to have the chance to show the Grenfell artwork again, which the crowd reacted warmly to.
Everyone that took part was really helpful and friendly. I loved seeing all the different costumes and instruments of the other bands, and being part of all the band’s excitement before going on the road. On the road and playing to the crowd I could see many people singing and dancing as we went past. I especially enjoyed the people waving and smiling by their windows and parents calling their children to come outside to see us play.
The best part was being chosen to lead the procession. UFO were leading right at the front and we stopped at the ribbon which the mayor of Hackney cut with UFO’s golden scissors! I am so glad that I have been able to preform at Hackney Carnival as it has given me a real sense of giving, sharing, unity and community. This short video sums up the joy we felt and the spirit of the music we brought to the crowd.
Click here to see UFO Playing at Hackney Carnival
24th September – EALING HALF MARAHON
2017 was our fourth year at this event which we were happy to play again as it’s always so rewarding and a lot of fun. We were situated at the halfway point, which is where many of the runners start to ‘flag’. Our music seemed to lift them and give a much needed energy boost. It was an early start – packing the van the day before and an 8am set-up for a 9am start, so is challenging to play continually for the duration of the marathon.
Therefore for the first two years we took a small break so we could re-energise! This year we were asked by the organisers not to stop playing, as the runner feedback said Ealing Half Marathon is now known as ‘the one with the steelband at the halfway point’, they look forward to hearing us and are apparently disappointed if we aren’t playing when they pass us.
So this time, we played our own marathon… over two hours non stop! The runners loved it, as did all the supporters. They waved, clapped and shouted ‘Thank you, thank you!’ as they ran past. Some even stopped and danced for a while!
30th September – GLOW IN THE PARK!
Two of the UFO trustees are ambassadors for the ‘Chain of Hope’ charity, which raises money for “thousands of children overseas who are dying needlessly from treatable heart diseases.” (Chain of Hope website, 2017). Through this connection and after seeing our news report on “Good Morning Britian” UFO were asked to come and perform for the Chain of Hope’s Glow in the Park run which took place in Kempton Race Park.
We played under a huge inflatable dome in the dark in the middle of a green space as big as a field to cheer the runners on. It was a really great gig, which allowed us to get dressed up in as many items of fluorescent clothing and glow gadgetry as we could find, and we literally were ‘glowing in the park’!
We played a number of tunes, mainly the carnival ones that we learned for the Notting Hill Carnival as these were vibrant and upbeat which we knew would encourage the runners to keep going. It was a really nice atmosphere with the runners stopping and dancing to all the tunes we were playing and by the number of photo’ s they were taking you could tell they were enjoying our performance as much as we were enjoying being the ‘performers’. Everyone who played this gig loved it and I am sure that we would happily do this again! This is a snippet of video – its one of our favourites!
28th October – GIG IN THE PETROL STATION… HELPING IMPERIAL COLLEGE CELEBRATE ‘THE INVENTION ROOMS’
We are looking forward to more gigs during the Festive Season….
23rd December – Crisis at christmas
This gig was to take place at a busy time of year – just two days before Christmas. We knew that to make it work, it would mean much effort, commitment and teamwork from everyone. But we guessed it would be richly rewarding, and we were right. In fact, it turned out to be one of the best gigs of the project.
31st December 2017 and 1st January 2018 – Dressing our lorry for LNYDP!!
What a wonderful event!
These are some of our best memories:
- The absolute horror/terror/nightmare of having to dress our 45ft articulated lorry on Milbank on New Year’s Eve amid a freezing and wet mini-tornado! It took unexpected physical and mental strength, pain, endurance and teamwork! We are not sure how we did it, but we did!
- The joy and beauty of playing to an amazing, diverse, receptive audience in central London on New Year’s Day – and the reception we received on bringing our Grenfell tribute to the audience.
- Getting to be part of a collective Street Parade and getting to see all the other acts – from children doing circus or street dance, to marching bands and cheerleaders from USA, to vintage cars, people dressed as film characters, donkeys dressed as dalmatians, all amid the stunning architecture of London – what a great opportunity to look out and look up while playing on a truck high above the ground – we saw London from a new perspective!
- The band warm up on Piccadilly – playing tunes for other groups to dance to (see short video below)
- Several of our visually impaired members joining us on the truck – they loved the experience. One said it was one of the best days of her life!
- Alexander D Great and several other Carnival artists and talented musicians joining us on the truck playing percussion.
- Colin and Fiona being interviewed about our Grenfell tribute on live TV and radio on New Years Day (BBC, ITV and Radio London )
- UFO being televised to 600 million people worldwide!
- Being the only steelband out of 35,000 performers taking part in LNYDP 2018!
These photos show the set up… with many moments of us asking ourselves “why are we doing this?!”
We worked until it got dark!!!
But it was all worth it on the day!!!
1st January 2018… The London New Year’s Day Parade!
Some of the UFO ladies picking up our participation plaque at the celebration laid on by the organisers of LNYDP.
Click here to see us at LNYDP last year!
Last gig of the project….
14th September 2018
Some moments from our project… more will be added soon