The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Monday 28th July 2014 By Barry Leighton
You could see it in their faces – elation at having their music appreciated by so many people, pride at being part of an outstanding performance at a major festival and very likely relief that it all went so well.
Some 100 young musicians, singers and dancers from in and around Malmesbury opened this year’s WOMAD Festival with a spectacular, hour-long set of high energy roots reggae that had thousands of fans dancing ecstatically in a field.
Every year since the festival moved from Reading to Charlton Park, near the town, in 2007 music students from Malmesbury School and a cluster of surrounding village schools have collaborated with a group of world class musicians to open the event.
This year they linked up with a Bristol based reggae collective AMJ – John Hollis, Mark Spence and Andy Clarke – and after just a week or so of rehearsals had the unnerving task of performing what they had learnt in front of a huge crowd at the festival’s main, open air stage.
As the early evening sun beamed onto hordes of people swarming onto the grassy arena at 7pm on Thursday the ranks of singers and musicians, all wearing colourful T-shirts, struck-up a reggae beat that immediately had everyone dancing.
The AMJ collective provided a slick and solid reggae Afro framework within which the young musicians and singers expressed themselves while the dancers hardly stopped moving throughout.
“It was amazing, really amazing,” said breathless 11 year-old dancer Lily Gee-Smith, of Malmesbury primary school, minutes after stepping off-stage.
“I was slightly nervous at first but once we got started it was great.”
Fellow Malmesbury primary school pupil Sakura Clemo, 10, one of the singers, said: “It was really, really fun. A great experience. When you get on stage you don’t feel nervous any more – you just enjoy it.
“I could see my mum, my grandparents, and lots of people I knew in the crowd. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it. They were all dancing.”
Toby Journeaux, 17, normally plays classical and jazz saxophone but had to adapt his style to fit into a Jamaican groove for what was called The Road To Reggae project.
“I’d not experienced reggae at all until the rehearsals so it was all new to me,” he said.
“But I’ve learnt a lot and it went really well. We were improvising a lot, bouncing off each other. It was great fun.”
Another Malmesbury School student Lucy Kershaw, 16, one of the singers, said: “It was a really fantastic experience. They (AMJ) were great people to work with. They were really good teachers. Was I nervous? Not at all. AMJ made us all feel really confident.”
Malmesbury School music teacher Debbie Corscadden said: “It was brilliant. It went really, really well. The students pulled out all the stops.”
Around half the students on-stage were from Malmesbury School while another 50 were recruited for the session from five local primary schools – Malmesbury, Brinkworth Earl Danby, Minety, Lea & Garsdon and Crudwell.
Their performance set the template for the fo llowing three days which saw around 30,000 world music fans converge on the Earl of Suffolk’s back garden to experience approximately 100 artists/bands from virtually every corner of the planet.
Malmesbury students learn a new rhythm for WOMAD appearance
The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Saturday 19th July 2014 By Barry Leighton
The spirit of Bob Marley has been alive, well and kicking up some unfamiliar but decidedly heady rhythms in Malmesbury over the past week and a half as the town has gone reggae crazy.
In the space of five days around 100 children applied their musical skills to performing some funky reggae beats in preparation for next week’s WOMAD Festival.
Music students from Malmesbury School and a cluster of village schools in the vicinity have risen to the challenge of creating their own take on the sunshine sounds of Jamaica.
During a series of intense sessions throughout last week they were tutored at the school by three experienced Bristol-based reggae musicians John Hollis, Mark Spence and Andy Clarke, known collectively as AMJ.
The trio – who also brought along several guest musicians – taught the children, aged between eight and 18, the basics of the music that emerged from the ghettos of Kingston during the 1960s.
On Tuesday Malmesbury’s reggae ensemble had a dress rehearsal within the medieval walls of the ruined abbey that has been more used to the sombre chants of monks.
Now the young reggae orchestra is set to open the four-day WOMAD – World of Music Art and Dance Festival – with a performance of material especially written for the event by AMJ on the main stage at 7pm on July 24.
“There’s been a positive vibration ever since the project began,” said music teacher Debbie Corscadden, quoting a phrase from the Bob Marley song of the same name.
“The school has certainly been filled with sunny, laidback music,” she said. “The children were very excited to be working with professional reggae musicians. Some of them are accomplished musicians themselves – even those as young as 12.”
While the younger children focused on singing and dancing, the older ones have learnt how to apply their talents to the singular reggae beat on a variety of instruments including bass, brass, guitars, keyboards and percussion.
It has now become a tradition for children in the area to open the event on the Thursday night in front of thousands of fans with a performance alongside a top world music band.