Friday, 15 March 2013

CSI band

I woke up this morning feeling all shaky. My body is definitely fighting something off. The tender patches under my arms are particularly entertaining. 

We've been at the community centre all day running a drop-in for people interested in the musical. We seem to have attracted a rather odd and eccentric bunch. Someone spent at least 30 minutes describing the difference between leprechauns and clurichauns, which, though fascinating, felt, you know,  a little tangential.  

We've had all sorts through the doors; singing school girls, a man who runs a driving school for ex-offenders, a woman who remembers the ground floor flats of estate buildings being turned into bomb shelters during the Second World War and a local filmmaker who has made it her business to find out everything it's worth knowing about the history of the estate. 

And what a history...

White City was scrub land until the end of the 19th Century, described as "desolate-looking fields tired of being countryside and not yet ready to be town." In the early 20th Century it was chosen as the site of the Franco-British exhibition; a celebration of the Commonwealth in the form of the most extraordinary city of ornate oriental buildings, covered in pure white stucco and surrounded by exquisite water gardens where Edwardian ladies floated around on punts. At the centre of the complex, a series of death-defying rides made visitors gasp, including the "Flip Flap", where two enormous viewing platforms (housing 27 passengers a piece and looking like a double Eiffel Tower) endlessly looped the loop.

It was THE place to be. The most popular tourist destination in the country. 

In 1906, Mount Vesuvius in Italy erupted with force and many people in the bay of Naples lost their lives. The Italian government decided as a result that they couldn't stage the 1908 Olympics and London stepped into the breech, offering up the newly opened White City complex as the perfect setting for a brand new stadium. 

The years went by, and the beautiful white buildings slowly began to crumble. Local children played in the ruins, and the impressive water ways became stagnant ponds. The land was sold to developers and a large estate of social housing was built as "homes fit for heroes" returning from the First World War.

The Olympic stadium remained, however, and was chosen to house the 1948 "austerity" Olympics before being turned into a greyhound track, which remained an important part of the community until the 1980s when it was bought and demolished by the BBC, hungry for an extension of the Television Centre complex... And with that, every last memory of the gleaming White City had been erased.

This evening we went to a street dancing class and a Zumba group before calling in on the CSI steel pan band, who demonstrated the extraordinary process they go through when learning a new song. I genuinely don't know how it happened. It was organic. They started with little rhythmic cells, which they repeated as a slow groove whilst their leader Brett introduced each section of the band to new sequences. Twenty minutes later, the piece was learned and they played it perfectly, at full speed, whilst dancing like loons. It was virtuosic and quite astonishing. There was no sheet music. Complicated rhythms were learned in a sort of call and response way. It was enthralling. I felt proud to be watching.  

I looked at my twitter feed at one point. People were whinging about Comic Relief and yet in front of me a group of young, inspiring black people from a housing estate, instead of hanging out in gangs, were sailing through the most mathematically complicated music and in the process proving that community music is vital. Cut those community arts and sports budgets at your peril, Mr Cameron. They're the glue which holds this remarkable community together. 

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