What The River Sings










tickets £10 (£5 concs) bookable via

mail@grandunion.org.uk quoting ‘River Sings tickets’



an iconic riverside location …

celebrating the spirit of East London …

featuring the cream of local performers …






Presented by the Water City Festival and devised by Grand Union’s composer/director Tony Haynes, What the River Sings brings together an astonishing array of performers, representing all the major musical cultures that flourish in East London today, including:

  • Water City Festival Orchestra, East London-based students and community musicians led by violin virtuoso Michael Bochmann and conducted by Rupert Bond;
  • Grand Union Orchestra, comprising professional singers, jazz and world musicians from all major musical cultures worldwide;
  • Grand Union Youth Orchestra, bringing together young musicians from equally diverse backgrounds in East London;
  • Hackney Voices and the Hackney Empire Community Choir.

Imagine, if it could sing, what stories the river could tell at this historic location where the Lea  meets the Thames – gateway to the docks and canals of East London, magnet for migrants and refugees over the centuries, centre for trade and engine of Britain’s prosperity – seeing thousands of ships and millions of people come and go, as its historic lighthouse keeps watch on this ancient waterway and ensures a safe passage to the heart of our great city…

Tony Haynes says: “What the River Sings is an extraordinary variety of music, framed by two movements from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Schéherazade. The legendary story-teller stretches her tale to 1001 years of sea-borne grandeur, the rise and fall of empire and stories of exotic places and distant events – but it is above all a story of the trade and migration of music itself. East London in the 21st Century is a true cultural melting-pot, created by generations of migrants from all over the world, whose music mixes and melds on a daily basis. It’s really exciting to help create an event which celebrates how much this enriches life in the city.”

Beginning in mythical Arabia, the journey is first blessed by Yemanya, Yoruba spirit of water whose songs crossed the Atlantic with the slave trade; it follows the exploits of the early Portuguese navigators and their colonial legacy across the Indian Ocean; up through the Pacific it reaches frozen Arctic wastes inhabited only by Inuit, before returning south through Bangladesh, where a couple leave their river-city Dhaka for a new life in London; surviving a shipwreck off the Turkish coast; and finishing where it began in fantastical oriental splendour.

Michael Bochmann, leader of the Water City Festival Orchestra, says: “It’s great to be able to bring together vocal styles from gospel and West African chant to Portuguese, Turkish and Bengali songs with an orchestra that combines the majesty of symphonic brass, wind and strings with the rhythmic power of African and Latin percussion and less familiar instruments like sitar, sarangi, tabla, dhol, baglama (saz), congas and steel pans – and some very fine jazz and world music soloists. And for good measure, some of Henry Wood’s Sea Songs (a staple ingredient of the Last Night of the Proms) have been stirred into the mix!”


Lord Mawson, Chairman of the Water City Festival, says: “The ‘Water City’ of East London in 2012 is home to a diverse community of some 12,000 musicians and artists. The five Olympic host boroughs are home to the largest cultural quarter in Europe. A new Water City is growing around the six miles of rivers and canals around the Olympic Park. Water has driven the economy of East London for over 1000 years; it is now again being called upon to drive our future economic growth. The Water City Festival allows residents, school pupils and those who live and work in east London to experience making music and creating art as a part of the new metropolitan city emerging around them; and Frank Creber, Water City Festival Director of Visual Arts, has created a spectacular backdrop and artwork specially for this event, working with local artists. What the River Sings expresses and celebrates the wealth of cultural, artistic and musical talent that flows through East London.”

For GUO press/PR contact

Izzy Bianchini, tel 020 7375 1122, isabel@grandunion.org.uk


For more information, go to www.grandunion.org.uk and www.watercityfestival.org.uk

What the River Sings is another mile-stone event of the Grand Union Orchestra’s The Golden Highway project, for which the organisation has been awarded a Transformers grant, funded by The National Lottery, through the Olympic Lottery Distributor, and managed by the East London Business Alliance.  The project aims to empower communities across the whole demographic of East London through participation in opportunities presented by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.


Grand Union Orchestra (GUO)

There is no other musical organisation on the planet quite like the Grand Union Orchestra, with its fluid and multi-talented cast of world-class musicians from across the jazz and world music spectrums. Now well past its quarter century, it has performed all over the world with its repertoire of over fifteen original shows, and its musical ambitions and inspirations continue to evolve. In the words of All About Jazz: “GUO was formed by the visionary composer and pianist Tony Haynes long before the term world-jazz was invented. His genius has been not merely to bolt colourful ethnic exoticisms onto the exterior bodywork of the jazz tradition, but to create a truly syncretic blend in which it is impossible to say where one culture stops and another starts.”

Water City Festival (WCF)

Water City Festival organised the first ‘Orchestra in a Weekend’ project at The Chainstore, Trinity Buoy Wharf in October 2010 as a grassroots response to concerns in East London that local people, despite much rhetoric, were feeling disconnected from the Olympic Games. Just 18 months later, the Water City Festival Orchestra has completed 3 seasons and made its first foray into recording. It is a flourishing inter-generational ensemble involving musicians drawn from the East London community and pupils from East London schools who are mentored by music students and professional musicians from leading educational institutions including Trinty Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Several wonderful creative partnerships have evolved with arts organisations including The Royal Opera House and the Grand Union Orchestra. These collaborations reflect the WCF’s interest in making new connections with other art forms and cultures alongside its commitment to playing classical music. This has all been made possible by generous funding from a growing band of supporters including Trinity Buoy Wharf Trust, Thames Clippers, Lloyds TSB and Westfield. Lord Mawson (Chairman) is available for interviews: 020 7620 6000 / andrew@amawsonpartnerships.com



Olympic Lottery Distributor (OLD)
The Olympic Lottery Distributor is investing National Lottery money to fund the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It will be providing up to £1.8 billion for the infrastructure of the Olympic Park and Olympic facilities across the UK.  It is also providing £16.6 million to support the Cultural Olympiad and £3.42m to fund the network of Big Screens across the UK.

In addition, OLD is funding three community projects managed by the East London Business Alliance: In the Parks is a three year project aimed at increasing long term participation in sport; Represent London is a three year employability and volunteering programme for young people; and Transformers is a small grants programme supporting innovative projects which celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in five of the Olympic Host Boroughs. More information about the Olympic Lottery Distributor can be found at www.olympiclotterydistributor.org.uk.

East London Business Alliance (ELBA)
ELBA is a social and economic regeneration charity that connects City and Canary Wharf companies and communities in East London. ELBA is managing the One Movement events as part of its Legacy 2020 programme which looks to help secure a positive legacy from the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games for East London communities.
ELBA has over 120 corporate members and hundreds of contacts on the ground in Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Newham, Greenwich and Waltham Forest. A registered charity, ELBA has over 20 years of experience in facilitating successful partnerships between business and the community. Its work includes running flagship employee volunteering schemes that meet real community need; delivering successful employment programmes in partnership with its corporate members; as well as its legacy programmes which include sports, culture and projects to build the skills and aspirations of young people. Since last year ELBA helped place over 700 people into work through its employment team, supported nearly 11,000 business volunteers, and worked with over 500 local organisations in East London.  www.elba-1.org.uk










Victoria Couper            Portugal/England voice

Lucy Rahman            Bangladesh voice

Akash Sultan                        Bangladesh voice

Richard Scott            England voice, tenor saxophone

Paul Jayasinha            Sri Lanka/Scotland trumpet, flugelhorn, cello

Claude Deppa            South Africa trumpet, percussion

Byron Wallen                        Belize trumpet, flugelhorn

Chris Biscoe                        England soprano & alto saxophones, alto clarinet

Tony Kofi                        Ghana alto & baritone saxophones

Louise Elliott                        Australia tenor saxophone, flute

Harry Brown                        Black British trombone

Ros Davies                        Wales trombone, flute

Tony Haynes                        England piano, trombone

Baluji Shrivastav            India tabla, dholak

Gerry Hunt                        England guitar, clarinet, soprano saxophone

Andres Lafone            Uruguay bass guitar

Paul Clarvis                        England drums


For full information and further guidance, interviews with musicians and so on, contact Isabel Bianchini in the Grand Union office 020-7375 1122 or by email mail@grandunion.org.uk.

Our website and blogs also carry full details www.grandunion.org.uk.

Notes on Grand Union’s music can be found at www.tonyhaynesmusic.wordpress.com


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