The Calderdale Fantasy Orchestra


‘Damo, the Fantasy Orchestra is amazing,’ said my good friend, Lady Fee, a resident of the western extremities of the ever-gorgeous Calderdale valley. It was a frequent statement of hers from the time she went to the first rehearsals in January, right through to last weekend when I found myself at the Golden Lion in Todmorden mooching about to some serious deep bass reggae.

Dave & Lady Fee

‘Why don’t you come to rehearsals on Wednesday,’ she insisted rather than asked on the Golden Lion dance floor, ‘& write one of your mumble thingies?’ I love a good mumble, me, like, so I accepted her invitation most gracefully & the following Wednesday returned to the vales of Sappho for my induction to the Calderdale Fantasy Orchestra.

The CFO is the third incarnation of the Fantasy Orchestra ‘franchise,’ the brainchild of Jessie Vernon, a musical maestro who currently plays guitar in the band ‘This is the Kit.’ His idea was to introduce an inclusive, happy vibe into the staid world of orchestras – in fancy dress, with proper banging tunes. Bristol was first, Paris was second, & thanks to a former musical director of the Bristol posse moving to Calderdale, Todmorden is next. His name is David – a delightfully ebullient chap, who says he’s a percussionist, but his conducting skills are something to be relished. He appear’d in the valley a couple of years ago, & within about 3 months realised it was no ordinary place, a cauldron of odd-bod flamboyance simply ripe for a Fantasy Orchestra – & so it has proved. I met him quite by accident driving pass’d me & Lady Fee at the bus stop, & I was soon motoring to the Golden Lion, giving him a wee inquisition as to what the hell I was going to be up to that evening & why? It turned out I would be joining the choir.

The Golden Lion is a beacon of sanctuary, sound & light – some quality acts flow through its chambers. The main performance space is upstairs & doubles up as the practice rooms for the CFO, with the roof terrace being where the choir do their own thing. One-by-one the singers & players drifted in – a rag-tag collection of active bohemians & happy retirees. Among them was a permaculture designer, a clinical herbalist, an outdoor educator, a really cute baker called Lois, a medical tattooist who specialises in 3D nipples, & a doctor of palliative care. Each was in fine spirits, happy to be there & re-releasing the pressures of life into a fine melange of music.

They warmed up with a jazz-infused piece of random razzmatazz which David conducted like Tony Blair on acid, & when he wiggled his fingers at the wind section I was ‘like what kind of sorcery is this?’ Then we divided up for a while, the instruments buzzing about like bees on the bouquet-like interactions of energized razzmatazz, while next door choir leader Jan tightened the singers up into SAS precision. The orchestra was comprehensive; strings, brass & wind – guitar, bass & drums among which Lady Fee’s bass trombone held everything together, the veritable & vital glue of the CFO. Outside Jan was teenage-giddy, yet matron-efficient, as she guided us through ‘Don’t You Love Me Baby.’ This was one of 200 songs which Jessie has transcribed for orchestra, from which pool the CFO will be choosing their pieces. The idea is that a member of the Bristol or Paris Fantasy Orchestras can just slot into the CFO, & vice versa.

Jan & David were at the Royal Northern Music College together, & we were in capable hands. Both their rooms were planning together, & building an experience which when conjoined later flowed like magic, full of a go-for-it attitude fleshing out a spontaneous spine. Novices performed side-by-side with experts, an unpretentious crazy gang abounding with equal quantities of mental, where the central edict is ‘more is more!’ With a quirky acceptance for anything new, the Fantasy Orchestra is for those who think a traditional orchestra too intimidating. Its also a unit with little comprehensive rehearsal, & more a vague idea of doing it right – no brilliantly – on the night, with the confidence of doing so running through every note.

Damian Beeson Bullen

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