THE BEGINNING

Musical Director Dave Okumu (The Invisible) assembled a cast including Anna Calvi, Kate Tempest, Loyle Carner, Kwabs and Jamie Woon for a one-off show at The Roundhouse.

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Gil Scott-Heron Project: Pieces of a Man
Convergence Festival @ Roundhouse, London, 13.03.2016

From idea to fruition it’s the kind of night that’s a couple of years in the making. The brief’s straight forward: pay tribute to the canon left by the incomparable Gil Scott-Heron, but the execution is likely to have been anything but. Musical Director for the night Dave Okumu – founder of The Invisible, producer for Rosie Lowe and Jessie Ware, collaborator with Amy Winehouse and Adele – took himself away to Italy to avoid distraction and to plot an evening to pay tribute to his musical hero. From there the assembly of a band, set list and guest line-up has taken months to round out. “His impact on the architecture of modern music may not often be celebrated but it is incontestable,” Okumu said in the run-up to this, and what he’s organised tonight is something really quite unique.

First there’s the funky, tight-as-hell “house band” Okumu has fused together featuring Floating Points (Sam Shepherd) on keys, Leo Taylor (The Invisible, Hot Chip, Adele) on drums and the impeccable Jason Yarde on saxophone. Throughout the night they bring to life the frequent subtleties and deep groove of Scott-Heron’s extensive and varied work.

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Tribute shows of this kind can sometimes come off as stiff, but the atmosphere here is never stuffy. The set-up helps. An illustration of the ‘Godfather of rap’, overlooking proceedings, hangs down the back of the stage as the collaborators for the night sit on the side of stage on bar stools in a area lit by a homely lampshade. It keeps the whole feel informal, collaborative and fun.

Of the rotating cast of guests there are many highlights. Andreya Triana performing ‘Winter In America’ before Kwabs tackles ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’. Joan As Police Woman, sat alone at a piano, two spotlights trained on her, transforms ‘Running’ from Scott-Heron’s 2010 swansong ‘I’m New Here’ into something other-worldly.

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Later Nadine Shah takes ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’ to powerful places she’s rarely explored in her own material, and Anna Calvi, drenched in red light, delivers a menacing version of ‘Me And The Devil’. Jamie Woon, Loyle Carner and Gwilym Gold also make moving contributions.

But two of the night’s stand out moments come from a pair of unexpected guests. Comedian Reginald D. Hunter dryly reciting ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ after a personal introduction about how he grew up in the Gil Scott-Heron era, and Kate Tempest, penultimate guest, delivering an impassioned 9-minute unaccompanied poem – or was it a freestyle? – that has the Roundhouse on it’s feet.

The show concludes with Kwabs returning to sing ‘The Bottle’ before the rest of the night’s collaborators join him on stage. “Tonight – this is Gil’s party,” Okumu had said earlier in the evening surveying the crowd, a huge smile on his face. With each artist putting their own individual stamp on his work, and with a spirit of celebration running through all it, he would have no doubt approved.

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