'Concertini' YolanDa Brown (and band) Norden Farm Centre for the Arts 12th April 2022
This excellent fun filled performance was a timely reminder not to judge a show before I’d seen it, and to read the promotional blurb properly beforehand.
First a confession. I volunteered to steward this event because Yolanda Brown is a multi MOBO award winning musician and a jazz saxophonist of the highest order. She’s appeared in Jools Holland’s ‘Hootenanny’, collaborated with a host of top acts and co-presented the BBC Young Jazz Musician finals. Great music and a chilled lunchtime. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, if I’d paid more attention I would have seen that she’s also a children’s TV presenter, presenting ‘YolanDa's Band Jam’ on CBeebies. I would have noted that it is school Easter holidays, and I would have seen that Norden Farm has an excellent school holiday programme for children. I would have put two and two together and twigged that this was a concert for children. I would have thought “I’m 61 years old now. What have I done?”
From the start there was something different about this show for pre school and primary school children. There was a palpable sense of polite excitement and anticipation. Whether or not they knew it, these children were going to one of their very first gigs and Yolanda Brown and band were not about to let them down.
Sometimes I cringe at attempts to whip up enthusiasm in children. Neither Patrick, who introduced the show, nor Yolanda talked down to the audience. They know what their audience enjoys and they offer it to them on a plate. They want to shout, they want to sing and above all they want to move.
The songs, almost all original, satisfy the needs of any four year old. They wiggle to the ground, they jump in the air, they call and respond to the maximum that their lungs will allow. They sway with their hands aloft . If they had mobile phones the auditorium would look like all the stars in the universe had come out to play. And here’s the thing. Their Mums (and occasionally Dads) join in, and the look on their faces says “Yes. Before nappies and broken nights and toddler tantrums I enjoyed dancing too” And they smile at the memory, reacquainting themselves with its pure joy.
There is, of course, a serious point to all this. Amidst the pantomime humour of a drummer who falls asleep during a song the show is educational too. Yolanda talks about dynamics, tempo and the characteristics of different instruments. Via her bass guitarist she shows us how low a bass can go, and how high too. (I’d always wondered about that, not being a musician myself.)
Musically, this is a mix of ska, S Club Juniors and nursery rhymes. It’s unrelentingly happy stuff. It ends in perfect fashion for any junior, with a mass singalong of ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’. It’s done in a way that isn’t in the slightest bit irritating, a way that a grown up band with a sense of humour such as Squeeze would be proud to deliver.
It’s a heady, happy occasion. Yolanda is aware that she may have sent some of these children on their way to a lifetime of gigging with this show. In years to come they may not remember Concertini as their first gig, but it could be the spark that ignites their passion.
And for that alone, this was a special occasion.