Meet the Really Awful Orchestra from Wigan – which is doing very well



But even to the surprise of its creators, it has enjoyed great success with sold-out concerts around Wigan.

A weird tramp note to be expected, but people are rediscovering talent that has sat dormant for sometimes decades in a gathering of cheerful amateurism that audiences find they love.

The packed theaters have proved even more revealing when you consider that much of the entertainment industry is still only partially emerging from the lockdown restrictions, with some having failed completely in the meantime, while the crowds cautious do not always come back in force.

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The RAO is the brainchild of Ian Darrington and Peter Fletcher, both of whom have deep educational and musical roots in the borough and who four years ago created the Music Continuum which now runs the Wigan International Jazz Festival and the Sunday Jazz. (what used to be Wigan Jazz Club).

The ensemble is not without precedent: Best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith, of all, having created the Really Terrible Orchestra based in Edinburgh in 1995.

But such organizations are a real rarity while having a common concept: to bring together outdated instrumentalists for musical creation and social interaction.

Chris Perry puts the orchestra to the test

Ian, who in addition to being the musical director of the Wigan Youth Jazz Orchestra for many moons, has worked for the Wigan Council’s music department teaching brass, believes there is a huge untapped talent pool in the borough. .

He said, “I was once thinking of the number of children I have taught over the years and it has come to two or three thousand. You multiply that by the number of other teachers, instruments, and periods over the decades and you end up with a huge number.

“And only a fraction, it is sad to say, of those who learn the instruments in their childhood, accompany them until adulthood, either as a hobby or as a profession. I thought a lot of people must have dust collecting instruments in a closet or attic that could be coaxed into trying again.

“There will of course be some who think it would be too embarrassing or that they won’t remember what they learned so long ago. But it’s amazing what comes back and it also helps tremendously when you find that other participants are feeling pretty much the same.

The Really Awful Orchestra performing in Wigan town center

And the age range is wide. There are a few young people who come because their parents are involved, but otherwise the players are between 20 and 70 years old.

It is particularly revealing for older members.

Peter said: “I volunteered for Age UK and people were like ‘I was playing an instrument, you know’ whether it was the violin or the trombone. And these were people who didn’t go out and had nowhere to go. The orchestra has given some old people a new purpose and it is really a social activity.

The career and social background is also vast, with some professionals admitting that this is the one time they can escape the mountains of work they have in the office or classroom because they have to focus so much on the performance in front of them.

The RAO was created three years ago, after a call was made for aborted amateur musicians to come forward, and conductor Chris Perry was appointed musical director.

Ian said: “We started with 15 or 16 players but it started to snowball and we are now at 40.

“The enthusiasm and passion for this is incredible and the level of playing is quite good – much higher than we expected from people some of whom have not touched an instrument for 20 to 25 years. . The name of the orchestra is really misleading, but it’s catchy and I think we’re going to stick to it.

And that doesn’t put off the public. A recent concert at St Michael’s Church in Swinley was sold out.

The repertoire is wide, ranging from popular to classical music and the enthusiasm of the performers is palpable.

Ian said: “The lockdown was a real pain, but a lot of musicians wanted to keep going so they stayed in touch on Zoom to practice and record. It wasn’t us – they just did it on their own.

Covid is still looming over future RAO plans, but Continuum is hoping in the future to host entire rehearsal weekends two or three times a year, possibly residences, and there are plans to have partial rehearsals as well. the weekend.

And it’s not clear when the next gig might be.

But the music continues.

The Really Awful Orchestra rehearses 7-9 p.m. every Monday during school term (and summer vacation) at the Wigan Music Center, Park Road, Hindley.

At the moment, they are particularly looking for brass instruments: trumpets, trombones, horns and tubas.

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