Live Music + Gig Reviews

Speakers Corner Quartet & Guildhall Session Orchestra @ Royal Festival Hall, London

17 June 2024

South London genre-crossing outfit prove their proficiency and versatility with orchestral support and guest appearances at Chaka Khan’s Meltdown

Speakers Corner Quartet & Guildhall Session Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall as part of Chaka Khan's Meltdown (Photo: Pete Woodhead)

Speakers Corner Quartet & Guildhall Session Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall as part of Chaka Khan’s Meltdown (Photo: Pete Woodhead)

One of the many positives to the Southbank Centre’s long-running Meltdown festival is the opportunity it provides for artists who would not usually get the chance to play one of the site’s distinguished venues to do so. It was a point very much in evidence at tonight’s show by emerging, genre-crossing outfit Speakers Corner Quartet as they were joined by the Guildhall Session Orchestra for a performance at the Royal Festival Hall that presented both parties in a positive light.

Speakers Corner Quartet hail from south London and are named after the Brixton spoken word and hip hop night for which they were the house band for many years (they are formed of Biscuit on flute, Kwake Bass on drums & percussion, Raven Bush on violin, and Peter Bennie on bass). They released their debut album Further Out Than The Edge last year, which showcased their ability to seamlessly blend soul, R’n’B, jazz, hip hop and urban sensibilities and featured several eye-catching guest appearances.

Tonight however was very much a show of two parts, the first seeing the orchestra take a more prominent role for one longer, multi-episodic piece. Text from The Prophet by Lebanese-American writer and poet Khalil Gibran was displayed on a large screen behind the musicians and it soon became apparent that it was a sound more suited to the grand concert hall than some of the less formal spaces the SCQ may usually occupy. As it unfurls there are passing resemblances to the work of Max Richter (when the strings are at their purest), The Cinematic Orchestra (when the percussion kicks in) and American soul-jazz composer David Axelrod (towards the end when the SCQ find a groove and assume dominance amid the orchestral expanse). It’s a tasteful palette cleanser although possibly a little too long for some.

The youthful crowd assembled in the Royal Festival Hall seem more enthused by the later stages which sees different guests introduced on stage to play tracks from the album. French-Martiniquan vocalist Léa Sen is first up for a smoky rendition of Dreaded! which sees them occupy similar territory to the likes of Sault. They also more broadly seem to be kindred spirits with the likes of Balimaya Project (who also are programmed as part of Chaka Khan’s Meltdown) and Mercury Music Prize winners Ezra Collective (SCQ themselves can count themselves unlucky to have missed out on a nomination, having seemingly met a lot of the key criteria for inclusion).

Confucius MC and Joe Armon-Jones appear next for a performance of Wavelet, injecting energy and presence into the show and the star quality peaks with the arrival of Sampha for Can We Do This? and Kae Tempest for Geronimo Blues. Sampha has already proved himself to be a vocalist and musician of note, headlining his own shows at Alexandra Palace, and he elicits the strongest reaction tonight. Tempest’s polemical, social commentary/contemporary poetry meanwhile is as animated and magnetic as ever and tonight is delivered with customary passion. It’s a powerful close to an evening that confirmed SCQ to be another highly proficient, versatile London based multifaceted outfit very much on the rise.

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Speakers Corner Quartet & Guildhall Session Orchestra @ Royal Festival Hall, London