Brunel 200 Legacy Andy Sheppard's the Living Bridge
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Brunel 200 Events & Activities Overview > Andy Sheppard's the Living Bridge

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The Living Bridge

As part of the celebrations for the launch event of Brunel 200, internationally renowned jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard was commissioned to write a new piece of music to celebrate one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s greatest achievements, the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

In discussion about what form the event would take, Andy decided that he would honour the 200th anniversary of Brunel’s birth by writing a piece to be performed by 200 saxophonists. The music would be the culmination of an evening’s entertainment, coinciding with the switching on of the £800,000 new lighting scheme on the suspension bridge, followed by a spectacular fireworks display over the bridge and Avon Gorge.

The people of Bristol would be invited to the city’s biggest free party since the Festival of the Sea in 1997!

With Andy commissioned in October 2005, the first rehearsal booked for January 2006 and the launch event on 8th April, the challenge was on to find 200 saxophonists.

Brunel 200 contacted music teachers across Bristol and Bath and ran a local press campaign to sign up players. Developing a working partnership with the Blow Out Sax School in Bath helped locate dozens of saxophonists from both cities, across the sub-region, into the furthest reaches of rural Wiltshire and even as far afield as south Wales.

Andy’s idea was to create a piece of music that could be accessed and enjoyed by performers of all levels of ability, from beginners to experienced players. Music scores were sent to every musician who signed up, as well as a CD of the final piece and the music parts, to help those players who didn’t read music. Blow Out Sax transcribed the piece into it’s own notation system, giving non-music readers an extra access point, as well as teaching the music as a standard lesson piece, thereby encouraging students to learn the music and to sign up to the performance at the same time.

Some of the 200 saxophonists that performed.

“My music teacher mentioned it and gave me the forms and information. With encouragement from my parents I decided I could not miss such an amazing opportunity.”

“As a resident of Bristol, I was interested/proud to be involved.”

“This is probably a once-in-a-lifetime event – certainly a unique opportunity and worth the investment of time and effort to be able to get the satisfaction back in spades and to say, to myself, “I was there helping to celebrate something/someone special.”

Getting the commitment of such a large number of saxophonists was a challenge in itself, but many people signed up just because of the quality of the work and the scale of the project:

“It was an opportunity to play with a top class jazz musician and to do something very different from the normal band I usually play with. It was also good to be involved in the Brunel Project and to learn about all the activities happening in Bristol.”

“A fantastic opportunity to work with a great musician, to be involved in an exciting project and to contribute further to Brunel 200 celebrations.”

“As an Engineer, musician and Bristolian, it was too good to miss”

“Great opportunity to meet so many other local musicians, and to be part of such an important landmark celebration for Bristol. And also to make as big a noise as possible!! It was a very special occurrence – just had to be involved.”

“I read about the project in the Bristol Observer. I’m a Bristolian and proud of our city’s links to Brunel and his achievements.”

“I thought it would be good fun and also a chance to be part of something for the city.”

“It was also good to be involved in the Brunel Project and to learn about all the activities happening in Bristol.”

Many players had never performed in front of an audience before and certainly not in front of such a large number:

“My sax tutor asked me and I have never performed in public so felt it was a personal challenge.”

“I think it was great to get so many different people together of various ages and abilities, giving everyone a chance to join in.”

“This project was a great idea because it welcomed anyone who wanted to take part.”

The scale of the Brunel 200 celebrations meant it was possible to attract a world-class musician held in enormous respect locally:

“The best reason – when am I ever going to play with, let alone meet, Andy Sheppard again?! Just [insert major swear word] brilliant! He came across as a remarkably warm individual, passionate about his music with a real human touch to his leadership of our event.”

“I enjoy playing the saxophone and have a great respect for Andy Sheppard.”

“I’m a fan of Andy Sheppard.”

“I like Andy Sheppard’s sax playing.”

“I love and admire some of Andy Sheppard’s music and playing with ‘Two Hundred Saxophones’ has got to be a bit of an experience.”

“Heard about it from friends, and couldn’t let the opportunity to play with AS go by!”

“The chance to play with Andy Sheppard could not be passed up!”

“It was an opportunity to play with a top class jazz musician.”

Brunel proved a powerful inspiration for people to get involved in the project, bringing with them many interpretations of Brunel’s significance to their lives and their city:

“I am a Professional Engineer and a member of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, Brunel is an engineering hero who inspired me to take up engineering as a profession. To celebrate his 200th birthday seemed natural… it was going to be a wonderful experience – one that I am going to treasure.”

“I didn’t really know who he was or what he did before, the project opened my eyes to some of his amazing accomplishments.”

“I’ve certainly read more about him and the excellent cartoon guide provided with the recent Venue magazine was particularly useful.”

“I’ve learnt a lot more about him and his work partly because of the project and partly through the kids’ school projects.”

“It has given me an opportunity to learn more about Brunel’s achievements and his close relationship to the city. It’s nice to get past the stovepipe hat and cigar and be exposed to the more complex and interesting aspects of Brunel as a historical figure.”

“His legacy has come alive and made me rethink my attitude towards him.”

“Seriously, if I were still teaching I would introduce I.K.Brunel as part of the core curriculum – what visionaries, what shining examples of British engineering at its best!!!”

“I have appreciated this man’s prodigious talent, foresight and management/ leadership in a far greater way than previously. Why wasn’t I taught more about him as an individual at Bristol Grammar School 30 years ago?”

The economic benefits of such a large-scale event must be acknowledged. An estimated crowd of 10,000 flooded into the Clifton area of the city to see the stage entertainment and fireworks at the suspension bridge. Anecdotal evidence shows huge benefit to local businesses:

“Every pub and restaurant in Clifton was jammed with party-goers!”

“What an amazing night – there were queues out of the door and round the corner past the pedestrian crossing. Can we have this every Saturday night please?”
Manager, Clifton Village Fish Bar, Princess Victoria Street, Clifton

“Fantastic – we took £1000 more than we would on a normal Saturday night. And there was a great buzz all night – a really good vibe.”
Manager, The Quadrant pub, Princess Victoria Street, Clifton

However, as with any event of this scale, there were some hitches. The event management company brought in to organise the management of the launch made mistakes in the Public Entertainments Licence application to Bristol City Council, resulting in several changes in location for the stage area, between the suspension bridge and the Cumberland Basin (which would have given the clearest view of the stage and the bridge). This meant changes to and constrictions on rehearsals, site, PA broadcasts, audience viewing and numbers etc. and divided the audience between the entertainment in Clifton and the best view of the fireworks from the Cumberland Basin:

“Pity the stage was in the wrong place – couldn’t see the fireworks. WHY was the stage on top of the hill where no-one could see onto it? And WHY wasn’t the sound relayed down the Portway etc.”

“The activities on the stage should have been amplified better as it was very difficult to hear what was being said. The musical items should have been transmitted over the pa system so that more people could have heard it.”

“SUCH a shame we couldn’t play down in the Basin in the end. I think it did detract from the impact we could have had on the whole climax of the evening.”

In spite of these difficulties, the overriding impression of the event was the feeling of collective delight of those taking an active part and those in the audience (who endured unseasonably cold weather and a 10 minute hailstorm):

“It was very exhilarating and a thrill in every sense – not just the massive sound!”

“Yes, the turn out was amazing, we didn’t expect that many people!”

“I enjoyed every minute of it – thank you for organising the event and including me in it.”

“I am extremely grateful to Brunel 200 and the sponsors in providing me the opportunity to celebrate Brunel’s birthday, to meet so many wonderful people and to have obtained such marvellous memories and experiences.”

“It was a brilliantly orchestrated event on Saturday, and we all had a whale of a time!”

“We all enjoyed it so much – especially as I got to meet lots of very talented people who were all so dedicated to putting on a good show.”

“I would like to express my appreciation at how well coordinated and run the event was. How well organised the project management was and as a result how much of a delight it was taking part in this event.”

“It was a wonderful, memorable event to be involved in – a huge sense of collective enjoyment. Andy Sheppard was an excellent Director of Music and his piece was superb for the occasion. Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this great event.”

“There’s too much negativity these days, I’m up for having a good time”.


Photography: Kevin Clifford.