Interview: Charles Hazlewood on taking SMOOSH! by Paraorchestra to Glastonbury

The internationally acclaimed music ensemble Paraorchestra are bringing their latest creation SMOOSH! to this year’s Glastonbury Festival where they last performing in 2019.

SMOOSH! features wind, brass instruments and drums, with musicians playing a lively mix of well-known classics from the likes of Fatboy Slim, Kate Bush, Massive Attack, Basement Jaxx and Adele. Designed to break down barriers between audience and players, Paraorchestra works with partners in local communities as well as encouraging the public to dance and sing along.

Ahead of the festival we caught up with Paraorchestra founder and Artistic Director Charles Hazlewood to find out more about the show.

Q&A with Charles Hazlewood, Paraorchestra founder and Artistic Director

How does it feel to be playing this year’s Glastonbury Festival?

It’s always, always an incredible rush to be playing Glastonbury. We were here last in 2019 with our Love Unlimited Synth Orchestra but this is the third time Paraorchestra have played Glasto. Perhaps most memorable for me was headlining The Park stage in 2016 with our Celebration of David Bowie; an intense and deeply emotional performance of Philip Glass’ Heroes – you could hear a pin drop in the crowd that night. It was really special. But, Glastonbury is wild, it’s a haven, it’s where anything goes and where anyone can find their crew – so, bringing our biggest project to date – SMOOSH! – to Glastonbury is just utter joy.

What can you tell us about Paraorchestra?

Well, I can tell you that you will have never encountered an orchestra like Paraorchestra before. In short – we aim to turn the whole orchestral model on its head. We marry up our ensemble of professional disabled and non-disabled musicians – playing pretty much any kind of instrument you can think of (and many you have never heard of) – with artists from across artforms and genres to create orchestral projects that absolutely anyone can enjoy and relate to. We’re about celebrating diversity – in all its forms – whilst providing meaningful playing and artistic development opportunities for disabled musicians. It’s a truly inclusive organisation with a huge heart and I am incredibly proud of all that we achieve.

 What can festival-goers expect from your show?

I describe SMOOSH! as a Huge Sonic Feel-Good Bear Hug. Think of a high energy ensemble of brass, wind, percussion, playing banging pop tunes, choreographed and brought to life together with a troupe of professional dancers. We worked with the brilliant Emma-Jean Thackray on arrangements of tracks by artists like Fatboy Slim, Adele, Kate Bush, and Basement Jaxx that everyone can sing and dance along to. And man, they do! It’s like a Mardi Gras, a street party. It spreads joy, and love, and huge smiles wherever it goes.

And, actually, Glastonbury was one of my early inspirations for SMOOSH! You know that moment where you stumble off for a beer somewhere in between, say, Other and Leftfield, and there is that slightly vexatious moment when you can hear acts on both stages.. Then suddenly they align, just for a few bars – it’s the weirdest but most beautiful mashup – and then it goes. It’s that sweet spot that we’ve recreated in parts of SMOOSH! So yeah, it’s great to bring it to its inspirational home.

Will playing to a festival audience change how you approach the show?

SMOOSH! is designed to play absolutely anywhere – shopping malls, beaches, suburban streets – I can’t think of anywhere it couldn’t play. It is usually an on-the-move gig; we paraded the Seafront in Hove for the close of Brighton Festival last year, and ahead of our Glastonbury weekend we will take it to the community of Plaistow in East London and then on to the South Bank. So, the only real difference with this is that we’ll be performing in one place – but the kinetic force will still be off the scale, guaranteed.

Will you be checking out any other acts across the weekend – who are you most looking forward to seeing?

Oh yes, for sure. On my list – pending any of those heart-wrenching schedule clashes that I’ve yet to work out – are Wizkid; Lizzo; Blondie; Leftfield; Rudimental; and Hot Chip. But, really, I’m also just as happy to wander and stumble across those off-the-radar treasures and human interactions that make Glastonbury so intoxicating. I can’t wait.

SMOOSH! by Paraorchestra is at Glastonbury Festival 2023