Oscar Jerome (and friends) blesses London with a genuine and sincere performance

Feeling somewhat nervous walking into the EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney), formerly and briefly known as the Hackney Arts Centre, but also a little bit giddy. Tonight brings the promise of experiencing a new artist and new venue together for the first time, with so much potential for it to go horribly wrong or beautifully right. Indeed, for a proud South London resident, I have been awfully late to the Oscar Jerome party as he is a well known and liked ambassador of the South London music scene. His music, along with other jazz-fusion sounds, has been on the playlists of art school kids and muso’s for years now, and rightfully so.

His entrance showed that he was perhaps equally as nervous. There is no direct backstage in the venue instead of artists file out of double doors to the left of the stage, doors that would not be out of place in any secondary school in the UK. Oscar Jerome was the first to appear and loitered like a man outside of a bar, not shooting any looks in our direction. Then without introduction or ceremony, he marched up onto the stage alone to the microphone and began. The opening track, Joy is You, is one that as far as the digital eye can see is not released anywhere and it felt very personal. There was no hello or salutation instead his guitar and voice silenced the crowd and spoke for him. I think he needed to do it this way; he needed to just get up and sing so he could relax. He then engaged in pleasantries with us, speaking with a cheeky South London twang he welcomed us and our date with Oscar had officially begun.

From there the floodgates opened and the night ascended into a celebration of art and culture rather than purely a music gig. Oscar waited until the third track of night for his first jazz guitar solo (his first learnt instrument) and it was nothing short of magical to witness; the energy and passion blasted through the speakers and the undertone of jazz from previous tracks came to the front, as did he. I think the real genius of his performance was early that early on in the set he invited those that were willing to come to the space in front of the stage and in his words “have a boogie.” Initially only a few obliged but as the night progressed more converted until by the encore it had become “the dance floor”. He transformed what is a beautiful but also slightly cavernous venue into an intimate and collaborative creative space, hats off! It is safe to say after this invitation that any nerves on both sides were gone and we were all warming to him.

There were so many instances of collaboration throughout the performance there is not enough margin space to detail them all but the highlights included a saxophone solo by Theo Erksine, who was pushed to breathlessness by Oscar and drummer Ayo Salawu who accompanied him on that journey. Also, established artists Brother Portrait and Lianne La Havas joined the stage for soulful exchanges towards the middle of the set.

The ante was raised slightly for the last song of the main set when Joe Armon-Jones joined the stage to play keys and they played out Oscar’s most listened to song from last year, "Do You Really". The performance took on a jam session quality with Oscar and Joe gleefully feeding off each other, and what was a recording of just three minutes and thirty seconds lasted for countless minutes. This cemented it for the crowd; we were fully into what Oscar Jerome and his friends had to offer. There were even football like chanting at stages with people shouting “Go on Oscar’, something I had not experienced at a jazz performance before but felt oddly apt, South London was very much in the building.

The encore continued in much the same vein as the previous track and we were treated to solos left right and centre played out over an extended version of his most popular track, "Give Back What You Stole from Me". At this point, special mention must be made to the drummer and Jack Polly on bass for being the driving force behind the performance. I think that without watertight rhythm section the other musicians including Oscar Jerome would not have been afforded the freedom in expression that they displayed. The Rhapsody ended with the music slowly fading out and Oscar repeating the chorus over and over but each time with more pressured speech, effectively asphyxiating on the words, until he ran out of breath and could not utter another word signally he and it was done. We dutifully applauded and departed, happily entertained to exhaustion.

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