Originally called ‘The St Paul’s Reggae Orchestra’, the group was renamed ‘The Bristol Reggae Orchestra’ mid-2010 to reflect its wider scope, although it still remains true to its roots in St Paul’s where it rehearses on a weekly basis.
Founded by member, Stella Quinlivan in early 2010, the orchestra's first gig sold out St George’s in Bristol, a renowned classical music venue, and turned it into a seething dance hall.
Stella had been working in St Pauls, Bristol for several years when she came to set up an learning and family centre, which was being built as part of the regeneration of the area. The Learning Centre ran a café, selling Caribbean food. Every year, the Centre was involved in St. Pauls Carnival – the biggest Caribbean carnival in England, after Notting Hill.
A local Jamaican resident, Chris Williams used to visit the Centre and one day he said, “What St Pauls needs is a reggae orchestra. What are you going to do about it?” This request intrigued Stella. She knew what reggae was. She knew what an orchestra was... but a reggae orchestra? Stella looked on the Internet to see if there were any in existence... Apparently there was one in Australia! The only other thing that she found was a reference to Mykaell Riley, who developed the Reggae Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1980’s.
So, she produced a poster and fliers and took it round the bars and the bookies in St. Pauls and Easton, as well as promoting it in the Learning Centre, local websites, and on Ujima Radio, the local radio station. Working with a colleague Chino Odimba, Stella engaged Charles Ogilvie from Black Roots to help champion the idea within the community. His vast knowledge of reggae and respect within the community brought in a number of interested people who wanted to play in or support the orchestra including Lorraine Ayensu. Norma Daykin was recruited as the first music Director and so it began.
The orchestra has since gone from strength to strength. The first ever performance was sold out and a lot of people were intrigued at what a reggae orchestra would sound like and were excited to hear the sound. Since then, each performance gets people dancing and calling for more.