Anglia Ruskin student jets off for Gulf gig

Published: 31 March 2016 at 11:45

Bahrain Skyline with a boat on the river

Oliver is a member of the British Paraorchestra performing at ‘Bahrain 200’ event

Anglia Ruskin University student Oliver Cross is flying out to the Middle East this week to take part in events marking 200 years of cooperation and understanding between Bahrain and the UK.

“Bahrain 200” is being organised by the British Council, and Oliver is one of six musicians from the British Paraorchestra performing at the Shaikh Ebrahim Center for Culture and Research on Saturday, 2 April.

The British Paraorchestra was founded by conductor Charles Hazlewood with a mission to showcase disabled musicians and remove the barriers that can often exist between them and performance.  

They are the world’s first professional ensemble for disabled musicians and since being formed four years ago have headlined at the Southbank Centre in London and performed alongside Coldplay during the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. 

Harmonica player Oliver is from Girton, Cambridge, and is studying for a BA (Hons) Photography degree at Anglia Ruskin.   

Oliver was born with severe talipes in both feet, for which he has had a series of operations, and also has Asperger’s Syndrome.  He said: 

“I play harmonica which the traditional orchestral world is snooty about!  There is also a barrier to do with my autism and understanding how I need to work around this. 

“I have always had trouble joining groups due to the lack of knowledge they have about my disabilities and uniqueness.”

The former Comberton Village College student is excited about the experience of performing in Bahrain but recognises that flying out to the Gulf state will be a physical challenge.

“I would love to meet some of the Bahrainis with Asperger’s and autism who are involved in the programme,” explained the 19-year-old.  “It is exhausting for me to travel, and hard for autistic people to sleep and adapt to new surroundings.

“When I went to Qatar with the Paraorchestra in 2014 I had a scary time going through border control.  I had all my harmonicas in sets of five in ziplock bags.  Apparently when looked at on the X-ray machine they look just like automatic pistol magazines and it was hard to explain what a harmonica is.  This time I’ve been careful and stuck a picture of a harmonica on the case.”

Alan Rutt, the British Council’s Country Director in Bahrain, said: 

“The British Council’s work in Bahrain has been devoted to promoting diversity and inclusion in the arts for many years now through workshops, concerts and performances.

“We have an ambitious programme of events for Bahrain 200, and the Paraorchestra performance will [introduce] the Bahraini public to some of the UK’s most talented musicians.”