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For Queen and country

GARY CROSBY: Artistic director of the Lively Up Festival

MOST PEOPLE who receive an Order of the British Empire (OBE) from the Queen describe the award as an important recognition of their work and even possibly a life altering experience.

But for bassist Gary Crosby his acceptance of one of the highest ranking honours in the UK was a penalty he had to pay to improve the opportunities of the younger generation.

Currently curating the Lively Up Festival, which celebrates Jamaica’s musical icons Bob Marley and Joe Harriott, Crosby recalled what led him to accept his OBE, an honour that still does not sit well with the musician.

“It’s been a hard balancing game for me,” said the 57-year-old. “Apart from being an artist I am the artistic director of Tomorrow’s Warriors and I’ve had to do things to ensure my company’s survival that I wouldn’t have done as a young man. I’ve had to take honours from the Queen and from parliament.”

It may not seem like much of a sacrifice to us today, but as the bass player explained, his roots were steeped in rebelling against the very establishment that bestowed the honour and accepting an OBE would go against everything a young Crosby stood for.

“In my twenties it wasn’t the way of the black community to want honours from the Queen. I was into Rastafari, and even after my Rasta period I still considered myself a black radical and I wouldn’t have taken an honour from the Queen,” he explained.

“Even when I took it, it took a lot of convincing.
“I didn’t take it straight away. I had been asked by two different people how I would feel about receiving an OBE and I directed it to someone else, then two years before I took it I was asked again,” Crosby added.

So what finally changed the mind of the staunch anti-royalist? According to the musican it was the logic of a young man who could see past politics and look at the possible benefits that an OBE can bring, something Crosby had been unable to do.

“A young man in the company had said to me: ‘when we are taking these honours we are taking it for what we have done and what we can do for the young people we work with.’ It was not about my ego, or how I saw myself.

“I used to think ‘how could I go amongst my community and talk the so called radical talk?’ But it wasn’t about that, it was about preparing a path for the generations to come.”

Three years after the Queen’s Birthday Honours award the artistic director reflected on his sacrifice and answered the question of whether it was worth it?

“Has this title helped youngsters? I think it has, for them we’ve been able to secure residency at the South Bank and contacts at the Arts Council so if you look at it that way it was worth it,” he said.

Focusing more on education and the benefits that the Lively Up Festival can bring to the black community, Crosby is now doing what he does best- music.

He is bringing together the reggae singer Brinsley Forde, the Jazz Jamaica All Stars and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra to perform tributes to Bob Marley and Joe Harriott as the musical extravaganza will celebrate Jamaican music in over 50 UK cities. For the curator, spreading the message of the festival is his primary concern.

“The Lively Up Festival is about people having fun in a safe environment with a black led company where kids can learn as well. We are documenting our history as we go along and for me that’s very important. It is necessary as a group of people that you know what your grandparents objectives were, you have to have a common destiny to progress, and its only by reading about our grandparents struggles that we can have a sense of common destiny.”

The Lively Up Festival will be on tour in the UK until November 2, for more information visit www.livelyupfestival.com

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