Jesse D Vernon, maestro of many different hats, founded the Fantasy Orchestra in 2012. It started as the house band for a series of events in Bristol called The Greatness Of The Magnificence which he’d been organising since the early noughties.
Jesse moved to Paris in 2005 but continued putting these events on in Bristol (as well as Paris). These started as band nights but soon evolved into a kind of themed open-mic event covering the work of artists such as The Doors, Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground and Serge Gainsbourg, and other more open themes such as ‘The Wind’, ‘Sadness’ and ‘Whistling’. It was always easy to fill these events with great participants and they were always open for all to perform. But when it came to putting together a night of music by Ennio Morricone, Jesse realised he’d need to get a larger band together which included a choir and could cover most of the night’s entertainment. Thus the Orchestra was born. We dressed up in costumes which went with the mostly Western theme.
The event went so well it was repeated 5 or 6 times during 2012/13, and Jesse formed an orchestra in Paris. The band was having so much fun that we decided to broaden the repertoire, so Jesse added exotic music from the 1950s/60s by the likes of Les Baxter, Disney and Bollywood composers. The dressing-up aspect also became more diverse.
In mid-2014 we were invited to perform a set of David Bowie tunes at Bristol Museum, which was quite a sensation. Pretty much the entire orchestra and audience were dressed as David Bowie. That was how we started introducing rock music into the set. That autumn we performed a full set of Jimi Hendrix tunes, and in December some Argentinian Christmas music.
The repertoire is chosen mostly because the original version has great orchestration (such as many David Bowie tunes) and only a band like ours could recreate them. Jesse copies down the scores by ear and sticks to the original as much as possible, though he always has to add more instruments so as to give everyone something to do.
There are so many sets he’d love to add to the repertoire. Here are some he hopes to get the chance to orchestrate: Tropicalia; Velvet Underground; Doo-Wop hits; The Beach Boys vs The Beatles; a night of whistling; classic ballads including Nights in White Satin, Wichita Lineman, It Was A Very Good Year….
‘I’ve always believed strongly in inclusivity and the beauty of sharing music, and the Fantasy Orchestra exemplifies this. Everyone is welcome, and all benefit from this atmosphere. Both in Bristol and in Paris, the Orchestras are a very welcoming family and my only hope is that more people get to feel what it’s like to be part of something so beautiful, amusing and spiritually warming.’
Jesse D Vernon, May 2015