In 1494, Christopher Columbus claimed Jamaica for the Spanish and in 1655 it became a British colony. On August 6, 1962, the island gained full independence and 2012 marks the 50th anniversary.

To celebrate, Harrow resident and renowned jazz double bassist Gary Crosby OBE is curating a UK-wide festival, Lively Up!, which will be coming to his home turf, at Harrow Arts Centre.

“The Harrow show is called Steppin’ Over,“ says Gary, “and it’s a celebration of a generation of Jamaicans who came over in 1948 on the Empire Windrush. This is the first year we’re doing the Lively Up! festival and each year it’s going to have a different theme.

“The idea of it is fun with education, using the positive parts of history as the basis for art or dance.“ Steppin’ Over will feature music from Tomorrow’s Warriors, part of a youth development programme that Gary has been running for 20 years, and dance from JazzCotech, a dance company who “have been doing jazz dance as long as I’ve been doing jazz music, they go back more than 20 years“.

The show celebrates the sounds and styles of the Windrush generation. “You dress smart, in suits, you wear funky hats, you dance with your partner and you let your hair down,“ says Gary.

What does it mean to these young musicians and dancers to be recreating these sounds and styles?

“For most of the jazz musicians that I’ve helped or worked with, learning the traditions is an essential part of learning your trade,“ Gary explains, “and what better way to learn your tradition than by playing it live?“ The Lively Up! festival, which takes its name from the Bob Marley classic Lively Up Yourself, takes in nine cities across the UK, including Nottingham, Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh, as well as London.

“We were looking for areas where there was diversity,“ says Gary, “not just a Jamaican population. The festival will speak to the British people because we’re made up of people from all over the world.

“We thought we’d use small concert halls, day care centres and art halls to hold the shows, to try and spread the music of Jamaica to other parts of the community, to let people know it doesn’t always have to be accompanied by aggressiveness or false notions of what Jamaica is.“ Gary is particularly looking forward to the Harrow show.

“I can get home early afterwards,“ he laughs. “I’ve been in Harrow for 22 years. I’m originally from the Fulham-Wandsworth border but I’m definitely a Harrovian now. I’m on home turf and there’s an incredibly old black community in Harrow and quite a lot of elders. We’re hoping they’ll come out on the night and share some of their experiences with us.“

  • Steppin’ Over – Celebrating Jamaica 50 is at Harrow Arts Centre, Uxbridge Road, Hatch End on Friday, October 5 at 7.30pm. Details: 020 8416 8989,