Monday, June 03, 2019

Classic Rock reinvented


As classical music continues its increasingly frantic search for a new and larger audience it is worth revisiting the success of the K-Tel label's Classic Rock albums in the 1970s and 80s. The simple formula of a world class orchestra - the London Symphony - playing skillfully crafted arrangements of rock albums could not fail; to sample the flavour of Classic Rock watch the retro TV commercial via this link. The first album in the series was released in 1978 and included arrangements of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, A Whiter Shade of Pale, and Bohemian Rhapsody. It reached number 3 in the album chart - no specialist music charts in those days - and remained in the best seller lists for a remarkable 39 weeks, achieving platinum disc status. Classic Rock may not have been to the purists' tastes, but the project cleverly combined integrity with commercial flair: the first album was recorded at EMI's iconic Abbey Road studio and the organist on A Whiter Shade of Pale was David Bell; who, as well as being a respected tape editor at Abbey Road, was Herbert von Karajan's organist of choice.

Classic Rock was a child of its time, and times and tastes have changed. Which means Peter Tong's Ibiza Classics which was programmed at a 2015 BBC Prom, unsurprisingly failed to gain traction with a new audience. Philip Glass once wisely explained 'I don't mind repeating failures until I get them right, but I am not interested in repeating successes'. But, nevertheless, it is worth highlighting a recent release that gives the Classic Rock format a very different spin. ORBI, released on the BIS label, also features arrangements of contemporary rock classics; this time from Muse, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Alkaloid and Kurt Weill via The Doors. But there the similarity between the two projects ends. Bram van Sambeek (basoon), Rick Stotijn (double bass), and Marijn Korf de Gidts (percussion) are three Dutch classical musicians with CVs including stints at division one orchestras - coincidentally Bram van Sambeek is a regular guest principal at the London Symphony Orchestra. In their day jobs all three play the harmonic and rhythmic backdrop against which allow celebrity soloists stand out. So, motivated by creative frustration, they teamed up with jazz/rock Hammond organist Sven Figee to deliver the Oscillating Revenge of the Background Instruments - which gives the album its title ORBI and that's the band in the photos.



As the BIS blurb explains: "Four musicians making their bass-heavy instruments howl and growl (and sing!) in a mix of symphonic rock, thrusting metal and a little blues, 100% instrumental and lead-singer free... they have come up with a mix of music and sounds that is as weird and wonderful as it is surprising and addictive". The result is the antithesis of easy listening - sample it in this video*. This most definitely weird, wonderful, surprising and addictive album does not try to reach a new audience and lacks stratospheric commercial ambitions. Moreover there is no obligatory click bait ingredient, and it does not have the support of the mighty Universal Music hype machine or of the embedded cultural commentators. The Oscillating Revenge of the Background Instruments will not be classical music's next big thing: it is simply four musicians at the top of their game having fun. Which is why I am sharing it.


* It escapes me why BIS did not use a strong visual from this ORBI promotional video instead of the tasteful but bland artwork above. Both the accompanying images are screen grabs from the promotional video.

ORBI was bought at the excellent Plato record store at Leiden in the Netherlands. Thankfully CDs as well as vinyl are alive and kicking still in the Netherlands, possibly due to the country's deep involvement with physical media via its high profile DJs and pioneering role in electronic dance music. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

3 comments:

Frank Little said...

Might I mention a gentler contribution to this genre, "Eine kleine Beatlemusik" by Fritz Spiegl's Baroque 'n' Roll Ensemble?

Chris Sharp said...

I’m not sure why you say that the Ibiza Classics project failed to gain traction. It has toured regularly since the Proms debut in 2015 - including repeated appearances at the 20,000 capacity O2 in London - and there are currently 13 concerts on sale listed at the Heritage Orchestra website. I am sure it must have taken a seven figure sum at the box office.

Pliable said...

Chris, when I said Ibiza Classics "failed to gain traction with a new audience" I meant it failed to gain traction with a new classical audience. Although the project is a box office success I cannot see any evidence that it has brought a new audience to classical music in the way that the Classic Rock series did. But in the absence of any hard research data that is a subjective personal view.