One of the areas of musical innovation that has interested me the most over the years has been the fusion of Rock music and the world of the Orchestra. And what makes this really interesting is that the pioneers of the 60’s and 70’s are still doing it today! One of the early adopters in this was of course Deep Purple who performed their epic “Concerto for Group and Orchestra 1969” – here’s the 3rd movement of this. The opening of this movement wouldn’t be out-of-place in an Orchestral concert today – love the Horns!
It’s a real shame the sound quality doesn’t make it obvious but 30 years later, they are still using an Orchestra – the “Smoke on the Water” riff is perfect for the brass:
One band though that found you couldn’t make much money out of this was Pink Floyd whose “Atom Heat Mother” is still a favourite of mine, probably because of the huge use of brass! Touring with a brass section and a choir wasn’t cost-effective and in recent times, some of the band members themselves have thought it was rubbish anyway! (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atom_Heart_Mother) – I like it though hence its inclusion here!
One of the down sides to this kind of work is that you are unlikely to have the same resources available from one gig to another – and that can impact on the quality of the performance. Back in the day, I used to do a lot of work at local clubs backing whichever ex-celeb was in town this week. They never knew what they were getting from one night to the next and this was one of the issues that Floyd faced.
One band that did make a big commercial success out of using an Orchestra was Procul Harum – there won’t be too many record collections from that era that don’t include “Live at Edmonton” with The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. And they are still doing it today – here’s Gary Booker’s distinctive voice with Procul Harum and The Danish National Concert Orchestra with “A Salty Dog” from 2006.
Amongst the many lessons we can draw from all of this, there is one that sticks out:
- Don’t create a service if you can’t control the quality of the localised resources that you may need to deliver it.
I also can’t ignore my all time favourite band: “Yes”. I first saw them live in 1974 at Queens Park Rangers FC, Loftus Road, London – the first tour post Wakeman with new boy Patrick Moraz and the “Relayer” album. Much of the 70’s prog rock use of the Mellotron, which sampled strings, could have been done using the real thing – so why not do that!? Enjoy the superb slide guitar of Steve Howe in “Soon” from the Relayer album, performed with the European Festival Orchestra in 2001.
And to finish, I just love this Bill Bailey item from his “Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra” – as if Ron Grainger and the Radiophonic Workshop weren’t innovative enough, Bill discovers the “Dr. Who” theme could easily have been Belgian Jazz! (The original video posted here was removed from YouTube due to copyright reasons – however, Bill has used this sketch before as can be seen in this alternative version).