Dick Mills (compere, tape machine)
Peter Howell (synthesizers, guitar, vocals)
Roger Limb (synthesizers)
Mark Ayres (synthesizers)
Paddy Kingsland (synthesizers, guitar)
Kieron Pepper (drums)
112-114 Magdalen Street
Well where to start with this one as there’s quite a lot of information to impart, but do read on!!!
I know, I’ll start with the venue.
Epic Studios is another relatively new live music venue in Norwich, located in the former Anglia TV studios in Norwich’s Magdalen Street. Epic Studios has an incredibly flexible space, more than capable of accommodating intimate performances to full-scale gigs. Events can be standing room only or seating can be arranged as required varying from tiered theatre seating to cabaret-style to more informal cubes. Their hosting facilities for artists are without equal in the area, with four modern dressing rooms with make-up, shower and wardrobe facilities as well as a well-equipped Green Room. Also unique to Epic Studios is their ability to film, stream and record live shows, using up to eight broadcast quality cameras recording in HD or SD, which go into a full HD studio facility with galleries and cameras. Not only can this play into the audience arena (to great effect I can tell you), but it can also be streamed live on the Internet. There are two large screens that flank the main stage which gives something of a stadium feel and helps create a buzz in the audience. There are also a variety of screens in bars and reception areas that can also display the performance live as well as being used to play latest releases and current album promotion material and can be moved to suit the occasion. The sound system is sate-of-the-art and is perhaps the best I’ve heard in the East Anglian region.
So, the event itself was a part of the Norwich Sound and Vision Conference, now in it’s fifth year, whose aim is bring to Norwich a programme of exciting music, lively debate, discussion, information, advice and inspiration for anyone who is involved (or would like to be) in the music/ radio/ TV/ film/ multimedia industries. It’s also a good opportunity to reach new markets and network with media professionals. Tonight’s performances were presented in association with Electronic Sound magazine and focused on electronic music, with performances by three highly respected acts in this field.
First on the bill was German electronic music artist and producer, Ulrich Schnauss. Ulrich’s music is very much about multi-layered synthesizers, textures, rhythms and ethereal vocals, drifting between the recognisable influences of Tangerine Dream to the electronica musings of people such as Robin Guthrie and early bleep and breakbeat tracks. His set this evening was very much an audio/visual experience with abstract images and scenes presented in a video backdrop that was accompanied by music that takes a kind of pseudo avant-garde classical edged background, flirting here and there with more traditional electronic sounds and textures, but at the same time subtly laced with meanderings into trance. I can’t help but feel that you either like this sort of thing or you don’t – I personally love it. At times during this performance, I found the music of Ulrich Schnauss to be quite hypnotic, and at other times as intense as his concentration whilst performing, but always I had that sense of something took me away from where I was, whther you had your eyes wide open or your eyes tight shut, this was a set to remember and a very good start to the evening. Generally speaking, live or recorded, Ulrich Schnauss delivers.
Okay, so we get a brief interlude whilst the next act gets ready to take the stage. And what an act to follow the brilliance of Ulrich Schnauss. You will find no finer gem than that of the Radiophonic Workshop live. Originally founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram, the Workshop’s premise was meet the demand for what was described as “radiophonic” sounds, these being the atmospheric sounds needed for BBC productions that weren’t available or simply didn’t exist. The members of this new Workshop were basically assigned to investigate and use new techniques that could produce the various effects and music required for their compositions, including such practices as “musique concrete” and methods like tape manipulation/splicing methods. Dick Mills was brought in as the Technical Assistant and he oversaw much of the early Radiophonic Workshop output that was used for sci-fi shows like Quatermass, The Pit, Doctor Who and comedy noises for The Goon Show. There is a lot of history involved with the Radiophonic Workshop that is both fascinating and absorbing, and sadly, too much to go into here, more’s the pity.
Their set started with a cacophony of electronic sounds as the irrepressible Dick Mills took to the centre stage, looking the part in boating cap and white coat with the words “the original sonic solution” across the back, clearly loving his role as compere for the set. The stage was a scene from the most sordid electronica synth porn movie you could possibly imagine with electronics of all kinds bristling with power and begging to be played with. A reel-to-reel tape recorder, electronic wind instruments, analog synthesizers, synths from the digital age (I espied a Mk I Yamaha DX7 and it worked!!!), guitars drums and more synths. Quietly the remainder of the band came on stage, and please forgive for saying this, but they had the appearance of a retired gentleman’s outing and a wonderful juxtaposition was seeing the drummer, Kieron Pepper (ex of the Prodigy!!!), walk on stage, simply because he looked positively juvenile within the company!!! Oh, and how that poorly judgemental image was soon smashed in oblivion when they started to play. This was no group of retired gentlefolk out for a whist drive or games of bowls, no, we’re talking Last of the Summer Wine on steroids and LSD with attitude. The next hour or so was a tour-de-force of quality, characterful, inspired, inspirational and generally bloody excellent electronica. Expertly performed, professionally presented and sounding amazing on the Epic Studios sound system. We went from the Tesla-inducing “Till the Lights Go Out” through to the deliriously fantastic tribute to the departed Delia Derbyshire, undisputed fairy godmother of modern electronic music, with the RWS (Radiophonic Workshop – do keep up) playing a blinding version of her un-nervingly sinister and wonderous track “Ziwih Ziwih 00-00-00” – to play music such as this and with such aplomb tells you that you’re not dealing with any ordinary kind of performance here. Piece after piece followed taken from the catalogue of Roger Limb, Peter Howell and Paddy Kingsland with tracks such as “Electricity”, “Vespucci” and “Robots” that positively sizzled with electronics, guitar and vocoders – THIS is how it’s done, make no mistake. Then we had the first of what I considered to be the two main set pieces – a suite of music centred around “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. Bathed in blue and red light spotlights, on a darkened stage the RWS glided their way through the suite with video images taken from the T.V. series, playing on the video backdrop – this was pure and utter nostalgia. As you might imagine, this was greatly received. All too soon the set, it seemed, was coming to a close. But what about THAT tune? Well, the mischievous Dr. Mills once again took centre stage and announced the last track of the set with these simple words: “another piece you might know” and it happened. What came next was clever, very clever. The RWS wasn’t happy just playing it, as they could have done and we would have still loved them for it. No. For their most revered and celebrated output, they gave it new life, a new dimension (the fourth perhaps?) and a new sense of identity that brought it screaming into the 21st century, and at the same retaining it’s biological roots. Teasing bass lines, familiar beats and splintered sampled voices saying but one word. Doctor. From the ambiently distorted manipulations of time and space using analog synthesizers to the crashing tones and rhythms of the central piece, written by Ron Grainer and realised by Delia Derbyshire sooo many years ago, accompanied by a video backdrop deifying the glorious lineage of one Time Lord from start to present, the “Theme from Doctor Who” edified the very essence of the RWS, openly displaying the DNA of a somewhat maverick BBC department that took us all to new places and different times. A fitting end to one of the best sets I have ever seen.
Amongst the many joys of experiencing the Radiophonic Workshop live was to witness the joy that these gentleman have in what they do. Their on-stage manner towards each other was fantastic, and this was something that I saw for myself when I, along with my photographer friend Simon Watson, had the very good fortune to spend some time with Dick Mills and Roger Limb after their set – the two men were obviously very pleased to be there, pleased to be doing what they were doing and revelling in the delight that we had in being with them, enthusiastically telling us stories and sharing anecdotes whilst the next act was being set up. We hung on their every word. We were also delighted to meet the man who created the sound of the TARDIS and the voice of the Daleks, none other than Brian Hodgson. Even though he’s not a part of the RWS live thing, he had come along to support his former colleagues as he lives not far away from venue.
And so to the last set of the evening from Public Service Broadcasting. At first glances, I struggled to see how they could possibly match what had gone before them, but I soon saw why they were the headline act. They were strangely brilliant, inexplicably entertaining and oddly memorable. PSB (Public Service Broadcasting, you really have got to keep up) comprise Wrigglesworth on drums and J. Willgoose Esq. on “everything else”. Their stage set is made up of a drum kit, a stand with a multitude of MIDI controllers and keyboards along with the inevitable MacBook and at the back of the stage, a video backdrop of their own, presented as very large 1930’s style black and white television set. And the two musicians took to the stage with Willgoose looking like the bespectacled love-child of an Oxford university lecturer and the Eleventh Doctor, and Wrigglesworth, in shirt, tie and pressed trousers, the companion. Without a word they launch into “London Can Take It” and wow, we’re off. Crusty samples taken from vintage information and propaganda films, old movies and ancient newsreels, layered with Wrigglesworth’s powerful drumming, form a solid enough backbone to the electronics and guitarings of Willgoose. This is seriously stirring stuff and the imagery is striking. And so it goes for the rest of the set. Cleverly linked and layered snippets of old footage whose voices blend perfectly with pre-programmed beats that are, in turn, embellished by the live drumming, under-scoring the vague themes and textures provided by electronics, guitar and banjo. Yes, you read right. Banjo. I know, I thought the same. But, wow did it work!!! Neither musicians said anything between songs, preferring all communication with the outside world to be via a computer voice that speaks with the clipped British BBC tones of yesteryear’s announcers, presenters and news readers and done with a lot of wry British humour – very good, very well done and very funny at times. Performances like this are a welcome breath of fresh when faced with so much dross from uninspiring and performance-challenged new bands. These guys had a vision, created a theme and ran with it. Attention to detail and good music conspired to make this a great set. Giving a damn about appearance, presentation and performance made this an unforgettable set for all the right and proper reasons. Highlight of the PSB set was their live version of the amazing track “Spitfire”, full of gusto, great musicianship from both artists and cracking graphics. I was quite simply blown away.
So, all in all, the evening was, in my view, a major triumph for all the acts, the organisers and the venue, Epic Studios who once again showed that they could provide a great venue for quality music and named artists not just with great premises and facilities, but also with an amazing sound. I’ve not heard another venue in Norwich sound anywhere near as good as this, and being a musician myself, I like to think I know when I hear a good sound system. If electronic music is your thing, tonight’s performances would have ticked every box for you.