The Invisible Orchestra, Royal Gala, Sabar Soundsystem – Nottingham Arts Theatre, Saturday October 27
By way of a grand overture to Sunday’s Branch Out Festival, the venerable old Arts Theatre on George Street played host to a very special event on Saturday night, the result of many months of planning by James Waring of Royal Gala.
“Extravagant dress advised”, they said, and so we turned out in our finery: suits and hats, cocktail dresses and cravats. But this was where the formality ended, as the theatre transformed, for one night only, into a heaving gig venue. The aisles filled with dancers, cramming themselves into every available space and throwing the most elegantly debauched of shapes.
The Sabar Soundsystem opened the show: a ten-piece percussion troupe, which stirred Brazilian, Cuban, Indian and Indonesian ingredients into a hypnotic melting pot of joyous clatter. Six sets of tubular bells, mounted horizontally on wooden stands, added a Gamelan-style melodic touch, while at the other end of the stage, booming oil drums brought the bass.
Led by the delightfully demented Lou Barnell, resplendent in Mexican Day of the Dead face paint and a floral headdress adorned with tiny skulls, Nottingham’s premier party band Royal Gala turned up the heat, forcing more and more of us out of our seats. “Dancing in the aisles, how decadent”, purred Lou, strutting and high-kicking and goading us into life, like a queen of misrule. It was never like this on “am dram” nights, that’s for sure.
For the main attraction, twenty-one players – drawn from local bands too numerous to mention, as well as touring members of The Specials, Bad Manners and the Beat – became The Invisible Orchestra for the night, led by James Waring on guitar. An eleven-piece brass section, with saxophones, tuba, trombones, trumpets and cornet, did battle with a string quartet, a double bass, a Hammond organ, and pretty much any other instrument you might care to mention, making Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra look like a skiffle band in comparison.
A succession of guest vocalists brought soul and passion to the proceedings, each in their different way. Veteran reggae man Percy Dread got things underway, chanting his warnings of war like a prophet of doom. A beaming Hannah Heartshape took things in a sunnier, funkier direction, followed by Ed Bannard of Hhymn, who led the orchestra through a dolefully impassioned rock waltz, to stunning effect. Finally, stepping in for Harleighblu at the eleventh hour, Natalie Duncan revealed a side of herself that most of us never seen before, transforming from moody chanteuse to fierce psychedelic soul-funk diva before our very eyes, tearing the roof off the theatre with a staggering vocal performance, and bringing an unforgettable night to a triumphant conclusion.