The Invisible Orchestra – Nottingham Albert Hall, Friday November 1
Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
This had to be the best-dressed audience of the year. More burlesque parade than Halloween hangover, everywhere you looked there were masks and feathers, paired with dressy frocks and sharp suits. In one corner of the Albert Hall’s main bar, expert make-up artists applied elaborate facial adornments. Meanwhile, at the far end of the room, before the show and during each interval, Swing Gitan filled the dance floor with sprightly jazz.
In the upstairs hall, Origamibiro performed a peaceful, meditative opening set, blending looped effects and acoustic instruments with impressionistic visuals, and using contemporary techniques to evoke dream-like memories of a forgotten past. Sepia photographs merged into the decaying pages of old books; an ancient typewriter hammered out disconnected phrases onto a split screen. It was an oasis of calm in an otherwise riotous night.
Up from London, The City Shanty Band took to the stage in masks with Mickey Mouse ears. “We don’t know whether we’re mice or rats”, they confessed, before lurching into a boisterous set of sea-shanties that pitted nine lusty male voices against drums and occasional accordion. With arms thrown around each other’s shoulders, they stomped and clapped and roared, goading the hall into life. The set ended with a stage invasion, the drums growing ever faster as the singers roared their final battle cry: “all for beer and tobacco!”
With each successive performance, The Invisible Orchestra grows larger, and less invisible. They’re up to 42 players now, with an 11-piece brass section, a 13-piece choir, and a line-up which – as this paper has said before – makes Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra look like a skiffle band. In logistical terms alone, it’s a phenomenal achievement.
After a slow-building instrumental overture, choir leader Rachel Foster stepped forward for the first guest vocal of the night – not that many in the audience would have known this, as none of the singers were introduced by name. She was succeeded by reggae legend Percydread, whose leg injury proved no barrier to a storming rendition of War.
By this stage, half the audience were on their feet. Following Ed Bannard’s slow-burning Into The Arms Of The Night, a crazed percussion duet between band leader James Waring and Sabar Soundsystem’s Mikey Davis brought the other half to their feet, ready for Hannah Heartshape’s electrifying No Time Like The Present. By the end of the song, the aisles and the front of the stage were packed with dancers. The Albert Hall probably hadn’t seen anything like it since The Rolling Stones played there in 1964.
Other star performers included Emilios Georgiou-Pavli from Nottingham’s Hallouminati, who led the band with his bazouki, and a startlingly dapper MC $pyda, who drew on his dancehall roots for a reggae-soul workout.
Despite being marred by a terrible, soupy sound mix, which rendered the string section and the choir literally inaudible and blurred much of the percussion and keyboards, this was a spectacular performance, which succeeded in provoking unforgettable scenes of the most elegant mayhem.