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Review: Will Gregory, the BBC Concert Orchestra and Guests

Thursday 23 February 2017

Review: Will Gregory, the BBC Concert Orchestra and Guests

East Yorkshire journalist Roger Crow reviews Will Gregory, the BBC Concert Orchestra and Guests, at Hull City Hall on Sunday, February 19.

The last time I was at Hull City Hall, the place resounded to the works of US composer John Williams. A fine show, though safe as houses. 

The music of experimental former Hull resident Basil Kirchin is anything but. Edgy, comedic, bizarre and extraordinary, but far from safe.

At the tail end of a weekend devoted to his work, lovers of Kirchin’s music experience a tribute to the experimental artist history almost forgot. 

He dabbled in film scores, such as I Start Counting and The Abominable Dr Phibes, and inspired the likes of Brian Eno, but deserved more mainstream success, like John Barry.

We start with 20 minutes of Garage Band-style noodling from Matthew Bourne, followed by 10 minutes of what sounds like the Hawaii Five-O theme on a tape player thrown down a lift shaft. I close my eyes and feel like I've gone through the stargate from 2001; crashed into Delia Derbyshire's Radiophonic Workshop and landed in a world where Captain Scarlet and Joe 90’s incidental music is as common as birdsong.

The main event, for the most part, is  more mainstream, though it does start with bag-rustling, newspaper-tearing and a guy brushing his teeth into a microphone. Even performance art maestros like Laurie Anderson have yet to do that.

Later it's a reminder of what sounds like countless themes to forgotten cult films and TV shows.

For the sober, it occasionally strays too far into the realms of nonsense, but all artists need to explore extremes to achieve greatness. I doubt Kate Bush for example could have created her masterpiece Hounds of Love without making divisive early eighties album The Dreaming. 

Following Abstractions of Holderness, Esther Johnson and Bob (Saint Etienne) Stanley's beautiful short film providing a montage of the region where Kirchin spent part of his life, we enter what feels like the world of Avatar’s Pandora; all jungle wildlife (some created vocally, some on violin) and doom-laden portent.

The gig ends on a vertiginous high: a celebration of Basil Kirchin’s life and work, with the BBC Concert Orchestra firing on all cylinders, especially two drummers who elevate the gig to another level.

It's a pleasure seeing the band loving the audio magic they're creating.

One beaming musician is a reminder of how rare, daring, bonkers and thrilling this is. 

Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory is a terrific MC, and together with the BBCCO, aided by Hull City Hall’s stunning acoustics, they take us on an extraordinary journey.

Not all of it works, but it dares to be different.

Basil would have been proud.