“And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of two hemispheres”. This opening quote of the programme of the Haçienda Classical from Ivan Chtcheglov neatly sums up the idea behind the event: to challenge people’s blurry-eyed perceptions of what the club night used to be and instead reinvigorate it with its polar opposite. This binary collaboration takes the physical form of a 30-piece orchestra and live choir at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. The video footage played out in the foyer before the music starts, of the club goers in action, circa 1993 to1995, really gets everyone into the swing of things; not to mention bonding the masses in their indignation of the excessive queuing and extortionate prices of lukewarm lager!
Tim Crooks, the night’s conductor and classical musical director, is the man to translate the DJ mix for the Manchester Camerata. As Crooks himself suggests, when asked about this juxtaposition of genres, ‘Music is universal’. This really is the essence of this innovative collaboration and one which is perpetuated by everyone onstage and does resonate with the crowd.
Graeme Park and Mike Pickering perform the daunting task of, as Park describes it, ‘taking a DJ mix and turning it into a continuous live performance’. This distinction of the performance as a mix instead of individual tunes is what sets it aside technically in the eyes of the DJs and what makes it all the more complex a feat to pull off.
Sound complaints from last Friday’s event have meant that audio tech crew had been working flat out to improve the acoustics. All in all the sound holds up well, suffering only slightly in changeovers between ‘mixes’ where the fluidity and quality does diminish slightly.
Backing up the orchestra and DJs is the gospel group known as Audrey Mattis Chorale or The AMC. Their soulful tones are very impressive, if somewhat underused amidst the dance chaos on stage. At times it feels as if the DJs attempt to steal the show and play it safe, as a lot of vocal sampling is used which spurns the onstage talent. Surely, they could perform every song with equal gusto and add more variety to proceedings?
It is, indeed, the live elements which prove the biggest crowd pleasers in the composition. Standout moments include Peter Hook on guitar and vocals for a wonderfully reworked rendition of ‘Blue Monday’ with beautiful live strings and brass sections. Also notable are the screaming trumpet and vocals of ‘Right on Time’, which have the (already highly excitable) crowd in a frenzy.
Despite setting out to provide a variety of tracks straying from the comfort zone of acid house, the middle of the composition does stray slightly into monotony for about 10 to 15 minutes. In a way, the crowd are so geared up by this point that they would respond favourably to most songs, but, by the standards of a carefully rehearsed performance and not an off-the-cuff club night DJ set, the momentum is not always sustained.
However, all is far from lost and the audience is reeled back in (and then some) for the encore. Out walks Bez, who has stripped off his jumper which he wears nonchalantly around his waist. This is preferable to his earlier appearance, in which he came across more as a comedy uncle figure at a wedding than a legendary shape maker. Then comes Shaun Ryder himself, strutting his sardonic stuff up at the mic in true Hacienda style. Factory 51 Records gets a lovely visual tribute too, in the form of a stunning dress sported on stage.
It is Peter Hook’s birthday, so a ubiquitous rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ tops off the encore celebrations in aptly uplifting style. Not one bum has remained on its seat for the entire duration which, in and of itself, has been a memorable sight to behold at the Bridgewater. Aside from technical hang-ups, this event was a truly captivating performance from start to finish and one that proves that the day-glow hangover of the Hacienda will last another wash without fading.
Photo credit: Steven Sibbald