Cinematic Orchestra – the Apollo, Manchester
In my last blog I had a little chat about how to stay inspired as a songwriter and I mentioned the importance of watching other acts perform live as a way to spark inspiration.
I did just that on Saturday night at The Apollo in Manchester with my friend as we went to see The Cinematic Orchestra. I also mentioned in my previous blog the electricity that is produced in a room full of enthusiastic people who have been brought together purely for their love of one band or artist. This happened on Saturday night too, as a crowded Apollo babbled excitedly in wait for The Cinematic Orchestra to make an appearance.
The 7 piece band called Submotion Orchestra opened the show. I had heard the name in passing a couple of times before but I had never actually listened to their music. Originating from Leeds, they are heavily influenced by Jazz, Dubstep, and Electronica mixed with Classical elements. Their set up included keys, bass, drums and a percussion section, trumpet, an FX and sound engineer, and a lead vocalist. These combinations create an amazing ambient sound, with heavy bass parts that filled the whole room, trumpet sections that completed the chilled jazz vibe, and ambient vocals swallowed in reverb and delay. Often using the dubstep influence of creating drops in the music, it was hard not to want to join in dancing, even as I found myself mesmerised watching their tight musicianship. My favourite track was ‘All Yours’ and was a clear favourite for much of the audience, who burst into cheers at the opening piano chords. I have since listened to Submotion Orchestra’s music online, and although the quality is good, it lacks the feeling and excitement that they managed to produce when they were playing live, which, in my opinion, is a compliment. The fact that they are more amazing live than as a recording proves just how brilliant their musicianship really is. If you ever get the chance to see them live, I would highly recommend!
After a changeover interval, filled with DJ, Mr.Scruff, The Cinematic Orchestra made their way to the stage. Now, I’ll admit that my friend bought me tickets to this gig as a gift as we were both fond of some of their tracks, but we didn’t actually know a lot of their music. This didn’t matter though, as this can make a gig equally as exciting, as it allows you to be taken by surprise and discover their music live; a whole other experience to listening to a recording.
The Cinematic Orchestra was created in 1999 by Jason Swinscoe, before it became a group project. Many of their tracks have been used in film, so it’s likely you’ll have heard ‘To Build a Home’ and ‘Arrival of the Birds’ at some point. On Saturday night the number of musicians on stage varied between 10-13 members, which was incredible to see so many musicians in sync with each other, boasting amazing technical abilities. There was a string quartet, pianist, double bass player, percussionist, drummer, saxophonist, guitarist and a turntablist who provided the electronic elements. Throughout the show they often welcomed to the stage three guest female vocalists, who sadly I don’t know the names of to credit, but their voices were absolutely incredible, and provided a whole new dimension to the songs they featured on.
The show began with just the string quartet, who set the scene for the evening, creating beautiful melodies working harmoniously together. The first half of the set, to me, incorporated the jazzier aspect of their music, with the second half providing a heavier electronic sound, although not as dubstep heavy as Submotion Orchestra had been. Many of The Cinematic Orchestra’s songs seemed to stretch up to 10 minutes in length but somehow it never became boring, consistently keeping the audience mesmerised with the different elements and layers they created. As tight as their musicianship was, they still seemed to give a laid-back approach, as if they were enjoying themselves so much they couldn’t help but make improvisations, and could easily rely on the other members to help perfect it. It just proves how well rehearsed and how much effort was put into the show.
At one point in the evening, it dropped to just the saxophonist who took over the stage. Now, I am completely in awe of this, as the saxophonist used only himself and a loop pedal to create layers and layers of intense melodies and rhythms, sometimes intentionally clashing, until it climbed to a screeching pitch that, although almost too much for the ears to bear, was actually incredible to watch. Not only was the saxophonist keeping in time to his existing rhythms, and playing at an astonishingly high pitch, he also held the note for an insane amount of time, and I’m convinced I could see his face rapidly turning so red and purple I thought he might burst! Thankfully, he ended the note before his head exploded, and the audience screamed in exhilaration at his talent!
The lead violinist also captivated me at one point, in a track where he had a solo and played at such a speed and pitch I don’t know how his strings didn’t break. He played with such ease that the melody just glided above the other instruments into ridiculously high pitches and the applause from the room was electrifying.
When they finished the show, the whole of The Cinematic Orchestra took to the front of the stage to bow to the audience, who in turn continued to scream in admiration. I have witnessed many calls for an encore, but this one was a frenzy of clapping and yelling for more, with much of the Apollo stomping their feet in an effort to make as much noise as possible to get the ensemble back on stage. Like any great band, they made their second appearance and to my delight they actually played ‘To Build a Home’ as their encore. The arrangement this time transferred from the usual piano version to the acoustic guitar, and was sung by the guitarist, who dedicated it to his children. Much of the song was stripped back to just guitar and vocals, before the crescendo of other instruments was introduced, letting the string quartet take over to produce beautiful sounds and melodies.
The craft of the musicians and their skill of being able to work so well and intensely together was not only amazing, but also very inspiring. Their standard of musicianship was extremely admirable and it was clear that the audience appreciated it. I hope to continue to hear their music synced on films and shows for years to come.