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Improvisation of epic proportions

Take a bow: The Bays on stage with the Heritage Orchestra (Photo: Ben Hobson)

Take a bow: The Bays on stage with the Heritage Orchestra (Photo: Ben Hobson)

The Bays and the Heritage Orchestra @ The Brighton Dome, 21st November

For those who missed the interview The Badger ran a couple of weeks ago, The Bays are a far from typical band. They don’t write songs or make records or even rehearse together, but rather tour the country playing totally improvised, live, spur-of-the-moment dance music.

For their current tour The Bays decided to further up the ante and add a classical orchestra to the mix. Using a piece of music notation software called Sibelius and a hefty dose of technical wizardry, composers John Metcalfe and Simon Hale write music live on stage for the Heritage Orchestra to play – in real-time, as it appears on the monitors in front of them – which The Bays then jam around.

This unique approach to music making and performance meant that – once the musicians had taken to the stage and the two composers set about writing down their musical ideas – the applause of the audience faded away to that rarest of rare things: complete silence. It was an exhilarating moment as the first notes of the orchestra rang out, and the sense of unlimited musical possibility dawned on the crowd, accompanied, of course, by the sadistic thrill that at any moment it could all go catastrophically wrong.

But after a tentative build up of horns and strings, and some ambient synth sounds from The Bays, drummer Andy Gangadeen kicked into a big drum & bass beat and neither The Bays nor the Heritage Orchestra ever looked back.

Playing continuously for nearly two hours, the set followed a basic pattern – no doubt familiar to dance-music aficionados – of breaking down to a repeating motif or rhythm and then gradually building up again, with The Bays dropping back in with some ferocious bass and beats.

Not all ideas worked particularly well, and sometimes even good ideas dragged on a bit too long without change of direction. During these less successful periods of the set I felt myself start to drift off, and was glad that I was sitting down in the upper tier of the concert hall rather than slumming it with the majority of the crowd standing in the stalls.

But even during these lulls there was a sense that, at any moment, something new and exciting could come in and take the gig in a whole new direction. That promise was not always fulfilled, but when it was the results were spectacular. Lush, ambient trance-like sections morphed into furious drum & bass in the blink of an eye and launched the excitable crowd into a body-jerking frenzy.

It was electrifying stuff, and suddenly my comfortable seat seemed more of an encumbrance than a support, as I longed to join the revellers below.

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