The orchestra assemble themselves on a platform to the right of the stage; Barry Adamson casually walks to a podium of laptops and keyboards on the left of the platform – the glow of the Apple logo, with the house lights still on and the audience still finding their seats, glints every bit as brightly as the glare from his wraparound shades. He settles himself to the left of the stage, flanked by Tom Robinson Band keyboardist and veteran Adamson collaborator Nick Plytas and drummer Simon Pearson. He rocks back and forth, seemingly testing the hip injury that has plagued him in recent times. His head is clean-shaven, his suit tailored to perfection, offset by a red shirt and matching pocket handkerchief; he simply exudes cool.
But, at least for the show’s first thirty minute segment, Adamson is just one of the talented players here, and as the lights dim and the Russell Maliphant dance troupe – Maliphant himself, plus Flora Bourderon, Maria Goudot, Miquel de Jong, Michael Pomero and Anna Williams – he begins to conjure noises, loops and speech samples from his Mac on the opening piece (Moss Side Story‘s ‘On The Wrong Side Of Relaxation’. After five minutes, the BBC Concert Orchestra (conducted by Robert Ziegler) kick in with some initially soft orchestration. The dancers are formed in pairs, looking something like an alt.Gap commercial, angular movements seeming to evoke the agony and violence of love, twisting and contorting with seemingly impossible ease. For the second track – ‘Dance With A Stranger’ – Adamson switches to bass, sitting in a chair among his musicians. He provides a mellow bass counterpart to a moody version of ‘Mr Eddie’s Theme’ from his soundtrack for The Lost Highway, before frantically working the frets as the momentum of the song, and the jerky dance movements, gather pace.
For the middle section, Adamson gathers his band down on the lower part of the stage (‘We’ve come down from our soul food kitchen,’) and urges us to ‘feel free’. The band then rip into a soul-jazz jam session (‘Space Spiritual’) which Adamson dedicates to the recently-deceased Magazine guitarist John McGeoch, with solos from Pearson, Plytas, Pete Whyman (sax and clarinet), Mike Kearsey (trombone) and Ben Edwards (trumpet), with some stunning wah-wah bass from Adamson himself. He hangs up his bass for a faithful rendition of ‘Jazz Devil’, refering to himself as Barry Hellafonte and Telly Savalas during the track. He stalks and prowls the stage like a wolf, grooving along with the jazzy vibes, supported by Dudley Phillips on double bass. For ‘The Vibes Ain’t Nothin’ But The Vibes’, Adamson takes a seat among the musicians, tapping his foot in time to Anthony Kerr’s vibes, lazily recounting the story’s tale ‘of lives and lovers‘, while toward the end of the piece the BBC Concert Orchestra soak the track with serene strings. A totally different variant of ‘Cinematic Soul’ (entitled ‘Cinematic (California) Soul’) closes this section, with Adamson losing power to his earphone just before starting. He grooves off the stage toward the end of the number, leaving the musicians to earnestly play out the song to rapturous applause.
After another interval, Adamson and the band once again move to the upper deck, and the dancers – now reduced to five – return to the centre stage. The band play a stunning version of ‘Le Matin Des Noire’ from The King Of Nothing Hill, with Adamson gesticulating and motioning as he half sings, half speaks the lines in French and English. The elongated version allows the mood to be teased out further compared to its recorded sibling, with the string section applying the Parisian atmosphere perfectly. They play two more tracks (‘Holy Thursday’ and The Taming Of The Shrewd‘s ‘From Rusholme With Love’) the latter featuring a solitary dancer bouncing, rolling and creating shapes in the centre of the dimly-lit lower stage. Adamson remains seated for these tracks, again coaxing sultry lines from his bass, while the gloriously atmospheric orchestra swells up around him.
It’s two hours, with breaks, but it feels so much shorter, all too brief. There’s an abundance of soul, atmosphere and emotion here – it’s moving, maudlin and murky all at once. But overall, like the man Adamson himself, it’s impossibly cool.
Thanks to Clem Buckmiester for the set list.
First published 2004; re-edited 2014.
(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence