The Man Machine?

Last week Florian Schneider, one of the founders of Kraftwerk died of cancer aged 73. I was never a massive fan of the band. Although I could admire the cleverness of their work, I always found purely electronic music didn’t stir me emotionally. Neverless I liked some of their songs. Perhaps my favourite was Autobahn, although due to my ignorance of the German language, until J, who studied German to A level, put me right, I was convinced they were singing of having Fun, Fun, Fun on the Autobahn.

Anyway reading of Florian’s passing I was reminded of a favourite tribute to Kraftwerk by Bill Bailey.

The Spaghetti Western Orchestra at the Lowry

On Friday I went to the Lowry in Salford to watch a performance by the Spaghetti Western Orchestra. They’re a group of Australian Musicians who’d featured as the novelty act at the Proms last year. I don’t normally watch the proms, but caught their performance by accident when it was shown on BBC4 one Friday Evening and enjoyed it. I’m quite a fan of Spaghetti Westerns – especially Sergio Leone‘s “Dollars Trilogy” and Once Upon a Time in the West (one of my favourite films) and their scores composed by Ennio Morricone and enjoyed their novel interpretation of the music

I got the ticket for the Salford show as a Christmas present from my daughter and I went along with her and my son. It took place in the Quay Theatre, the smaller of the two auditoria at the Lowry and started at 5 p.m. – almost a matinee performance. There was another taking place later in the evening but it had sold out and so they scheduled a second show at the earlier time, which also sold out. I guess their tour had been set up earlier last year when they weren’t well known and so they went for the smaller venue, and their performance at the Proms has boosted their popularity and ticket sales.

They’ve also appeared on Later with Jools Holland.

The show is a really a musical comedy act rather than a concert. The ensemble are made up in very stylised make-up as stock characters such as a bank teller and bar tender. The only one who speaks is the “Storyteller” who provides a running commentary and interacts with the audience. The show is slickly put together and choreographed. Based around Morricones’s music they incorporate comedy, mime, set pieces from Westerns such as a bar room brawl and unusual and novelty instruments such as a one stringed home made fiddle, beer bottles and a Theremin. A major feature of the act is the use of sound effects, some tunes played entirely using various movie “Foley” effects. This is consistent with the Spaghetti Western tradition as Morricone incorporated sound effects into his scores. One highlight was the  “gunfight soundscape” which included the use of cornflakes.

But the group are also very competent, trained musicians, and this comes across in their act. Between them they played double bass,  trumpet, bassoon, keyboards, vibraphone, mandolin, drums and percussion as well as the assortment of miscellaneous objects.  I was particularly impressed with their jazz rendition of Chi Mai, which started with the band playing on beer bottles

Audience interaction was encouraged and it was great fun to join in with a vocal interpretation of the Good the Bad and the Ugly during their encore.

After the show, as is usually the case at concerts, there were CDs for sale and two of the band, Graeme Leak (the Bankteller) and Jess Ciampa (the Lieteller) were available to sign the sleeves. I managed to snap them using the camera on my phone.

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