Saturday 3 April 2010

Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA Orchestra

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, Tuesday 30 March 

The stage looks like the set of Blade-Runner Meets The Mummy. The lights atop the keyboards change colour, presumably to signal to passing aliens, as in Close Encounters. Electronic noises reverberate and a man in a sun mask intones, "It's after the end of the world…" It made a very arresting opening for Spatial AKA Orchestra, Jerry Dammers'  Sun Ra tribute band, even if the acoustics came from planet Saturn. 

What do the Specials mainman and space-age visionary have in common? For Sun Ra, showmanship and science fiction sweetened his inherent radicalism. Similarly, Dammers is out there, yet entertaining. His crack team of UK jazz musicians, dressed in masks and costumes, proceed to raise consciousness with a big, bouncy ska version of Gnossiene by Eric Satie. 

Even so, Tubular Bells comes as a surprise (The Exorcist associations suit the sf/horror ambience, I suppose). Roger Beaujolais carries the theme on vibes and Zoe Rahman contributes a piano solo at warp-speed. The Batman Theme is grafted onto I'm Gonna Unmask the Batman (fabulous baritone solo by Terry Edwards), whilst Man at C&A and Nuclear War, linked by subject-matter, are fused, fission-style. Exotica rears its head during Jungle Madness, with Francine Luce impersonating jungle beasts with avant-garde singing techniques.  

Ghost Town becomes Ghost Planet. The recession is cosmic: now the entire planet is redundant! A rap about the African origin of UFOs nicely combines Sun Ra's twin obsessions. Far from being Dammers' folly, Spatial AKA is probably the summation of the Two-Tone aesthetic. ("It's bad enough with another race…" - John Cooper Clarke.) 

During Space Is The Place, the musicians parade off-stage and reconvene in the auditorium, still honking and chanting. Magic! The evening compared favourably to Sun Ra's  visitation to Hackney Empire in 1990. 

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