REVIEW: The Radiophonic Workshop Live at the Royal Albert Hall

REVIEW: The Radiophonic Workshop Live at the Royal Albert Hall

0 comments 📅29 May 2018, 16:27

The artists formerly known as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop provided the soundtrack to a generation of BBC science fiction and changed the face of electronic music forever. Engineers and composers in equal measure, their willingness to experiment with and modify the space between traditional and electronic music has influenced countless musicians across the decades. The late, great Delia Derbyshire’s iconic work on the Doctor Who theme is the most obvious example but, as last night in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall revealed, far from the only one.

The Radiophonic Workshop, as they’re now called, played a breezy 90 minute set that took in plenty of familiar pieces, a section of their new album and some ridiculously charming asides from the band. An early skit saw a heavily disguised Dalek express its love for Alexa, only for Alexa to then segue into the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and from there, into a performance of the music from that show. A later story revealed how the band wanted to use a quote from A Brief History of Time in one piece and wrote to the late Professor Stephen Hawking to ask for permission. Hawking not only granted it, he emailed them back a recording of him saying the quote, which they use in the piece to this day. Later, the band revealed that their new album, Burials in Several Earths, was improvised over a full day and involved ‘drinking a lot of tea’.

It would be so easy for something like this to present as twee and forced but it doesn’t. These really are a collection of humble, brilliant people who love their work. The gig was dedicated to their engineers and there was a tangible sense of wanting to honor their colleagues, living and dead, that was as sincere as it was sweet.

And they did just that. From the towering orchestration of Incubus to pieces from Hitch-Hiker’s Guide, Doctor Who and others the band put on quite a show . They changed gear constantly from driving percussion and guitar to looping, elaborate synthesizer tracks and everything in between. Their willingness to use vocals was a particularly pleasant surprise. Aside from what sounded a lot like Mark Strong sonorously intoning ‘WIRELESS’ every few seconds in the opening track we got Hawking and a fantastic number which contrasted driving electronica with a public safety announcement about how to avoid electric shocks. All of which culminated in a near-12 minute long version of Regeneration, their take on Delia Derbyshire’s Doctor Who theme. This was fascinating, as it went right up to the end of the Workshop’s time on the show and then kept going. The orchestration brilliantly evoked the work of Murray Gold while still keeping true to the original theme and when the refrain hit for the final time, the bass was so strong you could feel it in your chest.

Playing this variety of music this well would be recommendation enough for the Radiophonic Workshop but they’re so much more than that. Pioneers of electronic musician, engineers, consummate musicians in their own right and profoundly happy to be doing what they do, they were a joy to watch. Here’s hoping the tea’s already brewing for the next album.

(Incidentally if this all sounds like something you’d have loved to have attended, you sort of can! The livestream for the show is here.)


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