Radiophonic Workshop

There are few things as evocative of my childhood as the music that signalled the end of Tom Baker’s time in Doctor Who (and of course the beginning of Peter Davison’s).  Those trilling synths were the work of Paddy Kingsland and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Of course, the original RW was disbanded as a result of Birtist corporate stupidity, but some of the members have decided to group together with a couple of new ones (including Mark Ayers, of whom more presently) to celebrate some of that amazing work. And so it is that tonight, at the end of a Doctor Who festival at ARC in Stockton , the Radiophonic Workshop take to the stage. Peter Howell was unfortunately indisposed, but Messrs Mills, Kingsland and Limb were present and correct.

Now, it has to be said that they took to the stage awfully late, but this was the result of the van carrying their gear breaking down back in the South on the journey up earlier in the day.  What that meant was that we got an improvised Q&A with the senior members of the RW, and a brief moment from the ever wonderful Colin Baker, who had been at the venue during the day, before he left. Oh yes, and an interlude with three camp Daleks that might have been scripted by Victor Lewis-Smith.

The set itself was a mixture of familiar and new things. The familiar began proceedings, first of all with the strains of John Craven’s Newsround (including that end sting), followed by a medley of Who incidental music. which included that nostalgic section from Logopolis. There was a section including music from The Hitchhiker’s Guide TV series, specifically the section where Ford and Arthur get picked up by the Heart of Gold.

The other pieces include Paddy Kingsland’s Changes Suite, a nicely dystopian & creepy accompaniment to the Peter Dickinson-written 70s series; Incubus, a compendium of Mills ideas containing weirdly treated effects, mostl notably  a heavily messed-with Big Ben; Wireless is their tribute to radio, full of famous radio moments, snippets of dialogue and snatches of found sounds, mixed with a nicely insistent riff

Interspersed with these are a couple of  new pieces by Mark Ayres. The first is  called Vortex and is a work of genius sequencing. It reminds me very strongly of  Michel Geiss’ Matrisequencer 1970s work with Jean Michel Jarre (around about the time of Equinoxe) and also of the extended bits that turned up in the 2008 Oxygène performances with the original instruments. The second piece is called Unreal and has the definite feel of Vangelis. Not Chariots of Fire, movie-scoring Vangelis, but the proggy, wigged-out mid to late 70s stuff like Heaven and Hell and L’Enfant, all whooshing arpeggios and swelling major chords. Both pieces are, frankly, wonderful.

What is noticeable about all of this stuff is not just how very talented all these guys are (and this includes Kieron, the percussionist, too), and how multi-faceted their talents are (Kingsland is a more than decent guitarist amongst everything else), but even though they are mostly in their seventies and older, there is an edge to most of this stuff; this is not Muzak. At turns it is muscular, angular, ruminative and achingly heartfelt. It was, and remains progressive and experimental. This is music that is still pushing at boundaries, and it’s good at it too.

The end of the show came all too soon, but not before they finished with a rendition of the theme which is forever associated with the RW: Doctor Who. But this was Who with a twist, with the first part (sort of) done in the original Delia Derbyshire style, before a wonderfully proggy interlude, leading into an interpretation of the 1981 version. It was a rousing end to a fabulous evening.

They were so apologetic for starting late, but it didn’t matter; it was easily worth the wait, and more.

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