Manchester’s Hacienda Classical project is descending on Bristol’s Harbourside this month – with a full 40-piece orchestra in tow – as part of the Bristol Sounds concerts between 21-24 June.
An ode to the iconic Hacienda nightclub in Manchester, their classical arrangements of 80s and 90s club hits like You’ve Got the Love and Ride on Time have achieved dizzying heights of acclaim, including an invitation to open the Pyramid Stage on Friday at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.
Hacienda Classical is a project from M People’s Tim Pickering and veteran club DJ Graeme Park, who were both resident DJs at the Hacienda in its heyday; overseen by the club’s co-founder, Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook.
Instrumental brawn comes from the fantastic Manchester Camerata Orchestra… Recently named Best Ensemble at the RPS Music Awards
Instrumental brawn comes from the fantastic Manchester Camerata Orchestra, who were recently named Best Ensemble at the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Music Awards last month.
The whole cohort are bringing their show to Lloyd’s Amphitheatre on 24 June, so we called up Graeme Park to find out a bit more about the project’s beginnings.
‘Acid house and early house tracks weren’t ever performed live – which was quite revolutionary at the time, because up until the rise of dance music, people would make a record and then go out and perform that record in order to sell singles.
‘But with a lot of dance music, and certainly the early house stuff, it was made in Chicago and Detroit in very basic studios and then released. Then the people who released them would stay in the studio and work on some other stuff. Occasionally, if a track had a great vocal and it took off in the clubs, then that vocal would be performed live.
Acid house and early house tracks weren’t ever performed live
‘Tim and I were discussing how it would be great to actually perform these tracks live, but we said if we were going to do it, we needed to do it in a way that no one else had.
‘Electronic musicians have performed with orchestras before – Derrick May has and Carl Craig has – but nobody had done it to the extent of a fully-produced, two-hour show that went on tour.
‘We were kind of joking about it and then Peter Hook, who was one of the original Hacienda directors, rang us up and said we should do it, and if we are going to do it, we need to do it with the Manchester Camerata Orchestra.
‘We met up for the first time in August 2015 and by the end of September, we had three or four shows in the diary for early 2016. It all turned out better than we even imagined.’
Electronic musicians have performed with orchestras before – Derrick May has and Carl Craig has – but nobody had done it to the extent of a fully-produced, two-hour show that went on tour
Since then, they’ve sold out Albert Hall, had a 20-track album released on Sony Classical and won fans spanning generations – new and old. Proving that this is more than a well-timed gimmick, despite the massive success of their original show, they’ve come up with an almost entirely new setlist for 2017.
‘We’ve kept three or four tracks from the original show, because they’re iconic tracks, but we dropped some that people were surprised about. But we’ve dropped them because there are other tracks that are as good, if not better. We’ve done two shows so far this year in Leeds and Glasgow, and the response has been phenomenal.’Listening to their original show, every song seems like a clear-cut choice for the project. However, as DJs of one of the most iconic clubs of the era, they’re drawing from a musical goldmine, which can make cutting their setlist down to just 20 songs a difficult task.
As DJs of one of the most iconic clubs of the era, they’re drawing from a musical goldmine
‘Last year choosing the setlist was easier, because Mike and I both came up with a list of 20 songs that we each thought should be in there, and 10 of those songs on our lists were the same, so then it was just a heated debate about what the other ten songs should be. This year was much harder, because Mike and I came up with lists with very few similarities…’
Unfortunately, Graeme is keeping tight-lipped about those lists, so we’ll have to wait until their live show in Bristol to find out which tracks made the final cut.
Mike was in M People for years and has experience of playing with string sections… I played saxophone in bands and clarinet in the school orchestra
On why they went down the orchestra route, instead of doing something more like Roni Size’s Reprazent, Graeme explains:
‘Mike was in M People for years and has experience of playing with string sections, and before I was a DJ I played saxophone in bands and clarinet in the school orchestra. Also my late grandfather had his own big band in the 50s and 60s, so performing with a live orchestra was not a strange thing to do at all – it felt perfectly natural and I felt completely at home on the stage with the musicians. Although this time I’ve got a keyboard, a sampler and two turntables.
‘The thing that was difficult is that the orchestra is used to having a score and playing the same music every show, but Mike and I wanted to keep that DJ spontaneity there.
‘As a DJ you have a rough idea of what you’re going to do, but the audience and the atmosphere and the venue and the vibe can often make you think of things you haven’t thought of and do things you weren’t planning on doing, so it was important to us to be able to keep that spontaneity in the classical show.
It was important to us to be able to keep that spontaneity in the classical show
‘So although I’m following the scores and performing, if I suddenly think: “I’m going to try this acapella, or I’m going to try this sound,” then we’ve got the freedom to do it. If it works, we make a note and do it again, and if it doesn’t work – as long as nobody’s pulling a face – we’ll just move on and not do it again.
‘Last year, we stuck faithfully to the original arrangements and the original vibe of every track. But this year, we decided to have some fun with it. So you’ll hear things that are not part of the original tracks. There’s stuff that Tim (Manchester Camerata’s conductor) has written that’s totally unique to our show.
Suddenly, the vocalist will start the first line of the song and the whole place erupts, which is amazing
‘Also, instead of doing the original version of a song – the version that everyone knows – we’ve done a couple of alternative versions that people won’t recognise until the vocal comes in. Suddenly, the vocalist will start the first line of the song and the whole place erupts, which is amazing.’
Reflecting on why the Hacienda Classical concept has been so successful, both in the classical circuit and far beyond, Graeme says:
‘It’s introducing the concept of live classical music to a whole new audience. A lot of the people who come and see Haceinda Classical will never in their lives have seen any form of classical music whatsoever, so from that point of view it’s very exciting.
‘The other thing that’s exciting is that some of the older orchestra members used to go to Hacienda! They were secret ravers back in the day. And while being a raver would have been frowned upon in classical circles then, now they get to come forward and say, “I used to go to Hacienda and I know these songs!”
Classical music wrongly has this reputation of being very highbrow. This is a way of telling people it needn’t be – it’s music, it’s live performance
‘Classical music wrongly has this reputation of being very highbrow. This is a way of telling people it needn’t be – it’s music, it’s live performance.
‘People can come along and hear these songs that they grew up to, songs they fell in love to, songs that had a lasting impression on them in their late teens and their twenties – it takes them right back to the 80s and 90s – it’s hands in the air, people dancing…
‘At a classical concert, I suppose people would have a couple of drinks, but at Hacienda Classical people are trying to recreate their youth a little bit, so there’s a lot of indulgence going on, shall we say.’
There’s a lot of indulgence going on, shall we say
Talking about the Bristol show, Graeme is all too happy to confirm a few special guests for the night:
‘Rowetta is back for another few tracks, Yvonne Shelton is back, and there’s a girl called Rae who’s had a few brilliant singles out in the last few years, who we thought was a great fit.
Bristol has got its own place on the British club culture map, and I’m pretty sure the Bristol crowd are going to be well up for it!
‘She’s too young to have gone to Hacienda, but when we met her we could tell she would have been a Hacienda regular back in the day! Peter Hook is also singing a couple of songs and plays bass – it’s all very exciting.
‘I’m really looking forward to playing Bristol. As a DJ, I’ve been playing in Bristol since the late 80s and it’s a great city. Bristol has got its own place on the British club culture map, and I’m pretty sure the Bristol crowd are going to be well up for it!’
HACIENDA CLASSICAL LIVE: 24 June – Bristol Sounds, Lloyd’s Amphitheatre
Photography by Steven Sibbald