“I only get to do this the once, so I’m glad you’re here with me!”
So says Mark Ronson, clearly revelling in his position as the opening night headliner for the Electric Proms. This is something of a dream scenario for him, an orchestrator’s paradise with the BBC Concert Orchestra at his disposal.
Last year the ensemble enjoyed a collaboration with Kasabian that wasn’t entirely successful, their function primarily to double existing melodic lines. First impressions were that Ronson’s arrangements promised to stand up well – and those hopes were mostly realised.
Nellee Hooper exerts a hold over much of his string writing, but it was the brassy stabs of God Put A Smile Upon Your Face, Apply Some Pressure and Valerie that carried more conviction. That said conductor Charles Elliott‘s arrangements were extremely effective, the highlights a brightly lit and energetic Ooh Wee, with hyperactive rapper Wale, Sail On Sailor and an intricate harp part in the opening of a restored Back To Black, sung with gusto by Rumble Strips singer Charlie Walker.
The continuous procession of guests and anecdotes from Ronson kept the audience on its toes, as did the crowd surfing antics of the Just vocalist, Phantom Planet‘s Alex Greenwald. Sadly Terry Hall was mismatched with Santo Gold for Our Lips Are Sealed, her piercing delivery at odds with his more measured approach. Tim Burgess, too, despite a valiant effort in a strangely poised coat, was swamped by the wall of sound for The Only One I Know, his voice less suited to big orchestral swathes.
On the plus side, a hugely affirmative Sail On Sailor featured Sean Lennon on vocals and keys, while Kyle Lafferty from The View ran with Valerie to enjoyable if over-feminine effect. There were star turns from Daniel Merriweather, Candee Payne and Adele, whose Cold Shoulder offered the first of several intriguing new songs. Not for Ronson another album of covers it seems.
Lily Allen cancelled with a day to spare apparently, but her Oh My God slot went to none other than the song’s author, Ricky Wilson – and with it returned to its initial key. Surprisingly touching, too, were versions of You’re All I Need and the encore of We Can Work It Out, Lennon appropriately back on vocal duties with the assembled throng.
What remained, for this observer at least, was a quizzical conflict as to whether I had just witnessed glorious reinterpretations of classic songs, or had been playing havoc with the pub jukebox. In the end the former category was a relatively comfortable winner.
No such dilemma during The Coral‘s set, sticking to newer material and a couple of hits, sans orchestra. That would have been wrong anyway, for the Liverpool quintet are very much a no frills outfit, though this set unexpectedly found their rhythmic heart. James Skelly‘s affecting baritone breezed through Pass It On and Don’t Think You’re The First, taking a darker timbre for Rebecca You and Music At Night.
Surprisingly we witnessed a brief appearance from Noel Gallagher for a ramped up In The Rain, his guitar solo again delivered with the minimum of fuss or occasion. The crowd seemed relatively uninvolved which was a shame – but went in hand with the band’s low key if highly effective approach.
This opening gig contained everything you’d want of a Proms opening night, Electric or otherwise – a few established household classics colliding with new experiments. It’s what gives the festival its unique edge, and bodes well for the next four days.