Festival Preview: BBC Electric Proms 2006

The Roundhouse, London

The Roundhouse, London

Proms again? In October?! Surely some mistake. But no, these inaugural BBC Electric Proms are rather different concerts, where promenaders might well be encouraged to dance or even mosh. And they won’t be encouraged to do so in the cavernous acoustics of the Albert Hall – these pioneering events will be taking place in more intimate surroundings in Camden, whose Roundhouse will take centre stage in celebration of its recent regeneration.

The curators of the festival are Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon, who between them have secured a hugely impressive line-up that grew on a seemingly daily basis from solid beginnings to a wonderful combination of world class acts and breaking talents.

Parallels exist between the two Proms formats. Henry Wood’s festival often makes a point of championing new British music – and some of the best British bands – past, present and future – will be showing their worth in north London. You’ll catch your breath if you visit the Electric Proms website though, when you find out John Lennon is listed as playing at the festival!

Of course not – it’s a showing of the film The US versus John Lennon. This brings the festival forward as much more than a music event – this is a truly multimedia experience, with workshops and full coverage available at the press of a remote or the trigger of a mobile phone.

Centrepiece is an opera – and a premiere at that. The Who‘s Tommy was a landmark work in the scarcely explored genre of rock opera in the 1970s, and now they revisit the form with a new mini-opera, The Glass Household. The chance to see the band in such intimate Roundhouse surroundings on Monday 30October will be irresistible – should you be lucky enough to get anywhere near a ticket. If not, it’s on BBC1. Supporting them will be The Fratellis, straight off the NME Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot Tour, where the swagger of their live performances has been well documented.

Saturday 28 October’s Roundhouse bill pushes a boundary or two to bring together the talents of Kasabian and the BBC Concert Orchestra – fresh from their Pet Shop Boys album collaboration. Not the most immediate of bedfellows you might think, though the keyboard parts on recent album Empire would not need much manipulation to carry the same impact through a live orchestra. The single of the same name should benefit from such a fulsome backing, though it will be revealing to note how much the ensembles stay together!

The orchestra will also be performing with Guillemots, a most enticing prospect when the band announced that they would be creating a new performance for the night. With their Mercury-nominated debut album so well received, it will be interesting to chart its arrangement for orchestra, and the way their musical vitality is preserved.

Full marks to both the BBC and the bands for such an enterprising programme – and it doesn’t stop there.Albarn and Simonon will be showcasing their new project, The Good, The Bad & The Queen. With their debut album produced by Danger Mouse and a good four months away it will be a first opportunity for most to hear the new material, and with drummer Tony Allen and ex-Verve guitarist and keyboard player Simon Tong in tow it promises to be an intriguing meeting of musical minds.

Supporting the new venture at the Roundhouse will be Jamie T, whose star continues to be in the ascendance, but a rather older vintage will be on hand in Young Tiger. Star of a venture on Albarn’s Honest Jon’s label, London Is The Place For Me, the calypso singer will no doubt be raising plenty of smiles with affecting and often mischievous tales of London life in the 1950s. He’s off the stage by 7:30pm though, so turn up early if you have a ticket to see him live.

First night honours go to Paul Weller, whose The Jam were at the peak of their form when the venue’s profile was last so high. In a bill where wide-eyed references to soul will be prevalent, Weller is joined by Jamiroquai and The Magic Numbers – a melodic feast.

And still there’s more. What if I told you James Brown would be at the Roundhouse the following night? Supported by the Zutons, of all bands?! That Donovan would be performing in the Roundhouse’s FREEDM studio? And that just to emphasise the eclectic content of the festival, there would be room for dance (Basement Jaxx), singer songwriters with more than a touch of folk (Seth Lakeman), Jazz on 3 in the shape of John Surman or English musings from Billy Bragg?

Chances are you’d be beating a path to the festival ticket office – though with the venues often on the small and intimate side the bigger bands will be hard to see. The films promise much though – with John Lennon will be the Beastie Boys, Pete Doherty, The Wu-Tang Clan and The Police.

A biased and personal recommendation if you have time – Squarepusher‘s live sets are usually full of energy and not to be missed, and it will be interesting to see how he presents his recent album onstage as part of Thursday’s John Peel night at the Roundhouse, headlined by The Raconteurs.

The festival runs until The Who play out the Roundhouse five days on – and it promises to be a highly stimulating long weekend of startlingly original music. And yet it doesn’t stop there. One of the principal aims of the Electric Proms is to provide a platform for up and coming musicians, and to that effect 12 BBC regional stations have been looking for artists with specific development needs. With these needs addressed by industry experts it will be possible to see the outcome as nine of the 12 chosen artists will be performing in the cramped surrounds of the Barfly on Sunday 29 October. Each band will play for thirty minutes, from early afternoon Cashier No 9 to late evening The All New Adventures Of Us.

Even if you can’t get there or the tickets have sold out, try a film – or get online. The festival’s commitment for those who are there, but equally crucially those who aren’t, should ensure enjoyment for all.

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Festival Preview: BBC Electric Proms 2006