The seminal electronics troupe continues its 21st century renaissance, 50 years after its inception
Friday April 17th, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Once a faceless group of studio-bound improvisers toiling to fulfil the audio needs of the mid-century BBC, the musicians of The Radiophonic Workshop are happily spending their unretirement gracing the stages of festivals, universities, and glorious 20th century cathedrals of music like this one. The transformation is nothing short of joyful. And it only took 50 years.
Original members including Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell have, of course, become cult figures to lovers of early electronica. Their live ranks are swollen by the addition of drummer and relative youngster Kieron Pepper, the thunderous, animated centre of a crowded stage. In fact I’ve never before been to a gig where members of the audience—hip architects and trench-coated Dr Who fans—struggle to take photos of the equipment’s blinking lights before the band have even arrived. But the Workshop engender a special kind of love.
You might expect this to be an exercise in nostalgia, and indeed all our childhood scares – ‘The Changes’, ‘Doctor Who’ (for the impatiently baying Whooligans) – are terrifyingly revisited. But it’s the new material, from the recent Society Of Sound album and the upcoming Electricity, that is the real treat; funky, inventive, unsettling, it’s as accomplished as anything from their enormous back catalogue.
It’s a real shame that none of the Workshop’s pioneering women survive to share the stage with these gentlemen, but it’s also clear that they don’t just look back, instead remaining fixed on providing an evolving soundtrack to our weird future. Long may they do so.
The Radiophonic Workshop live at the UK launch of the ARP Odyssey