Sydney Opera House (Concerto)
have seen some fabulous acts there over the years - Fairport Convention,
Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell, Leo Kottke, Richard Thompson and many
symphony concerts. However, I was not really prepared for what I have
just heard - Concerto For Group and Orchestra by Jon Lord,
featuring Australian band george and also Jon Lord onstage,
backed up by the brilliant Sydney Symphony Orchestra (SSO).
I had not heard the music for over 20 years - that was when I had
given away my copy of the album. What was I thinking?! However, as
soon as the First Movement began, it all came flooding back!
The group part of the performance was quite different from the original
Deep Purple version. george provided a more mellow approach rather
than heavy rock. [This band has an enormous following and their hardcore
fans were not disappointed tonight - especially as the first half
of the programme featured the band doing a set of their own material
backed by the SSO.]
The Third Movement concluded and the members of george with composer
Jon Lord stood and accepted a long standing ovation. I found the performance
to be the most exciting I have seen (as I said to my friends) for
a good while - it was heart-in-the-mouth stuff. The SSO pulled
it off superbly. Thanks to them and to george for having the courage
and rising to the challenge; and thanks especially to Jon Lord for
his great composition, his time and energy and for being such a generally
Katie Noonan has the voice of an angel! But more about that later...
had the pleasure of seeing Jon, george and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
(SSO) at the Sydney Opera House for their Festival of Sydney performance
of Jon's Concerto, on Saturday night, 25th January.
a picnic in the Royal Botanic Gardens overlooking the harbour, with
some good company, very nice food and liberal amounts of champagne,
we ambled across to the Opera House full of anticpation and excitement.
Despite having lived in Sydney all my life I never tire of the Opera
House - it is just such a magnificent building, and an ideal setting
for a concert of this type.
performance started with a couple of symphonic works played by the
SSO alone. Although I didn't recognise the works they were quite beautiful,
with a kind of pastoral, Vaughan Williams feel to them. And just 'left
of centre' enough to whet the appetite of what was obviously not the
standard SSO audience!
then joined the orchestra, to rapturous applause, and ran through
a cross-section of songs from their album Polyserena - a huge hit
in Oz during 2002 - as well as a good amount of new material. Their
eclectic mix of musical styles gelled beautifully with the orchestra's
majestic backing. These are all great songs, but the orchestra really
brought them to life and added a depth of both sound and emotion.
most bands, having a lead singer like george's Ty Noonan would be
seen as a gift from The Almighty. Close your eyes, and you'd swear
you're hearing Jeff Buckley at his best. He effortlessly switches
gears from soothing balladeer to screeching banshee (well a male version!),
with a piercing falsetto upper register that could smash glass. The
falsetto in particular is more the clean high tone of Jeff Buckley
(God rest his soul) than Gillan's scream, but very effective nonetheless,
and hitting similar musical and emotional highs.
his sister Katie, with whom he shares lead vocals, is nothing short
of an enigma. Her considerable talents are a joy to behold on george's
album, but hearing her live, and especially in this context, removed
from the constraints of the three minute pop song, she soars! Her
voice has the same seductive, sweet, almost girly quality of The Sunday's
Harriet Wheeler, but with that added ethereal element of a Kate Bush
or Liz Fraser from the Cocteau Twins.
But then she takes you to other places altogether, rising to operatic
heights with such haunting beauty, such passion, you just close your
eyes and get carried away by it. Especially during one of the new
songs (if 'song' is the right word!), the interplay between her voice
and the orchesta's string section is just mind-blowing. This was one
of the night's finest moments. I think it was called 'Holiday', and
I felt like I'd had one after hearing it! Katie's rendition was to
this show what Sam Brown's 'Wait a While' was to Deep Purple's Royal
Albert Hall shows in 1999. The slow and seductive build to an orgasmic
crescendo is what really great music is all about! (Am I getting carried
away here? It's hard to find the words to convey the emotion of these
to say, this woman is a considerable talent. If you ever get the chance
to hear her live, grab it! After she turned us all inside out with
her singing, she'd return to the keyboard and nail it on that as well!
I really like about george is that, in a world of glib, computer-generated
three minute disposale pop songs, they stand-out as a 'muso' band.
Although all still in their twenties - even early twenties - they're
all very accomplished musicians. In fact my guess is that they're
a bunch of kinda alternative, left-field misfits who went straight
to the conservatorium from school, formed a band there, came out,
and became 'overnight sensations'! Their debut album went straight
to number one and stayed there a long time, they performed sell-out
shows around the country, and now - all within a year or two - they're
playing the SOH with the SSO and the legendary Jon Lord!
Their youthful enthusiasm is very evident, as is their relative inexperience
with 'working' a live audience. So they didn't say much between songs,
and both singers seemed nervous, at least at first. But when they
got into the music, that all vanished.
new songs are showing a new level of maturity - watch out for this
band, I think they'll be big outside Oz too.
Apologies to those unfamiliar with george - which is probably most
of you! But it's for good reason that this is the first band that
Jon has let perform his Concerto! (It was them who approached him
now, for the moment you've all been waiting for!
alluded to by Jon in his Q and A session from last week, george's
treatment of the Concerto is quite different to Purple's. In the first
movement their interplay with the orchestra is more respectful than
combative - they wait their turn then let fly, whereas with Purple
it's a battle royal! george are more concilliatory and complementary.
This is in part due, I think, to the type of band they are - more
subdued than Deep Purple - but may also reflect their youth. Fine
musos as they are, they lack that supreme confidence - almost arrogance
- that only comes with experience. They are in awe of the orchestra
- Deep Purple was, at least in the first movement - in competition
This is also reflected in Nick Sterart's guitar playing. Now let's
get one thing straight - there aren't many players on the planet who
can match it with Ritchie Blackmore or Steve Morse on guitar, and
Nick, though a fine player in his own right, is not in the same league
as these two savants! Very few guitarists are.
I'm sure that, in time, he'll make his mark as a guitarist, but for
now, Nick is content to hold back a bit and learn from the big boys.
So his soloing, though accomplished, lacked the aggression and virtuosity
of Blackmore and Morse, and again, it was more to 'add something'
to the overall effect rather than to 'take over' á la the other
two. Having said that, his solo pieces in the first movement were
very fluid and tasty!
The thing that surprised me the most about the Concerto was how Jon
played a relatively 'minor' (if that's possible with Jon!) role. The
gig was promoted as 'george and the SSO, with special guest Jon Lord',
and that's really how it was. Unquestionably, this was george's night,
and Jon clearly respected that. I think he chose to contribute to
the production as an arranger rather than to dominate it as a musician.
So the parts that Jon played in the original Concerto were taken by
george, with Jon adding depth and colour, only soloing at opportune
Which brings us back to Katie Noonan. Vocal prowess aside, she also
shines as a pianist! She filled Jon's big shoes admirably, with additional
keys work from her brother and, of course, the guiding hand of Jon.
The Noonans each took one of the two vocal sections, both giving it
a very different treatment to Mr Gillan's.
It was only towards the end of the second movement that Jon got a
big solo part, and he used that opportunity to vibe up the Hammond
in a very Purple sort of way (much to the delight of the initiated!).
However those moments, familiar and enjoyable as they were, were short
and sweet, and again Jon melted into the wall of sound. (Significantly,
he was seated on the far left of the stage instead of front and centre
as might have been expected. This encapsulated his approach to the
piece both musically and symbolically.)
The third movement saw the whole effect cranked up a notch, with all
the players getting into the flow and working off each other. Katie
Noonan kicked off the percussion section with some nice conga playing
(is there anything she can't play well?) with all sorts of other banging
and tinkling things joining in. This melded seamsessly into Jeff Green's
very inventive drum solo. Great technique with lots of changes of
pace and direction, culminating in a thundering solo that was almost
worthy of Ian Paice!
nice touch in the final movement was an additional vocal harmony section.
It's been said before, but siblings often seem to be able to harmonise
in an almost (maybe literally) an organic (yes, I did say organic!)
way, and these two, being both great singers in their own right, find
an incredible and close chemistry in their harmonies.
the end the whole place went balistic, with an extended standing ovation
and smiling and bowing aplenty! Then george n Jon walked off together,
then george walked back on for a couple of last numbers.
Interestingly, at this point Katie Noonan read a statement on behalf
of the band, Jon and other Sydney Festival artists opposing the invasion
of Iraq and requesting that the US and its allies adopt all means
possible to avoid war. The statement said there's sometimes a blurred
line between art and politics and that ususally they keep clear of
it, but on this occasion they felt very strongly about the issue and
wanted to 'stand for peace' in a public way. Given that Deep Purple
has never been a 'political' band, Jon's involvement in the statement
was quite significant. Katie also acknowledged how thrilled the band
was to have had the opportunity to work with "the legendary Jon
couple more george songs followed, then more standing ovations, then
back came Jon, more smiles, bowing and applause, and it was all over.
up a very memorable experience, and perhaps one that heralds a new
era for Jon as a composer and arranger rather than as primarily a
rock muso and 'frontline' performer. It was definitely george's night,
and I'm sure that's just how Jon wanted it to be. He'll have his moments
in the spotlight at The Basement with his ten piece band on February
7. Very much looking forward to that. A surprise guest appearance
from Katie would be a nice touch!