Formed 14 years ago by Craig Fortnam (Arch Garrison and Knifeworld), North Sea Radio Orchestra are this cross between Chamber, Alternative Classical, and Victorian Music. They have released three albums from 2006 to 2011. It’s been five years since they’ve released another album. This year, they’ve released their fourth album entitled Dronne. Two years ago, the band performed in Lyon at the Nuits de Fourviere Festival performing the music and legacy of Robert Wyatt which Craig conducted.
In the NSRO performing Wyatt’s music alongside the band were William D. Drake (Cardiacs) and John Greaves of Henry Cow for the live performance. They decided to put a cover of one of Robert’s composition from his fourth album released in 1985 on Old Rottenhat entitled The British Road. This is an amazing honor and beautiful take of the song. They honor the song as they do it in the style of Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air with the keyboards before delving on the train voyage of the Krautrock adventure.
Craig and his wife Sharron share vocals each other on the song and they deliver justice to the piece. Guitar Miniature No. 4 sees Craig himself doing a folky-jig classical guitar down across the dancing sidewalk while Queen of All the Day and Night gives Sharron spooky vibes between this amazing arrangement of the song. You have this rapid ticking noise along with the violins done by Brian Wright with a middle-eastern vibe as you imagine yourself waking up and seeing the beautiful landscapes of India with a pastoral vibe.
I can imagine Sharron paying tribute to the Acid Folk scene. Not just that, but there is this lyrical texture set in this Victorian-era of England done in the styles of Ray Davies. The title track brings to mind not just the realms of Riley’s electronic compositions, but in the spacey voyages of Gong’s Radio Gnome trilogy as if Steve Reich himself was conducting the whole thing and making it surreal, strange, and hypnotic.
The opener, Arcade features guitars, and piano done by James Lacrombe as if both he and Craig share the same melodies between each other. With woodwind instruments setting up the scene by opening up a book that has been dusted and never touched for 73 years, opening up the book and the sounds of the Chamber-Pop musical mind as if you are looking through between the pages of the past and present before heading towards to see what the future holds for you.
While I have mentioned about the sharing vocals between Craig and his wife, Sharron in which both of them do an incredible job, the song Alsace Lorraine is Craig doing a take of lullaby of cradling a child to put them to sleep in a gentle composition. It is a terrific piece that do a duet as the violins and cello brings some sadness and lifting beauty that will bring you to tears.
The closing 2-part suite, Dinosaurus Rex starts off in part one with medieval chamber music a-la Mike Oldfield style between Nicola’s B-flat bass clarinet, Luke Crookes’ bassoon, Harry Escott’s cello, and Brian Wright’s violin work along with a mid-fast fingerpicking acoustic guitar and organ sections with a wicked twist of humor. The second part ends with a solemn atmosphere to close the album off.
It’s been two years since I’ve discovered North Sea Radio Orchestra when I bought I A Moon on Wayside Music and I almost forgotten about them. But with their new album, I was completely blown away right from the get-go. This is a very good, surreal, weird, beautiful, and staggering album I’ve listened to. I hope Craig continues to do more with the NSRO and Dronne is an album exploring the music of the Experimental, Chamber, Canterbury, and Folky side of their sound.