NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA

 

Back in 2002 North Sea Radio Orchestra were born in the lanes and alleys of the City of London, playing, in dusty old churches, a kind of chamber/alternative classical/folk high-Victorian hybrid music. Then escaping the City to play various festivals, arts establishments, 6Music sessions, venues of all kinds whilst releasing three studio albums to great critical acclaim. Now after a 4 year break they return with their fourth album 'Dronne'.


All NSRO music is composed, recorded and lead by guitarist Craig Fortnam who during the last four years he has not been idle. As well as releasing Arch Garrison's 2014 CD, 'I Will Be A Pilgrim' (Craig as singer-songwriter, singing songs about old roads and chalk downland in a psych-folk haze), Craig also spent the first half of 2014 immersed in the music of Robert Wyatt, having been asked to direct and do all arrangements for a performance of Wyatt's music for the Nuits de Fourviere Festival in Lyon, with North Sea


Radio Orchestra as house-band. Assisting in this amazing project were ex-Cardiacs keyboardist William D Drake, ex Henry Cow/National Health bassist and singer John Greaves, as well as Pascal Comelade, Elise Caron and Silvain Vanot. As well as performing all of Wyatt's classic album 'Rock Bottom', NSRO also played several songs spanning Wyatt's career. This immersion in Wyatt-land has had a profound effect on Fortnam's way of composing and working in the studio, as he states; “Being the composer and producer has lead to me having TOTAL control over all aspects of making NSRO records. This way of working is of course a double-edged sword as spontaneity and inspiration can be lost under all that control. Robert Wyatt seems to tread the line


between the two with great skill, incorporating lots of elements of chance into his albums. Re-working his songs while trying to maintain freedom within the arrangements has been a great inspiration while making 'Dronne'. This record features lots of improvising which I have edited and manipulated; certain accidents within have been left intact – these elements of chance are a real


antedote to the necessary 'microscoping' and control-freakery needed to create NSRO records”.


Indeed the title track is almost wholly improvised; layers of synths, organs and bells swing pendulum-like between two un-related chords eventually heralding a vast string melody of cosmic proportions, all over an eight minute drone ('dronne'). More improvisation can be heard during the opening section of NSRO's Robert Wyatt cover 'The British Road', one Craig's favourite


arrangements from the Lyon show thus duly included in this release. 'I A Moon', NSRO's previous album was very much concerned with the tragic illness that befell Craig's good friend Tim Smith (that


underrated genius from pop/prog/punk legends Cardiacs), so that album felt almost unbearably sad at points. For this release Craig wanted there to be no 'meaning' or particular theme but of course life often intervenes in such plans; half way through making the record Craig suffered a close family bereavement, naturally having a huge impact on the outcome of this album. 'Alsace Lorraine',


originally a lullaby for Craig and (NSRO singer) Sharron's young son suddenly veered into the territory of grief, the lyrics literally changing mid-song;


 


“Sleep tight tonight – any other night round the world....


So tie me to the buoy (boy) keep me afloat, I'm afloat on an ocean


So tie me to a stone, throw me into a river – sink low.


And water's thinner than blood and bone.”


 


Despite the more improvisatory feel, the inclusion of a Wyatt cover-version and a more studio-based compositional style, 'Dronne' still contains all the elements that have made NSRO special to their fans and wholly unique in British music; the ability to produce beautiful music without being over-sweet, the combination of large-scale instrumentals ('Dinosaurus Rex Parts 1 and 2') with


smaller pieces and songs, the beautiful voice of Sharron Fortnam, and the ability to marry seemingly disparate influences (Britten, Vaughan-Williams, Cardiacs, early Kraftwerk etc), all wrapped up in a very English/Northern European harmonic and melodic


language; a language augmented with that extra freedom bestowed upon Craig courtesy of that most liberated of musicians, Robert Wyatt.