On a Saturday evening in May 2016, Space came to Dalston, London E8.
Marshall Allen, 92, on alto and a reed-based synthesiser that produced space noises straight out of Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still, and Robbie The Robot, Forbidden Planet. Marshall carries the long line of legitimacy to Sun Ra, the denizens of the Spaceways, and brothers from Saturn. We are all now post-terrestrial.
Forget Brixton, forget Hackney, LJC goes post-Shoreditchification onto the front line to uber-trendy gender-fluid Dalston, to see the Sun Ra Arkestra in performance. In an intimate setting, getting close up with my new Canon EF 50mm f1.2L lens on its first outing. Another first, a gig review from LJC.
From tenor-player Knoel Scott’s introduction (ages from memory are approximate!):
Greetings from Sun Ra, would now be 112 years old (Audience: Yeah!!) , Marshall Allen, 92 years old (Yeah!!!), The Arkestra, 69 years old.. (Yeah!!!!)
This to an audience average age 22, and that average heavily skewed upwards by the presence of three oldies: Man-in-a-Shed, Mr Speaker!, plus LJC behind the camera. Here’s the concert bill – a four-session weekender where “avant-garde legends preform, live!!!” Spelling is optional. The Arkestra are a long way from home:
Creative headware obligatory, all the multiple-masks of post-modern persona: beanie hats, beards, ethnic accessories. All the youth tribes: new hippies, cyber-punks, space-goths, nerds, vintage-style-surfers, hispters (protected-status! hipster-dyslectics), and to be honest, probably mostly just students. But they looked good. Conformist tribes of my youth – mods, rockers, skinheads – seem to have given way to total eclecticism, and they look great.
Marshall Allen, a spritely gnomic-caped figure on the stage, trades his weird-synth for alto sax, and indulges in some real playing, you can tell, still coming at you: remarkable.
The audience really wanted a groove with some weirdness thrown in, and The Arkestra were happy to oblige. Visually fascinating, a perfect evening for experience-hungry youth rather than Sun Ra true believers. Knoel Scott blowing mean tenor, as close as it got to “jazz” for the evening.
“Hello Dalston! No-one from Saturn in tonight eh?” (How would you tell?)
Knoel carefully looked after Marshall, making sure he was alright, fixing minor problems with his mike, and anchoring the set with theatrical aplomb.
Danny Ray, another long serving member of the Arkestra, a perfect legacy to Pat Patrick’s baritone, with lots of spacey flute thrown in. Danny exuded dignity and steadfastness, his bari wonderfully throaty and pungent, switching to flutes-in-space as required.
The music selection came mostly from the Heliocentric Worlds period, and Marshall had sheafs of paper with musical notation, and everyone had music stands. Not that the audience cared, they were experience-surfing, not music critics. They came to have a good time, and they did.
Passing Clouds venue offered only a tiny bandstand, pushing some members of The Arkestra into a near- invisible back row. In that back row, some one on trumpet, not sure of the name, and the cat with the hat on percussion, left. Next to them out of shot, a cat on trombone, Craig Harris.
Space-hooded D. Hotep, guitarist, kept the vibe strong, jangling away and generally looking in role, bathed in purple light.
Now I’m guessing – Tara Middleton? Vocals, assorted percussion effects, and all-round Saturn ethno-print wear, very physical presence, not one I associate with Sun Ra, but good with the “Space is The Place” chants.
Tucked well into the back on double bass and lots of green shiny sequins, I think Tyler Mitchel but again I’m guessing. Great acoustic bass playing, sweat from the pores.
Danny Ray closes the performance to audience appreciation, as Marshall and the boys file off the tiny stage and perform a space-conga winding through the gathered audience and off to the band room, to prepare for the second performance of the evening. Danny got the task of selling the cd of their latest Arkestra album at the exit, as the crowd filed out into the early evening light.
Back to the Dalston Passing Clouds evening second performance queue. A slightly older crowd, men-who-wear-jeans, beanie-hats and hoods, may be average age 25? All hipsters must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Us old guys headed for home.
Any corrections welcome, I am not an Arkestra follower except for the late ’50s, but I enjoyed the performance and more important so did the youngsters. I enjoyed the photography. The membership of the Arkestra seems changing, I’ll leave you with what I would have love to have heard, my personal Sun Ra anthem: Enlightenment
Now that’s what I call Sun Ra music, beautiful, the brothers of Saturn would be proud. Makes a change from musty old records no? Back with more music soon.
The one & only live jazz gig i ever been to – Sun Ra Arkestra, few years ago in Tel Aviv. It was mind blowing, some of the more ‘free’ stuff was too much for me & i had to go out just to save my eardrums…still a highly enjoyable & very memorable night. Space is the place !
this is awesome. i really must get to see this band while marshall is still with it.
Glad you enjoyed your outing. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first review of a live performance here and it sounds like a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Was the sound OK? It was good to hear that the music is being heard by a young audience. Who knows, in fifty years time, somebody who was there with you may be communicating (possibly through some as yet unimagined medium) that they saw the Arkestra live and that the real thing was so much better than the latest hologram?
Visually, it was a feast, audio-wise, it was typically “live”- a shonky jumble of instruments miked to a mixing desk somewhere to control the balance and output through a pa, plus a little from the instruments themselves directly from the stage. I never thought about sound quality: it’s a guacamole experience, I’m glad to have had it.
Wonderful! I just have to use this as an excuse to post this solo by Marshall Allen:
I have a friend who has a few Arkestra soundboard recordings on reel-to-reel from the 70s and 80s. I really need to convince him to let me transcribe them…