NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA
(2019 - self release - UK)
A vital collectors release, from a sprightly and brilliant ensemble. While a few of the tunes are in their more embryonic period, and appear on early albums after these were composed, (example 'Move Eastward Happy Earth' -track 4, was on their 2nd release 'Birds', but still a different version). the bulk are new material unreleased until now. So even though you might call it odds and ends, it is a collection of recordings from 1998-2006, just after The Shrubbies broke up (an exceptional inventive pop band that Craig and Sharon Fortnam, along with Sarah Smith and drummer Dominic Luckman, formed in 1995). 'Gap Species' is every bit as charming, enduring, and distinguished as all the rest of the NSRO output. With volumes of secure yet roaming melodies, quizzical, progressive, and symmetrical arpeggios, gorgeous choral parts (often reminding of the most stunning Gentle Giant vocal acrobatic tyres), this "compilation of sorts" release is an open door to an early look that any fan will agree, is not only outstanding, but essential and luxurious beyond belief.
The balance of innocent untarnished female vocal arrangements, and riddles of male polyphony, all mingled with classical chamber, piano, winds and strings. and with a unique tenderness - is at times jaw dropping. Credits are Craig Fortnam: guitars/keyboards/MIDI madness, Sharron Fortnam: vocals, Nick Hayes: clarinet (track 7 and 12), Daniel Hewson: trombone (track 2 and 4), Harry Escott: cello (track 5 and 10), Hugh Wilkinson: vibes (track 9), Luke Crookes: bassoon (track 12), Geri Peach: oboe (track 12), James Larcombe: organ (track 5, 9 and 12), Jen Underhill: violin (track 5), Terry Pitt: trumpet (track 2 and 4), and choir on track 4: CF, SF, Tim Smith and Jo Spratley. All tracks recorded in Balham, London, by Craig Fortnam. All vocals recorded at Apollo 8, Wiltshire, by Tim Smith. Mixed at Apollo 8 by Tim Smith/CF except: Track 5: recorded at Securisound, London, by James Larcombe. Tracks 9 and 12: recorded at St Olave Hart St, London, by James Larcombe.Track 10: recorded by CF in a secret posh room. Music by Craig Fortnam and words by Alfred Tennyson. So you can see the pedigree this recording brings with it. HUGE!
You will even get a jostle into a whimsical piece. I often heard what could be a capricious soundtrack, although so immediately strong with its own imagery and emotions, nothing less than extraordinary and legendary can be used to describe the whole affair. Some will claim this as North Sea Radio Orchestra's best ever, and they wouldn't be wrong. For me, it is tempting to place it on that throne, but as an owner of all their released music, I just count my blessings I now have this among their other unbelievable material. Actually this could have been titled 'Blueprint', as it has a little touch of everything great that all the following releases have, and in perfect unity.
If this group gets any better, I am not sure my ears or mind can handle it. The craftiness along side the skill level, the dexterity the musicians have in performing, the ability to map out these ideas, and the mathematical precision in arranging the segments in railway like fashion - nearly left this author speechless. So now I will leave it to the reader to go listen and buy it for yourself. ENTIRELY OUT OF THIS WORLD RECOMMENDED !
©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 3 - 28 - 2019