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BBC Electric Proms 2008

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Ross Purdie | 24 October 2008

But when you’re as prodigious a talent as the award-winning Indian British producer Nitin Sawhney the pair’s coming together on recent track ‘My Soul’ doesn’t come as much surprise. McCartney was a highlight of last year’s BBC Electric Proms, rocking The Roundhouse with a set of timeless Beatles classics and newer songs, and while tonight’s show is more rippling than raucous, with a full orchestra providing backing in keeping with the artistic adventure of the Proms, it will no doubt be remembered as one of the very finest.

It’s not even a disappointment that McCartney fails to show up to lend a hand such is the strength of the other artists who help to plump up live Sawhney’s latest album, ‘London Undersound’, a typically rich body of music which has once again cemented his place as one of the most important cross-cultural musician in Britain today. Spanning continents, styles, age and language, the guitar-plucking producer has a knack for pulling together a range of awe-inspiring performers and tonight they shine alongside him.

Not even a bout of tonsillitis can stop a determined Natasha Atlas singing sumptuously over the flamenco-tinged ‘Hope’, before the stunning Tina Grace makes light of sweeping orchestral arrangements to create something akin to Zero 7 on another lead tracks from the new album. Crowd favourite ‘Homelands’ resonates with its spine-tingling Indian vocal percussion but it’s the introduction of Natty who adds a truly new dimension to Sawhney’s mix, his gruff reggae flow unveiling a more urban grit which nicely contrasts the band’s otherwise world spanning sound. 

If any criticism can be levelled at this particular Prom it’s that Sawhney tries to fit too much into the show with artists flitting between various instruments, on and off stage, meaning the gig sometimes lacks a certain direction, an identity even, but if that’s the gig you’re after you really should be watching Oasis here in two nights time instead.

Despite a conductor expertly guiding the orchestra at the back of the circular venue it’s Sawhney who truly underpins proceedings, holding everything together unassumingly from the side of stage on either the piano or his trusted acoustic guitar. Just like the TV show he conceived, 'Goodness Gracious Me' (further proof of his wealth of his talents), he's happy to set a ball in motion and just let it roll. 

The limelight does finally come his way during ‘Prophecy’, Sawhney's ambitious opus which combines nimble fingered guitar work with battling bongo playing in a race to the death, before the Armageddon atmosphere builds to the final song of the night, a cacophony of Middle Eastern doomsday which sees images of bombs drop on screens behind the stage. It’s the nearest this multi-cultured, monstrously creative mob will ever get to a ‘Hey Jude’ and it’s the type of crescendo the Electric Proms was made for. Macca would be proud.       

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