Something a bit different and experimental tonight from one of the steel cities finest, a surround sound auroral extravaganza where we are encouraged to put on a blindfold and take it all in, the last time I did that in Sheffield was in a Premier Inn without a crowd around me….

The older readers will probably remember Martyn for his time with The Human League, BEF and Heaven 17 but may not be aware of what an influence he has had on not just electronic music since the late 70’s and 80’s but much further afield as those who caught the podcast with Carl and Martyn will attest to, a very interesting guy indeed.

1st up tonight is Richard Norris of The Grid performing a DJ set and giving the audience an insight as to what to expect as the sounds come at you from all directions of the theatre and as the crowd begins to rock up there’s clearly a mixed age group from young to those who weren’t that young in the 80’s here tonight to experience what’s about to happen 

Ist band performance is Utopia Strong with band member Steve Davis, yes that Steve “Interesting” Davis, the former snooker player come DJ come electronic muso and yes I was staring at him for a good 5 minutes trying to rack my brains as to why I recognised him and where from but couldn’t place him until seconds before they went on stage.

Using old school synths, not just the type where you flick a switch, push a button etc but also where you plug, unplug and move jumper cables, íts an intriguing watch and for 45 minutes I was fascinated by what was happening, I wasn’t sure if it was several tracks or just the one 45 minute long glorious noise but it was brilliant! If dreamscape prog is your bag, give them a listen or check them out as it was pretty spectacular, and besides how often do you see a band member pick up some bagpipes and go wondering around the crowd?

On to the main act and we’re promised by Martyn expansive versions of his early back catalogue pulled apart and played uniquely for tonight but as I noted the set is only an hour long, there’s not going to be many especially as they’re expanded. 

Now before we go any further I wish to point out that Martyn said he would publish the set list the following day which hasn’t happened and whilst I’m pretty familiar with the songs of the early new romantic era as much as someone else who hadn’t actually even hit their teens back in the day the songs played were that deconstructed and rebuild that I kinda sorta knew the underlying song but it was all very unfamiliar to me.

We’re off to a good start, the theatre is alive with ambient electro sound hitting you from all directions like a movie soundtrack in a high end Atmos equipped cinema but come the 2nd track and while there’s some interesting percussion and woodwind going on from gongs, glass vases, odd sheets of metal and bird noises courtesy of Tim Wheater and Cherub Sanson, as it continued I couldn’t help but feel that the track was somewhat overstaying it’s welcome and was dangerously close to turning the gig into some sort of performance art piece and that the track certainly could have benefited being several minutes shorter.

I was hoping that it this wasn’t going to be how the night would progress and thankfully things improved albeit whilst everything was still incredibly ambient it was continuing at a slower pace than I was expecting until when the strings orchestra entered onto the stage along with John Wesley-Barker conducting.

This was the section where Martyn wanted the guests to blindfold themselves and listen but as most were standing he decided it would be correctly a H&S issue so advised against it but the magic still happened , Gabriel, Martyns sons composition called Atlas was played for the 1st time ever with a live string orchestra and it sounded incredible as did the fallow up and final track of the night All Human, a collaboration between Martyn and Gabriel for, as Martyn stated a soundtrack to a movie that’s just missing a script, those 2 tracks were worth the trip over alone and that’s coming from someone who the week previously saw the current James Orchestral tour with songs I’m more than familiar with, high respect to Martyn, John W-B and the quality of the Sheffield music students providing the strings.

So all in all a bit of a mixed bag, sonically it achieved what it set out to do and the 3D sound aspect was excellent, the times that sections felt overdrawn were more than made up with parts were bang on the money and blew you away, an interesting experience that was flawed but on a whole enjoyable and I will certainly be checking out Utopia Strong again. Further information about the band can be located HERE