When UK garage icon DJ Spoony steps on to the stage of the Royal Albert Hall, he is brimming with pride. “We were never in the West End,” he says of his scene. “Never on a Friday night.” Well, it’s actually a Thursday, but, in a show that plunges you two decades into the past, no one’s counting.
Spoony helped to take the genre from humble roots to chart domination in the early 00s. Now, he has revamped it again with the help of composer Katie Chatburn’s Ignition Orchestra. At Garage Classical tonight, beloved 2-step classics get a drama-fuelled orchestral makeover with vocals from familiar chart names.
It doesn’t feel like a gimmick. The excellent orchestra brings out existing textures in the music as well as adding inventive twists. A brass section enlivens Lifford Shillingford’s soulful take on Roy Davis Jr’s Gabriel, and Wookie and Cleptomaniacs’s instrumentals – paired with legendary MCs CKP, DT, PSG and Creed – take on rapturous drama with live strings. The classical musicians even join the party for So Solid Crew’s No 1 single 21 Seconds, in which violinists jab their bows in the air and MC Harvey rips his shirt off as if in approval.
As Spoony puts it: “It’s fair to say: no garage girls, no garage. Scene legend Nay Nay and rising rapper Ms Banks mix past and present with flair on Body Groove, while Kele le Roc launches into her bangers with gusto and Sugababes deliver a heaven-sent rendition of Sweet Female Attitude’s Flowers. Less strong are some other banner names. Emeli Sandé is too polite for MJ Cole’s Crazy Love, Paloma Faith flattens the subtleties of Artful Dodger’s Moving Too Fast, and Zak Abel’s Gotta Get Through This feels like freshers’ week karaoke.
But you forgive any wobbles when patron saint of crossover UK garage Craig David appears in white for pitch-perfect renditions of Re-Rewind and Fill Me In that you could barely hear over the roar of the crowd. Who cares if it’s nostalgia when it’s this much fun?