What began as a late night brainwave by DJs Graeme Park and Mike Pickering, as they pondered how to keep former regulars at legendary Manchester nightclub the Hacienda happy in middle age, has certainly come a long way.
Now involving a 35-piece orchestra – the Manchester Camerata, conducted by Tim Crooks – a keyboard player, two percussionists, five singers from the AMC Gospel Choir plus a host of special guests, it’s an operation designed to command the attention of an arena audience who might not go clubbing any more but still hunger for the dance floor anthems of their youth in the 80s and 90s.
At the centre of it all remain Park and Pickering, mixing and scratching and keeping proceedings moving with an acuity born of three decades behind the turntables at some of the world’s best nightspots.
Wisely they’ve moved on from slow building set they performed last year at Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl and the Royal Albert Hall in London. At the First Direct Arena it’s bangers all the way, from Yvonne Shelton’s belting rendition of Do You Want It Right Now? to Chime, Pump Up Chicago and This Is Acid.
A besuited MC Tunes bounces across the stage, whipping up the audience, before singer Rae Hall lends considerable attack to I Need a Rhythm, The Weekend and Everybody’s Free (To Feel Good).
The inimitable Bez of the Happy Mondays casts some shapes in the way that only he can before a run of dance floor classics – that include It’s Alright, Everybody and Big Fun – that brings back memories of heady raves in cavernous, industrial spaces. The bass lines are deep, the strings are staccato and the brass adds more bite to songs that to tunes that were originally programmed on early analogue synthesisers, sequencers and 808 drum machines.
The choir gets to cut loose on Yeke Yeke and Peter Hook, once of Joy Division and New Order, makes a hugely popular cameo appearance with his low-slung bass guitar for Blue Monday.
Shelton’s spectacular voice brings a touch of gospel to Peace (In the Valley) and Ride On Time and the euphoria continues into the encore, with dance floor queen Rowetta taking centre stage for Where Love Lives and You Got The Love. During the former Bez takes a cheeky turn to conduct the orchestra while Crooks high fives the DJs at the back of the stage. Hook, the show’s executive producer and warm-up DJ, rejoins the party for its sing-along finale.
Nostalgic Hacienda Classical may be, but for two hours of sheer enjoyment for the head, heart and feet, this is a show that’s hard to beat.