Sun Ra Arkestra at Gorilla Review

By Ben Brown | 31 March 2015

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I am probably the least qualified person to review Sun Ra Arkestra to be honest. Not only is my writing atrocious but I absolutely despise Jazz. Hate it. In fact I hate it so much that I would rather sit and watch Loose Women while eating a shit sandwich. But my mate heard that Sun Ra were a bit ‘different’ and pretty good, so with a little arm-twisting I agreed to go along.


When I think of Jazz I struggle to understand how people love it so much. I’ve been to Matt & Phreds a few times and Jazz just seems to me to be like that proper annoying kid at school who would come round to your house for tea and then completely outstay his welcome. You’d start off playing on the Mega Drive for a bit, then do some suplexes off the bed, and then go down for some chicken nuggets and chips. But once you’ve had your tea and had a choc ice – he just wouldn’t go home. You’d have to pretend to have a bath, or fall asleep while he pisses about your POGs just so he will have to go back home. That’s Jazz for me – it’s alright to begin with, but after 30 minutes it all just sounds the same. Then they decide to go on for 3 hours, all the while I’m  bored off my face too scared to get up and leave in case the gang of beret-wearing, middle-class twats tut the shit out of me for being un-cultured.

Looking into the background of Sun Ra Arkestra feels like doing some research for a Louis Theroux documentary. The original fella, Sun Ra was born in 1914 in Alabama and went on to become one of the most respected Jazz composers in the 20th Century. He was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979, which, in my humble opinion, he definitely should have turned down. He should not have accepted this accolade because he wasn’t actually born in Alabama – no, he was born on Saturn and was part of an ‘Angel Race’. Considering the ‘Angel Race’ have conquered intergalactic travel, as well as presumably the ability to live on a planet made almost entirely of gas – they have most likely mastered Jazz and so this clearly put him at a bit of an advantage over us humans. Following his death in 1993, there have been a couple of people front the band, with Marshall Allen now taking the mantle as the ‘Gary Barlow’ of the team. They continue to spread the music of Sun Ra, and on this particular Sunday – they were going to spread the shit out of it in Gorilla.

It was a seated gig, which I’ve never seen at Gorilla before but it gave me and my mate the perfect platform from which to slag the whole audience off by how they looked. There was one bloke who looked like a Chucky doll, John Hurt was stood at the back, and there was even an appearance from the Walrus from Woody Woodpecker in a beret, stroking his chin and moustache.

It was an eclectic lot, but it was pretty much what I was expecting. When Sun Ra started up they came to live and seemingly absolutely loved it. All throughout the performance we heard plenty of Whoops! and Huzzahs!, and at one point it sounded like someone was turning into a werewolf at the back. There was even a fella who loved it so much he was dancing at the front on his own – he must either have been the Angel Race reincarnation of Sun Ra himself, or absolutely twatted. My favourite of the evening though was the fella at the bar who waited about an hour for absolute silence between songs, to loudly say “shit”.

So what about Sun Ra and their performance? There were around 11 people on stage and it was instantly clear that they were all mega talented when it came to instruments and how to use them. I reckon they could probably become brilliant at a new instrument in the time it would take me to work out how to shuffle an album on iTunes. The sheer number of instruments they used was phenomenal – there were bongos, saxophones, trumpets, keyboards, a cello, a baritone sax, a bag of chestnuts, and at one point someone pulled out a couple of frozen hotdogs and started banging them together. It did sound good though. By this point the main fella, Marshall Allen, was orchestrating the whole thing, which is impressive for a 91 year old geezer. While most people his age are sucking a Werthers Original in a nappy, he was effortlessly leading the whole Arkestra, popping up every now and again with his Photocopier toner which sounded like a robot dolphin shagging a TARDIS (and I now know is an EWI). The whole 2 hour set included loads of stuff; ridiculous glitter outfits, bee-boppin, audience participation, loads of gurning and quite possibly the strangest space songs I’ve ever heard. But if you like Jazz, then give Sun Ra a try next time they’re in town – they’re pretty weird but it’s definitely most entertaining Jazz I’ve ever watched.