It’s an understandably unusual concept to get your head around; pulling together some of the 80s’ and 90s’ biggest clubland hits, played by a classically-trained orchestra.
As Haçienda Classical prepares to open the summer season at Scarborough Open Air Theatre, one of the show’s co-founders, and one of the Manchester music scene’s biggest names, Peter Hook says music lovers are in for a treat.
And even he admits, he wasn’t sure at the start: “I was very sceptical about the whole idea, but I’m delighted to be proven so wrong now we’re a few years down the line. The idea of putting an orchestra with Graeme Park’s mix, I just couldn’t see it working at all.”
Haçienda Classical launched in 2016 and has since played more than 40 shows across the UK and internationally, with audiences well in excess of 300,000 stepping back in time to the heyday of dance music.
The critically-acclaimed show has played major global festivals, including Glastonbury and Isle of Wight, and the Royal Albert Hall, and now headlines at Scarborough OAT on Saturday, June 8.
The show, their fourth new set list so far on the Haçienda Classical journey, promises to be a another special night of the very best club classics and anthems, curated by legendary DJ Graeme Park, executive producer Peter –founding member of both Joy Division and New Order – together with musical director Tim Crooks.
But picking out a set from the era of acid house and the Haçienda’s heyday is not an easy task.
“These songs are timeless now and run all through our lives,” Peter explains. “Everybody loves them and has used them at important times in their lives. A lot of them are one-hit wonders, so people haven’t seen them performed, but audiences love to see what we create with them and that makes the night electric.
“As a musician, the show’s packed with great songs and great song writing. Some of the groups from the era did a lot, others literally one or two tracks and then disappeared. But it’s still great music no matter how many tracks they did or didn’t release. They might have been club tracks, but they’ve spread into all our lives and you hear them at weddings, Christenings, even funerals.
“The show changes every time. This is our fourth set and it really is a greatest hits session; figuring what to leave out was the tough thing this time.”
Past inclusions have been A Guy Called Gerald’s Voodoo Ray, Rhythm Is Rhythm’s Strings Of Life and Happy Monday’s Hallelujah – as well as the soulful anthem U Got The Love and the iconic Ride On Time from Black Box, with some of these likely to return in Scarborough.
And, of course, Peter’s own major contribution to the scene, Blue Monday, will be there: “Every year as we plan the set list, I ask Graeme to leave it out, but he doesn’t let me.
“It’s great fun creating the show though. I love hearing some real full on acid house, with some really squelchy beats and then coming back to hear how an orchestra meets that challenge.”
Haçienda Classical is a show which has something for everyone and appeals across the generations. Some of the original Manchester clubbers are now grandparents, introducing their grandchildren to a bygone way of life. And then there are the classical fans, intrigued as to how it works.
Peter explains: “There’s a lot of nostalgia for the Haçienda, you have to put it in context and remember it was a place that was very important to music and culture in England in that era of acid house.
“I thought the Haçienda Classical shows would be middle-aged old duffers like me, remembering the good old days, but it’s had huge crossover appeal.
“It is a different world for the classically-trained orchestra musicians, but what’s funny is the times they have snuck up to me and said ‘I used to go to the Haçienda and get on one’, you’d be amazed.”
Since Haçienda Classical burst on to the scene, a raft of similar nights have launched.
But what sets Haçienda Classical aside from its imitators though is the full-on approach to the event.
Audiences can expect a total assault on the senses: Almost two hours of non-stop banging house music, a full roster of classical musicians on stage – plus a gospel choir, lights and effects plus the promise of special guests at each show.
“We draw on how clubbing was in ’81 and try to emulate parts of that crazy vibe and having 70 musicians playing your favourite tune is inspiring,” Peter said.
“Graeme really is a master of the mix. He sets up a backing track of 25 to 28 songs, into which he then mixes things; it’s never the same and he does it each time live. Our singers ad lib with it too, while – of course – the orchestra has a score to follow.
“With all these elements, sometimes it’s heavenly, sometimes it’s just great, but it’s always on the edge with a feeling that something might go wrong or it might go very right in a way you might not have expected.
“The great thing about Graeme is he reads the crowd. If they need picking up he will get them going, other times he will just play with them. What he does it the icing on top of the cake.
“People love the performance, power and presentation. This is a way of us oldies reliving our past, getting on one, and getting back that spirit and passion and enthusiasm, while the kids are safe at home with a babysitter.”
So why should people head to Scarborough Open Air Theatre on Saturday, June 8?
For Peter, it’s simple: “We do a great show. It’s spectacular to watch the musicians perform these tracks, Graeme keeps up that club atmosphere for the whole show, it never lets up as it’s in the mix, so by the end everyone’s exhausted.
“It’s so much more intense than a traditional concert. We’ve taken the same Hacienda ethos and recreate it in a new place each time. Then there’s the guests, people like Bez, who appear, they keep it fresh too.”
Ahh, Bez… It’s impossible to think of the Hacienda or ‘Madchester’ scenes without images of the maraca-wielding dancer springing to mind.
“Yes, Bez is actually booked for the shows, he doesn’t just turn up – as you might imagine,” Peter laughs. “He is a cultural icon, which is what we all want to be, isn’t it? He is a survivor, a clubber, a legend, and a lovely bloke – one of nature’s true gentlemen.
“He is the ring master to the Hacienda’s circus. It wouldn’t be the same without him.”
And how are they feeling about the trip across the Pennines to the Yorkshire coast?
“Heading to Scarborough will be a pleasure,” Peter said. “I’ve done club nights there and it’s been brilliant, so there’s a great attitude for this music.
“And it’s changed my image of Scarborough too – I’ll admit, I thought it was just another northern town but when I got there I realised I was totally wrong, it’s a beautiful place, especially with the Open Air Theatre.
“The club nights were absolutely rocking, so these people should really come along to Haçienda Classical.”