It is a truth universally acknowledged that Cowboy Western film-scores define a generation’s cinematic experience – possibly. And, just as you ponder the significance of this – does one notice that niggling doubt as to whether the refrain now going round in your head actually is ‘The Magnificent Seven’ when it could, disconcertingly, easily be ‘The Big Country’?
And of course we all recognise that what defines the true mark of a cinematic auteur is their ability to listen to The William Tell Overture without thinking of ‘The Lone Ranger’. Furthermore, did you know that the two horse motifs (Argento & Scarto) on Maximus Gladiator’s breastplate were Silver & Trigger? (Pub Quiz gold, that!)
So, The Spaghetti Western Orchestra Australian posse rode into town tonight (in Rocky Horror Death mask white face-slap) to celebrate their rot-gut whisky pasta master homage to Ennio Morricone’s iconic film scores for Sergio Leone’s classics ‘A Fistful Of Dollars/The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’ and so many more.
Leone reinvented a Cowboy mythology construct where violence, though more graphic than its predecessors, eschewed the random and indiscriminate fin de siècle nihilism of Sam Peckinpah’s ‘What the hell!’ ‘Wild Bunch’ nemesis bloodbath. ‘The Man With No Name’ being more the morally ambiguous anti-hero bastard son of the doomed, rootless Shane wryly dispatching baddies to Boot Hill. As for Morricone: ‘…budget strictures limited (his) access to a full orchestra, he used gunshots, cracking whips, whistle, voices, guimbarde (jaw harp), trumpets, and the new Fender electric guitar. (He) used his special effects to punctuate and comically tweak the action—cluing in the audience to the taciturn man’s ironic stance.’*
The evening’s narrative followed their restless ‘sonic’ journey in search of the enigmatic ‘Bob Robertson…THAT’s Bob R-o-b-e-r-t-s-o-n! With grandiose bombast, melodramatic atmospherics and climactic instrumental/choral homages to themes indelibly desert-scorched into our collective cinematic subconscious, they cajoled and contrived all manner of ingenious interpretations that had the rib-tickled audience racking their memories to match a certain melody to a particular film’s dramatic moment.
Orchestral maneuvers for a lark it may have been and utterly entertaining it was, exploiting light and sound effects cowboy cliches with unashamed abandon. Nevertheless, their consummate sense of timing and musical craftsmanship never allowed it to become either parody or contrived.
All manner of make-do props, Heath Robinson gizmos, both musical and kitchen-sourced ie, a hand-pumped rubber-glove, together with dummy-board prompt sheets were exploited with nuanced mime, Pantomime and Music Hall kitsch jovial reference. The interlude of discordant ‘experimental’ instrumental wanderings segued into a drool cool double-bass lead attack than soon bared it’s true colours to become ‘JAZZ’! Pushing the boundaries of your remit there partners!
Two poignant pieces that will linger long in many a memory were the campfire harmonica lament that drew in the audience to augment the melody and, the haunting theme from ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ played with spell-binding empathy by Graeme Leak on the Theremin. And the elusive Bob Robertson? They never found him (well, in a way they did, it’s a Leone pseudonym) ‘Cuz he wuz already dead!’ A highly entertaining gig cobbers – the Poms were impressed!
Review – John Kennedy
Photos – John Bentley