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The Orb

+ {F.F.W.D.}

Essential in enlightening the mind as well as the body-popping exercises induced to their chilled-out followers, ambient/house/dub combo The ORB (founded in 1988) were inspired by TANGERINE DREAM, BRIAN ENO, STEVE HILLAGE and LEE “SCRATCH” PERRY; main man Dr. Alex Paterson would subsequently work with the latter two acts; he’d previously worked as an A&R bod for ambient label EG (then home to ENO). Along with the likes of PRIMAL SCREAM (of whom Bobby Gillespie was a fan and shelved contributor), The ORB helped define an era, bringing overt psychedelia back into the pop charts and updating the genre for the 90s.
The thought process of Battersea-born Paterson (a remix DJ supremo and former roadie with KILLING JOKE) and Jimmy Cauty (of KLF fame and ex-KILLING JOKE offshoot BRILLIANT), The ORB first emerged in February ’89, when the pair contributed a “live” mix of `Tripping On Sunshine’ to a V/A compilation set, Eternity Project One. Although not an official release (just a promo), the “Kiss” EP utilized samples from New York’s Kiss FM on its main lead track, `Kiss Your Love’. Released that May on the independent WAU! Mr. Modo label, a joint venture based in Sheffield and run by Paterson and ex-KILLING JOKE buddy/bassist Youth (aka Martin Glover), it was also around this time the multi-talented Paterson was doing a spot of DJ-ing in the chill-out room of PAUL OAKENFOLD’s Land of Oz club. This is where, in a well documented incident, he met STEVE HILLAGE (ex-GONG). The two struck up an immediate friendship (Steve no doubt impressed by the fact that DJ Alex had been spinning one of his old tracks at the time), and a series of mutual collaborations ensued.
Meanwhile, The ORB carved out a place in the cobwebbed corners of music history by making what was arguably the first ever ambient dance track, entitled, pause for breath… `A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld’. The psych/prog-rock influence was glaringly obvious, not only in the overblown title, but in the slowly shifting rhythms and tripped-out dub effects. The ORB’s heavy use of samples continued, this time running into trouble with MINNIE RIPERTON’s `Loving You’.
Come 1990, the pair found themselves in the enviable position of being in-demand DJs and, amid their growing reputation, re-released a Big Life-endorsed re-mix of their previous outing and another single, the celestial `Little Fluffy Clouds’. This time penned by Paterson and Youth (the departing Cauty hoped The ORB to be a KLF Communications label off-shoot), the single saw the revised duo run into sample trauma again, not with minimalist STEVE REICH for his “Electric Counterpoint III: Fast”, but with RICKIE LEE JONES. She was reportedly none too happy that her, frankly, “out-of-it” sounding interview tapes were used on the groovy minor hit 45. During the sessions for the single, Paterson met a young engineer from FORTRAN 5, Thrash (aka Kris Weston), who would go on to become a fully-fledged ORB member by late ‘91.
The much-anticipated debut album, THE ORB’S ADVENTURES BEYOND THE ULTRAWORLD {*9} – released in spring 1991 – was a sprawling Top 30 double-set of blissed-out almost-beats and shimmering ambience. It was also a catalyst for the burgeoning ambient scene that would spawn the likes of Mixmaster Morris and The APHEX TWIN. The music spilling out of chill-out rooms across the country into fully paid-up ambient club nights, the previous two singles were extended or edited to great effect. Space broadcasts and references all over the shop, `Back Side Of The Moon’ was in reference to the PINK FLOYD set, while GONG’s Hillage and Miquette Giraudy were on board, along with German engineer Thomas Fehlmann, Andy Falconer and Trevor Horn. This only scratched the surface; `Perpetual Dawn’ – the disc 2 opener – hit the Top 75.
In June ‘92, The ORB stormed into the Top 10 with the `Blue Room’ single. At a record-breaking 39 minutes long and featuring JAH WOBBLE among usual suspects, it wasn’t exactly radio-friendly, although the group “performed” an excerpt on Top Of The Pops, sitting nonchalantly playing chess. Their popularity saw the subsequent album, U.F.ORB (1992) {*8}, go straight in at No.1, its flowing soundscapes on the likes of `O.O.B.E.’ and `Close Encounters’, awash with the ambience of “rain forests on Saturn”. Fast-forward a few months and the exclusive `Assassin’ single was at No.12, while a Top 10 re-mix of `Little Fluffy Clouds’ ended their tenure at Big Life.
Following a dispute with Youth, Alex Paterson subsequently signed with Island Records, fighting a protracted battle for The ORB name which he eventually won. His first release for the label was a concert double-CD, imaginatively titled LIVE 93 {*7}, and culled from the legendary ORB stage show at various locations around the globe.
Around the same time as working with guitarist ROBERT FRIPP, Fehlmann and Weston on the Top 50 F.F.W.D. side-project album (here as “Doctor”), a collaboration with the said German techno boffin Fehlmann resulted in the harder sounding POMME FRITZ (1994) {*6}, which served up such wonderfully culinary-titled platters as `More Gills Less Fishcakes’, `We’re Pastie To Be Grill You’ and `Bang ‘Er ‘N Chips’.
Fully installed into the fold when Weston opted out, Fehlmann complemented Paterson on a further two Top 20 sets, 1995’s ORBUS TERRARUM {*6} and 1997’s ORBLIVION {*7}. Both ploughing similarly obscure furrows and dividing critical opinion, the first of the pair highlighted the classical/climactic “Far From The Maddening Crowd” appeal of the Top 40 entry, `Oxbow Lakes’, while the second drew power from big light-sabers `Toxygene’ (a Top 5 breaker) and `Asylum’.
The ORB saw a welcome return to their usual spacy laid-back cosmic meanderings via the 2001 release CYDONIA {*5}, named so after a division of Mars which astronauts believed was once inhabited by civilisation, mmm… The only real difference between this record and his previous effort from ’97, was the fact that Paterson recruited two female vocalists: Azi Omori and Nina Walsh. The former took the vocal duties on opener (and Top 40 single) `Once More’, while the latter crooned over the spacy lullaby `Plum Island’. Cut on the run up to the millennium, the album was once again peppered with Paterson’s weirdness and Fehlmann and newbie Andy Hughes’ floating, almost mainstream production.
Fehlmann was once again on board – alongside old partner in chime Jimmy Cauty – for BICYCLES & TRICYCLES (2004) {*5}, a disc on Cooking Vinyl that followed on from the Kompakt Records EPs, `Kompassion’ and `Komplott’ (released in ‘03/’04 respectively); two of whose best tracks – `Gee Strings’ and `Dilmun’ – were in fact recycled from those EPs. Critics generally welcomed Paterson and Co’s latest adventures in sound, which found him juggling with familiar dubscapes, randomly sourced vocals, exponential ambience and a rattling toolbox of beat options.
Subsequently signing to Kompakt full time, Paterson continued to work with label veteran Fehlmann on 2005’s part-compilation OKIE DOKIE IT’S THE ORB ON KOMPAKT {*7}, drawing together previous excursions for the imprint with original material; including a collaboration with SCHNEIDER TM: `Lunik TM’. Lighter and fancy-free by way of the breezy `Beatitude’ and `Cool Harbour’, their days of taking techno into the Top 10 might’ve been long gone, but Paterson still cooked with gas, albeit a tad gluon-y.
Released in Japan at first in August 2007, THE DREAM {*7} was given the green light in Britain the following January (June in the States). Fehlmann took a back seat on this occasion, while Martin Glover/Youth and Tim Bran (of DREADZONE) augmented throughout; HILLAGE played guitar on `The Truth Is…’, `Mother Nature’, `Codes’ and `High Noon’. Star of house music and former acid-jazz/soul mistress Juliet Roberts (ex-WORKING WEEK) shone on `A Beautiful Day’, while Aki Omori soared on the single `Vuja De’.
Marking The ORB’s first foray with KILLING JOKE’s affiliated Malicious Damage label, Paterson and Fehlmann launched their umpteenth set, BAGHDAD BATTERIES (ORBESSIONS VOLUME III) {*6} live at The-Situation Modern in nearby Clapham on 10 September 2009. A corresponding film and its re-mixes soundtrack was dispatched a few years later as the CD/DVD C BATTER C (2011) {*6}.
A match made in Heaven or even “The Back Side Of The Moon”, The ORB featuring DAVID GILMOUR produced what turned out to be the (Top 20) collaboration of the year in METALLIC SPHERES (2010) {*7}. The paradoxical Battersea Power Station connection had cropped up from time to time by the parodical Paterson and, bowing to the careful axeman from PINK FLOYD, The ORB had regenerated a Pandora’s Box of ambient dub prog. Split into two exhausting suites that “Echoed” both parties (Fehlmann absent on this occasion), the pairing roped in GRAHAM NASH’s `Chicago’ into the mix, although the trips were long, arduous but rewarding in the end.
On the other side of the spectrum, The ORB – i.e. Paterson and Fehlmann – threw the dice and came up with a fascinating ambient dub pairing with legendary singer/producer LEE “SCRATCH” PERRY for 2012’s THE ORBSERVER in the star house {*6}. Fans of both sonic groovers might recognise `Golden Clouds’ as a Berlin-cut re-working of “Little Fluffy Clouds”, and at over 76 years of age, PERRY brushed off any doubters with a rendition of JUNIOR MURVIN’s `Police & Thieves’. Episode two, MORE TALES FROM THE ORBSERVATORY (2013) {*6} matched its predecessor and gave rise and people-power to the former Upsetter.
Chilling out, absent of guest stars to rest away their limelight, The ORB duo went full circle with Kompakt reconciliation set, MOONBUILDING 2703 AD (2015) {*7}. Comprising four full-on adventures to the heady underworld (from the tongue-in-cheek `God’s Mirrorball’ to the funky free-flowing title track), Paterson and Fehlmann let the listener hitchhike to space time continuum and the Moon, plus all its many crevasses. Shame it didn’t stop off to take in passengers awaiting at the “Little Fluffy Clouds” terminal.
Ambient ambassadors from Beyond the Ultraworld (indeed they re-traced those “Adventures” for a 25th anniversary night at London’s Electric Brixton), The ORB consolidated their peace, love and minimalist motifs by way of 2016’s COW / CHILL OUT, WORLD! {*9}. In close musical proximity to TANGERINE DREAM, PHILIP GLASS and Brian’s brother ROGER ENO (the latter artist co-authored `9 Elms Over River Eno (Channel 9)’ among others), the record set its the building bricks on the reverberating `First, Consider The Lilies’ and `Wireless Mk 2’. Fans of the underrated BO HANSSON might recognise his stylings in `Siren 33 (Orphee Mirror)’, whilst the HILLAGE gliss and the ghostly DAVID BEDFORD orchestral sprawl were all over the first part of `Sex (Panoramic Sex Heal)’ and `7 Oaks’, respectively; the GODSPEED-vs-krautrock-vs-“Grantchester Meadows” were in full swing on `5th Dimensions’, `The 10 Sultans Of Rudyard (Moo Moo mix)’ and the uplifting `4 am Exhale (Chill Out World)’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD/MCS/BG // rev-up MCS Jun2015-Oct2016

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