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live at glastonbury review
(by david landgren)
april 12 1997

a live recording of a guy playing around with a stack of synthesizers and samplers. why would anyone want to do that? because you can. and when the person in question is the very talented toby marks, a.k.a. banco de gaia, and the gig is at the fabled glastonbury festival in england, the result is very much a success.

far from being a matter of simply pressing the "play" button and then standing back, marks takes the hands-on approach, mixing and blending the original samples from the studio sessions with various flotsam and jetsam he has reeled in from the greater world over the past couple of years, for a new interpretation of the material. a close parallel can be drawn with the orb's 93 evil double album - although a single cd is less self-indulgent and just the right length.

the album kicks off with last train to lhasa, the title track to toby marks' last studio album. the intro lasts for about four minutes, with samples of various bits and pieces, new ones and old, lulling you with the signature puffing steam train. by the time the beat really kicks in, (note the clever effect of smatterings of percussion to heighten the anticipation), and it's a feeling of "hey! it's good to be back".

the album continues much along these lines. if you know banco de gaia's material (notably, maya and last train to lhasa), then it's like visiting old friends. the liner notes like to underline the fact that the recording isn't an exercise in technical perfection, but more of a document of "being there". indeed the performance was regarded as the finest set at the glastonbury festival in summer '95. and as it turns out, the technical quality is very high, and the only minor annoyance is the end of the set, when marks leaves the stage and the audience applaud... and applaud... and applaud.

mafich arabi, from maya gets a look in, with a similar feel to the album sound, as do amber, white paint and kincajou; all from last train. to someone who hasn't heard any of this, i'd classify banco de gaia as being the orb with a little more warmth; a more danceable version of future sound of london (certainly after their recent loss of direction) and less techno than orbital. transglobal underground probably comes the closest in vibe. and vibe is what it is all about.

a high point is heliopolis, where shimmering keyboards are accompanied by flautist joe marshall, a smart counterpoint to the song's solid dance backbone. yet again, a track where marks unearths different elements present in the original score that had previously been hidden. this, as much as anything, makes the album a valuable document for all banco de gaia fans.

the most exceptional moment would have to be the rendering of 887, a moody track from last train that loses none of its melancholy in its translation from record (the original sound bites are still there: the school children crying out, the dog barking, the voices, and so i wonder...did they ever find out "what it was the potato lacked, in order to survive in outer space"?) this was really a strong song on the album, and the intensity is stronger live. too bad, therefore, that a vocal sample on the track had to be surgically removed for copyright reasons.

about the only flat spot on the album is the closing track data inadequate, a very early piece. much more interesting early work, such as soufie or desert wind from the ambient dub compilations from beyond records would have been perfect. i think the crowd would have liked it too.

there is a corporate page (with a good response time) for banco de gaia on the web at http://www.onsolete.com/banco/ although it doesn't look as if much has been added recently, since the site is moving to http://www.banco.co.uk/ sometime in the future.

all in all, a very interesting album, and i'm happy with it. let's hope toby marks is hard at work cooking up some more rhythms for us. and if he plays live near you, it sounds like an event not to be missed.


reproduced without permission. to be used for private and research use only. original article is here.

copyright 1999-2002 gavin stok. all rights reserved