The driving force behind the Edinburgh-based band is the acute artistic vision of Joe Acheson, a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, composer, music producer, sound designer and producer/presenter of radio documentaries for stations including BBC Radio 3 and 1Xtra.
Built on contrasts – experimental without losing accessibility, electronic and acoustic, complex and simple, dark and energetic whilst intricate and calm – there is a sense of journey and progression, and, in Acheson’s words, “the brooding reflections of a solitary walk through the still, restless night”.
Formerly known as the Joe Acheson Quartet, Hidden Orchestra have long been championed by BBC Radio 1’s Introducing in Scotland and other shows including BBC Scotland’s Jazz House, and they enjoy an enviable reputation for their stunning live gigs. Acheson secured funding from the Scottish Arts Council to facilitate the recording of “Night Walks”, allowing him to explore the almost boundless potential of his ideas to the full. There are dozens of layers in every track – usually around six different drum kits in each tune – and some use more than 100 channels of audio. Other innovative and intricate processes he used include sampling improvising musicians, and having them multi-track large orchestras part by part from his musical scores. Strong classical and sacred choral influences (Debussy, Bach, Stravinsky, William Byrd, Arvo Part, plainsong) meld with reference points from John Martyn and Radiohead through to Madlib, Godspeed, Xploding Plastix and Squarepusher; and field recordings, such as rain in the opener, “Antiphon”, and birdsong chopped into the beats of the closing track, “Undergrowth”.
Hidden Orchestra have a very eclectic fanbase, which could be born from the fact that the emphasis is on being experimental and accessible at the same time, creating music based on feeling and energy, rather than image or fashion. Such is their cross-genre appeal that in 2008 the band won the guitar/indie/rock band-dominated T-Break competition to play at T in the Park, while simultaneously being listed by Radio Scotland in the A-Z of the greatest Scottish jazz artists of all time. In addition to their own headline gigs, Hidden Orchestra have been the Edinburgh support of choice for acts including Aim, Bonobo, Gilles Peterson, Jaga Jazzist, The Bays, Aaron Jerome (…and, ahem, Coolio). And while the recorded music is remarkable, in the live arena the Hidden Orchestra sound really comes into its own in a compelling show. Alongside Acheson, the other core band members are pianist Poppy Ackroyd and drummers Tim Lane and Jamie Graham. (Ackroyd and Lane are also classically trained, and Graham has been performing professionally as a drummer since he was 13.) The band play with two drum kits on stage – not for the gimmick, but because their input is needed to play all the layers of beats in Acheson’s studio production. (“If anything, we could actually use another one or two” – Acheson) The drummers are often used as the “frontman”, set up next to each other at the front of the stage, as they always provide a great spectacle.