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Live Review – The Orb’s UFOrb 30th Anniversary Show, Fox & Firkin, Lewisham High Street, London, 22/07/22

It’s all round to theirs for UFOrb’s 30th birthday bash

All of human life is here. And that’s just Lewisham High Street. In among the nail bars, chicken shops, takeaways and phone repair places sits The Fox And Firkin, whose seen-better-days pub frontage belies what awaits inside.

It’s a compact venue, the sort of intimate place familiar to anyone watching bands on their way up since the beginning of time. It is not the sort of place you’d expect to see The Orb, who could sell out Brixton Academy, a stone’s throw that way, several times over.

The Orb are making their post-Covid live return with four shows across three July weekends to mark the 30th anniversary of their classic ‘UFOrb’ album, which is played in full, from start to finish, for the first and last time. The dates kicked off in Manchester last weekend, next weekend sees a back-to-back shows in Bristol and Frome and sandwiched in the middle is this London outing.

This being an Orb presentation, a short trip from Alex Paterson’s West Norwood stomping ground, you’ll be in for more than you bargained for tonight. And that starts with the venue. Head towards the stage, hugging the left-hand wall, and a door at the very far end opens out onto an impressive outdoor space. Theres a full-size railway carriage out here, lots of comfy seating and an enormous canopy covering a bar/food area. Forget Narnia, this is your Ultraworld for the duration. And on a warm summer’s evening like this the entertainment starts out here.

So that’ll be Alex Paterson opening proceedings on the wheels of steel at a keen-as-mustard 4pm. By 5pm, he’s playing his first live set of the night as Chocolate Hills with Paul Conboy. DJs King Michael and Dadaist complete the radio show vibe and by 8pm the action moves indoors with the soundsystem getting a decent warm-up by OSS, Alex’s long-time collaboration with old friend and fellow Killing Joke roadie, Fil Le Gonidec.

At 9pm sharp, there’s a noticeable frisson about the place. Suddenly, like everyone just knew, the garden empties back through that small doorway into the main room. The gentle ebb and flow of ‘OOBE’ fills the suddenly packed room as Alex – in place for his fourth appearance of the night – and full-time Orb right-hand man Michael Rendall ready themselves.

While we’re all here for the start-to-finish UFOrb experience, the lengthy pulsations of ‘OOBE’, the album’s opening track, isn’t going to endear itself to a crowd eagerly awaiting lift off. So things get going pretty quickly and once the beat drops on the title track proceedings rarely let up. By the time the famous Jah Wobble bassline of ‘Blue Room’ lands the place utterly explodes. And it stays in a state of explosion right through the familiar bass rumble of ‘Towers Of Dub’, the frantic rhythms of ‘Close Encounters’ and the swirling melting pot of ‘Majestic’ until we all meet our gloopy ‘Sticky End’. 

The night has flown by, propelled by beats so familiar it’s hard to fathom how they’re 30 years old. But we’re not done yet. The “fluffy classics set” is wall-to-wall rip-roaring crowd-pleasers (mainly from Ultraworld), including ‘Perpetual Dawn’, ‘Star 6 & 7 8 9’, ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain’ and of course ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’, which tonight has added ‘God Only Knows’. It gets the wildest reception of all, the room lit up by mobile phone screens as almost everyone feels the need to capture it. One guy, in front of me, makes a video call home so his partner can watch along remotely. And anyone standing behind him gets to watch her lying on a sofa.

If, like sofa woman, you missed the fun fret not because Alex Paterson’s Orbscure label crew will be returning to this very watering hole on 24 Sept for the Psychedelic Orbscure Ambience Festival, which takes hold from 4pm until 5am. He managed four separate blockbusting appearances before 11pm tonight, imagine what he can do if he’s here until dawn.

Neil Mason