Lost and Found Orchestra

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Time Out meets the people who are good at turning hobbies into jobs and junk into music

  • Fifteen minutes’ drive west of Brighton, at the far end of an anonymous industrial estate, strange things are happening. Inside a large unit, around 30 musicians are limbering up for a rehearsal on the most unusual of instruments. And high above on a scaffolding platform, behind an organ comprised of giant bellows and drainpipes, one of them is pouring varying sizes of gravel down ‘conks’ (plastic rubbish chutes that builders use) to find the most pleasing effect. Welcome to the home of the Lost and Found Orchestra.

    The room is like a cross between a building site and a fame academy. Everywhere there are curiously adapted bits of piping, traffic cones, plastic oil drums, even shopping trolleys. And the musicians seem equally diverse and unconventional, looking more like ‘Mad Max’ extras than orchestral players.


    Among this tough looking crew, there is a bearded guy, who plays drums with The Who, standing behind the timpani (I mean huge metal catering vats covered with drum skins) and an energetic chap with a mohican who, in between throwing an American football around, is beating the hell out a large blue drum (or is it a plastic export container?). And in their midst is the commanding presence of Luke Cresswell, a serious, lantern-jawed fortysomething and co-founder of the LFO, as the orchestra is known.

    The other LFO mastermind is the affable, fiftysomething Yorkshireman Steve McNicholas. Having co-written the show, he is a non-performer and sits behind a desk observing proceedings. ‘He likes to shout,’ he says of Cresswell, ‘so I leave the directing to him.’

    The pair are also the co-founders of the highly successful rhythm and dance show ‘Stomp’. McNicholas, a singer and guitarist, met the Brightonian Cresswell in 1981. The latter was a drummer in a punk band. Ten years later they created the show for the Edinburgh Festival. Now there are five ‘Stomp’s running concurrently, from Egypt to Las Vegas, not forgetting London (at the Ambassadors Theatre). Ever adventurous, the pair took an idea for ‘Stomp’  and grew it into a separate larger-scale project and the Lost and Found Orchestra was born in 2006. Now, having played Brighton Festival and sold out Sydney Opera House, the show reaches the Royal Festival Hall for 30-date run.

    ‘Stomp is a piece of theatre created by musicians,’ explains the more talkative McNicholas, ‘whereas Lost and Found is more of a concert that strays into theatrical territory.’ And their musical influences? ‘We’re philistines, really,’ he continues. ‘although I remember I had Stravinsky, Carl Orff and Morricone periods.’ And Cresswell? ‘I grew up with punk and jazz – playing drums in bands, and in the evening my dad taking me to Ronnie Scott’s to see Dizzy Gillespie.’

    No longer involved in the day-to-day running of ‘Stomp’, the pair have been busy making their IMAX film ‘Wild Ocean’. They filmed it in South Africa, and have won an industry award for the score – though they modestly fail to mention it, merely brushing aside such accolades with: ‘We are just good at turning our hobbies into jobs.’

    A still-fit-looking former Stomper, Cresswell leads a guided tour of the instruments, springing up the steps to one of the platforms to demonstrate the drainpipe-and-bellows organ, the notes selected by turning levers to open valves. He breaks into a broad smile as he operates the contraption, clearly tickled by his own invention. ‘You have to have a sense of humour when you are dealing with something like this,’ he laughs, shaking his head at the ludicrous possibilities.

    It’s true, one can’t help but smile, gazing around at this Heath Robinson array of orchestral instruments, all knocked together in the workshop next door. There is even a bicycle, half suspended from the scaffolding, playing cards in its spokes no doubt producing a pleasing noise.

    Of course, fun as the instruments appear, the heart of this show is the music that they produce. With everyone in place (notably minus a singer and 40-part Voicelab choir) the rehearsal begins with Cresswell leading his drummers in ‘Tea Towels’, in which knotted cloths are employed to beat large, upturned plastic containers. Then by shaking water-cooler containers filled with gravel a sassy rhythm is established. This gently hypnotic atmosphere is suddenly shattered, however, as the oil drums explode into life, setting up an irresistible head-banging beat.

    Just when the fever becomes unbearable, the horns enter (‘plumpets’ – traffic cones fitted to plastic piping), overlaying a sonorous, brass-like pulse. Then as the drums reduce, the marimba (metal plates over plastic litre bottles) colours the music in mellow textures.

    The whole room is now alive in a kaleidoscope of sound colours and movement. A section of bowed saws introduces a rich and strange melodic soundscape, backed up with high-pitch howling courtesy of whirling rubber hoses. By the time the shopping trolleys arrive, filled with plastic barrels skewered with plastic vibrating curtain rods, nothing seems unusual any more.

    At last, the piece comes to close and the performers applaud each other. Cresswell’s face, however, is once again fixed in frownful contemplation. ‘Don’t worry,’ says McNicholas with a wink. ‘It will be all right on the day. It just needs a little sound balancing.’

    Really? Sounds pretty good to me.

    The Lost And Found Orchestra’s show runs at the Royal Festival Hall Dec 19-Jan 11.

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