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80s Classical album release ahead of Millennium Square shows

Ahead of our annual summer trip to Millennium Square, Leeds with chart and club stars of the last four decades, the Orchestra of Opera North is celebrating the release of 80s Classical Volume 1, a new album of its studio recordings of 80s hits with original artists.

On Friday 28 July, this year’s live instalment of 80s Classical will bring pop legends Nik Kershaw, Go West, Heaven 17, Nick Heyward and T’Pau’s Carol Decker together with the symphonic might of our 50-strong ensemble. Dance music from the 90s to the present gets a radical revamp from the Orchestra on Saturday 29 July with Club Classical Anthems, featuring Leeds’ own electronic pioneers Utah Saints, original Livin’ Joy singer Janice Robinson, twice UK number one vocalist Kelli-Leigh and singer-songwriter Karen Harding.

80s Classical made its debut in Millennium Square in 2019. Having brought superstars including Jimmy Somerville, Belinda Carlisle, Go West and Howard Jones together with the Orchestra of Opera North for upscaled new arrangements of their hits, the show’s fourth year is being marked with an album release on the legendary Cherry Red label. 80s Classical Volume One features Nik Kershaw, Carol Decker and Johnny Hates Jazz performing their best-loved songs with the might of the strings, brass, woodwind and percussion of the award-winning Orchestra behind them.

The duo behind both 80s Classical and Club Classical Anthems, arranger and conductor Cliff Masterson (Little Mix/Josh Groban/Tom Walker) and producer Steve Anderson (Kylie/Steps/Take That) also put together the recordings.

“Cliff’s arrangements are just fantastic for my songs”, says Carol Decker, who has returned by popular demand each year since her unforgettable performance at the first-ever concert. “It’s awe-inspiring to hear the Orchestra play them – the strings on China in Your Hand in particular. He’s also an inspiring conductor: everyone’s glued to him. They make life so easy for you, then you just slot in on the top like the cherry on the cake, and it’s a complete privilege! I love them all, and all the backing vocalists. It’s a real treat to perform with such an epic orchestra and a fantastic conductor and arranger. I feel very lucky”.

For Nik Kershaw, “Cliff’s arrangements bring a certain gravitas to the songs. It’s almost like they’ve been validated and are now officially pieces of music. He and Steve have turned them from tunes I bashed together in my kitchen to something one might listen to whilst wearing a bow tie.” Nik, who recently celebrated his 65th birthday, reworks perennial hits including Wouldn’t It Be Good, The Riddle, and I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me on the album, and at the gig.

“This will be my third time in Millennium Square with the fabulous Orchestra of Opera North. The last two were magical and I’m expecting the same again this time.  It’s great for a chancer like me to share the stage with some proper musicians”, he jokes.

“When I first played the songs I was deeply invested and close to them. I always felt I had something to prove and needed to sell them to an audience. Then they became part of other people’s lives and now it’s like, ‘Here, do you remember this?’”

Saturday night’s Club Classical Anthems promises yet more nostalgia, with the return of Janice Robinson, whose most iconic hit has been super-sized with sweeping strings, glistening brass and tuned percussion in one of 80s Classical’s most inspired treatments. “The way Cliff and Steve arranged Dreamer took my breath away”, says the US-born singer. “I am so excited to be returning to the stage with the amazing Opera North. The first time I performed it on Millennium Square truly was one of the most magical nights in my career, and this summer’s event is going to be epic. I can’t wait to give the audience more!”

For local heroes Utah Saints – Jez Willis and Tim Garbutt – “this is an amazing alignment of the stars for Leeds. It’s 2023: the Year of Culture, the 30th anniversary of the release of Utah Saints’ debut album – and a time when a lot of us need a lift.” Hyperactive, hook-packed early-90s singles like Something Good and What Can You Do For Me were taken into another dimension in their first encounter with the Orchestra on Millennium Square in 2018. “Last time was immense, this time will be off the scale!” promises Tim. “It’s a great honour to perform in our hometown with the awesome Orchestra of Opera North”.

Club culture of the past decade is represented by Kelli-Leigh, vocalist on two UK Number 1s – I Got U by Duke Dumont featuring Jax Jones, and I Wanna Feel by Secondcity – and Karen Harding, who followed X Factor and Eurovision appearances with the moody magnificence of her top ten hit Say Something.

“The chance to experience original artists performing expanded versions of their hits, backed by the scale, power and skill of the Orchestra of Opera North, really puts these two shows in a class of their own”, says Musical Director Steve Anderson. “It’s a joy for Cliff and me to work with these artists whose music has meant so much to us over the years – and to share that with a wider audience with the new album, and the concerts going from strength to strength. The nostalgic aspect of it is incredibly powerful and emotional, no doubt, but what both these shows are really about is great songs that have stood the test of time, given new life by these superb musicians”.

80s Classical Volume 1 is released on CD and digital platforms by Cherry Red Records on Friday 21 July, and is available for pre-order now. The live 80s Classical (Friday 28 July) and Club Classical Anthems (Saturday 29 July) concerts are part of the annual Millennium Square Summer Series organised by Leeds City Council.

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