Hay-fever and a cold combined did not put me in the ideal state of mind to enjoy a concert, but it says much for Symbiosis that I left Rudolph Steiner House feeling a great deal better than I did when I arrived. Their performance has a relaxed professionalism and a variety that so many New Age concerts lack – no doubt due to the fact that Symbiosis extend their musical range far beyond what is usually understood by the term “New Age”. Jazz standards rub shoulders with Hendrix songs and the group’s original compositions – of which Dreamtime and Crossing the Silver Sea from their new album Touching the Clouds were particularly evocative.
Between them, the four members of Symbiosis play electric, acoustic and Spanish guitars, flutes (including ethnic flutes), cittern, mandolin, African pot – and other percussion, wind synthesizer, keyboards and voice, and all are exploited to the full to give colour and variety to the music. Nor are they afraid of rhythm, moving easily from the tranquil Wrapped in Evening Mists to the Latin American rhythms of Layers of Shade, and ending with a kind of eastern funk (entitled Sesamum Seed and Rice) which had the audience shouting for more – and this after two hours of music! How many New Age groups can you think of which can sustain an audience’s interest and enthusiasm for even half that time?
Symbiosis are calming, uplifting and exhilarating by turns and, above all, musical: John Hackett is a classically trained flautist; Richard Bolton (guitars) is also classically trained (on cello!) and Ashley Drees is an accomplished folk musician, playing cittern, mandolin and percussion. Clive Williamson, the group’s leader, is aptly summed up in the words of the Todd Rundgren song that he sang superbly: “I was born to synthesize”. Somehow he takes all this diversity and weaves it all together.
On this occasion, extra colour was added – both musically and visually – by the striking figure of Maloviere, performing a short set of his own on recorders, violin and tsimbala to great effect, and joining the group on violin for the finale. Spread the word; and see them if you can. Symbiosis are exceptional.