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London Astrobeat Orchestra From West Africa to Abbey Road

This unique collaboration of musicians return for a series of shows commemorating the anniversary of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album.

This unique collaboration of musicians, led by frontman Edd Bateman, are returning this year for a series of shows commemorating the anniversary of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album.

The London Astrobeat Orchestra perform Afrobeat arrangements of songs that you are bound to find familiar – but there is nothing predictable about their interpretations of popular music. The group have become renowned for their energetic and uplifting performances since first demanding our attention back in 2017 with their West African tribute to the Talking Heads. Described as ‘complete dance music’ it is near impossible to listen and not feel the urge to groove along with them. Now the crew are back and better than ever with their original celebration of 50 years of Abbey Road and it is apparent that the Beatles twisted with African beats is nothing short of a genius combination.

We caught up with leader and long-time Afrobeat pioneer Edd Bateman to talk all things Abbey Road and the real origins of the London Astrobeat Orchestra.

For people who aren’t aware, how would your describe yourself as a group?

Our main focus is energy. There are five of us in the band, and each member has been specifically chosen because of their skill and energy. We are all performers and very much involved in what we’re doing, which is versions of popular music over the backdrop of Marley and a sort of Senegalese sound. Complete dance music. It’s all about having those heavy beats and kick drums. It’s all about making people dance, which is inherent in African music. It’s music you can dance to. With the tour, it will basically be full-on dancing. You’ll hear popular songs, with a possibly new sound.

You have a series of shows coming up throughout the country that will be celebrating 50 years of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album. How did this concept first emerge?

In July of last year, we had a series of what you’d call successful gigs, in which we performed covers of a Talking Heads album. We had such an amazing turnout for this fairly new idea. The idea of a West African tribute band.Whenever people first heard the idea, because we were quite a new thing – that there was a West African Talking Heads show that was touring – people just instantly responded with ‘Oh, that makes sense!’ Everywhere we went, audiences just responded in such a great way, in numbers that were more than we’d get if it was just a West African band. Putting together this genre with pop music really brought us a lot of interest, so we decided to use this concept to create an appropriate and hopefully popular celebration of Abbey Road.

What can people to expect to see from you on this tour?

With the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road this September, there will be quite a lot of celebrations happening with many acts paying homage. We thought about what we’re doing and what we could bring to this celebration. We knew that we could make those steel sounds and tracks that have a lot in them, harmonically, melodically and rhythmically. There is so much for us to work with from the original recordings of the album. To incorporate with what we’re used to doing, which is obviously West African dance music. We’re putting the original material together with our groovy sound.

Some people may consider this mix unusual. In what ways do the Beatles and West African dance music work together?

It’s interesting to consider the whole influence of the Beatles and how this fits in with West African music. When they were young boys, there wasn’t a lot of pop bands in Britain at the time. They were some of the first. Their inspirations came from America, you know, Elvis and Chuck Berry. Rock and roll bands. These bands originally came to be because of the blues from the southern states. Elvis’ first track, ‘That’s Alright Mamma’, was a cover of a track that had been done a few years before by an African-American singer. So, rock and roll came directly from the blues, which itself has very strong West African roots. Bob Marley in particular. If you look at Marley and music today you can see the blues in there. So, tracing that lineage back through to the Beatles undoubtedly, unconsciously or consciously – in fact the pop industry as a whole – goes back to Marley and West African music. This isn’t an obvious link for most people, unless you know these specifics in history. But it’s there. With so many tributes celebrating Abbey Road that are possibly more mainstream, our strong point is to have the skills to take it back to its roots.

Your skills are very much rooted in West African music. What’s the origin of this influence?

I grew up in Devon, but was touring with West African bands since I was about 14. So I’ve been on that scene for basically my whole life. I also had an originals band that was called Edd Bateman’s West African Love Affair that toured doing that style of music.

When did the London Astrobeat Orchestra first come together?

Following on from the originals band, I formed LAO that covers and connects with people more prominently through popular music. Bringing the Talking Heads element to the London Astrobeat Orchestra took it to a whole other level. We were looking for something new to bring to people, that people hadn’t seen before and it all went from there.

In the last couple of years, this new way of reinventing old stuff has become quite popular. Tribute bands always do quite well, especially if the acts that they’re paying tribute to are still popular. There are certain venues that have a lot of tribute bands and certain ones that don’t, mainly because it’s a different audience that you get for tributes or world music.

There’s not a crossover really. But particularly in the last few years, there’s been an interest in reinventing tracks and putting a completely different spin on it. Which then connects it to a different kind of audience. There are influences from popular records that people recognise and it becomes more enjoyable. Following on that wave, the link between West African music and the Talking Heads or pop music in general seemed like a very obvious choice. We formed and it was incredible. We did five nights at the Jazz Cafe and four of them were sold out.

What an amazing way to hit the ground running…

Those were our first ever shows, it was amazing. When the tickets went on sale I was on my way to Gatwick heading off to Brazil for a couple of months. The Jazz Cafe called me at 3pm and said, “The tickets have been on sale since 10am and they’ve sold out!” They then asked if we could do four additional dates – of course we said definitely. Working with them has been great too, because its a great place to be seen and such a well-respected venue. When people started seeing us there, even before we’d done our Talking Heads tour people just saw what was about to happen. I was getting calls from cities all over the country asking for us to take the show to them.

Are you working on any more solo projects at the moment or is the focus on the Abbey Road tour?

My solo projects have kind of been sidelined, because what we’ve been doing with the London Astrobeat Orchestra has taken off massively. We’ve just come back from nine days in Ireland doing a bunch of shows. We’ll be back there again at the end of October. So no current solo plans, I’m just pretty busy at the moment.

Do you have anything else planned for after your Abbey Road shows?

So we are touring over the autumn, and then next year we are planning to do plenty of festivals, so look out for those. The plan is also to do some Talking Heads shows next year, because of its popularity. Later next year, we will be focusing on taking the London Astrobeat sound and developing our own original material that fits into that. At the moment, though, our focus is fully on the upcoming Abbey Road shows.

Learn more

Catch the London Astrobeat Orchestra at Band on the Wall in Manchester on 19 September.

Next article in issue 66

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