This much we know. Orbital (the name a nod towards the M25, the meeting point for many an illegal rave in the late ‘80s), were formed in 1989 by Paul Hartnoll and brother Phil and by the early ‘90s had become regular visitors to the charts, and the highpoint of summer festivals and all-night dance clubs alike. From their debut on Top Of The Pops, performing rave anthem ‘Chime’ and wearing ‘anti-poll tax’ t-shirts, it was clear this was rather more than just a couple of chancers lobbing tired samples over the usual thudding beats and by the time they called it a day fifteen years later they had amassed a very impressive back catalogue and a fearsome live reputation. So was there, Andy Basire wondered, a massive barney which led to the bands demise? After all we could all cheerfully shove our siblings up a chimney on occasion? Apparently not...
“Phil and I used to play well together when we were young but went our separate ways when secondary school kicked in for me, then we became good friends again when I left school at 16, which is where our shared musical odyssey really begun. We only had two or three arguments in 15 years which I think is a pretty good track record all things considered. People never asked us whether we got on or not until Oasis came along!”
So why stop?
“We called it a day because it just seemed like Orbital had run its course, it was like finishing a book, we enjoyed it very much but it was over and time to start something new.”
Growing up in Kent it’s easy to imagine, given the huge range of musical influences the band exhibited, that the Hartnoll’s were a very musical family, but such was not the case
"No, my parents liked music, we always had the radio on when I was little and they encouraged us to play instruments if we wanted. My dad being a builder picked up a piano or two along the way which was replaced by a great big home organ in the 80's (which nearly put me off drum machines until I discovered pressing the boss nova and rock buttons together and hay presto a disco backing track appeared with a very industrial auto bass line). I also played guitar from about 13
but not very well." (and in a band called Noddy and the Satellites but we’ll draw a discreet veil over that).
Having made the decision to go solo the search was on to find a new direction and despite the Orbital-esque early single ‘Patchwork Guilt’ the resultant album, The Ideal Condition, demonstrates Hartnoll’s love of composers like Michael Nyman, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, and Danny Elfman. Was this a conscious step away from the musical style of Orbital - reports are that brother Phil’s new project Long Range are perhaps closer in style to his old band?
“No deliberate move away from Orbital, I just wrote the music I wanted to hear and The Ideal Condition is what came out, its not a deliberate move away from electronics, they are my instrument as it were, it is just an expiation on it.”
But for someone who generally works with electronic instruments there are a lot of 'real' instruments on the new album, aurally what differences do you hear between electronic and acoustic instruments?
“It’s not so much that the instruments are 'real' but the players. I think the combination of up to one hundred different people playing together has a really organic ebb and flow.”
As with his previous project The Ideal Condition features a raft of guest vocalists including Joseph Arthur, Lianne Hall, Akayzia Parker and Cure front-man Robert Smith. How did that collaboration come about?
“I met Robert at a festival in Sweden, in 2004 I think, and he seemed like a really nice bloke. So when I needed a vocalist for that track (‘Please’) I wanted someone with a bit of a melancholy swagger and thought of him straight away. I sent him a CD of the track, he was up for it, job done!”
What prompts your choice of singing collaborators, are you never tempted to have a bash yourself?
“When I get to that point where I feel a track needs vocals I get it into as finished a state as I can to help inspiration then listen to it for a bit and consider what sort of voice it needs then I try and find that voice... and believe me you don't want to hear me have a bash at it, its a bit like Vogon poetry.*
There are a lot of film soundtrack style influences on the album, is soundtrack composition a direction you would like to take?
“I've always loved film music and its something I’d love to do more of but I don't think I’d ever do it exclusively, but its very different from just writing your own music and a great creative discipline.”
The Ideal Condition is out now on ACP Recordings and more details can be found at www.paulhartnoll.com
*(for the uninitiated Vogon poetry can be found in Douglas Adams book The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and is widely held to be the third worst in the universe)