We talk to 80s Classical producers Cliff Masterson and Steve Anderson about this must-see musical event…

Tell us about the genesis of the project. How did it come about?

Cliff Masterson: Steve and I have worked on a lot of shows over the years where we combine orchestral elements with live pop artists. Back in 2018 we were sitting back stage at one of our classical dance music shows and we started to discuss which songs in the set were getting the best reaction. In that particular show there were some remixed versions of 80s songs and the idea of creating a whole orchestral show around some of our favourite 80s artists was born! We decided to reach out to some artists we had previously crossed paths with and they all loved the idea of re-working some of their classic songs into super-sized symphonic versions.

Cliff Masterson Arranger/Producer/Songwriter/Musical Director

Steve Anderson: Cliff and I both grew up around 80s music and felt that a show combining the original artists with new epic symphonic orchestral arrangements was something we wanted to see.

How do you choose which song is most suitable for an orchestral treatment?

CM: The 80s was an incredible time for music and the songs from that era really lend themselves to an orchestral treatment. Many songs already had orchestral elements on the records, so it was easy to hear how these and many others could be re-imagined and re-worked into exciting new symphonic arrangements.

SA: It’s all about songs that people have a genuine love for but also suit the symphonic treatment.

Will there be deep cuts in the setlist or are the selections mostly based on an artist’s biggest hits?

CM: Our only rule is that the songs in the set have to connect with the audience. That generally means we work with the artist’s biggest hits but there are some along the way that just call out for the orchestra. Human Racing by Nik Kershaw is a good example – it wasn’t Nik’s biggest hit but the song’s genius harmonic structure was a joy to explore and develop in an orchestral context.

SA: Our show is very much a greatest hits – the audience wants to hear the classics but the big difference is they are performed in versions that are unique to our show.

Are the artists themselves involved in the creative process of the arrangements?

CM: In the words of one of our artists, these songs are the crown jewels! We are very sensitive to making sure the songs are represented in a way that the artists approve of, so I create detailed orchestral mock ups of the arrangements to share. We then listen to any feedback and make the appropriate changes – we really want the artists to be as proud of our versions as their original recordings, which is a BIG ask! One of the suggestions Howard Jones made after hearing the What Is Love arrangement was to repeat the 4 bar instrumental section and make something special out of it. I turned it into a Bond-like, brass celebration and Howard loved it!

Steve Anderson Producer/Songwriter/Musical Director/Remixer

SA: Yes, the whole thing is a collaboration and we send versions back and forth until they are happy. It’s incredibly important to us as its their legacy so we want to be sure they have a good time on stage performing songs they have sung a lot before.

What do you think the orchestra brings to these pop classics?

CM: These song are already incredible pieces of work. I like to think that adding the orchestra brings a fresh dimension to them. It’s a fine line as I don’t want to do anything to break the “nostalgia spell” but instead, to amplify the warm, fuzzy feeling that listening to a song from your youth can bring. I try to write orchestral parts that add colour and depth to the songs without getting in the way of what is already there. As someone that grew up in the 80s, these songs mean just as much to me as the audience and I am very careful not to step over the line.

SA: Just pure symphonic, epic energy which there is already a lot of in the original productions. Also they have a ball doing it, we very much encourage 80s themed make up, accessories etc as well.

Is there anything about the 80s in particular that makes these songs suitable for this kind of orchestral treatment?

CM: Songs from the 80s were well crafted and written around interesting chord structures, they had a real sense of excitement throughout the arrangement. This means there is a lot of scope to take concepts and themes hinted at on the original records and develop them into fully symphonic renderings.

SA: Again, the original productions are so detailed and they tend to have a lot of musicality which really suits this approach. Orchestral arrangements featured quite heavily throughout the 80s and also Britpop with the likes of Oasis, Blur and The Verve all employing strings on some of their biggest hits.

It’s an epic show with a long list of performers. Does that present any logistical challenges having so many different artists?

CM: The biggest challenge is working out which songs we don’t have time for! All of our artists have incredible catalogues and have been so giving of their time and talent, we just want everybody on and off stage to have the absolute time of their lives – and with all of the positive feedback we get, we know they do!

SA: Not at all, we embrace it! We run over two acts with every artist in each act building up to their biggest hits. Also they all know each other so it’s a wonderful atmosphere backstage, for us its genuinely like watching our 7 inch singles record boxes we had as kids come to life before our very eyes.

80s Classical returns to Millennium Square, Leeds on Friday 28 July 2023 for its fourth season, bringing some of the most iconic songs of the 80s to life in stunning orchestral versions. This year’s line-up features some of the decade’s biggest stars, including Nik Kershaw, Go West, Nick Heyward, Heaven 17 and Carol Decker. Joining the 50-piece Orchestra of Opera North, the pop legends will perform their smash hits including ‘Wouldn’t It Be Good’, ‘King of Wishful Thinking’, ‘Temptation’, ‘Fantastic Day’ and ‘China In Your Hand’ plus many more. With the incredible atmosphere of a live show and all your favourite tracks, 80s Classical promises to be a truly special night that will have you dancing the night away.

Standing and reserved seated tickets are now available to purchase online from the Millennium Square website at https://bit.ly/80sClassical2023 or by phone on 0113 376 0318.