Sons Of Apollo
Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony
30/08/2019
2CD Mediabook, Gatefold 2LP vinyl + CD, Jewelcase CD, Digital Album
Sons Of Apollo are one of the biggest success stories of the past two years. The combination of vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, guitarist Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, bassist Billy Sheehan, keyboard player Derek Sherinian and drummer Mike Portnoy proved to be irresistible on debut album 'Psychotic Symphony', released in 2017. Now, they are putting out a special live release.
This was filmed at the spectacular Roman Amphitheatre in Plovdiv, Bulgaria on September 22 last year.
“The idea for the show was suggested by Andy Farrow, who was our manager for the first album cycle,” explains Portnoy as to how such a remarkable idea came to fruition. “He had done performances and filming at this venue with other bands and thought it was perfect for us. And he turned out to be totally right.”
The band's performance was divided into two sets, the second of which saw them joined by a full orchestra and choir.
“We worked with the Plovdiv Symphony Orchestra, who we renamed the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony for the night. This was a full orchestra and choir. I had done this sort of thing once in the past with Dream Theater. But on that occasion, the orchestra was a lot smaller.”
As can be imagined, it took a lot of work to get everything to the required standard, with band and orchestra doing a full day's rehearsal together.
“We did this the day before the show. But as a band we also did rehearse the cover songs we chose to do in the week leading up to that night; those rehearsals happened during soundchecks. We also worked closely in advance with Levon Manukyan, who was the conductor and arranger, so he had the time to get everything prepared. As a rule, though, orchestras never need to spend too much time getting to know the songs, because they can actually turn up and sight read the music in question. So, that is an advantage.
“On the night, it was a case of making sure all of us gelling onstage. What is always important is in this respect is that the drummer and conductor work in unison, because we take cues from one another. And Levon and I got on so well we had no problems with this.”
There are a number of cover songs performed in both sets. And it was down to Portnoy to choose which tracks were done with the orchestra and choir.
“For the first set, which was just the band and essentially the one we had been doing every night as a matter of routine, the covers were obvious. So, we played 'Just Let Me Breathe' from Dream Theater and 'The Prophet Song'/'Save Me' by Queen.
“For the second set, there was talk of doing a fan vote to select the covers we were going to do. But I like surprising people, rather than letting them know in advance what they will be getting. So, in the end I personally chose the covers. I wanted to pick those songs which fitted in with Sons Of Apollo and our style, but also were easily adapted for an orchestra and choir. And I have to say that all of the covers you'll get to see us do in the second part of the performance were only done that night and no other on the tour, which helps to make this unique.”
The director of this impressive film is Paul Green, someone with who Portnoy had successfully worked in the past.
“I knew I could leave things to him on this multi-camera shoot. I was heavily involved in the subsequent editing process, and it only took a few weeks to get everything looking and sounding the way we wanted. But on the night itself, it was all down to Paul, and he did it superbly.”
Of course, on such a massive undertaking there are bound to be challenges to overcome, as Portnoy outlines.
“Well, firstly you have to think about the soundcheck taking three times longer than usual, with a band, orchestra and choir all involved. On top of that, the orchestra were right behind Derek's amps, and believe me he has them turned right up to 11 – he is very loud! That meant some of the orchestra such as the violinists, couldn't actually hear what was going on. So, we had to deal with that side of things as well when it came to the sound separation.”
Titled 'Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony', this is to be available on CD, DVD and Blu-ray. But there are differences between the audio and visual formats.
“The CD has the entire gig. But we had problems getting clearance on two of the cover tracks for the Blu-ray and DVD. Sadly, these will not have 'Comfortably Numb' from Pink Floyd and 'Dream On' (Aerosmith). The good thing is that you can hear all of these on the CD, so they're not forgotten.
“The DVD and Blu-ray also have a behind the scenes documentary on the whole experience in Plovdiv, which includes interviews. In addition, there's also a behind the scenes documentary on the making of our debut album. So, what fans will get is a brilliant summary of the first year in the history of this band.”
Portnoy is delighted with the final product, believing it to be a triumph that encapsulates just how tremendous this band are.
“This is a very special release. It magnificently captures what happened on the night and the atmosphere that surrounded the occasion. Usually, bands get to play at this amphitheatre and film it only when they have quite a lot of groundwork behind them, and even then they tend to perform just one of their studio albums in its entirety. For Sons Of Apollo, with just the one album behind us and barely a year's experience on the road, to be given such an opportunity is, I feel, very satisfying. But it sums up the confidence we have in ourselves, and also the people who work with the band have in what we can do. And when everyone gets to see for themselves the way things turned out, they'll appreciate that we didn't merely rise to the occasion. We went beyond this. It was a phenomenal occasion for us - truly magical. And it's all here.”
Malcolm Dome
London, May 2019