Music News & Reviews

'Electric Light' is no longer in The Orchestra's name, but its music is on stage

Mik Kaminski of The Orchestra, formerly called Electric Light Orchestra, which will perform Oct. 2 at Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.
Mik Kaminski of The Orchestra, formerly called Electric Light Orchestra, which will perform Oct. 2 at Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.

In discussing a band with a name as elemental as The Orchestra, you have to expect questions. The first, perhaps inevitably, is likely to be, "What orchestra?"

Now try adding the modifiers "Electric" and "Light" to the moniker. Ah, the proverbial light bulbs start glowing then, don't they?

Mik Kaminski has fielded such questions for decades. When he joined the Electric Light Orchestra in 1973, the queries dealt more with the notion of providing a steady home for classical strings in a rock and pop context. But in 2015, with the initial ELO lineups long behind him, he keeps performing their tunes with a troupe known simply as The Orchestra.

"I've been playing this music since '73, which is a lot of years," Kaminski says. "The fact that people still want to hear the songs and seem to like the way we play them keeps us going. You stand there and sense the audience enjoying themselves as they sing along. Not a bad way to make a living, really."

Kaminski, who plays violin, is one of the few holdovers in The Orchestra from the ELO incarnations that played arenas and stadiums throughout the 1970s and early '80s (a tenure that included three headlining shows at Rupp Arena). Another veteran, keyboardist Louis Clark, is an unsung architect of the early ELO sound. He was responsible for the string and choir arrangements on what is arguably the band's finest album, 1974's Eldorado.

"The songs do lend themselves to the addition of strings," said Kaminski, a native of Yorkshire, England. "They tended to come pretty naturally to the music. Louis Clark did those big string arrangements for us, but the bits we put on top were also very distinctive and really made the songs come alive, to my ears anyway. It's a pleasure to play them."

The original ELO was a mere trio, the product of three defectors from the British rock troupe The Move: multi-instrumentalists/composers Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan.

"Then Roy decided he wanted to move on to a more of a big-band sound, which left Jeff at the helm of ELO," Kaminski says. "People joined and strings came to the form. It was a real learning curve. We took it from day to day, really.

"The first album I played on was (1973's breakthrough record) On the Third Day. There was just one cello and one violin and we would double track and triple track. It was a long process in those days, but it was well worth the effort. I think it shows in the music."

With Lynne writing all of the band's material, ELO became one of the more popular commercial rock attractions of the '70s, releasing a string of hit albums (1975's Face the Music, 1976's A New World Record and 1977's Out of the Blue being the biggest sellers) and touring incessantly.

"It was busy," Kaminski says of the era. "It was very, very busy. When I joined the band, I got to come to America. It was my first time on a plane. Then I was thrown into supporting people like Edgar Winter. It was a different world, really. We used to tour for three months, go back to England, have a couple of weeks off and then go out for another three months. And we were recording between that, as well. It was non-stop."

Strings were slowly deemphasized on recordings as the years wore on, although Kaminski was a touring member of ELO until Lynne disbanded the group in 1986. Bevan, Kaminski and other alumni members carried on through the 1990s as Electric Light Orchestra Part II until the former left at the end of the decade. Since then, the band has existed by the simplified but quizzical name of The Orchestra.

The band may face more questions as it continues to play for new and younger audiences, especially since Lynne has jumpstarted another offshoot band this fall, Jeff Lynne's ELO. That doesn't bother Kaminski, who still finds great joy in performing his former bandmate's material.

"Jeff has always written some great melodies," the violinist says. "He still is writing them. His music has stood the test of time. Songs like Mr. Blue Sky (the massive radio hit from Out of the Blue) I must have played hundreds and hundreds of times, but each time we perform it, it's such a thrill."