On his latest CD Orfeas (2011) Judge Smith tells the well-known story of rock-guitarist George Orfeas. Everybody knows Orfeas became world famous and played extremely well after having found an electric guitar with the words "Fury Dice" on it. But one day he lost Furydice and had a terrible car crash. During his recovery he was under the impression that he was in the underworld, and there he met his muse Eurydice. Only now he understood that the music he played was not his.
Eurydice told George Orfeas that he would return to earth. But Orfeas only wanted that if he could take his muse with him. After having heard his guitar playing, the Powers of Music allowed it, on the condition that he would not look back. After his recovery George Orfeas was changed, and so was his music. His former fans didn't go and see him anymore and he found very few new fans. Orfeas refused to look back, until he got a tempting offer to play his old hits one more time. So the true story of George Orfeas resembles the ancient myth of Orpheus, but I guess that's just coincidence.
George Orfeas in Cuilfail Tunnel (photo from www.judge-smith.com)
Of course we all know how the story of the famous Orfeas ends, but somehow Judge Smith has succeeded in keeping the story exciting. On first listen the CD Orfeas is a kaleidoscopic piece of music. It features many different sorts of compositions, but also many different instruments. There are saxophones and electric guitar, often playing the melodic lines as lead instruments together, but also less usual rock instruments like accordion, violin and cello. And it features folk, rock, techno, hip-hop, metal and even speach music, in which the music followes the spoken word word by word and note by note, a technique Judge Smith has mastered really well over the past years.
Writing it down like this, it looks like a chaos. But after a few listens it appears to be a whole, in a masterly way. Each sort of music describes its own part of the story, and in that way music and story reinforce each other. It appears that techno is the music of the underworld. And in hell, where Orfeas says he has cast a glance, it's all about death metal. But the larger part of the CD Orfeas is dedicated to the music the George Orfeas Band used to play, the rock music of before the accident as well as the rock/hip-hop combination of the later period. The album offers a good overview of George Orfeas' carreer. Some parts of course had to be made up. Orfeas in the underworld plays guitar for the Powers of Music, which in Judge Smith's version of the story is his best performance to that date. At least, so we hear.
John Ellis plays the role of the guitar god remarkably well. Besides John Ellis as George Orfeas, David Jackson performs as Maxwell Blow, the saxophonist of the George Orfeas Band. Lene Lovich plays a brilliant role as Eurydice, and David Shaw-Parker is the narrator on acoustic guitar.
The story of Orfeas can be interpreted on different levels. Of course it is a warning to not keep looking to the past too much, to not repeat oneself as a famous artist but to try and come up with something new again and again, even if that means losing your fanbase. Because of that George Orfeas started to play hip-hop with an accordion in his band, a bizarre combination that cost him the multitude of his fans but resulted in a very beautiful sound.
Orfeas is also a story about the ease with which fame and money can lead to corruption. And the album shows how hard it is to retain an independent mind. Finally it is a story about getting older. Old and in the way. A time will come when your fans will know your tricks, and other guitar gods or other gods will surface. From an artistic point of view it is better to refresh yourself, even if that means that only thirteen people will come to watch, than it is to repeat yourself in a large, sold out stadium.
The albums of the George Orfeas Band are increasingly difficult to come by these days. But it is very easy to order Orfeas from the composer Judge Smith himself, at www.judge-smith.com. And that way you will not only at last get hold of the greatest hits by the George Orfeas Band, but also of a biography of the man himself. All this thanks to the independent, artistic mind of Judge Smith.
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