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CLASSIC rock will combine with symphonic orchestration when one of the highest-grossing bands of all time, Foreigner, and its lead guitarist Mick Jones arrive in Canberra to begin their 40th anniversary tour of Australia and NZ.
Foreigner, co-founded by Jones with Ian McDonald and famous for numbers such as “I Want to Know What Love Is”, “Cold as Ice” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You” has had nine Top 10 hits, the same as Fleetwood Mac.
Jones, who once co-wrote a song with Eric Clapton, will on October 10 receive the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Musical Achievement from the ANU’s Brian Schmidt.
There’s a unique ACT angle to this news, because the band’s latest album, “Foreigner with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra and Chorus”, has been orchestrated by Kenneth Lampl, head of the ANU School of Music, his wife Kirsten and their friend, the American cellist and composer, Dave Eggar. In May the album shot to the top five on the Billboard 200’s Classical Albums and Classical Crossover Albums charts.
Not just that, student musicians from the School of Music, will accompany Foreigner on the coming tour, forming the core of an orchestra to be augmented by local youth orchestra musicians in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and at Sydney Opera House. The ANU Symphony, Lampl says, will serve as a recruiting activity for the school.
When “CityNews” catches up with Jones by phone to New York, his dry humour emerges immediately.
He knows Australia well, having been here just after Foreigner’s first album was released in 1976 and looks forward to the opportunity to view a few of “the old ‘roos” in Canberra. He describes the orchestrated tour as “fun and it’s a nice change of pace from the rock thing”.
Jones, who has produced or co-produced every Foreigner album as well as Billy Joel’s “Storm Front” and Van Halen’s “5150”, still keeps up a cracking pace at age 74, but he doesn’t mind a few accolades like the one about to be conferred by Schmidt.
“I don’t get very much of that,” he says, “except for the Hall of Fame, [in 2013 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame] that sort of stuff is very nice… it makes the kids proud of me.”
He has seven children aged 30 to 44, and adds: “If I get a platinum, they love it.”
With his huge fan base, he appears laid-back but is in fact driven, telling CityNews “gotta keep working.”
Jones is notable among rockers for having established solid careers in three countries – his native England, France and the US, where he now lives.
As a young man living through what he calls “the Rolling Stones era” he says he was “mainly listening to what everyone else was listening to, American R&B, Chuck Berry and Marvin Gaye”.
His role-model guitarists were Buddy Holly, first heard when he was in short trousers; Pete Townshend, of The Who, and George Harrison for his melodic playing – in his view Harrison is badly underrated. As for the collaboration with Clapton on the song “Bad Love”, that was “pretty cool”.
In the 1960s Jones went to France to play back up for a day, fell in love and stayed for seven years.
“I studied at the University of Life in Paris and went as far as I could go in French music,” he says.
“I started writing there but I was too young to slip into middle-age.”
He moved again and his biggest successes were in the US, followed closely by England.
On the go all the time, he prefers to play down the fact that advancing age makes it a bit harder.
“We arrange it so that it’s not too gruelling, but these days travel is easier and more comfortable so I’m not complaining, I love getting out of the house and going on tour.”
They’re even planning shows in China, a first for the band.
Jones is rather chuffed that when he gets to Canberra he’ll be working with young musicians from the university, saying: “I never studied classical music, but I enjoyed certain composers and the power that an orchestra can bring acoustically.
“Any time I ever performed with an orchestra I’d think, ‘what the hell is this huge wave of sound?’”
They’re not trying to do anything too clever, he asserts.
“We’re trying to do it more subtly so that the strings and the brass enhance the electric sound.”
He gave the Lampls specific instructions not to do just a simple orchestral arrangement, but to reinterpret their original songs in a classical style.
Jones wanted the overture to have a quotation from Dvořák’s “New World Symphony”. That idea, he says, came to him in Switzerland when they were recording the album and where he talked to the Lampls. “Local promoters in Lucerne said, if you’re interested we can provide an 80-piece orchestra and 50-voice choir and before we knew it, we were in the orchestral setting, we had a lot of fun,” he says.
Describing it as “a thing that’s building up,” he says the first real test will come with the Australian tour, where Lampl will be conductor.
“It’s all moving along and we’ll be doing the orchestral thing in China, too.”
But, he is quick to say: “It’ll still have the rock edge to it.”
Foreigner’s 40th anniversary concert, Royal Theatre, Friday, October 12, bookings to ticketmaster.com.au