10 Years of Society of Sound

It’s some legacy: ten years’ worth of outstanding music. Sounds good, right? Actually, it sounds superb – this, after all, is Bowers & Wilkins. And this is Society of Sound, curated in collaboration with Peter Gabriel’s renowned Real World organization especially for subscribers.

Testament to Bowers & Wilkins’ passion for sound and indeed, for music, Society of Sound is a bespoke space where albums by big names and new discoveries are gifted each month to members, on glorious, high resolution downloads. 

Superb sound. Incredible music. Twelve times a year, for a decade.

Cherry picking highlights wasn’t easy. Society of Sound’s back catalogue pulses with music both accessible and unexpected, uplifting and thought provoking. Music that runs the gamut of emotions, soundtracking feelings, communicating experiences, forging connections. Where else might one hear everything from club remixes to Cuban choirs, million-selling superstars to delicate field recordings made in a Zimbabwean forest? Such sheer variety, of course, is part of the appeal – as is the element of surprise, of discovery. 

The members of Society of Sound aren’t told what will drop into their download box each month. But they expect, and receive, sonic excellence.

After much deliberation by a dedicated team with serious musical knowledge, here are 21 tracks plucked from a veritable aural treasure-trove. Fittingly wide-ranging, celebratory and joyous, it’s a compilation underpinned by a belief in authenticity, commitment and the power of great sound. 

Peter Gabriel represents, of course, with a stirring orchestral version of ‘San Jacinto’, a message-driven track that tells – through the narrative of a Native American boy undergoing a rite-of-passage ritual – of the inequalities besetting America. Originally released in 1982, ‘San Jacinto’ was re-recorded for Gabriel’s 2011 album New Blood; a five-track album, Half Blood, was delivered exclusively, with precise arrangements, to Society of Sound members. “These aren’t just strings on top of a rock band,” said conductor Ben Foster. “This is something built from the ground up, which is why it’s so successful.”

Armed with a mission to ‘seek out and present new music that demands a platform to be heard, whether it is undiscovered artists or well known musicians looking to make recordings in an unexpected way,’ Society of Sound has spent ten years doing precisely that. So we have tracks featuring big name artists pre-fame, rapidly on the rise. Burgeoning icon Youssou N’Dour is here, recorded live in Athens in 1987 as the opening act for Peter Gabriel’s epic So Tour (“He had one of the most extraordinary voices I’d ever heard, like liquid gold,” said Gabriel of the young Senegalese star), and restored for a release on Society of Sound.

There is ‘Shadowman’ by Afro Celts, an exuberant beats-heavy dance track buoyed by the compelling vocals of West African musician Demba Barry and released in 2001, when the collective was well on its way to being hailed as one of the greatest festival bands ever; and the achingly beautiful ‘Casadh an tSúgáin’ (‘The Twisting of the Hayrope’) by Irish-American supergroup The Gloaming, a traditional sean nós-style song sung by acclaimed Irish singer (and former Afro Celts member) Iarla O’Lioniard –  a fragment of which featured, performed live, in the Oscar-nominated 2015 film, Brooklyn

Other, no less significant coups include the lovely acoustic ballad ‘Broken’ by Ben Taylor, scion of 70s folk-rock power couple James Taylor and Carly Simon, a track stripped back and recorded live exclusively for Bowers & Wilkins; and ‘Captured’ by English synth-pop darlings Heaven 17, a recent limited edition release that sent longtime fans into paroxysms of delight. The grooving retro-tastic ‘Black Zil’ comes courtesy of Syriana, whose otherworldly mix of Arabic and western instruments was crafted in Damascus and released first on Society of Sound. 

Many tracks were recorded at state-of-the-art studios, the flagship Real World in Box, Wiltshire, among them. It was here – in a studio founded to ensure that artists from everywhere had access to the same superior quality facilities - that the likes of the Creole Choir of Cuba recorded ‘Fey Oh Di Nou’, a freedom song brought to life by vibrant harmonies, lilting melodies and rich Caribbean rhythms. It was at Real World, too, that classically-trained maverick John Metcalfe, late of post-punksters the Durutti Column and co-producer of Peter Gabriel’s aforementioned New Blood, crafted ‘Gold, Green’ – a electro-acoustic composition inspired by light filtering through springtime copper beech leaves. 

Elsewhere, there is the effervescent ‘Come See Us Play’ by Bogota-based Sidestepper, an Anglo/Colombian outfit with a double knack for club bangers and acoustic gems; the sing-a-long ‘Where Can I Buy Happiness’ by charismatic UK singer/songwriter Charlie Winston, a household name in France; and ‘Dragonz’ by Israeli crew The Apples, a genre-leaping post-funk juggernaut with big band vibes, a DJ mindset and a thing for leftfield recording techniques. Oh, and also from Colombia, the similarly party-loving Bomba Estéreo (‘Stereo Bomb’), wielding their unique brand of psychedelic cumbia on ‘El Alma Y El Cuerpo’. 

Cleverly paced, wonderfully warm, ‘When I’m Asleep’ is a surreal dream-folk song by British-based American, Jesca Hoop; ‘You And Only You’ is a power pop adventure on which Welsh singer/composer/pianist The Anchoress (aka Catherine Anne Davies) is joined by ex-Mansun frontman Paul Draper, their combined vocals adding drama and pathos. ‘Bright Morning Star’ by Irish folk singer Cara Dillon is a slice of technical perfection, an old hymnal song made dazzling by the circumstances of its recording and this award-winning artist’s bell-like voice. 

Formed in Mali in 2015, West African supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique feature some of the Motherland’s best known female singers, among them Angelique Kidjo, Kandia Kouyaté and Mariam Doumbia (of Amadou and Mariam fame); the rousing ‘Dombola’ sees Kidjo singing, in the Fon language of Benin, her birthplace, of female empowerment and a better future, for all.

Little Axe – and their main man, Skip McDonald - are here with ‘Soul of A Man’, a composition that weaves elements of rock, soul and gospel into a beguiling miasma buoyed by drawled vocals and echoing guitars; American singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur brings his layered sonic palette and poetic sensibilities to bear on ‘Saint of Impossible Causes’; mesmerising Swedish singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Loney dear showcases his heart-catching single, ‘Sum’. 

Concluding this Society of Sound retrospective in style and underscoring his commitment to quality music – and to quality sound - Peter Gabriel gifts another track, the bass-heavy studio version of ‘In Your Eyes’ taken from the era-defining, multi-platinum classic 1986 album So. Though not actually one of the monthly Society of Sound releases, the high-res version of So is available exclusively via the Bowers & Wilkins download store. 

All 21 tracks on Listen And You’ll See: 10 Years of Society of Sound have stood – and will continue to stand – the test of time. It’s a compilation intended for open ears, offering quality aural adventuring and rewarding repeated listening. 

A decade of incredible music, gift wrapped in superb sound. 

Society of Sound. 

Like we said, it’s some legacy. 

Jane Cornwell


Click here for track credits

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