The Extraordinary Union of Leisure and the APO

It is not every day you get to see a pop group play with a full orchestra inside a great hall. But that was exactly what an audience of around twelve hundred or so got to witness at the Auckland Town Hall on April 6th 2018, as supergroup Leisure became the latest to partner with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra in delivering a new and unique take on their wavy psychedelic R&B.

Leisure has been an anomaly ever since they began drip-feeding singles between long irregular intervals to the public in the middle of 2015. They have played very few gigs, probably less than ten? And have released only one album. Given this, it is perhaps not a surprise that their latest venture was performing a gig with an orchestra as they tend to do things differently to most groups around.

When I heard this was going to happen I was very intrigued to see how it would turn out as Leisure’s material is quite different to classical music and very much groove-based fusing styles as diverse as electronic, funk, house, and psychedelia. How would the music be reinterpreted? How different would it sound to the original recordings?

The good thing is I love surprises when it comes to music and so the anticipation was there before Leisure and the 72-piece APO hit the stage to a crowd who must have been feeling the same as me.

But, first, the crowd got warmed up for the main event with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra playing two contemporary classical pieces. It has been a long time since I went to a classical show and I must say there is something special about seeing an orchestra in full flight. The majesty of it all. The musicianship. It is something to savour for sure.

By now there was a buzz around the venue and after getting a teaser of what was to come thanks to the APO, Leisure took to the stage and began their set alone opening up with crowd favourites such as the funky Control Myself and club banger Hot Love.

Then after a handful of tunes just to get in synch with the crowd and themselves, the band were joined by the APO and the fun began. I didn’t think Leisure’s fusion style of psychedelic R&B could be made more psychedelic or even proggy in places but they somehow managed to achieve that with the APO.

Flourishes of strings, brass, and percussion lit up the tracks, creating this enormous layer of sound and giving the music almost a film score quality. Whether it was the psychic groove of Take Me to the Top, the soul of All Over You, or the bombastic Moonbeam, which I might add sounded like a James Bond theme tune, the added presence of the APO made a huge difference in transforming these songs into something quite unique.

The crowd was also very receptive to these new arrangements taking strongly to the APO’s interpretations of the songs. I am sure it would have been an experience for a lot of the younger fans who might not usually listen to classical music hearing a string and brass section reinterpret songs they would be used to dancing to at home or perhaps in a club setting. The warmth of the reception to the APO yet again showed that the mixing of the classical and pop world can work and that there is a market for these sorts of events.

All up it was a terrific evening and an experience like no other. A pop group being backed by a full orchestra! The question for me is what next for Leisure? Having ticked off the orchestra, and knowing how they do things at times out of the box, perhaps a beach performance is next? Or how about on a boat? Or why not inside the Waterview Tunnel with its great acoustics? Whatever it is, I a sure it will be just as unique as tonight’s performance all be it hard to beat as the marker has been laid down.

Sam Smith

Set List:


  • Arvo Part: Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
  • John Adams: The Chairman Dances – Foxtrot for Orchestra


  • Control Myself
  • Money
  • Take It to the Top
  • Know You Better


  • Hot Love (arr. Claire Cowan)
  • Working On You (arr. Cowan)
  • Nobody (arr. Hamish Oliver)
  • Alone Together (arr. Cowan)
  • Moonbeam (arr. Cowan)
  • Got It Bad (arr. Cowan)
  • All Over You (arr. Oliver)
  • Til the End of Time (arr. Oliver)

Leisure and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (APO), Auckland Town Hall April 06 2018

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