Britannia Rules the Waves; Last night of the Proms
I’d never been before and always wanted to go and take part in the whole event, the atmosphere, the sing-a-long, but never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would.
Thanks to a relative and his partner, I had the best day out. We had a glorious sunny day when we set out, travelling by tube to Marble Arch. It was crowded as you can imagine with revellers, Union Jacks resplendent. They came in all shapes and sizes and many with outrageous costumes all with the theme of Britannia and The Union Flag. It was hilarious.
Below is a reveller I picked out from the crowd later in the evening just as we all got to sing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ with everyone joining in. Mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato led us all in a good old-fashioned sing-song. She also belted out ‘Rule Britannia’ and a few others when the BBC linked us up with The Royal Albert Hall. In fact every capital city in the UK linked up for the broadcast.
Earlier in the afternoon we had filed into Hyde Park in a very un-Disney fashion, bags searched, bodies frisked. Apparently bottles were forbidden and so all picnic baskets were searched and any offending containers confiscated – I imagine the security people had to have some means of getting home because I cannot think what happened to all that secreted booze they discovered.
We had chairs with us, a hamper and lots of wine (hidden in plastic Ribena and Cranberry Juice bottles), and enough food to feed us and many others. We met up with seven others, none of who I’d ever met before, friends of my companions, and we were soon sharing food and chatting and downing the vino, the beer and the cider along with 40,000 others. If you have never seen the British party at these events you have not lived. We love a good rousing sing song and an excuse to wave THE flag and get teary-eyed and patriotic, however, next day we are back to business as usual and the thought of waving a flag fills us with embarrassment.
There were quite a few acts on during the afternoon. I cannot say any were to my taste other than perhaps, Bryan Ferry and his band, though I felt his voice sounded weak and a little lack-lustre. One of my companions was in heaven when he appeared, though it was hard to see him or, indeed, the stage from where we were. I think that the screens which we were having to watch in order to see anything could have been a whole lot larger. It was all so very distant. I felt we could have moved closer when we first arrived but I soon realised we were near the loos and the bar!!
Not long ago I would have been working like mad back stage at a festival or open-air concert such as this, and so it was novel for me to be front of house. To be part of an audience instead of being part of the event itself was quite something and exciting. No stress, worries or panic attacks to deal with when things didn’t go right, or sending out a search party when someone in the band decided to wander off just when they were about to go on stage!
Being part of an event like this and being back stage is a whole different ball-game. Having trekked across Europe and America with my artists, doing Summer Fests and other open-air shows, it was hard for me not to wonder about the off-stage/front of house sound system, but I didn’t dare go in search of it – I would still be looking for everyone had I done that! I watched the over-head cameras on large cranes high above our heads and wondered if the operators suffered from vertigo at all and what they did when they needed the loo….usual sort of things that go through my mind. I wanted to know the nitty-gritty of it all, but alas those days are gone.
The introduction to the Prom in the Park was given by Tony Blackburn – I cannot hear his voice and not be reminded of ‘Flowers in the Rain,’ (‘The Move’) – the first song played on BBC Radio One back in the day when I had a transistor radio and listened to Radio Luxemburg, Radio London and Radio Caroline under the bedclothes at night. Tony Blackburn opened a whole new world of music via a broadcaster my parents couldn’t really call decadent and ‘the hippie unwashed!’
There was the BBC Concert Orchestra playing throughout the event at various times and we were treated to some Gershwin, which I adore. We were soothed with the velvet voice of tenor, Joseph Calleja, (check him out girls, gorgeous on the eye of what!), but the moment (for me) was ruined by the hideous ‘Dame Edna,’ on her ‘Farewell Tour,’ before retirement, which as far as I was concerned couldn’t come soon enough; cannot stand the person. Needless-to-say my companions adore her/him and enjoyed the silliness indulged in with another broadcaster who needs to know when to give up; Sir Terry Wogan! Worn and dated jokes and quips.
I knew the vino would come in handy, a distraction which I indulged whilst viewing the cameras, the sound system and so on. I was beginning to get quite anxious in case they were going to wheel out that other dreadful dinosaur, Bruce Forsythe, especially when dance music started up!
Not wanting to sound like a moaning Minnie, which I am not, I really did enjoy it all, even the above which I managed to let flow over me. I also had to do the same with a dance routine by someone or other called Anton Du Beke, and his partner Erin Boag, both of whom I have never heard anything about , and can live without watching again. Dear God! where did he dream up that cheesy name?
Several other performers took to the stage throughout the afternoon and evening and I am at a loss to recall all their names, although I recall a Scottish sounding Pipe band called, ‘Red Hot Chilli Pipers‘, and Craig Charles and the Fantasy Funk Band who were not bad. I really did enjoy the performance by Nigel Kennedy and the 15 year old Palestinian violinist, Yaron Sadd, whom he introduced to the audience and who played superbly.
The Royal Choral Society were really fabulous however.
I should mention that for the very first time at the Albert Hall Last Night of the Proms there was a female conducting the Orchestra; Marin Alsop, an American and a great job she did too.
One of the highlights of the day was a performance by The Cast of ‘Let It Be,’ who performed a selection of Beatles hits as if they were ‘The Fab Four’. We had four musicians looking and sounding almost as good as the originals and the sight of a slightly worse for wear Britannia doing ‘The Twist,’ with her helmet lopsided over her reddening face, her trident thrusting through the air as her hips swayed and her knees cracked, waving her Union Jack covered shield in the air and singing at the top of her voice, will stay with me forever. I took photos but to be fair I had better not post them here!
The Cast (appearing in the West End), performed six Beatles songs in all and everyone did ‘The Twist’, ‘Jived,’ and generally hopped around their hampers with great enthusiasm. Not a drop of champagne was spilled by the group next to us I noticed. They had a proper picnic table, and a candelabra and real glasses!
Another couple sat on the grass next to us and stared at their tartan blanket all the time we were there. They never looked at each other or spoke to each other or anyone else for that matter. Later we noticed she had her head in her hands sobbing and he had tears rolling down his cheeks. He said ‘please don’t do this,’ a few times and then they got up and left before the real singing and patriotism started. An expensive way to break up, tickets being the prices they were and all. Really sad and we all kept glancing over at them and even thought about taking them a drink to cheer them both up, but their misery was too intense and too unbearable; we left them alone, casting sly glances now an again, to see if they were all right – which they obviously were not, but then that was typically British of us I guess.
Britannia had the best time ever and had apparently travelled to London on a train and the tube dressed for her role and was going home the same way – she hoped. I had my doubts given her over-active afternoon and enthusiastic enjoyment of her Ribena and Cranberry Juice.
Much was made of the impending appearance and reunion of the boy band Blue. Much was made of it, sadly nothing much came of it. I know they were once heart-throbs and a few members of the audience screamed weakly when they took to the stage. I couldn’t see them and their songs sounded a bit ‘past it,’ and they struggled to reach the high notes being about 10-15 years older than when their last records came out. It was a pity but they were met with indifference from the crowd. Their fans are almost middle aged now and the music doesn’t stand the test of time, and neither does all the gyrating and posing at their age!
We all stood and sang ‘God Save Our Queen’, waved flags, got tearful and filled with pride, started gathering our things and hugging complete strangers we knew we would never see again; just as well if you ask me!
Leaving after the firework display was interesting. 40,00 weary music fans making their way to the tube with their picnic baskets and empties, their flags and their chairs. The pace was slower than when they hurried into the Park to mark their territory before the event began. In its wisdom the Underground had decided to close Marble Arch tube station and Bond street and we had a very long walk, along with hundreds of others, to the next stop along the line. After 15 stops on the tube we got to our destination. The car was still in the same place and untouched despite our fears about leaving it off road. We dragged ourselves home and after a couple more vino’s collapsed into bed. Sunday we had to be up bright and early for a visit to Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. I know, my life is non-stop and such fun….well it was this particular weekend. Watch this space for Adventures in Ely.
ALL Photos are (c) Jane Risdon 2013 and All Rights Reserved.