Thursday, 24 July 2014

Great to be back.

I’m having one of those lucky weeks – could it get any better than Monday?

Late Wednesday, me and Robyn took a chance and it worked out for us – we headed here;

Not sure?

Those are the domes suspended from the roof of The Royal Albert Hall to improve the 19th century acoustics.

That’s right, we’re queuing up for The Promenade concerts at The Royal Albert Hall.

We’ve become ‘promenaders’, that means we are queuing up for standing tickets for ‘The Proms’, the summer concert season sponsored and broadcast by the BBC.

I’m not a fan of classical music – had a real try but it just didn’t work for me.

But the late night concerts are a different matter; a bit of Jazz, some world music, modern classical (minimalist or atonal, quite like a bit of that) and sometimes something a little more popular.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

This time I was being fairly tough with Robyn – this one was always going to sell out and we had to get there as early as possible, 8pm for a 10 15pm start. We got in easily.

This was to be a night of music by The Pet Shop Boys – Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe. They are pioneering exponents of 1980’s electronica, from the world of Disco, big stadiums and festivals.

We started off with an overture to ‘Performance’, written for their 1991 tour but never actually performed live before. As a medley of some of their music performed by the BBC Concert orchestra it was a piece I could take or leave – I’ve never liked orchestrations of popular music. It misses the point and I’ve never been happy that it works.

Chrissie Hynde, now that’s a different matter altogether, she performed 4 Pet Shop Boys songs; 'Vocal', 'Love is a Catastrophe', 'Later Tonight' and 'Rent' set to orchestra by film composer Angelo Badalamenti.

This fantastic picture is by Robyn May using her phone (I stole it, luckily she'll never know!), much better than anything my cheap camera can do;

I’ve seen Chrissie Hynde way back in The Pretenders days – this was very different to that; quiet, thoughtful, romantic and despite the large hall, very vulnerable.

Chrissie and Neil Tennant dueted for us on ‘Rent’, for me the highlight of the evening, I'm quite proud of this one;

Then the main piece; a world premiere and something very new;

 “The legendary Pet Shop Boys make their Proms debut in this Late Night Prom, joining the BBC Singers and BBC Concert Orchestra for the world premiere of A Man from the Future, a new piece for electronics, orchestra, choir and narrator.


The piece is inspired by the life and work of Alan Turing, who helped break the German Enigma code during the Second World War and formulated the concept of the digital computer, but was prosecuted in 1952 for his homosexuality, receiving a posthumous pardon last year. It comes as a timely homage, 60 years after Turing’s death.”

If it had been rubbish, it would have been worth being there just to hear the BBC Singers combining with the full BBC Concert orchestra conducted by Dominic Wheeler to celebrate the life of a man who was to be hounded to his death by the British Establishment for his sexuality.

This performance from the prestigious Albert Hall was broadcast live on BBC radio 3 and later will be televised, perhaps that goes a little of the way to say sorry to a man who played such a major role in the code breaking of the Enigma machine and laid the basis for modern computing.

It wasn’t rubbish; Juliet Stephenson narrated the story of Turing’s life and the vocals were from Neil Tennant and the BBC Singers.

Meanwhile high up in the hall you could just make out Chris Lowe, in his trade mark baseball cap, an Adidas top and jeans, supervising an array of monitors and laptops which controlled his formidable bank of computing, a billion times more powerful than anything Turing could have imagined.

And I mean a billion times more.

Really, what I would have liked to have done would have been to drag Chris Lowe down from his hidden corner and put him into the front of the hall. He’s been in the background too long; what we didn’t need was an orchestra stealing the sound and filling up the hall.

Just occasionally we got a stretch of electronics and how good it was to hear it there.

This was a missed chance to show just what electronic music can do in a fine setting– a string quartet and the singers would have been enough of an accompaniment.

Oh well, I’m still glad we made it, in the fifth row for ;

Actually, I'm over the moon. The last Prom I made it too was in August 2011. By November 2011 I was dying and that continued for the next two years. There was no way I was going make it standing for over 4 hours.

My doctor fought very hard to win me this little window; it's great to be back while it lasts.

Neil Harris 
(a don’t stop till you drop production)

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