Odd Event Reviews... Prom in the Park 2006

Andy Simpkins reviews the Union-Jack-waving oddity that is the BBC Proms In The Park, Hyde Park, London, 9th September 2006

“BBC Radio 4... I'm Brian Perkins... You don't win, you survive...”

This somewhat menacing and totally fabricated statement issued by Jon Culshaw of the BBC 'Deadringers' comedy team in the guise of the venerable and now sadly retired veteran broadcaster has been heard many a time along with other comments of that nature.

However, this is totally irrelevant and is only circumspect to what I am writing about tonight by the way of the monolithic entity that is The British Broadcasting Corporation and the event that I am reviewing and I would just include that because I wanted to.

Since the untimely and totally unnecessary demise of the Crawley Proms In The Park for reasons which have yet to be fathomed. Call me xenophobic but I find it highly unusual that the Proms was dropped but the International Mela and the Irish Festival were retained. The lame excuse was that popularity was waning and the costs were becoming too high. I am all in favour of the minorities of our fair and litter-strewn town of ours having festivals in which to celebrate their individuality but the majority should have their own celebrations as well so I do find Crawley Borough Council's decision to cancel the annual Proms In The Park highly dubious... . Anyway, enough waving of my copy of the 'Daily Mail' and on with the review.

A bright and sunny day found Keith, Karen, Andrew and Jamie, Adam and yours truly and my girlfriend Jane getting out of our cars at Three Bridges railway station for the journey up to London. Little did I know what events where about to transpire as I got our fold-out chairs out of the boot of my car...

As my girlfriend Jane's fold-out chair had been kept in the garden shed of her parents house for a considerable amount of time, one of the sheds eight-legged inhabitants had sought shelter in the carry case. As the chair in its carry case was slung on my shoulder, the arachnid occupant decided to scuttle out and see what was happening with the world from the lofty vantage point of my shoulder.

The next few moments were a complete blank but let's just say that the thin veneer of a few thousand years of civilisation fell away in a split second and the gibbering primitive that resides deep within us all came to the fore... . After much frantic swatting at my shoulder and many incoherent noises had escaped my throat, I was left hyperventilating and being consoled by my girlfriend while the rest of the party, after they had found out what had happened, were convulsed with laughter. On the train there were quite a few references to the Doctor Who story:”Planet Of The Spiders” and gestures of giant eight-legs jumping onto peoples backs. If that had happened to Tony, who has logged his distaste of spiders on this site, I think there would have been a shrill scream and a possible hospitalisation through shock.

Upon arrival at London Victoria, we all made our way via the London Underground to Hyde Park Corner where we had a very pleasant stroll through the early Autumn grounds until we could see the walled-off area and speaker stacks that was the Proms venue.

Whenever I have had contact with concert security staff, the majority are invariably polite but there is always a minority that are either very rude, ill-informed of the arrangements for crowd control or just insufferably dense. Upon taking our place in the queue around the side of the venue, we waited patiently for about fifteen minutes until one of the security staff casually wandered past and started telling us that fold out chairs and tables were not really allowed as it “might obscure the vision of those sitting down... . ”. Seeing the majority of the people in the queue had the aforementioned items in their grasp, they predictably started complaining and I guess that we all had visions of having to give up our chairs and tables at the check-in point. Forget European butter mountains and milk vats, there was going to be a facsimile of either Everest or Kilimanjaro in one corner of the auditorium made entirely out of surrendered chairs and tables. Later on, we noticed some endorsed vendors wandering around the venue selling tubular steel chairs for the extortionate sum of £18! !

Despite the various complaints and imprecations hurled at him, he wandered off down the line with all of the assorted curses bouncing off his thick head and skull... . To add insult to injury, a woman wearing a dayglo vest then came up and announced that we were all standing in the queue for disabled people. We English are normally a reserved people but the majority of the queue told her what she could do with her regulations before walking around the corner to the queue proper. Under this verbal assault, she cringed slightly and scuttled off to do something less officious and bureaucratic.

Upon turning the corner, we saw the Massed Ranks Of Humanity that was the queue proper. One grievance I have is that they could have had a series of smaller entrances dotted around the periphery of the venue, which would have relieved the burden off instead of having 1000's of people all clustered together in one place, all shoving and jostling for admittance to the Proms arena. .

After 45 minutes of queuing, we finally got in and esconsed ourselves approximately three quarters of the way back from the stage. After feeling a mild sense of relief that there were no knuckle-dragging security staff openly crucifying people who dared to take chairs into the venue, we settled back to watch the evening events open before us... . .

The stage of The BBC Proms was a large affair with ranked seating at the back to accommodate the choral singers and it was flanked by two large projection screens which, before the evenings events started, were showing a progression of advertisements for BBC services and forthcoming TV programmes. One of which was the BBC rendering of the Robin Hood legend which has piqued my interest and is due to be screened on October 7th.

A ripple of applause and cheering arose from the audience as the BBC Radio 2 presenter Ken Bruce took to the stage and announced the evenings events and who would be compere'ing it. This person happened to be the cornerstone of BBC radio and TV broadcasting that is Sir Terry Wogan, replete with his white tuxedo and gentle Irish banter, he would provide the link between acts that is vital to any outdoor performance and let no-one say, on pain of death, that it looks like he is balancing a dead cat on his head by way of his choice of hairpieces!

First up on the stage to get the audience warmed up for the main event was 'One Step Behind'. By way of tribute to the original infamous North London Nutty Boys of the '70's and '80's; Madness. These guys did a sterling job of playing classics by Madness and they looked a fine sight as the lead singer; Ian Soulsby strutted, hopped and moon-stomped his way around the stage doing a very creditable version of Suggs' way of singing and performing live on stage. The rest of the band were no slouches either when it came to emulating the look of the original band. The saxophone player was even dressed in the same style as the original Madness sax player and was wearing a long overcoat, white scarf and flat cap. For some strange reason, he reminded me of 'Arfur', he of the bespectacled and pickled onion-eating wife: Olive from the ITV comedy series:”On The Buses”. Well-known Madness songs such as 'One Step Beyond', 'Night Boat To Cairo' and 'It Must Be Love' had a well-received airing before they made their adieus to a hearty round of applause.

Chas and Dave have always held a special place in my heart as the first time I saw them was back in 1984 at Crystal Palace FC's ground;Selhurst Park, when they were a support act to The Mighty Status Quo.

Here they were, back on stage, over 20 years since I saw them last. Admittedly, they both looked a lot older and greyer now but once they kicked off their set, the years seemed to melt away and they were as they were all those years ago when their star was in the ascendancy. Soon, Hyde Park was echoing with such 'Rockney' classics as 'Gercha';'Aint No Pleasin' You'; 'The Sideboard Song'. The only time when Chas and Daves creative output sunk to an alarming nadir was with the excruciating 'Snooker Loopy'. However, that was forgiven and forgotten when they played an instrumental number which showed how good they are as Boogie-woogie bass and pianist, they were accompanied by their stalwart drummer Mick Burt, who has been with them since the early days of their career.

The time allocated to the performers who acted as those worthy souls who warm the audience up was drawing to a close but there was one last performer waiting in the wings... .

Where the TV series:'The X Factor' is concerned, it is a very fine line between watching it or having all the hairs on my nether-regions and up my nose slowly plucked out with tweezers. It is somewhat akin to a rabbit being frozen in the headlights of an on-coming car;unable to move as it sees its nemesis approaching and strangely hypnotised and compelled to watch. With few exceptions, the acts on the show show little ability to play instruments but are solely picked on looks an charisma alone and to act as cash-cows for the judges. I have no argument with Sharon Osbourne as she is wedded to the irrepressible Ozzy Osbourne, former lead singer with Black Sabbath; one of my favourite bands back in those rose-tinted days of my long-haired youth. However, Simon Cowell I can never forgive for the abomination he created that arose in the late '90's that was The Spice Girls and Louis Walsh, let's just say that I would derive great pleasure from stringing him up by his legs and beating the soles of his feet (occasionally missing and hitting him between his legs) with thick electrical cable for saying very vitriolic and withering comments about the Mighty Quo. The puppets that he and his co-judges choose may have fleeting fame but nothing compared to the longevity of the nations favourite 12-bar rock and boogie band... blah... . blah... blahhh... . .

IT'S CHICO TIME! ! ! Yes, everyones favourite Moroccan goat herder was back in the limelight, a year after reaching the finals on The X Factor and proving that you can't keep him down. Shy and retiring he is not and with a rather pronounced narcissistic streak, he launched himself into his self-penned No. 1 'It's Chico Time' followed up with his rendition of of the classic '70's soul song by Ottawan: 'D. I. S. C. O' . but with the none-too-subtle alteration that it was renamed C. H. I. C. O. Honestly, lock him and William Shatner in a small room and there would not be room for the competing egos. I am just wondering if I should send him a full-length mirror so he can admire his reflection for hours on end... .

With the warm-up acts now enjoying a cuppa backstage, it was time for Sir Terry Wogan to come back on stage and say there would be an interval of 20 minutes or so until the evenings events began in earnest. During that time, my ever-present hunger made itself present and so I went off in search of food and a drinkie. Event caterers are always extortionate in their prices and at some of the food stands, I half expected to served by Dick Turpin. A small plastic tumbler of Pimms and Lemonade with some apple and cucumber that had seen better days was being sold for the kings ransom of £4. Oh well, needs must when The Devil farts in your face and it slaked my thirst temporarily.

By the time the first of the evenings acts proper came on stage, dusk was drawing in and the late Summer air was taking on a distinct chill and was dropping in temperature. Adam and the Family Dunn had all huddled under a rather large Union Flag that had been brought along for the purpose of waving around at the climax of the evening and Jane and myself had to snuggle up in order to share body heat.

Before to long, Sir Terence came back on stage, as dapper as ever and with his rather large ears cosily esconced under his syrup, to announce the main part of the evenings entertainment. Whenever I have been to Proms concerts, the main bulk of the evening was filled up with easily digestible arias, excepts from the better-known musicals and such. Tonights selection were no exception to the rule and it was all kicked off by the BBC Concert Orchestra's rendition of the March From Superman Theme as composed by John 'Bloody' Williams(I have put in the 'bloody' as Tony cannot refer to the aforementioned Mr Williams without spitting and that has always left me feeling rather perplexed. I suppose it is somewhat akin to my hatred of Those Who Come From Hull;The Beautiful Sou... . . sorry, I cannot mention them without venting my spleen... )

During the course of the evening, the BBC had gone to every trouble to ensure that their assembled entertainers came from far-flung places all over Europe. The next act to follow was a young lady soprano from Romania called Angela Gheorghiu who treated us to operatic offerings in the form of Cilea's Ecco:Respiro appena and from Bizets 'Carmen':L'amour est une oiseau rebelle'. She must have a strong following back in her homeland as there were quite a few Romanian flags being proudly held aloft in the chill Autumn air.

Next up was a young lady by the name of Alison Balsom who had a very illustrious career and studied at such places as the London Guildhall and the Paris Conservatoire. Practicing on a wide range of wind instruments, she favours the trumpet and gave the assembled crowd her rendition of Rondo:Allegro molto from Concerto for trumpet and orchestra in E Major. I have always thought the trumpet as an instrument having an overtly male following with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong amongst the instruments main adherents but in this day and age, trumpet playing ins no longer an exclusively male domain. It was a chance to sit back in ones chair and let the cool notes wash over you as afternoon slowly turned to dusk. Swiftly following from one wind instrument to another as the BBC Concert Orchestra came sinuously slinking back in with the catlike saxophone tones of Henry Mancini's 'Pink Panther Theme' as conducted by Carl Davis who was waving his baton with great enthusiasm.

The musicals took ascendancy once again as a young Florentine tenor opera singer by the name of Vittorio Grigolo took to the stage and started singing 'Maria' from 'West Side Story'. He too has an impressive pedigree as he has appeared alongside Luciano Pavarotti in concert , and when he was younger, he also sang in the Sistine Chapel Choir. To my left, much frantic dialling of a mobile phone was seen as Jane phoned her mum to allow her to hear Vittorio singing.

Movie themes are always popular with Proms audiences and we were treated to the BBC Concert Orchestra swashing their buckle with the theme to 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' as tribute to Johnny Depp's lecherous, swaggering and slightly camp Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp;now there's a man. cheekbones so pronounced and sharp, they could cut paper...

A number of duets followed and another tenor of esteem was brought out on stage. Roberto Alagna was born in France to Sicilian parents and made his British debut in opera as Alfredo in La Traviata. He has also trod the boards at the prestigious La Scala opera house in Milan and has performed in La Boheme at Covent Garden. He is also married to Angela Gheorghiu and they performed a duet entitled Come Prima. Angela performed another solo in the form of 'I could Have Danced All Night' from 'My Fair Lady' and afterwards, Alison Balsom made a welcome return to the stage to perform two more trumpet recitals. After all this had concluded to much applause from the assembled throng, Sir Terry Wogan, the man with a plan and a hairline that was all his own (he paid for all of it, honest) took to the stage once more to act as host and to guide us all through what was going on at the regional Proms concerts. What followed was live satellite feeds to Swansea, Belfast, Manchester and Glasgow where cameras were panned around the venues and the audiences would have a chance to wave and shout at the cameras in the vain hope that someone at home would recognise one of their nearest and dearest out of many thousands . Glasgow will always stick in my mind because of the sheer incongruity of one of the performers featured...

At that point, we were treated to the rather strange sight of a Harry Hill look-alike, clad in a kilt, hopping up and down on one leg, playing a very avant-garde piece on a trombone, in order to aurally simulate a ride through heavy traffic on a moped. Personally I thought The Crazy Frog had done it with much more style and panache, which doesn't say a lot. Besides, I have always equated the term 'avant garde' with the word 'crap'. Moving on... . When it came to the live feed from Hyde Park to the rest of the United Kingdom, it only lasted a few seconds but for a fleeting moment, I could have sworn I saw a rather animated septet of people in the throng maniacally waving a large Union Flag and hopping up and down as though they were standing on red-hot coals, but it could have been my imagination... .

What can I say about Lionel Richie? Motown superstar, former lead singer with The Commodores or just all-round good egg... All these and more by what I was about to witness. Admittedly, I have always been and always will be a true-blue Heavy Metal and rock music fan but I do keep my eyes and ears open to other styles of music and keep an objective view. Lionel Richie's songs have always gone down well with yours truly but I must confess that I never went out of my way to see him in concert. As it happens, dipping my toe into the metaphorical ocean of soul music and Tamla Motown proved to be a very pleasurable experience indeed. I could list all of achievements, both with The Commodores and his extensive solo career but all of that has been said elsewhere and with more eloquence than I could muster here.

Let's just say that he drew one of the biggest cheers of the evening when he stepped out on stage and without further ado, promptly showed us all why he is one of the biggest selling solo artistes of the last 30 years. He only had a limited time on stage before he had to give way to the live video-feed from the Royal Albert Hall but he made the most of it. by singing two songs off his latest album;'Coming Home' including his latest chart success;'I Call It Love' and another song;'All Around The World';a very up-tempo song with an almost Mardi Gras/carnival-esque feel to it. Then the classics were rolled out for everyones delight. The soulful and poignant 'Hello' with Lionel at piano was played and the joyful 'Dancing On The Ceiling' followed shortly afterwards. His piece de resistance and the song guaranteed to get everyone up on their feet came as a finale. 'All Night Long' is undoubtedly his most well known composition and had everyone up on their feet, clapping and singing exuberantly along. After the cheering had subsided, Sir Terence strolled on stage and swapped some light-hearted banter with Richie as he told the audience about his forthcoming tour to promote his latest album and to say how much he enjoys performing in the UK. After a few minutes conversing onstage, he bid a farewell to Hyde Park amidst much clapping and shouting for an encore.

I must confess that I felt sorry for Terry Wogan as he has to step back up to the microphone and say that due to time constraints, Lionel was unable to perform an encore. This was met with a barrage of discontent from the Hyde Park audience and I must commend him for standing resolute in the face of the audiences demands to see Lionel Richie back on stage, even if it was for just one more song.

All right, the organisers of the Proms and the BBC outside broadcast units had to keep to a tight schedule to coincide with going over live to the Albert Hall for the Proms finale but it did not stop video footage of Michael Ball singing a ballad, broadcast live at one of the regional Proms concerts and being shown on the video screens in Hyde Park, almost universally being greeted with cat-calls, boo's and howls of derision from the audience. Just goes to show what an impact that Lionel had on the audience! Even though Michael Ball was many miles away, I am sure he could feel his ears slightly roasting as his projected image was subjected to such overt hostility.

Once the tumult had died down and another break in proceedings had transpired, it was time for the climax of the evening;the link-up with the Royal Albert Hall just down the road and the ever-eventful finale. A very stirring event where stirring songs are sung and a chance to slip on a very fetching plastic Union Flag bowler hat as a the conductor works himself into a frenzy conducting the orchestra from his podium liberally bedecked with inconcruous men at work and radiation warning signs. Hardly surprising as the BBC Proms is a month long affair and the Last Night is a well-earned opportunity to let ones hair down and indulge in some much-earned light relief and general silliness and this year, the televised events were presented by Alan Titchmarsh.

As is the wont with all Promenade concerts, Edward Elgars work was showcased. As I have mentioned in my review of the late-lamented Crawley Proms, He certainly knew a tune or two and events in the Albert Hall were kicked off with his Pomp And Circumstance March in D Major and the lyrics of Land Of Hope And Glory. Not a seat was occupied as everyone stood to sing the rousing refrain and after the song had finished, the conductor asked the assembled hoardes if they would like to reprise the last chorus. Well, all I can say it was better that the first and was heartily sung by the massed ranks gathered in Hyde Park.

'Fantasia On British Sea Songs'is a song that is warmly received at Proms concerts as it highlights Great Britains impressive naval heritage which has lasted from this nations earliest days right up to the present day. 'The Sailors Hornpipe', in all its increasingly frenetic glory was played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and gained another well-earned reprise. As to the eternal question:What shall we do with a drunken sailor? The answer is blatantly obvious as any self-respecting press gang would be too knackered to grab any drunken and semi-unwilling volunteers from the local dockside taverns after dancing to this lively song.

A couple of songs from other parts of the British Isles came up next. The Skye Boat Song was sung next. It is always a staple of Proms concerts but seeing it concerns the flight of Bonny Prince Charles from mainland Scotland over to the Isle of Skye after being routed by the English at The Battle of Culloden and his eventual death in ignominy is something of a mystery to me. Despite the lingering animosity between the Scots and the English, this is something of an emotive song and was sung nevertheless. The same could be said of 'Danny Boy' which after a fashion, has been adopted as the unofficial anthem of Northern Ireland with its previling tones of permanent separation which has its roots in the Irish Diaspora to North America. Haunting it certainly was and this was followed up by an offering from the Welsh in the form or All Through The Night, or to give it its proper welsh name;Ar Hyd y nos. Despite its virtual elimination, the Welsh language has mad a comeback and is still widely spoken in mid and South Wales. I have been to Wales quite a few times and found it rather perplexing, to many l's and y's for my liking but a very mellifluous language nevertheless.

All too soon it was time for the two final songs to be played. 'Rule Britannia! ' is always guaranteed to get everyone on their feet and waving their flags. Unfortunately, I had not brought a Union flag along and I would have felt rather silly waving a copy of The Daily Mail around. The only flag I had in my possession was a small plastic one which came out of a goody bag that was given to every one upon entrance to the auditorium by the shows sponsors;National Savings and Investments. Therefore, I just had to make do with jamming my hands in my pockets and singing along instead.

Once 'Rule Britannia' had finished, it was time for the camera to be trained on the conductor and his traditional end-of Proms speech. And what a speech it was! There is a very fine line between making a stirring speech and waffling on for ages. Sadly, the conductor opted for the latter and he rambled on for a good ten minutes. All around, I could see people starting to edgily shift their feet and look at their watches. On and on he went and by the time he finished, I wanted to cry, either with relief that it was finally finished or through the sheer mumbling through his beard that his speech had become!

At last, a time for fineworks, general jubilation and phoning up of Tony in order to light-heartedly taunt him about the flagrant display of supposed nationalism on display, as the climax of the show was reached and the triumphal sing-along that is Jerusalem was sung. Just to show that the BBC had made some good use of the TV licence fee that they leech out of the general public on a yearly basis, I could find no fault witht the fireworks display that accompanied the singing of Jerusalem

Amid tumultuous cheering and applause, all that was left to be done was the singing of the National Anthem. It was only recently that I found out that 'God Save The Queen' has six verses in total. Most people generally know the two most commonly used verses but the other four deal with such archaic matters as the Gunpowder Plot and the Jacobite Uprising and general protection from the alien hoardes (I'm starting to sound like the Torchwood manifesto here). I think we should be fortunate that we do not have to stand for the Greek National Anthem which has somewhere in the region of forty-odd verses. At state banquets, by the time you had sat down afterwards, your food would have been stone-cold...

All that can be said of these outdoor events when the shouting is all over and done with is the general picking up of ones litter and decamping and packing away of fold-out chairs and tables and the weary trudge back to the tube station afterwards for the journey back to London Victoria railway station. Southern railways. in their infinite wisdom, had decided the masses of people who use the main London-Brighton rail line would be treated to the close intimacy that only a four carriage train can offer. Let's just say that for most of the journey, there was a lot of jostling and gradual erosion of good nature towards ones fellow traveller. It was a blessed relief to get back to Three Bridges and making our adieus before making our respective ways home. All in all, a very enjoyable evening but I could not help but feel that the event and matters of crowd control and admission could have been handled in a much better manner...

In an age where society seems to be wrapped in the poisonous tentacles of political correctness or the dead clammy hand of the European Union reaches out in order to squeeze more sovereignty out of the British Isles. Events such as these serve to remind us all that there is no shame in showing pride in who we are and what this country stands for on the worlds stage. Just a shame that Crawley Borough Council (Nuclear-Free Zone) doesn't see it like that...