I almost feel as though I ought to order a custom T-shirt online saying something along the lines of “I was at the first 2021 in-person event at the Royal Albert Hall”. There was a sense of normality: the rustling of sweet wrappers in the row behind, the people surreptitiously taking photographs of a concert they weren’t meant to be taking photographs of, and let’s not forget the woman who yelled at me whilst I was waiting to get out at the end and never bothered to say thank you when I made space for her self-entitled backside and pathetic ego, both about as wide as Galway Bay. (I’m still winning: I had to put up with her for seconds, while she has to live with herself.)
After the show, there was the twat who muttered some expletives at me for apparently getting in his way (I wasn’t impeding him in the slightest). There was also the stupidity of Transport for London, whose staff decided the usual platform for departing trains towards Wimbledon at High Street Kensington was “closed”, ordering everyone onto a different platform, only for a Wimbledon train to pull up alongside the usual platform a minute or so later, and promptly take off, leaving us plebs at the mercy of the District line “timetable” whilst we waited for the train we were told was the first train to depart to actually leave. And then there was the Earl’s Court crawl. If you know, you know. And for some reason, the bus indicator boards in my local area are largely out of service (oh, but there’s an app, don’t you know, but Transport for London don’t bother providing WiFi at bus stops).
This 150th anniversary concert was a very mixed bag indeed, deliberately attempting to encompass the broad variety of events at the Hall since 1871. Some of the content was more accessible than others. I managed to get my head around Professor Brian Cox’s scientific spiel, for instance. But for some reason Spice Girl Melanie C was given a script to read out that tried too hard to promote the Hall’s contributions to popular music, without mentioning the Hall’s previous use in the 1980s as the host venue for the Brit Awards, amongst other pop-related things. There was something about the elixir of something else – I tried to follow it but I couldn’t.
I liked Helen Pankhurst CBE’s contribution. The great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, key figures in the suffragette movement, she spoke eloquently about how the fight for equality, respect and decency goes on – there is still, for instance, a substantial pay gap, and considerably less than half of captains of industry and Members of Parliament are women. Charles Dance and Michael Sheen spoke, respectively, on the subjects of wartime remembrance and looking to the Hall’s future. At some point Claudia Winkleman said something about – wait for it – dance.
I’m not sure whether the music was accompanying the many video projections or the other way round: there was so much to look at in the Hall’s illustrious history and archive footage that much of the music, although pleasant and conducted with pizazz by Nicholas Dodd, felt somewhat secondary. There was an amusing moment when percussion members of ‘Albert’s Orchestra’ (presumably assembled especially for the 150th anniversary celebrations) started mimicking the sounds of table tennis balls being struck by a bat, a boxer hitting a punchbag and a basketball being bounced. A nod to the BBC Proms seasons had the National Youth Choir of Great Britain bobbing up and down to whichever bit of Fantasia on British Sea Songs the Proms audiences bob up and down to (no prizes for guessing my level of interest in the Proms).
Overall, then, an interesting evening in which I learnt a fair bit about the Royal Albert Hall – and I’m someone who has taken a guided tour of the building a few times over the years. It’s been used for everything from boxing matches to ballet in the round. They are, financially, in the shit at the moment, but this felt like the first step in a very long and winding road to some sort of recovery.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.