19th of February 2017 – £13
Joined by Sinead Flament
At the table of the world’s most celebrated cultural venues sit Sydney Opera House, La Scala, Madison Square Garden, and, at the table head, the Royal Albert Hall. Search “world’s best venues” and see. It’s perhaps most famous, as being the yearly arca of the Last Night of the Proms or, as it’s known in our house, the Tory Zoo. It has 5,272 seats and now I know how many Joes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. A thank yow!
With its reputation in mind, I was interested to know more about its history, and learn some of the glamorous stories that made it what it is. How do you get to the Albert Hall? Practice! No, not practice. You pay £26 on the internet for two tickets then show them at the door after taking the District Line to South Kensington.
Our guide was Mira, a buoyant soul and herself a performer that was apparent from before she opened the door. She started with some entry-level Wikipedia opening paragraph factoids that made for the foundations of a good tour, before talking us down the corridor of greats (Pavarotti) and not so greats (Jake Bugg). At once, things had a “legacy of greatness” bent that felt more like rifling through my mum’s Spotify playlist than anything else.
Cirque du Soleil were in residence during our tour, but, as it was the middle of the day, we didn’t get to see any of their performance. Oh no! What a shame. Instead we were left with the garish businessman-fulfills-his-dream-and-puts-on-a-dance-show set design to contaminate our photos with its corporate gloss.
There was a lot of talk about how the seats are organised and how they were originally allocated to maximise profits. Brilliant. Didn’t really pay thirteen quid for an IKEA catalogue, but whatever.
An awful lot of energy was spent detailing the structure of the venue from the impressive steel roof to 13,000 tiny commemorative “A”s that decorate the interior; not the most boring thing I’ve experienced, but this is my day off! I want stories of fascinating people doing incredible things, beautifully. This is the only venue in history to have hosted the Beatles and the Stones on the same bill… tell me about that! I don’t give a toss about the carpet.
It wasn’t without some borderline interesting biography. Like Sir Henry Wood. He was the first conductor of the Proms, and his bust has overlooked them every year since. This statue is brought in a special cab from the Royal Academy every year. Okay, it’s hardly Hitchcock, but it’s a sweet enough yarn. More of that please, and less of the string of simple facts that could be garnered instantly from Google.
This review’s short because there’s not really much to say. It felt more like an induction day than a tour for which I’d paid through the nose. Perhaps the real stories of the Royal Albert Hall are on the stage and the building is just a splendid plinth, or maybe the people behind the venue are so desperate to sell it as a relevant cultural icon that they’re forgetting why it got there in the first place.
Oh, and the Last Night of the Proms can fuck off, aswell.