Now that the long Summer days are with us again, there are some some sounds, sights smells and events that are evocative, when we are all old and grey, of the heady salad days of our misspent youth, such as the drone of bumble-bees amongst the flowers, the crack of willow against leather in a cricket match, sharing a jug of Pimms and Lemonade while tucking into under-cooked food at a friends barbecue whilst watching Tim Henman crash out of the Mens Singles Tournament at Wimbledon. Another one of these are the annual Promenade concerts that are held in our local parks, normally as the culmination to a series of events that are held and the Crawley 'Prom In The Park' is no exception. Unless you are one of those lucky people who manages to get up to the Royal Albert Hall in London for the Last Night Of The Proms, the Prom concerts that are springing up in profusion all over our fair isle are a worthy substitute.
I had been threatening to write a review for a couple of years now and the fact that this might be the very last Promenade concert that Crawley holds, due to a combination of factors such as poor weather every time it is held and rival events springing up has only spurred me on to write an article that is worthy.
Tilgate Park in Crawley is one of the most spacious open areas in the town and as its centrepiece has a very large lake surrounded by sloping grounds and lawns that make it a natural amphitheatre. The Staggering Stories team normally make a point of going to The Proms every year to dip its collective toe in the water that is classical music and the pomp and circumstance that is contained therein.
When all of those who were attending the concert had assembled at Chez Dunn, it was a case of driving the short distance to the park and leaving our cars in a convenient side street, pausing only to unpack our chairs and folding tables that would be needed, we made our trudge up the hill towards the entrance to the park. It was heartening to see that, compared to some of our peers attending the concert, we were lightly laden down as opposed to bearing a fair resemblance to the team that first assaulted Mount Everest back in the early 1950's. There was a moments confusion when we went to hand our tickets as I had thought that Keith's wife had purchased enough tickets for all of us but she had only bought enough for the Dunn household. This had left me in the embarrassing position of trudging further up the hill to pay £18 for a glorified wristband in order to flash at the burly security guards on the front gates. I half-wished that I had had a Biro on me in order to write my name and date of birth on it, the amount of times I have been in hospital...
After esconsing ourselves in a clear space on the slope facing down to the stage and setting out our fold-out chairs and picnic table laden down with savoury snacks, we all settled down to watch to opening of the nights proceedings which was compere'd by one Chris Oxlade of Radio Mercury ( The Heart Of The South) fame. Or as I and a few others have disparagingly called it:'Radio Murder-Spree;We'll Fart In Your Mouth' . The first act on was a pair of sisters who'se main repertoire was singing light-weight, frothy pop songs. The Gimblet Sisters provided a good 20 minutes or so of easy listening and helped to get every one in the mood for the rest of the nights proceedings. The next warm-up act that was on stage was an all make trio who called themselves The Noise Next Door. When I looked in the program for the evenings events and saw who was playing second, my heart initially sank. I have never been a fan of boy bands as I always think they are the homogenised, sanitised and boil-in-the-bag product of faceless music bosses. However, I was pleasantly surprised when they came on stage as they all played their own instruments;lead guitar, bass guitar and drums as opposed to mouthing inane lyrics whilst carrying out some physical jerks that would laughingly and loosely be described as dancing. Secondly, they were very much in the mould as the late-lamented band, Busted. This now-departed group broke the boy band mould as they too were musicians and at least had a modicum of attitude in their music and lyrics. Much to my surprise and everyone elses, I found myself clapping in time to their songs and gave them a hearty round of applause as they made their way off stage at the end of a surprisingly entertaining set.
Before we all knew it, the second section of the nights proceedings were about to start. This section normally comprises light classical songs that everyone is familiar with and a selection of songs from West End musicals and tonight was no exception.
As this evenings Proms was a special occasion, none other than the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra had been drafted in to provide the... orchestral manouvers. (cue heavenly choir for my friend and esteemed colleague on this site;Tony. Just kidding , mate). After having a fun-filled time performing the age-old tune of string-scraping and woodwind tootling that is called 'tuning up', the orchestra launched into a spirited rendition of Sibelius' most well-known composition;'Finlandia'. Much to my chagrin, I am not as well-versed in the arcane arts of classical music as my esteemed colleague Adam but I am not a complete philistine who could only describe the noises that a full orchestra produce as the noise made by horsehair being dragged over strings or the sound made by someone blowing over a thin reed inside a pipe as being akin to the sound made by someone with a terminal dose of 'the runs' trying to break wind whilst keeping ones buttock muscles firmly clenched!
After this piece had concluded with a crashing finale, it was straight into a piece that every self-respecting sci-fi fan would instantly recognise. 'An Der Schonen Blauen Donau', 'The Blue Danube Waltz' or the instantly recognisable 'musical bit' from '2001:A Space Odyssey' where Heywood Floyd snores his way through a shuttle flight and through some intricately staged orbital manouevers in order to dock with a space station in near-Earth orbit. The second section of tonights Proms always consists of easily recognisable songs from the musicals and lightweight operatic pieces. The next offering was the perennial favourite;'Oh Sole Mio' with the vocals sung by a veteran of West End musicals, one Mr Richard Sidaway. Doubtless you will have heard of this song but for those who are still living in caves, it was the same music that was included in the 1970's Walls Cornetto adverts where a fair young English rose of a woman has her ice-cream snatched away from her by a lecherous Italian while exploring the canals of Venice in a gondola. Next up was a young lady by the name of Ros Evans who is one of the star soloists of the welsh National Opera. As Richard Sidaway was ushered off the stage after his first appearance, Ms Evans came onto the stage wearing a charming off-the-shoulder dress with a very large sunflower pinned to the front. I am not to sure why she had such ornamentation affixed to her dress, a simple corsage would have done, but remember, she was performing to the Neandethals of Crawley and doubtless had the aforementioned sunflower affixed to her dress by way of protection as an inpromptu riot sheld, should the natives get rowdy!
Nevertheless, she gave a very impressive rendition of Huberts 'Art Is Calling For Me' which met with well-received applause. The two soloists made their temporary farewells while the Royal Philharmonic launched into a stirring rendition of the theme music for the motion picture;'Out Of Africa'. After this had finished, the two soloists reassembled on stage for two songs from the musical:'The Phantom Of The Opera'. I have found out from reliable sources that this musical has recently undergone a radical renovation of the sets used in its West End production. The original version which has stage and screen actor Michael Crawford in the role of 'The Phantom' and Sarah Brightman as the object of his desire have long since stuck in my mind ever since the shows initial West End debut but the two soloists made a suitably impassioned performance as 'The Phantom' passionately implores his love to listen to '... the music of the night... ' in a vain attempt to win her love. Admittedly, Andrew Lloyd Webber might have a face that it looks like it has been turned inside-out but along with his co-writer; Tim Rice, they are faultless as a duo when it come to writing musical scores and lyrics for musicals that are prevalent in the West End and on Broadway as well.
After the applause had died down for these two musical show stoppers, it was time for a little light-hearted opera in the form of Bizet's 'Carmen' in the form of the prelude to the opera, and the Aragonaise movement and Les Toreadors. By this time, dusk was falling and numerous lanterns were being lit up to stave off the falling darkness. Our little party had brought along torches and I had bought a lantern from the Crawley Hospital Radio stand. After we had this assemblage up and glowing, we were half expecting a swarm of moths and other nocturnal invertebrates to be surrounding our table, making off with the food that was still laden out on it.
At last the part of the evening that we had all been waiting for was upon us;that chance where we could all don plastic Union Jack bowler hats, wave plastic Union Jack flags (all probably made in the glorious Democratic Peoples Republic Of China) and dredge up those half-remembered song lines to all those patriotic anthems and hymns that we all know so well. Kicking off the final section of the nights show was Russian and Ludmilla Overture by Glinka. Upon hearing this I was immediately assailed by mental images of big swarthy Cossack types wearing furry hats and performing strange tricks on horseback. But enough of that, I am sure you can buy under-the-counter videos and DVD's that go into that in much more detail... Next up was Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni swifly followed by The Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus. as we all know, Die Fledermaus is German for bat, as in thesmall nocturnal flying mammal and not something you hit a ball with. I am not too sure why an opera should be called that as all bats seem to do is flap around and catch moths. However, the female soloist;Ros Evans had a fun old time contorting her vocal chords to that particular tune. After Richard Sidaway had made a welcome reappearance on stage with a stirring rendition of Verdi's Rigoletto, the Royal Philharmonic cranked themselves up for the highlight of the evening.
Edward Elgar certainly knew how to write some truly stirring stuff and it was given a very welcome airing at tonights Prom Concert. His Enigma Variations was first up followed by an ever-increasingly frenetic rendition of Fantasia On Sea Songs. The Sailors Hornpipe was warmly received and when the compere asked if we all wanted an encore, there was a very loud 'Yeeesssss' from the crowd. I know there may be those amongst you who might cluck disapprovingly at what I am about to say next but all I can say is:..."b*ll*cks!". 'Rule Britannia' is a triumphant paean to all that is good, honourable and courageous about This Sceptred Isle of ours and I was out of my seat and singing lustily along with the rest of the assembled crowd. This drew an almighty roar of approval from the crowd. I am not one to cast aspersions about friends of mine but one who shall go un-named has certain starry-eyed notions about the Monkeys Tea-Party that is commonly known as the European Union but I tool a certain malicious glee when it was decided by mutual agreement by the rest of our party, that we all phone him up and sing the aforementioned song as loudly as we could down the phone at him. Hot on its heels was a song that needed no introduction. Part hymn and part plea for social and economic reform;'Jerusalem', when it was written, refered to the supposed appearance on these shores of the young Jesus and his uncle;Joseph of Arimathea. The lines which refer to the '...dark satanic mills...' was a call for workers to be treated more humanely and to be given better working conditions. '...nor shall my sword sleep in my hand...' is not a call to arms as such but a cry for those in positions of power to make England a '...green and pleasant land...' where Jerusalem could surely be built in order to make England a true Paradise on Earth.
'Land Of Hope And Glory' needs no introduction and as darkness finally fell over Tilgate Park, spotlights mounted on the stage and the awning over it were turned out over the audience to reveal a sea of singing faces and Union Jack flags fluttering proudly aloft in the air. A truly emotional moment highlighted by the fireworks and rockets that were set off by way of salute to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra who had done such a sterling job, the organisers and the 10 thousand-odd people who had turned up to make this a memorable evening.
The things that stuck in my mind most of all were the sight of numerous men and women, young and old who had revived the age-old 1980's tradition of wearing deally-boppers. At one time during the concert, my esteemed collegue, Keith and myself were treated to the rather strange sight of his wife Karen, wearing a pair of deally-boppers that made her look like she had a pair of fluorescent blue antennae licking a plastic Union Jack flag (made in Taiwan) in a manner that could only be described as lascivious and breathily saying that she 'loved her country...' Dunno, but it must have been all the cheeses that was in the hamper and eagerly consumed that evening that caused her to act so strangely...
As I said earlier, this will probabaly be the last Proms Concert that is staged in Crawley but I am sure that it has left an indelible mark on our towns populace as a showcase for music that is timeless and inspiring as well as instilling a much-needed sense of national pride back within us... I just think it is a shame that the Proms Concerts for our town are to be discontinued and I trust that Crawley Borough Council can make it worth our while next year in staging an event that will be every bit as exciting as the Proms were.