Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Lounge Lizard, the Dame, the bagpipes, the fiddles and the lesbian Last Night

And so, dear reader, once again we bid a fond farewell to the Summer Season in style.

The Last Night of the Proms traditionally marks the end of summer (for us at least), and for the past six years we have greeted the changeover to autumn by sitting in a blustery park for seven hours - for Proms in the Park! Always a joy.

Thus, expectantly, Sally, Lou, Liz, Madame Arcati, Baby Steve, Alex and I managed to fight our way into the park, laden down with folding chairs, picnic blankets, baskets of food and (of course) copious quantities of booze, running to grab our "usual" pitch (next to the "landmark" lighting tower, fairly close to the stage), ready for the action to unfold.

And the evening's entertainment certainly opened with a bang - as the humorously-titled Red Hot Chilli Pipers took to the stage! Now I am no fan of the bagpipes per se, but this gang of hunky kilt-wearers' particular brand of "bag-rock" whipped the audience up into an early frenzy, pairing traditional standards like Danny Boy with rock classics such as Don't Stop Believing, We Will Rock You and Smoke On The Water...

Not even the combined efforts of our inane presenter (the idiotic DJ Tony Blackburn) nor our next act Craig-fucking-Charles and his Funky Bores Funk Band could put a damper on that.

Eventually, having had cake (kindly baked for my birthday by Lou), and convened our annual Gay Pride Costume Committee to decide the "theme" for next year - more on that in due course - it was time for the "surprise" act to conclude the first half, the no-longer-boy-band Blue. Never a favourite ensemble, they warbled their way through a melange of their instantly forgettable hits, proving that some bands, once they split up, should stay split. They didn't even play their Eurovision entry I Can - which we liked three years ago. I'd still do Duncan and Simon, though...

As the sun started to set over Hyde Park - it was beautiful - and the break was over, it was time for the big-hitters to arrive on stage. Our host for part two was the ebullient (if slightly more bumbling than usual) Sir Terry Wogan, and he introduced the BBC Concert Orchestra and its conductor Richard Balcombe who, without further ado opened proceedings with the most appropriate and rousing curtain-raiser, Strike Up The Band by Gershwin. Our first performer, however, was a real class apart.

Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja is quite the rising star of the opera world, and at 35 has already performed at the world's greatest venues including Covent Garden, the New York Met, Amsterdam's Concertgebouw and the Vienna State Opera. He stunned us with the beauty of his voice, especially on his opening number, Lucio Dalla’s Caruso. Some of us were in tears. Here is some footage of him performing the song earlier in 2013:

From the sublime to... Dame Edna Everage! The "Housewife Superstar" herself - due to finally throw in her ornamented specs and retire next year after her farewell tour - no doubt sparklingly visible even from the back of the 40,000-strong crowd, entered into a battle of wits with Sir Tel before entertaining us with her tribute to us, That's What My Public Means To Me:

Although, as it turned out later (when she was due to lead the finale only to find the show was overrunning) she never got another opportunity to entertain us, this brief moment was fabulous enough - as was the (unintentional) hilarity that ensued when her bouquet leaked water over the stage, and various stagehands swarmed around her and Tel's feet while they ad-libbed away.

And the reason for the urgency to mop the stage? Another treat was to follow - as Strictly Come Dancing superstar dancers Erin Boag and Anton Du Beke gave us a breathtaking display of their skill by performing the most beautiful and elegant waltz on stage, accompanied by the full orchestra. We were blown away. [If only the BBC would get its arse into gear and post the coverage, I would add it here for your delectation...]

Not dancing but singing, Mr Calleja returned to the stage next with more silky smooth numbers - including house fave here at Dolores Delargo Towers Besame Mucho, and the most marvellous interpretation of La Vie En Rose. Unfortunately he was immediately followed by the cast of the West End show Let It Be, who proceeded to murder several Beatles songs. It mattered little to the audience by this stage, of course, filled with excessive amounts of liquid refreshment and dancing and singing along. I went for a pee.

That over and done with, another classical sensation - hot foot from his stint at the Royal Albert Hall less than an hour earlier - the violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy leapt onto the stage (in an Aston Villa football shirt), accompanied by the cute Palestinian teen prodigy Mostafa Saad, for a duel of the strings on Mr K's own composition Melody in the Wind. Utterly stunning, and one of the finest moments of the evening.

Emotions suitably fired up by the brilliance of that, it was time for the living legend, the great "lounge lizard" himself - Mr Bryan Ferry! I have been a lifelong fan of Mr Ferry and Roxy Music, and yet this is the first time I have ever seen him live. He was superb.

Accompanied by some of the finest backing singers we've heard since the heyday of Carol Kenyon or Helen Terry (Michelle John and Sharon White in particular), he crooned his way through an esoteric selection of his (mainly solo) back catalogue, including A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Jealous Guy, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Hold On (I'm Coming), Let's Stick Together, and, accompanied by his pseudo 1920s dance band, Love Is The Drug:

We danced our tits off, and sang till we almost popped. But no - we had to save the best till last...

Dame Edna came on, the audience waved "gladdies" (Gladioli - it's her emblem), she bantered, we cheered. The choir came on. The live feed to the Royal Albert Hall came on. Only at that point, methinks, did anyone realise that the actual Last Night of the Proms was running about twenty minutes behind schedule, so synchronisation was going to be rather difficult. Dame Edna shimmied off again. The choir dispersed.

We settled down to a remarkable insight into the world of The Proms before it turns into something familiar. As the wry commentator in The Telegraph observed: [some in the audience]...took on Granville Bantock’s tricky 'Sea Reivers' through the art of interpretive dance." Indeed.

Anyhow, eventually we got to the point where the Hall and the expectations of the sozzled Prommers-in-the-Park could relate to each other, as the commanding presence of the first woman (and she's a lesbian!) to conduct a Last Night, Marin Alsop took control and ushered in the beautiful mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato to the stand.

A very special lady indeed, as I found out today from Gay Star News:
Opera star Joyce DiDonato will be dedicating her performance of Somewhere Over The Rainbow at the Last Night of the Proms to the victims of LGBT persecution across the world.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, DiDonato said: "there’s a lot of those voices that are being silenced today, by families, by governments, by countries and I take that really personally.

"If I literally and figuratively have a voice that I can use in their honour I’m really happy to do that."

DiDonato has previously shown her support to LGBT people.

Speaking further on her personal blog, DiDonato wrote: "The Russian Government (among others) is systematically silencing their own citizens and those of us that support them around the world.

"But, you know what? It’s not only Russia. There are well-intentioned parents, siblings, friends, strangers, communities, schools, as well as governments, that insist on trying to make homosexuals feel like lesser human beings, hoping for their silence, which is seemingly so much easier for their oppressors to bear.

"This simply cannot stand. We are TRULY better than this."
What a gal!

Opening the sing-a-long section (appropriately, perhaps) with You'll Never Walk Alone, resplendent in her Vivian Westwood-designed patriotic frock she led us - 40,000 flags aloft - into the traditional Proms finale with a rousing Rule Britannia, accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (which they followed swiftly with the equally magnificent crowd-pleaser Land of Hope and Glory).

[Rule Britannia is around the 10 minute mark:]

After that exhausting set, it was time for Ms Alsop to give her début speech (in which she said, to booming cheers: “Quite a lot has been made of me being the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms. I’m incredibly honoured and proud to have this title, but I have to say I’m still quite shocked that it can be 2013 and there can still be firsts for women. Here’s to the second, third, fourths, fifths, hundredths to come.”). With that triumphant mood, it was time for more singing and flag-waving to Jerusalem, then the National Anthem, before the whole place exploded with fireworks!

And that was it, for another year.

A splendid occasion, and one incredible day.


  1. Glad you had a good time - and that you finally got to see Mr Ferry!

    1. It, and he, was fantabulosa! Jx

  2. Replies
    1. I'm still coming down to earth, dear... Jx


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