November 5th, 2010
Sometime in February 2010, Imogen Heap announced that she would be putting on a performance at the Royal Albert Hall on November 5th. As it happens, I had already booked to see Imogen in concert later in February when I went over for my birthday. However, the chance of another weekend in London and to see my favourite artist in a venue such as the RAH was just too tempting. I also managed to talk a couple of friends – Paul & Glen into coming, and then we decided that we would make it a long weekend in the capitol.
Basically, I’d been looking forward to this weekend for a very long time!
We arrived in Earl’s Court just in time for lunch. After dropping the bags at our hotel we headed off to one of the locals for a pint and something to eat. There’s something special about that first pint, particularly on a holiday. The drinking of this pint generally occurs at a time when one would normally be sat at a desk in an office. That, combined with the thirst that has built from catching planes, trains and then the bustle of checking in all combines to this point where you can finally sit back with a couple of friends; lift that drink to your lips take a pull of whatever the local brew is… and relax.
And relax is exactly what we did. In fact we relaxed for most of the afternoon. Our initial plan was to head off a visit one or two of the museums. However, Paul and I have recently been to pretty much all of the big museums between us. Glen was not particularly bothered about visiting one and myself and Paul couldn’t agree on a destination we decided that we’d just have a quiet afternoon frequenting the local drinking establishments. In all honesty it was exactly the right thing to do. I hadn’t realised just how stressed that I’d become over the last few weeks. It was only as I sat back in a comfy chair, ale in hand and just chatting with my friends that the stress just melted away.
After a pretty decent meal and quite a few relaxing beverages we made our way back to the hotel to check in. On the way we made a quick detour and popped into the local bookies. The plan was that we walk in, look at the next race to run and each stick £5 on the first name that jumps out at us. Fiver duly placed, we watched the race. Of course, none of us had a clue what odds we had, what our riders colours were or even if it was a flat or a jump race. None of won of course, and that sent Glen into a little moan about how he’s wasted his money and the whole thing was pointless. Of course he was correct if looked at coldly, but it was just about doing something stupid just on a whim. If his horse had come in, he’d have been the first to jump up and down in celebration. For a whirlwind couple of minutes he may have been quids in. He leant forward watching the race, he cheered when it made a late surge, and in finishing second he very nearly won. Wasn’t that five minutes of rollercoaster emotions worth five pound?
Our hotel was the K&K George at Earl’s Court. We initially walked past when originally making our way there. We’d taken one look at it and decided it looked far too nice to be our place and headed further up the road. Between the three of us the place was very reasonably priced. The location is excellent, and the rooms comfortable and clean. There was a buffet breakfast included and that was excellent. My only reservation was the price of the hotel bar. We had a nightcap there and the round came to over £18, when in the pubs down the road the same round cost £12.
After freshening up, we were dismayed to see the rain start pouring. We booked a cab to take us to the concert. Taxis are generally one of the things that I tend to avoid when I’m away due to the cost. However, between the three of us the cost was minimal and we arrived right at the doorstep and more importantly bone dry.
The Royal Albert Hall is on imposing building. Tucked tightly between the streets it completely caught me by surprise the fist time I saw it. I’d come from near the museums, just wandering the streets with my camera. I simply turned a corner and suddenly there is was. Other landmarks buildings make themselves known from a distance. The Capitol in Washington DC would be one such example. When I visited DC, the building dominated the landscape. No matter where you were on the Mall, the Capitol made its presence felt. Yet the Royal Albert Hall sneaks up on you and then fills your vision. It is a splendid looking building as well. A classic design with the arches and relief’s; yet with clever use of lighting and the glass entrance it looks surprisingly modern.
That feeling of modernity does retreat as you pass into the side entrance to the main hall itself. Small tight corridors were the last thing that I expected, and I was put more in mind of my old school then a world famous venues. Those thoughts disappear completely as you enter into the auditorium. We took our seats which were right in the centre of the ‘circle’, just a few rows from the stage. The huge cavernous interior, the boxes and seating surrounding the stage all beautifully lit, the giant cinema screen glowing overhead and the sounds of the orchestra warming up. This combined to leave an amazing impression, and give the feeling that this was not going to be an ordinary concert.
Some weeks beforehand, Imogen had made requests for video footage of nature. Her plan was that her and an editor would then take this and produce a short film. Imogen then wrote a score to be performed live alongside the completed film. The first half of tonight’s concert was to be the culmination of the project and with the first public performance of the film Love The Earth. Just to add a little extra pressure, the premiere was also being broadcast live on the internet.
Imogen, wearing a conductor’s outfit with ‘LTE’, came out and introduced the piece and the orchestra started to perform. The imagery was captivating and the music was arresting. I do not have the knowledge or the skill to critique the performance as a piece of classical music. However, I immensely enjoyed the performance, which at times reminded me considerably of Koyaanisqatsi. It was all the more impressive considering in how short a period of time the whole thing had come together. If I recall correctly the appeal for video was made when I was out in Kenya. Considering that the footage needed to be collected, watched and selected before finally being edited into the completed film and only then could the music be composed simply blows my mind. To go from an appeal to being performed in front of a huge audience in around 8-10 weeks is an amazing achievement.
After an interval, the 2nd half of the concert was a continuation of the Ellipse tour which I’d seen at the Shepards Bush O2 in February. Even though I’ve now seen her perform live on two occasions, it still staggers me that we as an audience actually witness the songs being created before us. Prior to the first concert, I had presumed that due to the vast amount of samples in her songs; that she would sing to a prepared backing track. Instead, we would watch and hear as she would produce small objects and start making and recording the sounds we hear in the songs.
On a personal note, I was delighted to hear ‘Let Go’ performed live as I wasn’t expecting it. She also played Speeding Cars and Goodnight & Go which also rank up there with my favourites.
The concert closed with an alternate version of Tidal, and finally Hide and Seek. It was an amazing evening, and after having both the performance of Love The Earth and then the concert afterwards, it could be argued that we in the audience had enough entertainment for two evenings. As you can probably gather I enjoyed the entire evening immensely. Glen and Paul both enjoyed the concert which in itself was a relief to hear as they weren’t familiar with her at all. Paul seemingly going as far as to not listen to any of her music until the concert itself so it would all be new to him. I can think of worse ways to be introduced to an artist then a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
After the concert we joined in with the giant procession making its way to Kensington Tube Station in the pouring rain. Despite the cold and wet conditions people there was a relaxed atmosphere as people discussed the concert. Eventually we found our way onto the tube and back to Earls Court. We found ourselves sat in a KFC, puddles forming around our feet from our rain-soaked clothes. I had to give a chuckle at the difference an hour makes. One hour earlier we were smartly dresses, and sitting in one of the homes of British Culture. Now an hour later we looked like we had been dragged in off the streets and sat in one of the least cultural places imaginable.
In all, one of the highlights of my year.