R.I.P. Terry Hall

Term started in September 1978. My first resting place in Coventry was in Priory Hall[1], overlooking the tarmac and the infamous ring road. We were up on an elevated 4th floor. That was the part of the building that spanned the road that led to the Cathedral. It was slabs of grey concrete arranged as Lego blocks in the 1960s. As student accommodation it was bashed and battered but cheap and warm. Sitting at the heart of the city compensated for the fumes that wafted up from the bus station. It was a good way to start my undergraduate life in an industrial Midlands city.

Little remained of medieval Coventry, except paintings. The bombing of WWII reshaped everything in the city centre. Post-war rebuilding embraced the modern with architecture we now find brutal. Strangely for me, 26 years later I moved to a German city that suffered the same fate; Cologne.

I’m writing this to remember sitting on the floor in Lanchester Polytechnic Students Union, beer in hand, listening to the bands that stamped their identity on the city and far beyond. Despite the economic depression, or because of it, there was an unending stream of bands trying get noticed. The Union was a venue where there was always an audience to be found.

Amongst them was The Specials. Although, for me the band that sticks in my mind at that venue was the early version of UB40[2]. “One in Ten” captured so much of what was happening outside the doors the Union building. The mood of the song resonates now as much as it ever did.

My engineering sandwich course meant that I came and went from Coventry between 1978 and 1982. I couldn’t have chosen a better time for live music. Yes, the city was suffering a devastating economic downturn. The Government of the time appeared happy to let great British industrial names to go to the wall. Pubs and clubs were buzzing and Two Tone[3] was invented.

So, thank you Terry Hall. His performances captured what The Specials were about. At the time, I had no idea that what was happening in the Student Union Hall would be enduring but that’s the way it turned out. The brilliant music and lyrics sum up so much that they will last for ever.

We lived in a concrete jungle. The song “Ghost Town[4]” by The Specials is beyond iconic. It’s a lament about the passing of good times. It’s about the wreckage left by an uncaring Government. It’s about a lost sense of direction. It’s a song for today too. We see this pent-up frustration coming back. “The people getting angry”. It’s not the scourge of unemployment this time. It’s the trap of low paid employment without hope.

[1] https://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1960/prioryhall.html

[2] https://youtu.be/usYgf8cVfvU

[3] https://www.thespecials.com/gallery

[4] https://youtu.be/RZ2oXzrnti4

In praise of the BBC Proms

I’ve only done three, so far this year. That’s two in the arena and one in the gallery. The Royal Albert Hall is the place to go for the BBC Proms[1]. I’m an amateur. I stand at the Proms. This is my 4th year.

I say, I’m an amateur because the guy I was standing next to, a couple of evenings ago, has been Promming since 1967. It seems to be a bug that once it’s bitten you escape becomes impossible. Promming tickets are released on-line on the morning of the day of a concert.

Music has a power that transforms this Victorian citadel of culture into a centre of magical experience. It’s as if the world ceases to exits and all there is becomes engulfed in that wraparound auditorium. As if it were the centre of the universe. It’s the impact of the soundscape, the people, and the building that produces a mysterious combination. It’s a unique mix.

Live performance has a transformative effect. Post-COVID it’s one of those experiences that was most missed during the pandemic. It’s so evident how dull and grey the world becomes without it.

Acoustically the hall is flawed. Nevertheless, wherever I’m standing, or occasionally seated, there’s a special feeling as oceans of sound flood over the audience. Yes, there are superior concert halls. I was lucky to live within walking distance of the Koelner Philharmonie[2] when in Germany.

The Royal Albert Hall is in a league of its own. It has a heritage and creates an atmosphere that is unmatched both for the things that work and those that don’t. Yes, you need a bank loan to buy a beer and the wiring looks as if its 150 years old.

I’m not musically knowledgeable, or did my education point me in that direction. Our dishevelled music teacher desperately tried to interest my cohort of 1970s kids, but he was pushing a rock uphill the whole way. He knew his unfashionable message, dusty texts and scent of smoke and alcohol were way out of sync with his students. Discipline wasn’t his speciality either.

In fact, I discovered a lot in the school music room by it was nothing to do with music, or its history. Ironically, at the time, music was a huge part of our lives as T-Rex, Bowie, The Who, Slade, glam rock, and disco hit their peak. If I could advise my younger self, it would be to say; learn an instrument. Anyone would do. It really doesn’t matter which one. It really doesn’t matter how well. A skill acquired as a teenager carries throughout life.

By the way, I’d recommend the tour of the hall[3].

[1] https://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/proms/bbc-proms-2022/

[2] https://www.koelner-philharmonie.de/en/

[3] https://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/tours-and-exhibitions/royal-albert-hall-tour/