My mum used to run a newsagents shop back when I was a kid. The Corner Shop stood triumphant where Brandon High Street and London Road intersected. The business that resided there – newspapers, sweets, toys and ‘fancy goods’ – vacated the premises back in the 90s. The night before the transfer of power, I headed off to the place I’d spent as much as time in as my own bedroom to ‘say goodbye’.
Being there that night – around midnight as I recall now – was a bit weird. A visually familiar space that triggered memories and emotions. These memories seemed in the moment to be slipping through my fingers. I remembered then, as I do now, few especially fond memories about the place. If anything, my memory of The Corner Shop was that it had displaced family time. Perhaps I held a sense of bitterness about the place. I’m not sure.
What I do recall with clarity was the need to be present in the space the night before new more confident owners breezed in with the resolve prove good on their promise of transformation. One last goodbye, toasted with a grubby glass of luke-warm lemonade ‘pilfered’ from the shop fridge.
There were echoes of that experience last night stepping into the Festival Hall. I was last there seven months ago. Since then the place has been shut. Staff have (first) been furloughed, then made redundant. It’s none of it been pretty. The Southbank Centre is in a sense a monument to something rather brutal for a whole variety of reasons.
I was there to watch a recording of the LPO’s In The Stream Of Life – Sibelius, a Lindberg world premiere, and some Schubert I’d never heard before.
Everything sounded tight. The upper strings sounded – forgive the descriptive term – lush. All on stage demonstrated the kind of attention to detail in recording that makes for a standing ovation.
There were twelve of us in the audience, distanced close to the back wall of the stalls. I’ve never sat there before, god only knows why not. The sound was incredible. For this studio recording – an empty auditorium stretching out in front of me like blank forgotten tomb stones – were the premium seats.
I struggled with my own internal dialogue, I’ll confess. My socially distanced buddy revelled in the joyous soundworld of Lindberg’s new cello concerto. Conductor Joshua Weillerstein bounced around, whilst I reflected on how incredibly grateful I still feel to so many generous people for granting me access.
Advance notice, if you will: live music still sounds good, and when the full auditorium hears it themselves they will go wild. Certainty.
But it was tinged with sadness.
Whilst waiting for proceedings to begin in what has become a TV studio experience I remember well from the BBC, suggestions were made by my handler about timings, toilets and various other logistics. “You can only use the toilets on this floor, and you’re not allowed to go any further.”
Outside the gents on the third (?) floor I caught sight of the Skylon restaurant below devoid of table coverings, staff or punters. Below that an inky blackness. Don’t go there, even though seven months ago you’d have been allowed to go anywhere in this glorious building I call my London Home.
There was a whiff of midnight prohibited access about the whole thing that dominated the music-making as a result. Regardless of where you stand on lockdown, transmission rates, or the ineptitude if the government, public spaces like these for people (privileged) are sorely missed. And I will do everything I can possibly do to hasten the return of that experience.
Watch the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Joshua Wellerstein on Wednesday 28 October on Marquee.TV.
For more digital streams from UK orchestras, be sure to bookmark the Thoroughly Good Digital Concerts page.