BBC Proms in the Park: A Cultural Phenomenon

BBC Proms in the Park, kettle Mag
Written by Tayler Finnegan

A British institution, the BBC Proms captures the nation’s imagination each year with a range of breath-taking performers across some of the capitals most esteemed

A British institution, the BBC Proms captures the nation’s imagination each year with a range of breath-taking performers across some of the capitals most esteemed venues. 

The 2014 run of seventy-five proms, featuring everyone from Tchaikovsky to Paloma Faith, ended in a spectacularly climatic fashion with the BBC Proms in the Park, on Saturday 13 September.

As fifty thousand people spilled into London’s Hyde Park to enjoy some of the finest talent the industry has to offer, they were treated to two comperes who are arguably amongst the Corporation’s biggest stars, the original disc jockey Tony Blackburn and, later in the evening, the unrivalled broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan. 

Messrs Blackburn and Wogan were perfect hosts as they engaged with the spectators. A sea of Union Jacks made the event feel the most patriotic yet, whilst the smattering of Scottish Saltires served as a ‘United We Stand’ political statement.

The BBC: Champions of the lesser-known artist

Far from the usual completely obscure warm-up acts you might find at a normal music event, the whole line-up oozed talent. And in true Corporation style, some truly skilled, and soon to be much more well-known, artists were given centre stage.

Straight from the West End, where they have already achieved phenomenal success, the cast of 20th Century Boy, a musical biopic of the late, great T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, performed some of the best of the glam rock band’s hits, including I Love to Boogie, Ride a White Swan, Get it On, and of course their title track. All of these had the prom-goers twisting and air-guitaring across the park.

One particular band to watch were The Shires (check them out here). You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Hertfordshire duo, Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle, were straight out of Memphis with their authentic country-pop sound. 

Their debut single, Nashville Grey Skies, provided the perfect backdrop to a balmy Saturday evening. Although, on account of the weather, London Blue Skies would have been more accurate. 

Their cover of Candi Staton’s Eighties hit Young Hearts Run Free was scarily unrecognisable, and testament to their musical talent. Keeping in line with the nationalistic theme of the Proms, The Shires also wowed the audience with the self-penned Made in England, a celebration of all things British. 

Two of the most prominent voices of the opera world- Vittorio Grigolo and Pumeza Matshikiza, also took to the stage on Saturday evening. Amongst the world’s leading tenors, Vittorio Grigolo began his career as a chorister in the Sistine Chapel before being spotted and mentored by the late Luciano Pavarotti. 

He roused onlookers by belting out a selection including Una Furtiva Lagrima from Donizetti’s L'Elisir D'Amore, before performing the all-time favourite Nessun Dorma from Turandot by Puccini. 

Fresh from the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, Pumeza Matshikiza also proved her worth as one of the most exciting up-and-coming opera personalities, with stunning renditions of a number of operatic anthems. 

Stealing the show

As the sun set down on Westminster, we were treated to one of the most talented singers of the past twenty years. Dubbed the “greatest songwriter of this generation” by none other than Sir Elton John, American-Canadian Rufus Wainwright captivated the crowd with his haunting voice. 

Going to a Town and Dinner at Eight were a few of the hits in his repertoire. Wainwright, as ever, performed beautifully and involved the masses of fans at various intervals. My only criticism is that he omitted his version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah from his set, as that would have sounded beautiful against the backdrop of the royal park.

And just when you thought you had seen all spectres of the music industry from folk to Bhangra, legendary group Earth, Wind & Fire headlined the event and provided the perfect ending to an amazing evening. They performed some of their most famous, crowd-pleasing hits of the last forty years, including Boogie Wonderland, Shining Star, and Let’s Groove. 

The multi-genre band, critically acclaimed as one of the most successful of the twentieth century, were accompanied by the extensive BBC Concert Orchestra, which made for a pleasing show for both the eyes and ears. 

Plus of course, booking Earth, Wind & Fire in September, to perform probably their greatest hit, yes, you’ve guessed it, September, offered a brilliantly apt ending to the 2014 festival season. Nice one, BBC.

As Sir Terry introduced the link-up to the Royal Albert Hall for a 50th anniversary Mary Poppins sing-a-long and the traditional joint Last Night of the Proms/Proms in the Park renditions of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia, you couldn’t help but feel an enormous sense of pride as the whole of Hyde Park and the Hall were united in typical British fashion: with a drink in one hand, a flag in the other, and an inspirational passion for patriotism.

What do you think of Proms in the Park? Have your say in the comments section below.