A new Southbank Centre exhibition, Concrete Dreams explores the remarkable creative history of arts venues, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. The venues are reopening to the public after two years of extensive restoration and redesign.
The exhibition consists of an immersive audio-visual backstage journey which sets in context the rich history and behind the scenes secrets of the venues. Visitors on the tour start at the Queen Elizabeth Hall artists’ entrance and follow in the footsteps of all the legendary artists who performed on these stages at the start of their careers in the 60s, with a roll call that includes Pink Floyd, Cleo Laine and Daniel Barenboim.
After collecting your stage pass, visitors are given rare access backstage, travel through the working scene dock, visit an artists’ lounge, go into the dressing rooms and ending on a surprise finale.
Throughout these areas are unique archives in which the past and present is brought to life with live performance footage, recordings and printed materials.
Highlights include 60s and early 70s archives of live performance footage, poetry recordings and print materials from stars including Deep Purple, London Sinfonietta, Imrat Khan, T Rex, David Bowie and Celeste Dandeker. Special events like the live film footage of the very first performance of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells 1973 and the performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet in 1967, featuring Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim are also shown.
The building of the venues were highly controversial and the archives include some of the previously unseen correspondence between London County Council and the venues’ young architects and early original photography and architect blueprints from 1961.
In the dressing room area, some of the early art events at the Hayward Gallery are featured with posters about Gilbert and George,Kinetic psychedelia and Bridget Riley.
The end of the exhibition involves moving on the stage in the Queen Elizabeth Hall to enjoy an innovative multimedia show that celebrates many of the artists that have graced the very stage you are sitting on.
This fascinating exhibition challenges some of the preconceived ideas that the reopened venues where generally used just for classical concerts. In reality, the venues from the 1960s have been used for a wide variety of artistic events and has often played an important part in the careers of a large number of artists before they became superstars in their particular field. The new diverse programme of events in the venues is not a new beginning for the venues but part of the remarkable legacy illustrated by this exhibition.
The final weekend of the Concrete Dreams event from the 27th – 29 April will involve three full days of live performances and participation, with Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room filled with music, dance, workshops and talks celebrating the dynamic and vivid performance history of the 1960’s buildings, whilst looking to the future.
A large number of free events includes 60s Big Sing, a participatory vocal performance workshop celebrating songs of the 60s – from Bowie to Pink Floyd. These include a new collaborative contemporary dance and music piece Our Veranda, performed by Freddie Opoku-Addaie, a new music composition Echoes in Time: Drake Music and dance company Corali’s new work 9 Windows Reimagined.
Other Concrete Dreams Weekend highlights include:
In conversation with folk singer Sam Lee and folk legend Shirley Collins
A late night concert of Sam Lee’s unique Singing With Nightingales
Rambert Dance, who originally rehearsed in the foyer of QEH in the 60s, returning to the foyer for a family workshop
Fifty Poems from Five Decades – with ten of the finest poets writing in the UK today,including Simon Armitage and Caleb Femi
Performances of South Asian dance, electronica, pop, Indian classical music, western classical music and jazz
The Concrete Dreams exhibition is free, but you must book for tours and opens to the public on Tuesday 10 April and Concrete Dreams Weekend runs from Friday 27 – Sunday 29 April.
Photographs taken with permission of Southbank Centre.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information, visit the Southbank Centre website here
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