Parties At The Palace – Part 1

Photos of the Queen, with a colour photo of her on tour in China, a black and white photo of her on tour in Ghana, and a black and white photo of her smiling in 1957, from the Party At The Palace DVD booklet.

Many congratulations to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on her Platinum Jubilee! 70 years on the throne is an astonishing achievement, being the first time a British monarch has ever reached such an incredible milestone. It may never happen again, certainly not within any current living person’s lifetime, so it is a truly historic occasion.

I hope The Queen has enjoyed all of the celebrations that have been held in her honour, and it’s been lovely to see her making a few appearances as her mobility allows. And I hope everyone else has enjoyed the various activities that have taken place, or have just made the most of the opportunity to relax and have fun during an extra couple of days off work, over the specially extended holiday weekend.

I’ll mention the Jubilee coverage I’ve enjoyed this year in my next post, including the huge concert that took place at Buckingham Palace on Saturday.

But first, I wanted to talk about the 2002 Golden Jubilee Concerts that I have on DVD, as I’ve naturally rewatched them as part of the build-up to this year’s celebrations. And I’ve had a look through the limited footage available online from the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Concert as well.

Ultimately, the 2002 Party At The Palace remains the only concert that I’m happy to watch in its entirety, even including the weaker acts, whereas for the Diamond and Platinum parties there are several artists I’ve had to skip over. So I’ve written very detailed reviews for the 2002 gigs here, and tagged on a shorter review to mention my highlights from the 2012 event.

We’ll all have different views on these concerts of course, given the wide range of performers from different decades, countries and musical genres, and it’s great that the organisers ensured there was something for everyone. So these are only my personal thoughts, but I hope you enjoy reading through them!

Contents


Prom At The Palace  – 1 June 2002

This 2-hour classical concert, that I own on DVD, isn’t quite as interesting to me as the big pop concert that followed a couple of days later, but there’s still a very pleasant selection of music, all of it wonderfully performed. And Michael Parkinson is the perfect choice of host for such an occasion, telling the audience in the beautiful palace grounds next to the lake, and the people watching on big screens outside the palace, about each piece of music and each performer.

As well as the entire concert, the DVD also gives you the option of selecting performances by chapter or artist. But there are no subtitles, apart from English translations for the French and Italian arias, and no extras either.

The music is performed by several guest performers, usually with the aid of the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

The show starts with the short Anniversary Fanfare by Walton, played by the Royal Marines Band, before the orchestra play the beautiful Zadok The Priest by Handel, during which we see archive footage of the Queen’s Coronation, where that tune was played.

Soprano Dame Kirk Te Kanawa then performs operatic pieces by Bizet (Micaëla’s Aria from Carmen) and Gershwin (Summertime from Porgy And Bess). But while she is undoubtedly an impressive singer, I skipped those tracks, as I’m not a big opera fan.

The lively gospel music that follows, however, is good fun, with the unaccompanied London Adventist Chorale singing Great Getting-Up Morning and Jubilee Spiritual.

Then there’s an excellent performance of Messager’s Solo De Concours by clarinettist Julian Bliss, who was just about to celebrate his 13th birthday, with 23-year-old pianist Ashley Wass. Julian is one of the performers who sticks in my mind most from this concert, because he happily bounces around while he’s playing, has a very impressive solo with lots of twiddly bits, and nails a very fast conclusion. The Queen is shown smiling at the end too.

Next the full orchestra perform the powerful, beautiful, well-known piece Jupiter – The Bringer Of Jollity, from The Planets by Holst. Part of this composition was used with words for I Vow To Thee My Country, so it’s very appropriate that it’s played here.

That’s followed by a nice bit of ballet, with the Black Swan’s Pas De Deux from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, performed in the stunning ballroom by dancers Roberto Bolle & Zenaida Yanowsky, while the orchestra plays on stage. This section is also introduced and explained by arranger Sir Anthony Dowell.

There’s a bit more opera next, which again I chose to skip over, with Sir Thomas Allen singing Figaro’s Aria from The Barber Of Seville by Rossini, and The Yeomen Of England from Merrie England by Edward German. In the latter case, he sings in the role of the Earl of Essex in the court of Elizabeth I.

Next is a pleasant suite called The Nation’s Dances by Sir Malcom Arnold, based on folk tunes from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, accompanied by gorgeous scenic footage on screen.

Then we head back inside the palace, this time to the elegant music room, for a performance of Preludio from Bachianas Brasilieras (Bach in the Brazilian style) No. 1 by Villa-Lobos. This is a slow number by 75-year-old Russian cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, with the cellos of the London Symphony Orchestra. Not my type of thing, but still ok

The pace then picks up again with the wonderful Music For The Royal Fireworks by Handel, bringing together the BBC Symphony Orchestra and The Band Of Her Majesty‘s Royal Marines. As implied by the title, there is a nice fireworks display during the second part of the piece. The crowd are very appreciative of it all, giving a long round of applause at the end, and you can see that the Queen really enjoyed it too.

A suite of Italian opera then follows, once again bypassed by me, performed by husband and wife Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu. As solo arias they perform Vissi D’arte & E Lucevan Le Stelle from Tosca by Puccini, before getting together to sing Brindisi from La Traviata by Verdi, at the start of which they’re given glasses of drink with which they toast the Queen

As we then approach the end, this special concert wouldn’t be complete without Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1 (Land Of Hope And Glory) by Elgar, a staple of the annual Last Night Of The Proms. More old footage of the Queen is shown during the first part of the piece. Then the audience are encouraged to join in with the singing section, with conductor Andrew turning away from the orchestra to keep the crowd in time instead, and they happily wave when they’re notice they’re on camera. It’s a truly feel-good British moment, with everybody singing their hearts out and waving lots of Union Jacks, while red, white and blue lights shine across everyone. There’s huge applause and more smiles from the Queen at the end, before the inevitable encore as well.

All of the performers line up on stage to accept the lengthy applause at the close of the concert, but the biggest cheers and applause are naturally reserved for Her Majesty, getting even louder when she waves to acknowledge her gratitude. And, of course, everybody joins in with 2 verses of God Save The Queen to finish the night. It’s a fitting end to a lovely concert.


Party At The Palace – 3 June 2002

This epic 3-hour pop concert, that I also own on DVD, has a wide selection of artists from across the decades, and is therefore a bit of a mixed bag in some respects. But on the whole it’s very entertaining, and was thoroughly enjoyed by the tens of thousands of people inside the palace gardens, outside the palace gates and down The Mall, as well as the millions watching at home.

They’ve crammed as much as they can on to the DVD, but they’ve had to cut out a few of Paul McCartney’s songs, Ben Elton‘s appearances as a host, and comedic interludes between acts by Meera Syal, Nina Wadia, Ruby Wax and Kermit the Frog. But you don’t notice the edits, so it feels like one continuous show, and it does tighten things up so there isn’t a long wait between the songs. What you do notice is that they haven’t edited out some of the erroneous camera shots from the original broadcast, which is a bit of a shame, as they had plenty of camera angles available to fill the gaps with. But such moments are fleeting, few and far between, and it does give it that raw, live feel.

Despite the various trims, you still get vastly more content on the DVD compared to the soundtrack album that was also released, as that only had one disc, and you’d need at least 3 for the whole concert. They still included some of the best songs on it, but there were some inexplicable omissions too, like Bohemian Rhapsody.

So the DVD is by far the best way to experience it. It has options to select performances by artist or song. And there are subtitles available – but only in French, German and Spanish, and only for the spoken moments. So there are no subtitles for the songs, and no subtitles for anything in English. Quite an odd decision for a British concert DVD!

The show features backing musicians for the majority of the songs, including the Royal Academy Of Music’s Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Horns, along with a house band that includes the legendary percussionists Phil Collins and Ray Cooper, alongside Paul ‘Wix’ Wickens on keyboards, Phil Palmer on guitar, Pino Palladino on bass and Eric Robison. Even if those names mean nothing to you, chances are you’ve heard them as backing musicians on songs in the past. It’s a decent line-up, and they do a great job throughout.

But the biggest highlight of the entire concert comes at the very start, of course, with that magnificent performance of God Save The Queen by Brian May, standing proudly on the roof of the palace in his jacket adorned with names of classic rock songs. He’s accompanied by fellow Queen member Roger Taylor and the house orchestra down on the stage too. It’s such an iconic, majestic and powerful moment, that sends shivers down my spine every time I see it. And it sets the bar so high that nothing else in the rest of the concert comes close to it.

There’s an interesting video about it as part of Queen’s recent 50th anniversary series on Youtube, where Brian explains how he came up with the idea (as the initial suggestion was for him to play it while walking through the State Rooms), and recalls the intensity of the experience itself (including the technical issues that threatened to ruin it).

There’s quite a stark contrast between that and the opening act that follows on stage, Ricky Martin, who isn’t great. He misses his cue to appear behind the flags that 2 ladies are holding, confusing the camera director, and then launches into The Cup Of Life/B With Me with the aid of Mis-Teeq. It’s an odd choice of song, but it has some appropriate lyrics, such as “tonight we’re gonna celebrate”. His next song, Livin’ La Vida Loca, is naturally much better known, and he sings it to the original backing track rather than involving the house band, altering one of the lyrics to say he “woke up in London city”.

Comedian Lenny Henry then makes the first of a few spoken appearances, with an amusing spot where he does impressions of Prince Charles & Ozzy Osbourne, tells a joke about seeing a black guardsman, and announces some of the upcoming acts in the show. He doesn’t appear very often altogether – only when there’s something important to say, or where there needs to be a bit of padding for the next act to get ready. Otherwise, a lot of the artists are introduced in live voiceover announcements by Jamie Theakston, until a special guest comes on stage later to announce the Queen’s arrival.

Lenny then introduces Don’t Stop Movin’ by S Club 7, the pop group’s last performance as a septet before Paul leaves. They sing along to the original backing track, including the pre-recorded chorus vocals, which you can tell as their singing during the verses is noticeably flatter. Singing the verses live, however, does give them the opportunity to tweak the lyrics, noting that “It’s the Jubilee, and tonight’s the Queen’s celebration”. And one guy from the group does somersaults to give their routine some visual interest.

After those weaker songs, however, things pick up considerably with the wonderful Annie Lennox performing Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves, joined on stage by 3 backing singers. There’s a nice bluesy intro verse before the song really kicks in, and it’s very catchy.

Lenny Henry returns after that, making jokes about 50-year-old birds in the picnic, and internet buffering for those watching online. He then introduces a set of songs celebrating Motown, beginning with You Can’t Hurry Love by Phil Collins (with Roger Taylor stepping in to replace him in the house band). He’s by far the best in this section. That’s followed by much less interesting versions of Dancing In The Street by Atomic Kitten, I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Will Young, and Get Ready by Blue. And finally there are better performances of Baby Love by Emma Bunton and Stop! In The Name Of Love by Mis-Teeq.

Once that section’s over, we’re then treated to the catchy Sex Bomb by Tom Jones, a beautiful arrangement of The Long And Winding Road by The Corrs in the pagoda by the lake, and a lively performance of Dancing In The Moonlight by Toploader that gets the orchestra members clapping along as well as the audience.

Lenny Henry then pops up gain, this time to introduce a trilogy of film songs. Shirley Bassey still has an impressive voice for her age, with a strong finish to her performance of Goldfinger. Poor Bryan Adams has to play acoustic guitar with a broken hand, but it doesn’t stop him doing a lovely version of Everything I Do (I Do It For You). And Tom Jones returns to pick up the pace again, this time with Blue in tow, as they perform You Can Leave Your Hat On.

Next there’s an enormous cheer when Queen are announced, and they proceed to do a 13-minute set, which the audience gladly join in with at the right moments.

Roger Taylor kicks it off by singing a verse and chorus from Radio Ga Ga, then dashes back to his Queen-emblazoned drum kit (which is prominently visible throughout the entire concert) as Brian May sings 2 verses and choruses from We Will Rock You, while the cast of the musical of the same name pour on to the stage to join in. The musical had only recently opened in the West End a few weeks earlier, on 14 May, so this was massive exposure for them, and they must have felt under pressure no doubt!

Will Young then joins them all for a verse and two choruses of We Are The Champions, which isn’t too bad, but I’m not a big fan of his. His voice isn’t particularly amazing, and he has an odd habit of just bending his knees up and down as he sings.

But then we get an excellent full performance of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and the WWRY cast to finish, led by Tony Vincent (as Galileo Figaro) & Hannah Jane Fox (as Scaramouche), with the operatic section performed fully live, and then flames appear at the start of the hard rock section when Sharon D Clarke sings her part as the Killer Queen. The audio recording of this live performance was included as a bonus track on the 10th anniversary reissue of the We Will Rock You musical soundtrack album. It is a fantastic end to Queen’s set.

We’re then taken through the halfway point of the concert with great renditions of If I Ruled The World by Tony Bennett, Why? by Annie Lennox, Livin’ Doll by Cliff Richard on acoustic guitar, and Move It featuring Cliff with S Club 7 and Brian May. S Club 7 are better on this than their earlier song, and it’s awesome to hear Brian riffing away on such a classic.

Lenny Henry then makes his final appearance, in order to name-check the orchestra, house band and backing vocalists, thanking them for their hard work all night, and generating a big round of appreciative applause. Then, to the crowd’s elation, he has to announce the transition from, in his words, “The Prince Of Pop to The Prince Of Darkness!”

Cue the arrival of a gum-chewing Ozzy Osbourne with guitarist Tony Iommi, to perform their Black Sabbath heavy metal hit Paranoid, with Phil Collins hammering away on the drums, making this a unique collaboration. Ozzy sings well and is clearly enjoying himself, as are the crowd, and there’s a big burst of fireworks around the stage at the end. It’s a great performance that has a similar level of significance to Brian on the roof, in the sense that there’s nothing else like it in the entire concert, and it’s one of the last things you’d ever expect to happen at such a prestigious venue as Buckingham Palace! And bear in mind the Queen still isn’t present at this point – this would have been a bit too much for her!

We’re then taken inside the palace with a pre-recorded video from the stunning ballroom, where Elton John sits at a piano in a shiny striped jacket and sings I Want Love, accompanied by a backing track. It’s a lovely performance, filmed by a single camera that gently but continuously moves around him from side to side, only sweeping behind him for an alternative view during the instrumental bridge and final chorus.

Then, as darkness draws in and the palace is illuminated in different colours, we start getting into a sea of classic hits for the final section of the show, beginning with a set by Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. He doesn’t really have any stage presence, just sitting at his keyboard and barely moving, and given his age he isn’t quite as strong a singer as he used to be, struggling with some of the high notes. However, he’s backed up well to make up for it, including a good roster of guest performers and great backing harmonies. So his section is actually quite good, beginning with a solo performance of California Girls, before being joined by the legendary Eric Clapton for The Warmth Of The Sun and The Corrs for God Only Knows, and then Emma Bunton, Atomic Kitten & Cliff Richard all help him to dish out some Good Vibrations, which includes a bit of audience participation too.

Dame Edna Everage then comes on stage, joking about being invited to hold the concert in her garden in Melbourne, before introducing the Queen, which is bang on the 2-hour mark on the DVD. There is, inevitably, rapturous applause and cheering as Her Majesty takes her seat in the Royal box with her husband.

Edna then goes on to introduce the Sixties section, starting with a man she jokingly refers to as her godson, although in reality a guitar god is a more accurate description. Eric Clapton performs a fabulous and complete 6-minute version of Layla, including the beautiful second-half instrumental section. That’s followed by a catchy version of Gimme Some Lovin’ by Steve Winwood.

Then we get another joyful 6-minute epic, this time courtesy of Joe Cocker performing With A Little Help From My Friends, accompanied by Steve Winwood & Brian May. Joe still has a strong and distinctive voice, and does his traditional scream near the end. The classics then continue with Lola by Ray Davies in a Union Jack jacket, who gets the audience joining in, followed by Handbags & Gladrags by Rod Stewart.

The finale set is then led by none other than Paul McCartney, who has a strikingly colourful piano. The DVD omits his performances of Her Majesty & Blackbird (which were in the TV broadcast), so the first song we see is While My Guitar Gently Weeps, where he’s joined by Eric Clapton (who also performed on the studio recording). It’s a wonderful tribute to George Harrison.

The DVD then seamlessly bypasses Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise) & The End (which again had been seen on TV), taking us straight on to All You Need Is Love, which naturally begins with a bit of God Save The Queen instead of the usual French anthem from the record, and it ends with the refrain from She Loves You. The whole cast come out on stage to join in, so it’s a really impressive line-up of musicians all performing together at this point.

It’s then time for The Queen and other members of the family to appear on stage and greet the stars, again to enormous cheering and applause, which only gets louder when the Queen turns and smiles in acknowledgement at the crowd. Prince Charles then gives a wonderful speech, beginning with the memorable line. “Your Majesty… Mummy!” That and several other lines get big cheers, as he thanks the performers, technicians and the BBC, affirms his pride in Great Britain, and offers sincere gratitude to his mother. George Martin then leads 3 cheers for her, after which the crowd continue doing more cheers of their own as the Royals leave the stage again.

Paul & the cast, with the audience joining in, then close the show with a 6-minute version of that classic sing-along Hey Jude. Paul also gets the crowd to sing by themselves at one stage – first all of them, then the men, then the women, and then everyone together again.

Among the many faces on stage during this song, it’s particularly notable to see Kermit The Frog, whose earlier spot on stage was one of the comedy moments cut from the DVD. He’s happily singing along while sitting on Tom Jones’ shoulder. If you look carefully during a brief camera shot from the rear of the stage, you can see the back of Kermit’s long-haired puppeteer Steve Whitmire, while Rod Stewart gives the frog a playful little punch that Kermit bounces in response to. Soon after that, a panning shot along the line from the front reveals Steve’s face briefly behind Tom.

It’s also worth noting that one other song Paul performs is I Saw Her Standing There, but that isn’t on the DVD, and it wasn’t on the TV either. That particular song was only broadcast on the radio, presumably after the TV coverage had ended.

But anyway, the concert film ends by showing the palace lit up with a projection saying “1952-2002”, while there are fireworks across the top of the building and all around it, and the credits roll over the top. But you don’t have to worry about the fireworks being obscured, because you can watch highlights of the display in a 4-minute bonus feature on the DVD, accompanied by the live audio from Toploader’s performance of Dancing In The Moonlight. Not the best choice of music accompaniment, but it does the job, and it’s the visuals that matter. It’s a shame we don’t get to see the whole display, but what we do see is really impressive, and the palace is lit up in changing colours and Union Jack projections throughout, before fireworks rain down the front of it for the finale. The Queen can also be seen watching and smiling, and “God Save The Queen” is projected on to her home at the very end. It’s a fitting end to a fabulous evening of music.


Diamond Jubilee Concert – 4 June 2012

Whereas the Golden Jubilee concerts had been held in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, this show was held outside the front, around the Queen Victoria Memorial, with a huge crowd in the stands and stretching down The Mall. Lucky ticket holders even got to have a picnic in the palace gardens before the show too.

However, the concert has never been officially released in any format, so all that can be seen are a few videos of varying quality online – in particular a CBC programme from America (with some audio muted for copyright reasons and other acts edited out), some videos uploaded by a user called surethom, and a playlist of some other performances. The complete setlist is of course online though, if you want to know exactly who was involved and what they did.

There could be several reasons why the concert never had a proper release like the Golden Jubilee ones did. It’s fair to say that, as much as it was an impressive spectacle, it wasn’t as good as the 2002 concerts (or, as it turns out, the 2022 one), with weaker performances by a less interesting roster of artists overall. And there could also be some copyright issues as well. But there’s also the fact that one of the presenters was Rolf Harris, who was arrested for child abuse less than a year later, and subsequently convicted. Given that he introduced some important moments in this concert, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to edit him out.

There were other more palatable and entertaining presenters though, including Rob Brydon, Lee Mack, Miranda Hart, Lenny Henry, Jimmy Carr and Peter Kay (the latter dressed as a beefeater). In a recently published video interview to promote his new book Before And Laughter, Jimmy Carr recalls meeting the Royals and some of the performers at the concert, which is pretty funny and interesting.

Beyond that, there were several acts in the concert I wasn’t keen on, so it’s not worth giving a in-depth review of all the acts that are available to watch online. Instead, here are my top ten highlights:

  • Tom Jones performing two of his biggest hits – Mama Told Me (Not To Come) & Delilah. He’s still got that magic touch with the audience, they’re only too happy to join in with these catchy songs.
  • A special new song for the Jubilee by Gary Barlow (who had also organised the concert) and Andrew Lloyd Webber, simply called Sing, including the Military Wives, African Children’s Choir, and others, with over 200 people on stage altogether. I wouldn’t say it’s an amazing song necessarily, and there are some rather big jumps between low and high notes that some singers clearly struggle with, so it’s not an easy tune to perform. But it’s a nice gesture with some lovely sentiments. It’s just very unfortunate that Rolf is the presenter who gives a lengthy explanation to introduce it.
  • A lively medley of songs by Kylie Minogue, accompanied by lots of dancers. Again, not at her best but still enjoyable enough.
  • Elton John performing 3 songs I’m Still Standing, Your Song & Crocodile Rock – getting the audience to sing the “la, la, la, la, laaaa” part for the latter.
  • Stevie Wonder doing a great selection of his hits, adapting a few of the lyrics for the occasion, including the refrain “let’s celebrate the Diamond Jubilee” that he gets everyone to sing repeatedly. He’s also joined by will.i.am on Happy Birthday, who I’m not a fan of but he’s ok in this instance.
  • Madness on the roof of the palace playing Our House, as projections of council flats and houses are projected on to the front of the building, as well as It Must Be Love. It’s a great moment to see them up there, it looks really cool. But it’s a great shame that they’re miming to their studio tracks instead of singing and performing live, which takes away some of the magic. It makes it a bit pointless getting all their kit up there!
  • Paul McCartney, who can always be relied upon to deliver a brilliant finale, with a great selection of songs. Live And Let Die even includes fireworks.
  • After all of that, The Queen joins her family on the stage – with the notable absence of her husband, Prince Philip, who is ill in hospital at the time. Prince Charles gives another great speech, including a nod to his Mummy gag from the Golden Jubilee concert. He also thanks everybody involved with the show, both on stage and behind the scenes, cracks a joke about the weather that makes the Queen laugh, gets a huge cheer for his father (Prince Philip), thanks the Queen for everything she has done over the past 60 years, and finishes with three cheers for her. That’s followed by the National Anthem, then the Queen lights the first of 4,000 beacons that are spread across the Commonwealth. And there’s a spectacular fireworks display set to well-known pieces of classical music, while the palace is lit up in red, white and blue. It’s a fantastic finish.

Conclusion

So that’s my roundup of the previous Jubilee concerts. I hope you enjoyed reading about them, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s celebrations too. Join me next time for my thoughts on this year’s extravaganza and other events!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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