Proms 2011: A Horribly Historic occasion with the family

Jeremy Pound enjoys the company of Richard III, Vikings and all…

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Do you know your Kings and Queens of England from 1066? In the right order? I do, but it’s got nothing to do with studying hard at school.

My ability to navigate from William I to Elizabeth II is entirely down to a song from Horrible Histories, the cult CBBC television series that, based on the books by Terry Deary, finds brilliantly entertaining ways to lodge weird and wonderful (but always accurate) facts in the brain. Much of the series has passed me by, but I’ve got to know the songs from the web. Introduced to them last year by my niece and nephew – bright sparks both – and, impressed/concerned that their command of history seemed to have left my own behind (an unacceptable state of affairs, obviously), I decided to swot up myself. Before long, I was hooked. As, in turn, was my willing accomplice, Pound Jnr.

No prizes, then, for guessing who accompanied me to Saturday morning’s first ever Horrible Histories Prom: Bella, 11 (niece); Jack, 9 (nephew); and James, 3 (son). With no disrespect to the oldies, this made rather a nice change, as did seeing hordes of munchkins – many dressed as pirates, Egyptians, Tudors, kitchen sinks, you name it – trooping into the Royal Albert Hall. The 116-year-old festival has never seen a sight so colourful.

The Prom itself, introduced by Radio 3’s Louise Fryer and HH’s own Rattus Rattus, took us on a chronological journey – well, roughly so – as songs from the series happily rubbed shoulders with well-known moments from classical music. And so, a moving ballad from Richard III (‘I’m a nice guy!’) led nicely into the ‘Death of Tybalt’ from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, while the Charles II rap (‘I’m the king who brought back partying!’) was quickly followed by ‘La réjouissance’ from Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. Fun along the way included a debate between Mozart and Beethoven over who was the greatest and a recounting of how Lully entered the list of legendary ‘Stupid Deaths’ by stabbing himself with his counting stick.

Enjoyable? You bet. Singing live in front of 5,000 or so must be a fairly daunting prospect if you’ve trained as an actor, so all hail the HH cast (particularly Richard III himself, the mighty Jim Howick) for so adeptly bringing their small-screen magic onto the biggest of concert stages. And a suitably historic hurrah, too, for the Aurora Orchestra under Nicholas Collon – whether swinging along to the Stone Age Jazz Song or pounding away thrillingly in the Sacrificial Dance from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring the young orchestra showed just why it has made such a Henry VIII-sized impact on the UK concert scene. If they get invited back to perform the Rite in its entirety, I’ll be first in the queue.

As for those who say that Proms such as this have no place in the season, that they’re just PR stunts that somehow ‘dumb down’ a noble institution? Off to the scaffold with them, I say. Leaving aside the fact that Henry Wood specifically founded the Proms with the intention of introducing music to new audiences, does one concert for kids at 11 on a Saturday morning really have the slightest negative bearing on the 70-or-so evening events for the grown-ups? Does it heck.

Such debates are for another time, though. Suffice to say that the Horrible Histories Prom, brought to a ‘literally’ rousing close by the Vikings (above), went down a treat with my family. And now, let’s cue those kings and queens: ‘William, William, Henry, Stephen, Henry, Richard, John, (hoy!); Henry, Ed, Ed, Ed, Rich II…’

Prom 20: Horrible Histories Family Prom
Horrible Histories Cast
Choirs from The Music Centre
Kids Company Choir
Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon

Jeremy Pound is deputy editor of BBC Music Magazine. He has a degree in Classics and a history A-Level, but has, by and large, forgotten anything he learnt.