Today we’ve had our feet firmly stuck in the past, walked around the present, and strided into the distant future.
London was the host of today’s activities, as we toured what will be the new Olympic Park site, and then caught a history of the grand old dame of the South Bank, the Royal Festival Hall.
Royal Festival Hall, London (taken from ‘This is Tomorrow’, courtesy of Saint Etienne/Paul Kelly)
The day started in Stratford. The official Olympic Park Walk looked especially official and interesting on the map, but the reality of the gravel tracks and gritty roads are somewhat different.
And not in a good way.
When lorries driving past aren’t spewing up contact lens-disturbing road grit, there are walls of disused tyres to look at, large dirty puddles to be avoided, and rain to be sheltered from under iron bridges. And, that’s without the extra ‘points of interest’ (which clearly aren’t anything of the sort), which are tacked on to the southern loop, presumably to make it more scenic, but just make it an hour too long.
There are no official hoardings as to the architectural wonders that will fill the still-to-be-developed spaces, the official footpath signs are so small that they can easily be missed, and there are no diversions to take the walker around the sections of the route which have already been courdoned off.
It’s all largely academic now anyway, as the site is sealed off on Monday to let the building works really get underway. All in all, very disappointing, and I dread to think what overseas spectators will make of it all (and the muddlesome logo) in 2012.
This part of East London needs some more than drastic improvements in those intervening five years. The building works and Olympic visions need to be good, to tranform this blot on the city’s landscape.
In fact, we gave up on the northen loop, and while the DLR provided us with a ride to Canary Wharf, it was only a connecting interlude, as our final destination was the South Bank.
‘This is Tomorrow’ film promo (courtesy of Saint Etienne/Paul Kelly)
To celebrate the Royal Festival Hall‘s reopening, artists in residence Saint Etienne were premiering their latest film, ‘This is Tomorrow‘. It’s been well-documented on these pages before that I am a big fan of the London-loving band, and so the thought of a film about an iconic London building by my favourite pop group seemed to be the perfect pairing.
(In a synchronistic twist, the band’s earlier film, ‘What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day?‘ chronicled the demise of the Lower Lea Valley, and trod some of those same Stratford paths which we walked a few hours ago.)
Not only that, the 75-minute film is soundtracked by the band, and the premiere would see them performing the score live, along with a 60-piece orchestra and choir made up from musicians at local schools. A fan of their previous and well-received film about London, ‘Finisterre‘, I was eager with aniticipation and excitement.
It didn’t disappoint. The film itself was engaging and diverting, wonderfully shot, and detailed the Hall’s history from its prominence at The Festival of Britain (for which it was built) in 1951, through to the grand reopening.
With interviews and comments from the people involved, everyone was included from the original architects, through to the builders who helped restore the place.
Carpet, Royal Festival Hall, London (taken from ‘This is Tomorrow’, courtesy of Saint Etienne/Paul Kelly)
No stone was left unturned, and while the stories of the aisles, wonderful balconies (which appear to be floating), iconic carpets, hallways, seats, and stairs unfolded, you had to allow yourself an occasional glance around the auditorium, in order to see those exact same items in situ, and in glorious technicolour.
The refurbished site is fantastic, and anything post-1951 has been junked, so that the rediscovered Royal Festival Hall is seen as it would have been at its opening all those years ago.
Of course, the soundtrack is very Saint Etienne (I hope it gets a commercial release), and the performance itself was exceptional, as the music was perfectly in time with the film, and at times, I forgot that what I was hearing was actually being played in the same space, only a few metres in front of me.
‘This is Tomorrow’ embarks on a UK tour later this year, before global showings in 2008. Catch it if you can.
A day of synchronicity and contrasts then, of rebirth and rebuilding, and filled with but only two of the ever-changing faces of our capital.