Hot on the heels of the Urban Classic Prom came this, the BBC 6 Music Prom. Yet another first in this year’s Proms saw BBC Radios 3 and 6 Music bring together the likes of Cerys Matthews, Laura Marling, Xenakis, The Stranglers, Varèse and the London Sinfonietta, and produce a programme comprising styles that might loosely be described as “alternative”, from the fringes of pop to punk rock via modernist classical music, all the while maintaining a folky edge. The variety of artists and the musical styles on offer ensured an audience diverse in its age range, but it was clear that – even at such a late hour – everyone was enjoying themselves.

Cerys Matthews performs at the BBC Proms © BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Cerys Matthews performs at the BBC Proms
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

This collaborative Prom came about through a 6 Music show in which the radio station’s Steve Lamacq and Radio 3’s Tom Service shared their respective playlists – each knew very little about the other’s world, but ultimately they came to the conclusion that the spirit of rebellion found in, say, The Stranglers’ music was equally present in the output of composers such as Steve Martland. At first glance, they might seem like unlikely bedfellows, but this Proms presentation showed that there was at least a blurred boundary between the genres and that they in fact made perfect partners.

The shouts from the audience to get on with it (or words to that effect) as Lamacq and Service introduced the Prom and gave us the spiel, recounted in pre-Prom interviews through various media outlets, about how this concert had come about, anticipated the same people’s loud screams as The Stranglers made their entrance. Although now middle-aged rockers – Wikipedia cites their ages as ranging from 49 to 74 years of age – they were still full of the rebellious spirit that earned them fame in the first place. Opening with No more heroes, they instantly had the arena transformed into a sizeable moshpit, heads nodding vigorously to the beat. It was just a pity that piling the heavily-amped electric instruments on top of the Sinfonietta’s playing resulted in a somewhat cacophonous sound; the Royal Albert Hall’s acoustic was largely to blame. Their closing number Golden Brown suffered similar issues, though composer Anna Meredith’s arrangement, taking the track’s originally minimal, harpsichord-heavy accompaniment and spinning it out for chamber orchestra, worked surprisingly well.

For me, the highlight was Cerys Matthews’ set with her small folk band in tow. She showed an extraordinary awareness of folk music – its history, its uses, and that, being folk music, any combination of instruments goes. Her set began with a courtly dance from King Henry V’s time, infused with an energy that almost suggested skipping around, rather than daintily walking. This merged seamlessly (even now I’m not sure how!) into a zippy Welsh folk tune which got the arena dancing along, her medley ultimately becoming the well-known Blueberry Hill. Laura Marling’s extended version of Breathe was overtly folky, too, mixing Sprechgesang with soothing and lyrical singing.

Classical music with an expressly modern edge also made an appearance here. Edgard Varèse’s Ionisation for thirteen percussion instruments seemed unsure of itself with its constant changes in irregular time signature, but Luciano Berio’s O King showed off the Sinfonietta at its best, incorporating mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany’s voice as a hauntingly beautiful instrument. Folk music was just about detectable in Iannis Xenakis’ O-Mega, whilst a fitting tribute to composer Steve Martland came in the edgy playing of his Principia, an extraordinary piece with more than a hint of jazz.

There was no headline act in this concert, and no one artist stood out for me. As an integrative project, this Prom fared better than the Urban Classic Prom – composer and arranger Anna Meredith seemed to grasp the nuances of transcribing and re-working music more successfully, and, as already mentioned, the genres on offer in this Prom sat together far more readily than did the urban and classical music offerings of a couple of nights before. The Sinfonietta was well within its comfort zone, producing a bright sound with moments of seriously agile playing. All in all, some entertaining sets and a clever mash-up of genres that I certainly wouldn’t have thought of putting together.