Review: Jarvis Cocker @ Albert Hall, Manchester

Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker took his Albert Hall audience on an adventure into an underwater dream world with the help of the Manchester Chamber Choir and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Maxime Tortelier.

Audiences of the proms have come to expect to see the weird and wonderful in the late night proms, which run alongside the more traditional airings of Schubert, Mahler and Stravinsky.

Jarvis Cocker’s expansion of his Radio 4 show, Wireless Nights, was no exception to this trend.

After a soporific opening number, Cocker appeared, rising from beneath the stage and prepared the audience to descend with him on a ‘voyage to the bottom of the sea, a voyage to the bottom of ourselves’.

What followed was a hugely atmospheric and imaginative exploration of both the secretive world at the bottom of the sea and the other worldly experiences had by individuals underneath the waves.

Cocker told the Today Program on BBC Radio 4: “We’re investigating the idea of human consciousness, the oceanic consciousness that we all share and we’ve got a free diver talking about her experiences and two men who got stuck in a submersible at the bottom of the ocean.”

“Throughout history there have been these fantastical sea monsters that have supposedly haunted the oceans and one of the ideas of that is that these things have come from our subconscious; these are monsters that we have invented for ourselves.”

He went on to talk about his growing interest in classical music, which has developed alongside his work with Manchester based BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

The manager of the BBC Philharmonic was keen to emphasise to Manchester audiences that there was more to come from the orchestra in the coming musical year: “Our season is full of creativity and imagination, just like the concert we just performed with Jarvis Cocker at the BBC Proms in London. I hope our audiences across the North will love it.

“We are about to start our new season at The Bridgewater Hall, launching with a stunning programme on 19 September featuring Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony, a twentieth century gem which has to be heard to be believed.”

Arguably the program’s highlight was Debussy’s Sirènes, in which the orchestra was joined by the upper voices of the Manchester Chamber Choir, dreamlike in quality and evoking visions of calm seas and endless horizons.

The audience were jerked back to the realities and dangers of the ocean as the orchestra followed straight on with John Williams’ Jaws theme. 

The atmospheric concept of the Hall being submerged in water was occasionally shaken by Cocker’s interjections which often took the form of rather poor ‘dad jokes’. 

Fans of the quirky frontman will have expected no less however and his clever program and able performance more than made up for the occasional damp squib.

Members of Manchester Chamber Choir expressed their delight at their involvement in the Prom over social media:

It is always great to see the BBC, often considered somewhat stuffy in its approach to classical music, embracing these late night Proms and letting their ‘curators’ run wild with their imaginations.

In Prom 74 Jarvis Cocker produced a truly unique piece of immersive musical performance that shone a spotlight on some wonderful Manchester performers.

Listen to Prom 74 now on the BBC Proms website.

Image courtesy of, via Wikipedia, with thanks.

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