22 Years of Music at Audley End House

Warm summer evenings gently cease, then autumn shows her face expertly painting the landscape into a patchwork of colour, but then it seems she is always too eager to welcome the shorter days and longer nights of winter. Nevertheless during the colder months reminiscing about warm evenings of July and August is something we all have in common.

I love to listen to music, with friends and family sitting on a blanket with good food and a bottle of something special. No place is better to do this than on a weekend at Audley End House near Saffron Walden, Essex when there’s a concert in full flow.

This idyllic Jacobean stately home does have many other events on during its opening months, showing off its extremely well maintained gardens and fine collections of English art and tapestries, but if a typical day out with English heritage isn’t enough for you, then there’s no better way to enjoy the views of this picturesque mansion than experiencing the summer concerts.

Over the last 22 years, music at Audley End House has changed a lot.

Before the open air concerts, playing popular genres of today, music at the house was limited, but could be heard inside its Great Hall, or marquees in the grounds. Classical music was usually played to a smaller, formal audience who could buy a cheaper ticket.

On July 22 and 23 1989, a Glyndebourne – style evening of formal dress and Mozart was played, by the Chillingrian Quartet. This night was named ‘The best of Austrian music’. During the interval, guests had the opportunity for a picnic outside on the lawns with a marquee on standby for bad weather.

Other entertainment at the house in this month was a two – day presentation of theatre, music and dance by a traveling theatre company called Miracle Theatre. They put on an Elizabethan weekend and instruments like the lute were played accompanied by a mezzo soprano, singing some of the top 10 hits of 1589.

On July 20th 1990, a special event known as the ‘beating retreat’ took place where 4 military regiment bands of 150 musicians performed in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund. They were the 2nd King Edwards VII’s own Gurka’s rifles, the 9th / 12th Royal Lancers, the 3rd Battalion of Royal Anglican Regiment and the Royal Highland Fusiliers. The beating retreat has its origins back in the 17th century when soldiers would gather in their regiments to ‘stand easy’ after a day’s battle and listen to the regimental bands play.

The ticket price was £5 per car and only £1 for pedestrians, 9,000 people were estimated to have turned up.

During the next few years’ music at Audley End House was very similar and hadn’t changed from historical, classical or the odd evening of jazz, but in 1994 the genre of music changed. In this year, a stage went up on the lawns behind the house for an evening of classical music, guests were encouraged to bring their own picnic food and drinks whilst enjoying the summer evening with friends and family, listening to Handel’s Water Music, Albinoni’s Adagio and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto in G major, finishing with fireworks, which now happens every year. Instead of the stage being taken down after the show finished and reassembled for the next night of music, the stage stayed where it was for a Chris de Burgh concert three weeks later.

Chris de Burgh had just released a new album ‘This way is up’ and chose Audley End for his venue to hit off his 70 – date European tour, which was his first for over 2 years. Fireworks finished this extremely successful evening. 8,000 people attended each paying £10.50 – £14.00. Many local people thought the change in music genre wasn’t the right decision as it would encourage a different sort of crowd to the concerts, causing problems in noise and traffic congestion because of an increase in ticket sales.

A local resident in Audley End village which is directly impacted by the concerts believes the weekend of music not to be a problem despite the traffic congestion. The local resident Said ‘It’s only a few weekends a year, and if I don’t like the music I don’t mind sticking my ipod in’.

10,000 people turned up each concert night for the next 2 years in 1995 – 1996 to watch Glen Millers band. Thousands again turned up the following night for the Last Night of the Proms, the National Symphony Orchestra played and soprano Sarah Poole was also there singing Rule Britannia, but a sizable number of the audience treated the whole event as a sociable occasion making far too much noise and not paying attention to the music, apparently ruining it for those who wanted to listen. This was a first for the Audley End concerts; in the past the evenings were always a lot calmer.

Up until the end of the 90s the concerts were organized by English heritage but IMG the events management company took it over, promising to keep the same style of evenings as before.

Since this company has been organising the concerts the demand and price for tickets has risen because of the popularity of the acts. Adult tickets are now £32.

In the last decade, audiences at Audley End have had the pleasure of listening to Tom Jones, Jools Holland, Music from the Movies, James Bond Night, Bjorn Again, The Rat Pack, Status Quo, Van Morrison, James Morrison, Jamie Cullum, Simple Minds, West Life, Bryan Ferry, Buena Vista Social Club, Gypsy Kings, Katherine Jenkins, Scouting for Girls, Will Young and many more, with the last night of the proms always finishing on the last weekend with a fantastic firework display.

The earlier years still had some very memorable moments. In 1996, Carolyn Grace flew her famous Grace Spitfire over the crowd whilst the National Symphony Orchestra played Walton’s ‘Spitfire Prelude’. In 1997 a nationwide appeal for strawberries was launched because of a low yield caused by heavy rainfall. Eventually 1 ton of the little English red fruit was found in nearby Hatfield Broad Oak Essex and delivered to guests for free. Britain ruled at an evening in 1999, when a sold-out night at the last night of the proms caused 10,000 people to sing along and wave Union Jacks to Rule Britannia and Jerusalem.

Every summer, the concerts have always been a huge success, entertaining a large variety of people - they never seem to disappoint.

Electronic music is probably a long way off and would defiantly challenge local residents further, but is there a possibility of another genre of music moving into the summer line-up?

Whatever happens let’s just hope they keep entertaining people in the years to come.

Take That Returns

Take That, reunited in their original line-up of for the first time since 1995 (with Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Howard Donald, Jason Orange and Robbie Williams) , are currently touring through Britain and their current tour “Progress” has reached Wembley Stadium. The statistic for this concert are eye-watering: 1.76 million tickets were sold, of which 1.36 million tickets were snapped up in the first 24 hours of the sale. This makes their tour the biggest tour of any pop band or pop star in British history. The tour costs a rumoured £15m and as an additional attraction, the Pet Shop Boys sing as a support band.

The atmosphere in the stadium was extremely energetic when I walked in with my friends. Huge masses of people populated the ranks and were waiting with anticipation for the concert to start. The Pet Shop Boys were embraced very warmly by the crowd and the people were singing along to their classic songs. They really got the people into the right mood. However, when Neil Tennant announced that Take That would come on stage soon, the crowd started to become extatic. A magnificent atmosphere!

Finally, a huge countdown appeared on a screen that was centred on the stage. The spectators counted down the last minute and then … Take That appeared. 

The concert was divided into three stages. Firstly, Gary Barlow, Mark Owen, Howard Donald, Jason Orange appeared as a quartet. They very quickly announced that: “someone will join us later”. They performed some songs from their career as a quartet. After that, Robbie Williams appeared in a giant glass chariot and was welcomed by the crowd very warmly. He performed five songs of his solo career. Finally, all five members of the band appeared and started performing some of the newer songs from the new Progress album. The crowd was ecstatic! The band also sang some of their old hits, such as Back for Good. This really got the crowd going and some people indubitably started to reminisce about old times.

The whole show was loaded with special effects. Huge water fountains, elevating platforms, a glowing stage, dancing trees, roller-skating bees, ghost-like dancers and a huge caterpillar helped build up a very energetic atmosphere. A giant robot in the middle of the stage started moving during the second half of the concert. 

How long the reunion will last is uncertain. However, when the quintet sang Never Forget in front of the giant illuminated robot so tall it almost towered above the stadium, it almost felt like a mythical event.

This tour will certainly be one to be remembered by many people. Take That are reunited and their “group hug” towards the end of the performance marks unity. I am looking forward to seeing what happens to this famous pop quintet in the next few months and years.

You can obtain Take That’s albums, such as their latest album Progressedfrom Amazon, by clicking here:


Image reproduced from http://www.mosaicodiffusion.com

Picnic Concerts at Audley End

The sun’s out. The days are getting longer. Sandals can now worn without the risk of frostbite. Summer is finally here. So what better time to plan a picnic. I don’t mean any ordinary picnic though. I’m talking about the fabulous English Heritage Picnic Concerts happening this Summer at Audley End House.

Audley End House in Saffron Walden is the stately venue for a wonderful schedule of concerts this July with performers ranging from Tom Jones and Katherine Jenkins to Scouting For Girls and The Saturdays. This breathtaking setting is the ideal location to enjoy a picnic with friends and loved ones whilst listening to great music in a relaxed atmosphere.

Here are the details of July’s concert schedule at Audley End:

  • Saturday 9 July – Bootleg Beatles & Björn Again
  • Saturday 16 July – Scouting for Girls with Sophie Ellis Bextor
  • Saturday 23 July – The Saturdays
  • Saturday 30 July – Tom Jones
  • Sunday 31 July – Last night of the Audley End Proms starring Katherine Jenkins

VIP packages are available and include hospitality in a marquee which has the best views of the concert stage and a two course cold buffet with wine. Guests can either bring their own picnics or special hampers can be pre-ordered from Carluccio’s and collected on the day. Every concert at Audley End finishes with a spectacular firework display that is the perfect end to a perfect evening of music and entertaining.

On 31 March 2011, the Cambridge News quoted Joel Smith, concert organiser for IMG, as saying that: “The picnic concerts at Audley End bring together fine food and marvellous music in a breathtaking location for a celebration of the British picnic tradition. With the estate boasting a rich musical history – Audley End was built for the entertaining King James I, a strong campaigner for reforming and promoting the teaching of music – the site is the perfect location for magical nights of incredible al fresco entertainment”.

These concerts are extremely popular – especially the ones with big stars like Tom Jones. The last night of the Audley End Proms also gets booked up quick. Therefore it is recommended that you purchase tickets early to avoid disappointment.

Images reproduced from www.picnicconcerts.com, sugarscape.com and getmein.com