Farewell to London Literature Festival

On Monday evening, 13 October 2014, James Runcie (Head of Literature and the Spoken Word at Southbank Centre) introduced the Man Booker Prize Readings with these words. We thought it was such a good way to see out the festival and celebrate all that we achieved this year that we wanted to share it with you too.

Happy reading, and don’t forget: words can change the world.

Welcome to this, the final event at the London Literature Festival.  We started, two weeks ago, with the Forward Prize for Fiction and end with this, the Man Booker Prize Readings.

In those two weeks, over 20,000 people have come to literature events here at Southbank Centre – many of which were free.

We’ve commissioned a new poem from Alice Oswald, a new play by Craig Taylor, a Gavin Bryars cantata celebrating the work of William S Burroughs, and staged a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

We’ve paid tribute to Maya Angelou, set up a debating chamber, brought 100 plays from all over the country into one room, and staged our first Young Adult Literature Weekender – at the end of which one person wrote on the wall:

“Reading is Dreaming with Your Eyes Open.”

Our work celebrates the power of art and the imagination to change lives – and tonight we are very grateful to the organisers of the Man Booker Prize for bringing us the best in contemporary fiction.

It’s wonderful to celebrate the power of fiction at these high profile events, although I’d like to add that here at Southbank Centre we are equally keen to support, encourage and collaborate with writers at every stage of their career; at the beginning,  at the peak, and even when others think they might be on the way down because – this being literature – hope is our currency.

Writing, publishing, and reading are all acts of faith and trust.

And all the exceptional writers you are about to hear tonight can have cause to be hopeful – not least because Hilary Mantel has only published a volume of short stories this year.

We are proud, for example to have already staged events this year with three authors on the shortlist: Karen Joy Fowler, Neel Mukherjee and Ali Smith – and last year we arranged the first London event for Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries before she was even long listed for this prize.

I think it’s important to take a punt on people, on writers – to believe in them, to encourage the unacknowledged legislators of the universe, and to nurture and celebrate all that we believe to be good about literature.

In an age of shouty solipsism and pointless celebification, where the literati somehow feel pressured to become the twitterati, reading offers something quieter, more focused and more long-lasting. It’s not just about  impact, but resonance.

Literature should offer the pleasure of discovery, transcend expectation and leave us – after we have stepped into the lives of others – thinking differently about the way we live an improved life.

The greatest happiness often comes from outside ourselves.

Other worlds.  Other wonders.

So let’s find them.

Thank you to everyone who came to this year’s London Literature Festival and helped make it so great.

Keep up to date with literature and spoken word at Southbank Centre, because we’re certainly not stopping there! Come and join us as we plough ahead with our autumn season. And to make sure you don’t miss anything, sign up for emails, follow us on Twitter or find us on Facebook.

Singer Ian Shaw talks about Madeline Bell

Ahead of his December Xmas Cracker performance, singer Ian Shaw tells us why he’s excited to be performing alongside award-winning singer and friend Madeline Bell. 

From records bought with pocket money to gigs in the Costa Del Sol, Ian looks back on his relationship with Madeline and tells us what he loves about her voice…

My first single, bought with my own money, was from the record stall, run by a traveller called Abe, at the Friday market behind the town hall in Fflint, North Wales. I belted down from school at dinner time (lunch to most these days), stuffing myself with a half portion of chips-on-a-tray, got from the chippy next to the shop where mum worked.

It was 35 pence and it was called Banner Man by a band called Blue Mink. I’d heard it on Radio Luxembourg, under my eiderdown, on Tuesday night. The words were strangely familiar to me ’…as we listened to the baaaand…’ and ‘the tubas oompahed all the way’.

I played in my dad’s brass band and Roger and Madeline seemed to know this. It was that strange pop period in the early 1970s, just ahead of Bolan, Bowie, The Sweet and Slade. For a couple of years, everything suddenly burst into colour and the monochrome sixties gave way to yellow dungarees, Crystal Tipps And Alistair, as well as my very own stereo with separate speakers. Hi fidelity indeed.

The second I heard Madeline Bell’s voice, I so desperately wanted to be her Roger one day. Over the years, with the help of my incredible father, I’d rooted out everything she’d recorded (including Live At The Talk Of The Town, where she sings a chilling version of I Who Have Nothing alongside an audience-a-long One Smart Fellow, He Felt Smart). I saw her, beaded and braided, on the Les Dawson Show, and heard her in Young Messiah. She was in cabaret the night of my 18th birthday at The Talardy in North Wales… then pow…

At 21, I was discovered by Cana Variety, after a ropey audition at Pizza On The Park.

‘You got a passport son?’ asked Jack Fallon, the legendary Canadian bassist, then, at 75, with his wife Jean, running a piano-bar agency from his large house in Southgate…’and some, er…decent stage gear?’

It was 1983, and I was head-to-toe in Post Punk chic. Not very Marbella. Which is where I was drafted in March that year. I played 4 sets a night at Duques Pianobar, an extraordinary joint on the waterside of the famous man-made 80s playground of the Costa Del Sol. It was run by an eccentric Oklahoman, ex-navy, country-singing cowboy called Duke (after John Wayne) and his delightfully potty Canadian, flame-throwing wife, Jocelyn.

I stayed in their poolside cottage on the road to Istan. We slept till midday and one morning, Duke hollered across the pool, ‘Hey Iaaaaan. Get dressed. Madeline Bell is coming for lunch. Get your fat arse…’

I was showered and dressed in minutes.

Madeline and her beautiful late husband, the great drummer, Barry Reeves, appeared through the bougainvillea-covered garden gate. They were the most handsome, un-showy, funny, warm-hearted, hugely musical life-pairing I’d ever met. I loved every subsequent meet-up with them. Over the years I learned practically everything I cherish as an entertainer from Madeline.

I’ve watched her in studios, at Ronnie Scott’s, crawling out of a tiger cage at The Hippodrome. We sang Melting Pottogether at the Hackney Empire together for the Anti-Racist Alliance. We’ve sung together with orchestras, big bands, we’ve saluted Aretha and Billy Strayhorn with Guy Barker for Radio 2. She introduced me to the amazing Tommy Blaize. She brings me toffee vodka from airports and I’ve interviewed her for The Ronnie Scott’s Radio Show. We happen to share a mutual love for the great singer-pianist, Liane Carroll. Each year, we salute her old pal, Dusty Springfield, for Simon Bell’s Dusty Day, which is the most heart-warming gaggle of musicians and friends I have ever experienced, and to play for Madeline to sing A House Is Not A Home remains an utter joy.

I was hugely privileged to share some tremendously precious moments with her beloved husband and soul-mate, in his last year, playing him Stevie Wonder and telling him that Mad was on her way. Her positivity and love for him will remain with me always.

And then there’s that voice. The gospel-informed phrasing, the laser timing, the lushest vibrato since Jaqueline du Pre played Elgar, the honesty, the falsetto. And the sheer bloody connection to her audiences. She has an outward-reaching, spiritually rooted holler, not the empty, eyes-closed riffing of many of today’s clamouring and cloying wannabees.

It shook my bones as a child with a record player, forty years ago in deepest Wales. It still does.

We’re singing together at The Purcell Room in December. Some festive songs, a bit of blues and jazz, some great pop. Some belly laughs and obviously, some Stevie. She makes me sing better, that Madeline Bell.

Ian Shaw’s Early Xmas Cracker With Very Special Guest Madeline Bell
Friday 12 December, 7.45pm
Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ariane Todes interviews renowned French violinist Renaud Capuçon

Ariane Todes interviews renowned French violinist Renaud Capuçon ahead of his three-concert journey through Beethoven’s violin sonatas on 6, 7 and 9 November at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Renaud Capuçon on Beethoven’s violin sonatas

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Renaud Capuçon dreamed of performing a Beethoven Violin Sonata cycle from the age of seven. He heard his teacher playing them all in two concerts and recalls, ‘I don’t know if he was any good, but I was so proud and I remember thinking that when I was older I would do this.’ He learnt the ‘Spring’ Sonata when he was eight, despite his teacher’s warnings about being too young, and when he and Frank Braley first met in 1998 they decided together to fulfill the dream, working on the entire set over time and finally recording and touring it five years ago.

Hearing the sonatas chronologically as we do here, we have a 15-year window on Beethoven’s life, from the three Op.12 sonatas, written in 1797–8 when he was 27, through to his Op.96 sonata, written in 1812 when he was 42 and substantially deaf. Capuçon explains the process: ‘Each sonata is a journey within a journey. It’s amazing to be able to play ten sonatas that cover Beethoven’s life. It’s like jumping into special Beethoven water. You get absorbed in one particular atmosphere, following a path and enjoying the changes that the composer undergoes.’

Capuçon describes some of these changes and reveals his own favourite sonata: ‘In the first three sonatas, Op.12, Beethoven is full of life. They feel youthful but you already recognise the Beethoven who’s going to bang on the table and to revolutionise colouring. Op.12 No.3 and Op.30 No.6 are less well-known than the ‘Spring’ (Op.24 No.5) and ‘Kreutzer’ (Op.47 No.9), but they have heartbreaking slow movements.’ Op.30 No.8 is the happiest of the cycle – it could be a young opus because it’s very fresh and optimistic. There’s such a contrast between No.9 and No.10. No.9 is like a duel, a violent discussion between violin and piano. No.10 reminds me of the final Beethoven piano sonata in the way it’s written for piano – the sense of time being completely suspended as you wait for the harmony to move – it’s like a dream. You can clearly feel that Beethoven was deaf by then – there is a kind of desolation and renouncement. He’s not angry any more – it’s like he’s accepted everything. It’s my favourite because it’s incredibly intense and introverted. You can feel Beethoven’s suffering, and what emerges is so pure.’

What are the challenges of playing all these works in such a short space of time? ‘There are more than 30 movements so you have to stay absolutely focused and concentrated. The real challenge is to give to each movement and each sonata the correct character. It changes a lot, very quickly: from playing a scherzo you go to an emotional slow movement and then you get a rondo finale that’s full of energy. You also find extreme dynamics, such as a subito piano after a fortissimo, or the opposite. Beethoven often creates a peaceful line and then suddenly breaks it and goes somewhere completely different. You have to be aware of all these changes: to let the violin sing, but also to be at the edge of this change.’

Capuçon and Braley have played the pieces in more than 60 concerts together as well as recording them. So will these performances be the same as they’ve played them before? Absolutely not, says Capuçon: ‘It will be completely different, because we’ve changed, life has changed. I’ve had a son, which changed my way of playing, and I have a new bow, which also makes a difference. This is what is exciting in music. Every concert is an adventure.’ After playing together for nearly 20 years, the duo know how to get the most out of the music and of each other, says Capuçon: ‘We really push each other to our limits. It’s not a diplomatic way of playing because we know each other so well. The more you can trust your partner, the more exciting the performance can be.’ And for any violinist, the pieces represent the ultimate challenge: ‘You can’t cheat in this music. These sonatas demand the full a range of qualities you should have as a violinist.’

BOOK NOW to experience this astonishing creative journey live at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall,  http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/the-beethoven-sonatas

© Ariane Todes, 2014

Cameron Carpenter shares his playlist

The inimitable Cameron Carpenter joins the BBC Concert Orchestra on Saturday 18 October for the UK premiere of Terry Riley’s new Organ Concerto At the Royal Majestic, commissioned by Southbank Centre. The concert also features music by Charles Ives, John Luther Adams and Philip Glass. Cameron sent us his playlist to get you in the mood for the concert.

Cameron Carpenter

Cameron Carpenter












Charles Ives / Henry Brant: A Concord Symphony – San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas

Among the many iconoclastic American composers who expanded the possibilities of music in the 20th century,Charles Ives is probably the most important. The orchestration of his “Concord Sonata”, originally for piano, was itself a project of more than three decades’ work by another American original, the composer Henry Brant.

This excellent recording is a one-stop shop not only for a crash course in the American orchestral sound, but also for the idea of appropriation and mixing of influences that is so important in 20th century music.

It’s exactly this sense of having a right to make the music your own, that also enabled me to make my own version for organ of the same work by Ives, of which the third movement (“The Allcotts”) will be heard on this concert.

Aaron Copland: Symphony No. 3 for Organ & Orchestra – Sony Classical: Bernstein Century. The New York Philharmonic / Leonard Bernstein; E. Power Biggs, organ.

No serious discussion of American music, and especially of the delicate task of integrating the organ into orchestral forces, could be without a serious listening to this remarkable work, written when Copland was twenty-three and premiered with Nadia Boulanger at the organ. In its craggy, jagged edges it foreshadows some of the darker moments of Terry’s much larger and more sprawling work.

Percy Grainger: In A Nutshell Suite: Arrival Platform Humlet - BBC Philharmonic / Richard Hickox

Grainger’s music is so important to me in its scope, in its childlike view of the world and in its freshness. He’s so often overlooked as a serious composer – even today – that it’s not often appreciated how original some of his concepts were.

In ‘Arrival Platform Humlet’, for example, we see perhaps the first major orchestral work written entirely in unisons. As far as I’m aware, it’s still the best. Here’s another early twentieth-century voice bringing us something remarkable.

Terry Riley: Persian Surgery Dervishes

It’s incredibly important to understand Terry Riley’s rather wild musical history in order to have an appreciation of just what a stylistic departure his new work (At The Royal Majestic) is. There are certainly little moments in Persian Surgery Dervishes that seem to be retained in some way in the new piece, but the new work is shockingly Romantic by comparison to the works that we’ve come to know Terry for, and which with LaMonte Young and others influenced several generations of musicians in many musical genres. 

BOOK NOW for an evening with Cameron Carpenter and the BBC Concert Orchestra http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/bbc-concert-orchestra-181014-81053

From StorySLAM: Live audience member to winner! Skip Oliver tells her story

Skip Oliver writes of her journey from being a member of the audience at Southbank Centre’s StorySLAM:Live to winning the slam with her own short story ‘Koby’s Wish.’

“Nothing can be more satisfying to an emerging writer than knowing that there are events that allow his or her authorial voice to be heard. Writing is a wilderness way of life. Madness hops on and off the shoulder of the bulging-bellied, dowager-humped bard (for writing does nothing for the posture) if the writing remains clasped to the heart with no-one to hear or read it. So the audience at StorySLAM: Live at London’s Southbank Centre are treasure incarnate, its judges and its director fairy godparents. They offer a platform for emerging writers to strut their stuff – its regular short story competition event an essential motivator. May 2014’s winning short story was my own, ‘Koby’s Wish’, and reciting it ignited a spark from my coccyx to my atlas – whoosh – I now sit up straight.”

Celebrate StorySLAM:Live’s fifth anniversary at Southbank Centre tomorrow night (Wednesday 1 October 2014). Click here for tickets.

Read Skip Oliver’s winning short story, ‘Koby’s Wish’.

Southbank Centre receives support from Heritage Lottery Fund for Festival Wing repair and maintenance project

  • Public exhibition explaining proposed works opens on 29 September
  • Planning application to be submitted to Lambeth Council later this year

Southbank Centre is delighted to announce that it has received earmarked funding* for a grant of £4.9 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the essential repair and maintenance of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery. This £24 million project, which is expected to begin in September 2015, will address the urgent repairs and maintenance needed to keep these buildings open and is the foundation for Southbank Centre’s longer-term ambitions for this part of the site.

This initial support means that Southbank Centre has secured earmarked funding, including a development grant of £90,800, from HLF. The project also includes an extensive, permanent programme of learning and participation, which will allow people of all ages and backgrounds to engage with the history of these important buildings and Southbank Centre’s archive.

The second round application to HLF will be submitted in February 2015 and the outcome is likely to be announced in May 2015. This follows the £16.7 million grant from Arts Council England announced in May 2014.

Alan Bishop, Chief Executive of Southbank Centre, said: “I am delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this significant encouragement for this important project for Southbank Centre. After nearly five decades of intensive use, this project will restore the facilities for audiences and artists to world-class standards and keep the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery open for future generations.”

Carole Souter, Chief Executive of HLF, said: “Since the Millennium, the South Bank has been transformed into a hub of creativity and buzzing street life. Southbank Centre itself has played a huge role in the area’s wider redevelopment and has a great track record in innovation and community engagement.”

“The Heritage Lottery Fund is supporting these latest plans to conserve two important buildings and ensure the Centre’s little-known historic archive is properly maintained and given a much higher public profile. The partnership working with schools and places of higher education is an exciting proposal for the future, and represents a very positive step in the continuing regeneration of one of London’s most popular riverside areas.”

Southbank Centre has appointed Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios to lead on the repair and maintenance project. Building on the success of the Royal Festival Hall refurbishment, the project will prolong the life of the buildings for future generations and includes the following:

  • refurbishment of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room auditoria to preserve the character of the venues including renovating the walls, floors and ceilings and retaining and restoring the existing seats; and new, upgraded technical production facilities for performances;
  • a refurbished Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer incorporating a new ceiling, and opening up the riverside wall with new glazing, refurbished ticket desk, cloakroom and toilets;
  • improved access for both audiences and artists, including accessible dressing rooms;
  • replacement and upgrade of building services including the central plant; heating, cooling and ventilation; water supply; lighting, including specialist stage lighting; fire alarm; security; radio; and IT cabling;
  • replicating the iconic Hayward Gallery Pyramid Roof to allow controlled natural light into the upper galleries as originally conceived, and refurbishing the galleries including the renovation of the stone floors;
  • repairing exterior terraces to improve drainage and accessibility;
  • enhancing the environmental performance of these 60s buildings, reducing energy consumption.

From Monday 29 September, the repair and maintenance project will be shared in a public exhibition in the Royal Festival Hall foyer and online at Southbank Centre’s website (until 19 October). The exhibition forms part of the public consultation of this project ahead of a planning application being submitted to Lambeth Council later this year.

While the repair and maintenance project takes place, Southbank Centre will continue its artistic and festival programme across the rest of the site, and expand its touring programme across the UK and internationally.

Southbank Centre remains committed to a wider scheme for the Festival Wing, creating new arts and cultural spaces to provide more free arts and education opportunities for everyone, in particular children and young people, and is working to resolve its funding. Any future plans for this part of the site will include the retention of the undercroft for skateboarding, BMX and street writing, following the recent agreement with Long Live Southbank (LLSB), the skateboarder’s campaign group, which recognises the undercroft as the long-term home of British skateboarding and other urban arts activities.

Cllr Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council, said: “This funding is a great endorsement of Southbank Centre’s huge contribution to arts and culture. It’s a significant step towards the realisation of their plans to create new arts and cultural spaces that will be used and enjoyed by many and will be of particular benefit to our local community, especially children and young people.”

Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, said: “Southbank Centre has played a leading role in helping to transform the South Bank into London’s top destination. This project will enable Southbank Centre to preserve this part of the site for generations to come and lays the foundations for their long-term plans for a more ambitious arts and cultural programme.”

Timothy Jones, Principal Inspector of Historic Buildings and Areas, London at English Heritage, said: “We warmly welcome the plans to repair these important 1960s buildings, which will enhance their architectural and historical significance, and look forward to working closely with Southbank Centre on this project.”

*Initial support plus development funding means the project meets our criteria for funding and we believe it has potential to deliver high-quality benefits and value for Lottery money. The application was in competition with other supportable projects, so this is an endorsement of outline proposals. The project will submit fully developed proposals to secure a firm award at a later date.

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. HLF has supported 36,000 projects with £6bn across the UK. http://www.hlf.org.uk @heritagelottery.

Claire Allfree on Fahrenheit 451 – a dystopian future imagined

A performance of Fahrenheit 451 sits at the heart of this year’s London Literature Festival, where it challenges this year’s core themes of freedom, justice and democracy. Here, Claire Allfree, who has adapted Fahrenheit 451 for a rehearsed reading at the Southbank Centre on October 4 and 5th, explores Ray Bradbury’s world free of independent thought, knowledge, self-knowledge and imagination and shows how it remains very relevant to us today.

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1950 in the basement of UCLA library, where you could rent typewriters for ten cents a half hour. The library came in rather handy: at one point Bradbury was running up to it every couple of hours to grab an armful of whichever books looked interesting. Fahrenheit 451 contains many potent quotes from the history of literature, yet Bradbury chose every one of them at random. The quotes, he writes, were ‘wonderful accidents where pulling a book off the shelf and opening it just anywhere at all, I found an amazing sentence or paragraph that could occupy a position in the novel.’

If anything sums up what Fahrenheit 451 is about, it’s this little story. Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which book paper catches fire, imagines a future America where owning a book is illegal. Montag, Bradbury’s main character, is a fireman whose job is to incinerate any house suspected of containing printed matter, be it a novel, dictionary, self-help manual or poetry anthology. There are no newspapers in this future America, no stories, no religious, philosophical or scientific texts. No one has the chance to stumble across amazing sentences or paragraphs in a book by accident because no one reads anything at all.

Fahrenheit 451 belongs to that small but extraordinary category of dystopian novels whose visions ring eerily prophetic. To read it more than 60 years later is to feel slightly queasy and a little frightened. The novel, written in the shadow of the threat of atomic war, envisages a collective mass cultural oblivion, where the public have willingly given up reading out of inertia and boredom and now view the written word with suspicion and terror. Their indifference and fear feeds into every aspect of their lives. Husband and wives, instead of talking to each other, plug their ears into state-sanctioned radios pumping out anodyne music and war propaganda. Instead of meeting friends for dinner they invite them over to watch TV in the Parlour, a room inside every home made from giant TV screens. And yet, beneath the seemingly placid, tuned out surfaces of Bradbury’s neutered, sleeping suburbs lurks a terrible violence. Men commit suicide. Women overdose on sleeping tablets. Teenagers in cars mow down strangers just because they can.

Bradbury’s bookless world is a stultified, conformist place entirely free from independent thought, knowledge, self-knowledge and imagination. It’s extreme, of course; dystopias always are. And we today don’t live in a society without words, books or stories: you could argue in fact we have too many of them. Novels still sell in their millions. The internet is one vast, sucking, swamping mass of words and opinions. Some people even still read proper old-fashioned newspapers. Yet Bradbury’s novel is a terrific (and gorgeously written) warning against neglecting the importance of reading and writing properly, of not treating written language with care, consideration and love. When we stop bothering to read difficult books and instead opt to graze on a Facebook post; when we ignore a newspaper article for a 140 word news tweet; when we dismiss reading novels or poems because we just don’t have the time, what we are really saying is that we no longer want to listen.

The author Jonathan Franzen, defending the traditional novel against the digital one, argued that a sentence printed on a page offers a contract between writer and reader that the same sentence in the virtual world does not. I suspect Bradbury would disagree: although he couldn’t have imagined the internet as it exists today, he wasn’t so fussy about how we record what we think, feel and know, only that in some way we do. (Which is not to say he would have embraced the soul-crushingly banal solipsism of most social media. Although Mildred, Montag’s wife, would have found it strangely comforting.) But in many respects he would have recognised what Franzen meant. The act of thoughtfully writing something down, whether that something has emerged from tremendous struggle, a period of intense study or a single beautiful thought: it is our gift to each other, across continents and down through centuries. It connects us, informs us, enriches us and liberates us. It tells us who we are.

The temperature at which paper catches fire and burns

The temperature at which paper catches fire and burns