BBC Proms Diary 2018: Delusions of grandeur

I’ve listened to two concerts on iPlayer this week. Unexpectedly arresting ones. First, BSOResound – the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s group for disabled musicians – who played at the Relaxed Prom. Second, the RPO’s Sound of an Orchestra gig from Saturday.

A year into my new life, my mental attitude must be improving. I assumed that I would instantly hate the RPO’s concert. For reasons I can’t divulge (and actually don’t need to) it wouldn’t have been otherwise entirely out of character of me to project my personal irritations about the RPO onto the blameless musicians on stage at the Royal Albert Hall during my listening experience, and dismiss the concert as annoying.

But I didn’t do that. That’s partly because I’ve finally become a decent human-being (even though I say it myself), but more importantly because it was a fascinating presentation.

The first sixteen minutes alone hooked me in – especially the demonstration of how one E major chord could sound so different in the time of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Recreating the script originally spoken by Bernstein in his ground-breaking TV broadcasts in the 50s and 60s was inspired too. I was expecting the thing to dumb the subject down. What I got instead was something that fuelled my curiosity. 

The Relaxed Prom had the same impact Sistema Europe did on Sunday evening. The warmth that emanates (implicitly and explicitly) from an actively inclusive event is fiercely infectious. Stripped bare of the familiar contextualisation the music has an immediacy which is often lacking for the traditionally catered for audience.

Raw audience enthusiasm – the authentic kind I heard during the Relaxed Prom – is a special thing we don’t always get to experience. And then there’s the undeniable feeling that classical music’s purpose (actually music’s purpose) is clearer in this kind of concert where a specific audience’s need is being met. Music is doing right. For a brief 90 minutes we’re not having to defend classical music – it’s effortlessly demonstrating what’s so brilliant about it. Job done. And it’s always marvellous to hear the Festive Overture again.

This upbeat positive mental continued into the working week. I’ve taken to using the bus to get everywhere as much as I can this week. It’s slower, cheaper, and what with the gentle rocking and the smoother ride, it’s unexpectedly calming too. Ended up having an unexpectedly powerful experience – was it mindfulness? I’m not sure – en route to Waterloo, experiencing waves of emotion whenever I saw old buildings, striking architecture or a bustling street. At various points it felt almost too much to handle.

Today I’ve spent making the final preparations to a team away day I’m facilitating on Thursday and Friday – typing up documents and bulk buying stationery. Listened to a painfully slow rendition of Shostakovich 5 on YouTube – it took an hour. The Baltimore’s Proms performance from Monday was a much prompter affair. Warmer too – the strings in particular. Quite the treat. 

Then, out of the blue, I’m asked by a writery-pal whether I’m going to the Proms Press event on Wednesday. I say no – I haven’t been invited. At this stage the question doesn’t bother. It makes me laugh. I check in with another pal: “Have you been invited?” “Yes.”

It turns out I am the cliche, I think to myself. The shouty gobby twat who is shouty and gobby because no one else is, has finally got it confirmed: one festival on the continent doesn’t rate him, and now the present one closest to home doesn’t either. Epic delusions of grandeur. No really, its funny.

I message a friend of mine who’s holidaying in Greece. Various expletives abound. He assumes an unexpected coaching role. Starts asking me all sorts of probing questions. I come up with a series of points in response: 

1. If I was to look with joy on this (as I was yesterday when I looked at an old building from the bus and nearly burst into tears with excitement – yes really) it would be to celebrate distinctiveness and difference.

2. I don’t want to be like them; but I do need to become more accustomed to the feeling of being alone and distinctive which sometimes feel the same but aren’t.

3. I need to find a way of capitalising on what I’m doing and on that distinctiveness (that doesn’t necessarily mean money) and I don’t what that is yet.

4. I want to learn more and read more and I don’t spare any time for that
Orthodox routes are often toxic – I need to find a way of avoiding them 

5. No one wants to spend time pursuing something tough (ie doing exactly the opposite of what I did at the BBC – I did in a sense give up because I was impatient) and then discover that there was no talent there in the first place but I was too slow to realise it.

6. I am a disruptor; but I don’t have cheer-leader – I could probably do with a cheerleader/advocate – who?

7. I am also independent – fiercely so. In which case who the frig wants to be part of the cognascenti anyway? 

We make good progress during our exchange. We really do. Adopting a stance that is distinctive – being bold about it – is a challenge. I like a challenge. Being robust is important. 

And then, without even having realised it, I’ve penned an email to the Proms Office. I read it back. It’s charming. Personable. Honest. Straightforward. Maybe even self-deprecating.

If I was to look at the situation rationally this is what I’d think about not being there (and not having received an invite to respond to). Where “they” is used I refer to the entire Proms machine, BBC Communications, and to a lesser extent Tony Hall: 

– maybe my name wasn’t on the list because someone forgot; 
– maybe my name wasn’t on the list because they don’t want my name on the list; 
– maybe I should just get over myself and climb down off my perch;
– maybe I need to swallow the hard truth that I’m of little significance/value (to the classical music world!) 
– maybe they’ve not got the budget for a blogger 
– maybe I’m a massive pain in the arse and everybody groans when they hear my name
– maybe post-BBC I’m massively unimportant and I need to get used to that fact

These points are shared with a certain amount tongue in one of my cheeks. Though at the same time, there is an element of truth in each statement. 

Here’s the thing. I know I don’t necessarily toe-the-line – I’m an independent writer and a disruptor, with a distinctive unorthodox voice. Here’s the real truth: you’d think I’d be quite self-sufficient and not need recognition or validation. The sad truth is that I do. I struggle a bit with that. 

I’m not asking for an invitation – not now. That would be just weird. Can you imagine how hollow the experience would be if I received one, said yes, and then turned up? But I would appreciate being reassured that it was just that I was missed off the list. 


Sure, my posts haven’t all been rainbows and unicorns, but they’ve been fair and importantly a distinctive voice. Also, I realise that I choose to write about the Proms and just because I have I am entitled to little or nothing. That’s the deal with blogging. 

So really, what I’m hoping is that what you’ll be able to tell me is that me not getting an invite is just an oversight. Because if it isn’t, I’m going to have to take a hard look at myself (which I’m happy if the need is there). I’d be mortified of course. But I am a brave chap. I’m prepared for the worst. 


As I say. Delusions of grandeur. No question about it.

Update: clarification received – historical admin error. So that’s all good then.

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