The Royal Albert Hall is an iconic London venue. I've been to so many gigs here and the sound and atmosphere is always perfection. There's something special about watching your favourite bands in a 150 year old, opulent concert hall, so much in fact that I will continue to return to the hall again and again. In fact, I've already been here five times since the beginning of this year alone, and each gig has been incredible.
The year started with New Order who did a charity concert in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. New Order are Steve's favourite band and this was the first time we'd seen the band together. We were sat quite high in the upper circle but despite the height the stage still looked amazing and the sound was crisp and clear. The band were still touring their latest, critically acclaimed album, Music Complete, so it was great to hear some of my favourite tracks live (Singularity, Tutti Frutti). I'd only seen New Order once before, way back in 2012 and I wasn't really a huge fan (despite being quite fond of Joy Division) so didn't appreciate many of the songs. Now, with Steve by my side, I am extremely familiar with their back catalogue and very much enjoyed hearing the old hits. Temptation is my favourite and when played live it really is a phenomenal performance. I'm sad they don't play Ceremony any more as it's a great Joy Division / New Order cross over but I got to hear it live back in 2012 so all is not lost.
Anyway, it was a wonderful gig and whilst New Order's stage shows are a very much a rehearsed affair compared to their ramshackled shows of the 80s, they put on a very enjoyable live performance.
A week or so later we were back at the hall to see the Manic Street Preachers celebrate 20 years of their hit album, Everything Must Go. We were standing in the pit this time and the atmosphere was electric. The gig was split into two parts, the bands played Everything Thing Must Go in it's entirety first and after a brief interval they played a greatest hits set. The gig was excellent and due to the anthemic nature of the songs there was an awful lot of mass singalongs, something I absolutely love. It was nice to get so close to the stage this time as the atmosphere really helps make the gig feel more special. I've seen the bands live quite a few times now and this performance was definitely one of their best.
A few months away from the hall saw us return to see the mighty John Grant. I adore John Grant, he is quite the enigma, creating sublime music and his captivating live performances are beyond enjoyable. There was no standing area this time but we had seat in the pit with a great view of the stage. It had been a good while since I'd last seen John Grant live and his performance at the Royal Festival Hall with the Royal Northern Sinfonia is was one of the best gigs I've ever been too. This time saw his perform a full on rock show which sounded and looked magnificent. He had a few special guests perform with him throughout the night; the lovely Welsh singer-song writer Cate le Bon, the legendary Richard Hawley, and, no-one could quite believe it, the astounding Kylie freaking Minogue. I think I screamed when Kylie came on the stage, I wouldn't even call myself a huge fan but it was the sort of pairing that is hard to understand. How on earth did Kylie and John become friends? I didn't think John Grant could top the Royal Festival Hall gig but he more than blew it out of the court this time. I am forever impressed by his incredible talent!
Our last visit to the hall, for now, was to see one of my all time favourite bands perform two night on the trot. Belle and Sebastian celebrated the 20th anniversary of their incredible debut and follow up albums, Tigermilk and If You're Feeling Sinister. Their shows are always sweet, twee and full of nostalgia. They don't have many special effects but that doesn't stop them from being entertaining, especially as Stuart Murdoch is extremely charismatic. We were standing for both nights but due to Belle and Sebastian's hard core fan base we weren't able to get super close to the front which is mainly our own fault for turning up just before the band were due on stage. Alas, both evenings were lovely and fun plus it was great to hear some songs live that aren't played very often.
I was able to visit the hall another time this year, for a completely non music related event, and that was to try the new afternoon tea menu, created in collaboration with the East India Company.
The tea is served in the Verdi restaurant and has an innovative spin on otherwise traditional afternoon tea choices. The sandwiches are lovely and included personal favourites like ham and mustard and smoked salmon and crème fraîche. The homemade scones (plain and sultana) with clotted cream and strawberry jam were absolutely delicious as well.
The selection of cakes and sweet treats was impressive to say the least. From white chocolate, mint and rum macarons, mango, passion fruit and Jivara éclairs, strawberry and rhubarb custard tarts, raspberry almond cake with a tonka bean meringues, dark chocolate mousse with salted caramel, and Grand Marnier infused carrot cupcakes served with extra injectable Grand Marnier there is an awful lot of choice. I enjoyed the macaron which tasted not too dissimilar from a mojito and the custard tart which exploded into a fruity mess once bitten in to. The chocolate mouse was extremely indulgent tasting and whilst I don't normally like éclairs, these were quite enjoyable thanks to the fruitiness.
East India Company offer 11 different teas and whilst I'm not a big tea drinker myself I did loved the Blend 68 White Tea which had touches of hibiscus, rosehip and orange peel. I also drank a (few) very delicious Staunton Earl Grey Martini which I highly recommend if you like a strong cocktail.
Afternoon tea at the Royal Albert Hall is £25 per person which is extremely reasonable for similar venues in London. The selection of sweets is especially impressive and the venue itself if beautiful. You can pop in even if you're not attending a concert but for an extra special treat whilst seeing your favourite band, why not make an afternoon of it and have an afternoon tea before hand.