In keeping with, well pretty any announcement these days, news of the BBC Radio 1 Ibiza Prom was met with its fair share of outrage. Conservative MP Bill Cash suggested “it is extremely damaging to undermine the ethos of the Proms by bringing in fake originality” and, somewhat predictably, the Daily Mail and their readers were in uproar . All this for a one-off concert (among 92 in the season) to celebrate a 20 year association between Radio 1 and Ibiza? Well, that obviously makes it a must watch.
To a palpable sense of anticipation Pete Tong comes on stage and explains that, over the next 90 minutes or so, we’re to be treated to unique versions of 20 classic tracks from the Heritage Orchestra, conductor Jules Buckley and a few special guests. Reinforcing the uniqueness of the show, it is being broadcast live on Radio 1 and Radio 3 (as well as via the red button and, later, available on iPlayer). And then we are off, opening with the swirling string section who lead us through the intro of “Right Here Right Now” before the samples kick in.
The mood is initially respectful rather than raving despite some energetic singers and, possible care of Dr Evil, lots of fricking lasers. As if to remind them they are allowed to make some noise, the orchestra lead the audience into clap-along session before a cool mix into Pjanoo draws the first real roar from the crowd. Next, we race through a quick potted history of Ibiza classics including Lola’s Theme, Children and 9PM (Til I come) and then a change of pace offers a quick breather for those braver souls who are up on their feet dancing.
Watching at home is obviously a little different to being there but a couple of things quickly become clear. Firstly, this is far from a harbinger of the apocalypse with smart song choices and arrangements that show that good music is universal. It’s easy to imagine the whole family appreciating this with both dance and classical fans hopefully ending the night with a better appreciation for each other’s music. But the first half of the show also feels slightly disjointed to my ear – with momentum frequently built and then sacrificed. I’m putting this down to the need to showcase a range of music from the past 20 years and avoid alienating the diverse audience which is understandable but still annoying.
Then, around half way through, things click. Pete Tong addresses the crowd to huge applause and welcomes Ella Eyre on stage for a crowd-pleasing rendition of Good Life. I’ve never rated the lyrics (“good life, good life, good life, good life, in the, good life, good life” indeed, that’s not going to convince the doubters) but it’s a great melody and the energy from the Ella and the orchestra make me, almost, get over myself. From there it’s mostly classics until the end. One more time and Moby’s Porcelain go down well but it’s Faithless’s Insomnia that really kicks things up a gear. The arrangements of Nightmare and Cafe del Mar sound like they were written for this stage when John Newman takes to the stage for the finale it’s grins, applause and hugs all round.
I’m delighted that, despite any misgivings, it seems the concert was a critical success. It’s also the most downloaded concert this season so far according to the Telegraph, but if you haven’t seen it you still have a few days to do so at the time of writing this. With the BBC seemingly under threat from the current government and their media friends, it’s also great to see the Culture Secretary also enjoyed it. Brave, groundbreaking and popular? I agree with the Rt Honorable Gentleman, this was the BBC at its best.