Thursday, 27 February 2014

The first ever concert

Some weeks ago, I did a blog post as part of the My Writing Process blog tour and listed some of the sound track I'd been listening to while writing Christmas at Rakehell Manor.

As you can see it's an eclectic mix :D   Many writers need silence to work and I do too, sometimes, but I find music a good way of getting my creative muse going.

These days we're fortunate enough to have music of every sort available at the push of a button, the click of a mouse or better still, live at a concert or gig.  Public concerts have been around for a while of course but it might surprise you to know that the first ever  public concert took place in 1672.  I'd love to know if there was dancing in the aisles!

John Banister * see below for image credit
It happened one late December evening at a house in Whitefriars, London.  For the first time in London, and it is believed in the world, a public concert was given at which people paid at the door.  The Restoration of Charles II to the throne had seen a rise in enthusiasm for opera and a composer and violinist John Banister, a
protege of the King, began a series of organised concerts.

Banister charged the princely sum of one shilling for entry to a large room where the audience sat at tables, arranged as they would have been in an alehouse.   The musicians on the small stage, led by Banister, accepted requests for particular music and 'very good musick' was said to have been played during the next few years.  Public concerts and recitals rapidly gained further popularity with the opening of the new pleasure gardens in London.

When the pioneering Banister died in 1679, an unlikely figure emerged to carry on his work.  Thomas Britton
was a coalman in Clerkenwell - by day he walked the streets selling coal, by night he indulged his passion for music over a rented stable off St. John's Square.  For the next 36 years the concerts he staged there every Thursday night had a great influence on the spread of popular music.

Thomas Britton (Wikimedia Commons)
Britton was self taught and also built most of the musical instruments he and his fellow musicians used.  Initially he didn't charge for his concerts, asking only one penny for a cup of coffee.  Later he asked for a subscription of just ten shillings a year and by then some of London most famous musicians, including Handel, were climbing the stairs to perform at Britton's loft.

And, since I couldn't possibly end this blog post without some music *g*, here's my latest listen, a fabulous ear worm that makes me smile from the new album 'Man on the Rocks' by Mike Oldfield.  This track is called 'Sailing' and features great vocals by Luke Spiller from The Struts :)

* Image of John Banister copyright National Portrait Gallery, used under Creative Commons Licence.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Celestial Bed

In the late 19th century, a lavish beauty parlour was opened at Schomberg House, Pall Mall, London by former medical student Dr. James Graham.  A notorious quack and conman, Graham never completed his studies but he referred to himself as 'Doctor' anyway.  He became a popular figure and began practicing 'electric medicine' and, emboldened by an increasing flow of rich and successful clients, he opened the 'Temple of Health' in 1781. 

For those willing to pay the two guinea entrance fee, the Temple offered a variety of delights catering for the health of the body and the soul.  The opulent rooms housed the 'Elysium' (for soul-transporting experiences),  mud-baths ('All-cleaning, all-healing and all-invigorating), and a place to purchase 'Imperial Pills' (for decayed constitutions).  The most famous and most popular attraction was the 'The Grand Celestial Bed'.

The bed, described as a 'medico-electrical Apparatus' could be occupied for a night by childless couples for a large fee (£50 or about £3,500 in today's money).  Under a dome swirling with fragrant vapours and live doves, customers were surrounded by crystal pillars, with mirrors offering a view from every possible angle. The 12ft x 9ft bed delivered mild doses of “electrical fire” designed to promote “superior ecstasy” in the woman and thus guarantee conception.  The movements of the occupants of the bed set off music through organ pipes which sounded with increasing tempo as their encounter went on.   The words "Be fruitful,  Multiply and Replenish the Earth" were inscribed on the headboard.

The celestial bed was visited by a number of influential men and women of the day, including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, actress Mary Robinson, the Prince of Wales and politician John Wilkes.  Many arrived at the Temple disguised with masks and veils.

Graham himself lectured from a celestial throne on transcendental experience but after several years although the Temple of Health was a success Graham still ended up deep in debt and was increasingly gripped by religious fervour, which led to mania.  Before he died, he had begun experimenting with fasting as a way of prolonging his life.  He was eventually committed to an asylum and died in Edinburgh in 1794.

Dr James Graham going along the North Bridge in a High Wind, caricature portrait from 1785 by John Kay (image from Wikimedia commons)