The Venues: Royal Albert Hall

The first reference to the Royal Albert Hall I recall was in A Day in the Life, the magnificent final track of my favorite Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Though at the time I didn’t realize the line Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall referred to the famous U.K. performance venue in London’s South Kensington district. The Royal Albert Hall, which had received a copy of the album prior to its release, did and was less than pleased.

According to this item in the concert hall’s archive, the Hall’s then-chief executive Ernest O’Follipar wrote a letter to Brian Epstein, maintaining the “wrong-headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium” threatened to destroy the venue’s business overnight. Not only were the lyrics not changed, but John Lennon wrote back to the Hall, refusing to apologize. The venue retaliated with banning the song from ever being performed there.

Excerpt of letter from Royal Albert Hall CEO Ernest O’Follipar to Beatles manager Brian Epstein

The history of the Hall, which initially was supposed to be named Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, began long before The Beatles. In fact, it dates back to the 1900s and Queen Victoria. It was her majesty who in memory of her husband Prince Albert decided to change the name to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when the building’s foundation stone was laid in 1867. I suppose this makes her a pretty nice girl, though she actually did have a lot to say!

It was also Queen Victoria who opened the Hall in 1871. The building was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott, who were civil engineers of the Royal Engineers. The facility, which today can seat close to 5,300 people, was built by Lucas Brothers, a leading British building construction firm at the time. The design was strongly influenced by ancient amphitheatres, as well as the ideas of German architect Gottfried Semper and his work at the South Kensington Museum.

The Royal Albert Hall has seen performances by world-leading artists from many genres. Since 1941, it has been the main venue for the so-called Proms, an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts. The venue hosts more than 390 shows in its main auditorium each year, including classical concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, sports, awards ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets and, of course, rock and pop concerts.

This July 2019 story in London daily newspaper Evening Standard, among others, lists the following concerts as part of the “10 iconic musical moments in the venue’s history”: The Great Pop Prom (September 15, 1963), which featured The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the same bill with other groups – only one of a handful of times the two bands performed together in the same show; Bob Dylan (May 26 and 27, 1966); Jimi Hendrix (February 18 and 24, 1969); Pink Floyd (June 26, 1969); The Who and Friends (November 27, 2000); and David Gilmour and David Bowie (May 29, 2006). Obviously, this list isn’t complete!

Let’s get to some music. As oftentimes is the case, it’s tough to find historical concert footage from the ’60s and ’70s, especially when it’s tied to a specific venue. One great clip I came across is this Led Zeppelin performance of Whole Lotta Love from a 1970 gig. Credited to all four members of the band plus Willie Dixon (following a 1985 lawsuit!), the tune was first recorded for the band’s second studio album ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II, released in October 1969.

Since 2000, Roger Daltrey has been a patron for the Teenage Cancer Trust and raised funds for the group through concerts. The first such show was a big event at the Royal Albert Hall on November 27, 2000. In addition to The Who, it featured Noel Gallagher, Bryan Adams, Paul Weller, Eddie Vedder, Nigel Kennedy and Kelly Jones. The choice of venue was somewhat remarkable, given The Who in 1972 became one of the first bands to be impacted by the Hall’s then instituted ban on rock and pop. Here’s the Pete Townshend penned Bargain, which first appeared on The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next that came out in August 1971.

In early May 2005, Cream conducted four amazing reunion shows at the Hall, which were captured and subsequently published in different formats. Here’s White Room, co-written by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, and originally recorded for Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire from August 1968. Gosh, they just sounded as great as ever!

The last clip is from the above mentioned show by David Gilmour from May 29, 2006, during which he invited David Bowie on stage. As the Evening Standard noted, not only was it Bowie’s first and only appearance at the Hall, but it also was his last ever public performance. Gilmour and Bowie did Arnold Layne and Comfortably Numb together. Here’s their epic performance of the latter, which was co-written by Gilmour and Roger Waters for Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album The Wall from November 1979. Interestingly, just like The Who, Pink Floyd was barred from performing at the Hall following their June 1969 gig there. It was the first nail in the coffin for rock and pop concerts at the venue that led to a complete, yet short-lived ban in 1972 because of “hysterical behaviour of a large audience often encouraged by unthinking performers.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Royal Albert Hall website; Evening Standard; YouTube

The Hardware: Gibson Les Paul

Just like the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson’s Les Paul is one of the defining electric guitars

As Jim, who writes the excellent Music Enthusiast blog, pointed out a couple of weeks ago after I had published my post about the Fender Stratocaster, I could just as well have called the Gibson Les Paul the model that embodies the electric guitar. I couldn’t agree more; in fact, I had planned all along to do a post on the Les Paul as well, so let’s get to it!

Obviously, the legendary guitar is closely associated with American guitarist, songwriter and inventor Les Paul. The origins of the electric guitar that would bear his name date back to 1940 when Paul built the so-called “Log” at the Epiphone guitar factory. The crude instrument, which consisted of a 4″ × 4″ chunk of pine wood with strings and a pickup, was one of the first solid-body electric guitars. To improve the look, Paul took the wings of an Epiphone archtop body and added them to the pine body.

Les Paul Log

When Paul offered his idea to the Gibson Guitar Corporation in 1941, they initially turned him down. That changed when rival Fender started marketing their Esquire model in 1950, a solid-body electric guitar that later turned into the Broadcaster and eventually the Telecaster.

After Gibson Guitar president Ted McCarty realized the enthusiasm about the Esquire and the Broadcaster, he asked Paul to become a consultant to the company. In 1951, Paul, McCarty and his team started developing a solid-body. While apparently there are differing recollections who contributed what, the result was the first Gibson Les Paul, introduced in 1952. Paul used it for the first time in public in June that year during a live performance at the Paramount Theatre in New York.

Gibson Les Paul 1952

The initial Les Paul featured a mahogany body and neck, two P-90 single coil pickups and a one-piece, trapeze-style bridge/tailpiece with strings fitted under a steel stop-bar. In 1953, a second Les Paul model called the Les Paul Custom was introduced. A more important development happened in 1957, when Gibson introduced humbucker pickups on the Les Pauls. According to Wikipedia, a humbucker is a double-coil pick-up to cancel out the interference picked up by single-coil pickups, i.e., bucking the hum.

While the Les Paul models were formidable instruments, they were pretty heavy, which is why initially they weren’t widely embraced by guitarists. As a result, in 1961, Gibson introduced the Gibson SG, a lighter solid-body guitar that became the company’s best-selling model of all time. The company also stopped producing the traditional Les Paul.

Gibson SG 1961

Initially, Gibson launched the SG as the new Gibson Les Paul. But since the model had been developed without Paul’s knowledge and he was unhappy with the design, he requested that his name be removed from the headstock. Gibson agreed and Paul remained as a consultant with the company. Personally, I’ve always found the SG is a really cool looking guitar.

Ironically, a few years after production had been discontinued, Les Paul models started to become en vogue when guitarists like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton discovered and began using them. Other guitarists followed, such as Mike Bloomfield from the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Again reacting to popularity trends, Gibson reintroduced the Les Paul single cutaway guitar in July 1968. While there have been some tweaks over the years, the model remains in production to this day.

As indicated above, many guitarists have used Les Pauls. Following is a list of some of them.

Duane Allman

The legendary session musician and lead guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band has used various Les Paul models. Here’s a great clip of the band’s epic live performance of Whipping Post at the Fillmore East in 1970. I believe Allman was playing a 1957 Les Paul Goldtop.

Eric Clapton

While Clapton is better known for Fender Stratocaster guitars, he has also used Gibson models, including a 1960 sunburst Les Paul and a 1957 goldtop Les Paul Custom. In 2010, Gibson announced the Clapton 1960 Les Paul Standard signature model, also known as the “Beano Burst.” Here’s a clip of Clapton playing his 1960 Les Paul.

Jimmy Page

Page has used various Les Paul models, including from 1959 and 1973. He also owned a modified 1960 Les Paul Custom “Black Beauty,” which was stolen in 1970 and has never been found. Gibson has produced three Jimmy Page signature models. In this clip from Led Zeppelin’s live performance of We’re Gonna Groove at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1970, Page can be seen using a Les Paul.

Slash

Slash has used many different Les Paul models including his own custom shop Les Paul. Altogether, he has collaborated with Gibson on eight signature models. Here’s a clip of a 1988 Guns N’ Roses’ live performance of Sweet Child O’ Mine, featuring Slash on a Les Paul.

Joe Perry

The Aerosmith lead guitarist has used many Gibson guitar models, including various Les Pauls. Gibson has released two Joe Perry signature Les Pauls, the first in 1996, the second in 2004. The latter is known as the Boneyard Les Paul. In the following clip of a live performance of Toys In the Attic, Perry is playing the Boneyard.

Gary Moore

Moore played a Les Paul Standard. There were also two Gibson Gary Moore signature Les Pauls. Here’s the blues rocker and his Les Paul in action live with Walking By Myself.

Pete Townshend

Among other Gibson models, The Who guitarist used various customized Les Pauls from 1973 to 1979. In 2005, Gibson introduced three Townshend signature Les Paul Deluxe guitars, based on his heavily customized “#1” Wine Red 1976 Les Paul Deluxe, “#3” Gold top 1976, and “#9” Cherry Sunburst 1976. Here is a great clip of a 1978 live performance of Won’t Get Fooled Again, which became the closing scene of The Kids Are Alright rockumentary, in which Townshend plays one of his customized Les Pauls. Sadly, one of the most iconic moments in rock also captured the last performance of Keith Moon, who died in September that year.

Of course, this post would not be complete without a clip of the maestro himself, Les Paul. Not only does it show Paul perform one of his biggest hit singles, How High the Moon (1951), but he also demonstrates one of his inventions called Les Paulverizer. According to Wikipedia, the little device attached to his guitar allowed Paul to access pre-recorded layers of songs during live performance, so he could replicate his recorded sound on stage.

Sources: Wikipedia; Premier Guitar; YouTube