Tower Bridge will once again open its bascule chambers to concert goers with a new round of performances in September, curated by composer Iain Chambers, writes Michael Holland.
Iain was born, and grew up, in a small village outside Peterborough, ‘complete with pub, pigsty and playing fields aplenty,’ he says before adding, ‘I now live in East London, where I have lived for most of my life, about two miles from Tower Bridge.’
Iain played the piano from the age of five and then gravitated into writing music and a penchant for electronic music. ‘I also liked composers like Bartók, Shostakovich and Ravel.’
After moving to East London, Iain continued writing and playing, and along with Philip Clayton Smith, formed Bow Mods and created music that ‘explored the nightlife, characters and places in the East End that we knew… ‘Our single Country Girls was picked up by Tom Robinson at BBC 6 Music.’
Not having a preferred instrument, Iain says ‘although not technically an instrument, domestic small sounds of the type that John Cage often used in his music are my favourite’, and goes on to say, ‘I like working with the sounds of specific locations and exploring the music you can find in the everyday ambient sounds around us. In terms of experimental music, I draw on the work of composers like Cage, Christian Wolff, Beatriz Ferreyra and Howard Skempton. In terms of song-writing I would say my main influences are Julia Holter, Mark Hollis, Serafina Steer and Jim O’Rourke.’
One day Iain heard a recording from the London Sound Survey capturing Tower Bridge lifting from within the bascule chamber. The chambers are the cavernous spaces that the counterweights from the road section drop into when the bridge is raised, which he likens to ‘a giant garlic press’. From that he got an idea to ‘present this recording alongside actual brass instruments echoing and doubling the tones of the bridge.’
Since the composer has been curating concerts in the chamber, audiences have been fortunate in enjoying a reimagining of Handel’s Water Music using the live sounds of the bridge; the Ben See Group, Juice Vocal Ensemble, and clarinettist Kate Romano performing Steve Reich.
For the September concerts, Iain says he has lined up ‘the seven-piece Marian Consort singing brand new vocal music alongside Renaissance music; the great UK tabla player Kuljit Bhamra, and an exciting new voice poet Rae Levine’. Iain also reveals he will ‘be making an immersive sound work to take audiences down the 100 steps from street level to the bascule chamber.’
Of the chamber itself he says, ‘I haven’t yet met anyone not awestruck when they see this incredible brick-lined cathedral, hidden beneath the bridge and below the line of the river Thames. So don’t miss this unique opportunity!’
The Bascule Chamber Concerts are on in the South Bascule Chamber, Tower Bridge, Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey, SE1 2UP. Times: 20th Sept: 8pm; 21st Sept 6pm & 7.30pm; 22nd Sept 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 7pm & 9pm; 23rd Sept 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 7pm & 8.30pm. Admission: £26, £15 u15s.
Main image by Steve Stills