Everyone knows that Bermondsey has become a hip place to be since it has become renowned for the art studios and galleries around Bermondsey Street SE1. You can get to experience a wide range of artistic endeavours in the area and some of that glamour is spreading to SE16. We are lucky to have theatre, dance and photography represented locally but the diversity of music venues has been limited. That is until now! In the last two years or so, the Brunel Museum has opened up the extraordinary Thames Tunnel Shaft for concerts of many types. This unique space is a huge underground chamber, half the size of Shakespeare’s Globe. Time Out listed the shaft as one of ‘London’s magical music venues’ and Radio 4 described it as an ‘underground cathedral’.
The shaft forms part of the remains of the very first passenger tunnel built under water, the famous Thames Tunnel built by Marc Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The neighbouring museum tells the story of the Tunnel’s construction and subsequent uses. The Thames Tunnel now carries the Overground between Rotherhithe and Wapping stations. The Rotherhithe Shaft was designed to be the entrance point for those actually tunnelling under the Thames. Unlike his predecessors in such construction, Marc decided to avoid the time consuming brick-lining of a huge pit. Instead he decided to build the first caisson: a 42ft high circular brick tower 50ft across on the surface – with two surfaces of bricks a yard apart with the cavity filled with cement and rubble, weighing nearly 1,000 tons; this immediately began to sink into the soft riverine mud and all the tunnellers than had to do was to remove the mud in the centre of the tower as it gently under its own weight sank from sight!
This Shaft then has become the concert hall. The museum has provided a great selection of musical genres and styles with a good following developing. This winter however the Shaft is closed. The reason is that the audience so far has had to squeeze through the original low entrance – only about four foot high and then climb down the precarious scaffolding tower that allowed access to the floor some frothy foot below. With steps in place, this has not been as difficult as it sounds but it has certainly limited the productions that could be presented. Now the Shaft is undergoing a makeover and will open again next year replete with a new entrance and a new staircase to allow the place to thrive into the next decade!
But not to be stoped, this Autumn / Winter the museum has arranged a stella range of shows for us all to enjoy now in the Museum building itself. Alongside the community-focused creative writing workshops (Focus on Fiction) run by Alison Clayburn and the Midnight Apothecary, the Saturday evening outdoor cocktail bar on top of the Shaft (next openings 25 Oct early Hallowe’en and 1 Nov Bonfire night), the concert programme is immensely varied.
First up is the London International Arts Festival 2014, celebrating the colourful cultures of London’s East End. Across the four landmark venues the five day line-up spotlights the capital’s best up-and-coming world music bands. At the Thames Tunnel Shaft, we will enjoy two concerts:
Wed 29 October 19:30 Sunday Driver brings Indie Fusion a duo of Chandrika (vocals and Guitar) and Kat (orchestral harp)
Thursday 6 November 19:30 Indian Music in Two Parts: North and South including Prabhat Rao (North Indian ‘Khyal’ vocalist) and Annapoorna Karthik (South Indian ‘Carnatic’ vocalist)
Then three further November concerts:
Friday 14 November 19:30 Gaia Duo – Flora Curzon and Piotr Jordan (violinists) – play a wide range of music, from the baroque period to the 21st century, as well as eastern European folk, swing and freely improvised music.
Tuesday 18 November 19:30 Innsbruck-based ensemble Klingzeug bring us a fresh interpretation of early chamber music from across Europe
Friday 28 November 19:30 Adriano Adewale and Marcelo Andrade Duo offer a rich mix of Brazilian inspiration on percussion, flute, saxophone and many more instruments, both modern and traditional
Tickets in advance are £10 plus £1 online booking fee from www.wegottickets.com (Search using Brunel) whilst tickets on the door are £12 or – special offer – £10 for SE16 residents (proof required). Payment by cash or cheque only