Life Chez Dee Episode #120: The Alhambra
Take a walk along the prom and you’ll see the statue of Eric, scenes from The Bay and marvel at the vista, the sandy beach, the Lake District Fells in the distance. It’s beautiful. Wander a little further to the West End and you’ll happen upon this delight of a building, the majestic Alhambra Theatre. Built in 1901, The Alhambra Palace, as it was known, still dominates and enhances the elegant Victorian curve of the promenade today.
You may have in your mind that the theatre will be full of red carpets, chandeliers, and ropes on brass stands, maybe you’ll imagine tiered seating, sprung floors, orchestra pits … but alas no. This is a theatre from days gone by, a has been, tired and worn out … or burned out I should say to be more accurate.
To be honest, you might miss the Alhambra. Walking past you see a shop selling fishing tackle on the ground floor. The theatre door looking like a back door to the shop, or where you might enter into a not so classy nightclub. The door is propped open with a couple of steel sand filled buckets full of cigarette dimps, and the blackboard signage (due to the windy corner the theatre is situated on) resides just inside the entrance way, looking a little like it had been knocked up in a rush, with writing (barely) covering last week’s half rubbed out chalked notices, with todays “Please come inside for tea & coffee” only just legible.
There are so many things which could be done to improve the case for the Alhambra longing to welcome people back through its doors. So much desperately needs to be done, including some obvious and easy basics to sort such as signage and awnings, but it really is in need of so much tlc it really is hard to know where to begin, particularly as there is just no money to spend on this building either inside or out. Without the funding, and without the manpower to help, the Alhambra will likely continue for the foreseeable future only just making enough to pay the rent, and other small running costs, but is very unlikely to see any great improvements given there appears to be no access to funding or grants, but I really am at a loss as to why. Where is the help? Where is the money? Where are the pots of funds which can help and support the arts and music? It’s a wonderful, huge space which could be usefully be used by so many and varied groups in our community, and to be honest just for the sake of the beauty of the building alone. It should be listed, but apparently can’t be because of the damage caused by the fire which occurred some 50 years ago!
We arrived; we went in … because this is the reason we went to Morecambe for the day. We knew it was there, we knew what it was like, we knew who would be there, we knew what exhibitions were taking place.
I cannot help but have a soft spot for this building. Nick Awde, a cousin of Justin is making it his mission to save this place, to make it a part of the community, for the community, to put it on the map, to put on art exhibitions, live music, and to hopefully bring joy, laughter back to the place, giving a platform for both artists and musicians alike … and he’s working bloody hard on this mission, and this passion of his.
Today we went to view an exhibition he’s putting on entitled “Touch” – a free exhibition of video, audio and art installations about isolation and being in touch. It all sounded a little too “arty” if I’m honest, but as with many art exhibitions I attend, I find that once I start to look, and listen, and observe, and understand, I am drawn to the stories behind the art, the meanings, the why’s.
After having a brew, we ventured up onto the roof of the theatre, and stepping over the debris which littered this space, we were treated to the most magnificent views of The Bay.
We begin with an audio-visual piece by Dean Friedman “Halfway Normal World” – “a longing familiar to everyone during these long, isolating lockdowns … to return to, at least some semblance of normal. Depicting that aspirational goal as only Halfway normal is an acknowledgment that given the ways in which the lockdown brought structural inequities into stark relief, we can still do a whole lot better than the imperfect state of normalcy that preceded the disruptive pandemic.”
I’m glad this exhibit was first; I really enjoyed the song, the lyrics, the meaning and the sentiment conveyed through this medium.
Following on from this we watched the video associated with the next exhibit from Meri C Dickson “Spiritual Morecambe” – insights from those who related to the seaside, specifically at Morecambe, in a spiritual way …. being at the seaside and interacting with it provokes a spiritual connection. The pandemic rendering this connection even more poignant for many people.
One exhibit which really spoke to me was that by Paul Ricketts, performer, comedian, musician and video artist, “Taking the Knee” – an ancient gesture used for centuries in ritual ceremonies by religious institutions, royal courts, chivalric groups etc. “But used in 21st Century sports, is it political? Is it racial? Is it bad for grass pitches? You decide by booing or cheering.”
This was fascinating. I was really intrigued by this. The history behind taking the knee, the visual images of so many others taking the knee … to propose, to bend down and speak on the same level as a child, to kneel before the Queen to receive a knighthood. So many images of royalty and celebrities from Diana, Princess of Wales, to Martin Luther King.
I wanted to know more and so the impact of this piece was huge … it felt powerful as I watched, and I came away to research more about the origin of taking the knee.
The exhibits were, as with many art exhibitions, extremely powerful and thought provoking and I’m glad I had the privilege to experience them. I have learned lots, I have questioned lots, I have processed lots. Is this political? Is this racial? Is this a symbolic gesture of the need for meaningful change?
The last exhibit, and my favourite of the day, was the sound of birdsong, which the artist (who I’m sorry to say I didn’t note the name of) had recorded the sound of the birds in the trees outside her window during lockdown. A reduction in traffic noise, and people socially locked away from the outside world, allowed nature to thrive, and we noticed and marvelled at the beauty of this.
Pop in to the Alhambra, there’s always a full programme of live music in the evenings; and there’s always an exhibition on display, or in the planning, but at any rate, you really don’t need any other reason to go inside, other than to look out at the view. There’s tea, coffee and a licensed bar, there are tables and chairs at the windows for you to sit at and just marvel at the view … and what a view it is! On a clear day you can see for miles and miles: the prom, the bay, the sand and the Lake District hills in the distance … it is just stunning. So go in, have a brew, or a beer, and take the weight off your feet. It’s good for you; it’s good for them. They need your money … desperately. This beautiful, old gem of a building needs you, and Morecambe needs it. Save the Alhambra.