Event review: it’s culture, innit? Nigel Kennedy and the Fairfield Halls, Friday 22nd May

By - Tuesday 2nd June, 2015

Charles B. Wordsmith is rewarded for not judging a concert hall by its cover

A concert by the virtuoso violinist Nigel Kennedy, ably supported by the accomplished Oxford Philamusica orchestra, led me to return to the Fairfield Halls after a period of more than thirty years. Indeed it was so long ago that I cannot even remember who I saw there all those years ago. My previous dwellings having been in the west of Surrey, Croydon had always seemed rather a long way to travel and indeed had usually been off my radar as a music venue. Now a comparatively new resident of Croydon, I was keen to check out its largest and most famous cultural location once again.

I must confess that I’d read a rather scathing review of the place before re-visiting it. Someone had claimed that it was very old fashioned, stuck in the ’60s, and that the staff had been unfriendly. One should always read lone reviews with a degree of scepticism. I myself have always had a rather sentimental soft spot for the 60s, perhaps because being aged just eleven at their end, I was never really old enough to fully appreciate them. Perhaps the architecture of the period was not always the most inspired but I suspect the Fairfield Halls arose from a genuine desire to promote culture and share it as widely as possible amongst the community. It is a shame, therefore, that it seems a bit separate from the centre of Croydon, stuck out on Park Lane, with no signs from East Croydon station to tell any newcomers how they might find it.

A bit shabby and in need of paint – a symbol of neglect rather than aspiration

My first impressions I must admit were not too favourable. We were meeting up with my daughter and her boyfriend, and I’d hoped that we might try out the restaurant there, but when I rang up to book a table, I was told it would not be open that particular evening. I was informed that there was a café, which was rather pretentiously called a brasserie but only served sandwiches and cakes.

As we walked along Park Lane, our first view of the building was also not particularly edifying. It looked a bit shabby and in definite need of a new coat of paint, somehow more a symbol of neglect than aspiration.However, as we entered the grand hallway and picked up our tickets and some glasses of wine from the bar, I felt somehow more at ease and at home. The staff were helpful and friendly and I was surrounded by a crowd of people who seemed genuinely excited at the prospect of the concert that was to come.

Kennedy breaks down barriers – he’s vibrant and alive

Thankfully, Mr Kennedy also seemed happy to be there. He praised the hall’s acoustics and treated the audience to an exciting range of music from Bach to Jimi Hendrix, as well as some of his own impressive compositions. If you go and see Nigel Kennedy expecting a traditional and rather formal classical concert, you might be a wee bit disappointed, but for me he makes classical music seem more vibrant and alive than many other more conventional performers. He also breaks down barriers between genres of music, showing that all styles of music can have their own merit if they are good enough. All in all, it turned out to be a very enjoyable evening.

I do have one or two small quibbles. I enjoyed my first glass of wine before the concert a bit more than my second, simply because the first was served in a proper wine glass, whereas the second came in a plastic beaker. I was also rather surprised to be charged £2.00 when I left two items in the cloak room, as most art galleries in central London don’t charge anything – though they might encourage you to leave a tip. And when I asked the cloakroom attendant after the show where we could get something to eat, I also hoped that he might suggest something more inspiring than McDonalds. In some ways though, to be fair to the guy, this just shows the rather dismal choice of restaurants within walking distance.

It will be interesting to see how the Fairfield is refurbished. It could certainly do with a bit of a facelift and some modernisation, especially as regards the food that it offers. Perhaps, most of all though, it could do with promoting itself a bit more around the rest of Croydon. I would love it to have a sign showing the way from East Croydon station, perhaps like the Barbican with a painted line to follow, and maybe in the summer it might even allow some acoustic buskers to perform in its forecourt. In spite of all my criticisms, I shall certainly be returning, for I believe that the Fairfield Halls is a cultural venue that should both be valued and supported.

Charles B. Wordsmith

Charles B. Wordsmith

A newcomer to Croydon, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle.

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  • David White

    The suggestion of signing from East Croydon to the Fairfield Halls is a simple idea but a good one.