My journey through the building site at Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool reminds me of an odd but proud ‘first’. The Wales Millennium Centre, a superb arts centre located in the Cardiff Bay area of Cardiff opened to the public in November 2004. Months before its first public performance, Ria Jones and I were invited to sing a few songs ‘on stage’, to celebrate the handing over of an important funding cheque.
On arrival, we both carried our smart stage gear to the designated portakabin, where we were told we had to also wear yellow protective headgear, hi viz jackets, and steel capped boots. We presumed that this was only necessary whilst we crossed the site to the theatre, then all could be removed and we would begin our performance in sparkling frock and smart dinner suit. We were taken into the auditorium, and on to the stage.
Had we not been told this was the theatre and stage, it would have been impossible to guess just exactly where we were. No seats, no flooring, no lights, no hint at all as to what this space would become, and then we were told that we needed to keep our safety gear on at all times throughout our visit.
Those who have seen Ria in concert will know just how magnificent she looks, dressed in any of her legendary collection of stage frocks. And indeed, there she was, in front of me, with a full length celebration of silver sequins, complete with steel capped boots, sizes too big for her, a hi viz jacket, and a yellow safety helmet. To complete this surreal moment in musical theatre, we had to sing Sun and Moon from Miss Saigon, followed by a medley from Chicago, supported by four musicians, dressed in their own building site attire.
Sadly, this was long before the iPhone era and no photographs exist, but no matter who has since performed in the completed theatre, no matter who might appear there in the future, Ria Jones and I were, and will remain the very first artistes to sing ‘on stage’ at The Wales Millennium Centre.