June 15 2018 • Royal Albert Hall
A unique one off night of space, science, music, comedy and wonder
For one night only on June 15 of 2018 we took over the iconic Royal Albert Hall. Robin Ince + Chris Hadfield’s Space Shambles was the headline event of the Halls’ inaugural Festival of Science, of which the theme was space.
Some of our guests were announced ahead of the show, but even more were kept a complete surprise until they took the stage. So, if you were at the event and want your memory refreshed of who did what, or you just want to jealously find out what you missed out on, read on!
This page will be updated in the week to include a gallery of photos from the night.
In Order of Appearance
The house music goes down. You can check out our space playlist further down this page. If we’re running to time, the last song you should’ve been hearing was Child of the Universe by Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians. The lights go down and the Hall fills with laser harp. Our house band, Steve Pretty and the Origin of the Pieces, complete with robot drummer, roars into life. They are a multi-talented bunch. It’s musical director Steve Pretty on trumpet, synth, percussion and electronics. In control of the laser harp, plus added trombone and electronics is Steve Thompson. Ollie Weston is on woodwinds and bass. Tamar Osborn is on woodwinds and Dunja Lavrova on the violin. Jeff Miller is on low brass, brass, synth and more electronics and rounding out the band is Ben Handysides on drums and cello.
They are joined by Sally, named for the great Sally Ride naturally, our resident astronaut for the night. Created by Space Shambles co-producer Melinda Burton and the amazing team at Little Angel Theatre, Sally had a lovely night in the company of puppeteers Lori Hopkins and Jo May.
Your co-host for the evening, our own writer, comedian, performer and broadcaster Robin Ince takes to the stage briefly armed with newspapers from the day of the moon landing. A quick look at the tv listings before bringing on his co-host, the former Commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield. They welcome a packed Royal Albert Hall to our evening of chaos and a celebration of human imagination and endeavour. They both marvel at the quite frankly absurd size of the 21m screen Space Shambles producer Trent Burton insisted on.
Given it’s a night in which we plan to tell the story of space, it makes sense to start at the start. Newly announced Fellow of the Royal Society Professor Jim Al-Khalili takes the stage to tell us the story of the Universe, beginning to end, The Big Bang to the our eventual heat death on Earth, in just six and a bit minutes. It’s quite the thing.
After all that talk of heath deaths, it’s time to just look up and and admire the stars. She Makes War joins Steve Pretty and the Origin of the Pieces for a rendition of her song, Stargazing, from her Direction of Travel album.
Next up it’s Dr Helen Czerski who starts by telling everyone about her recent paddling trip in Hawaii. Which leads her to welcoming a very special guest on stage with her. Hawaiian native and elder Kimokeo Kapahulehua, direct from Maui. He has dedicated his life to preserving Hawaiian knowledge and culture. As the roof of the Hall fills with an accurate Pacific night sky courtesy of a Seb Lee Delisle laser show, Kimokeo and Helen take everyone through the Hawaiians incredible and ancient celestial navigation techniques before leading 5000 people in a traditional chant to the skies. Jim, Chris and Robin join the band for some chanting. Hairs stand up across the venue.
Festival of the Spoken Nerd consisting of Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker have calculated Pi in theatres all over the UK (and Matt as part of Cosmic Shambles LIVE in Australia and New Zealand). The temptation to do it on scale like never before, or never again, was just too tempting. And so as a solitary pie was lowered from way up in the high, high ceilings of the Royal Albert Hall on a truss system we put in just for pie purposes, they set about using said pie and gravity to calculate Pi. It is one of the more ridiculous things the Hall has ever been party to. They are ably assisted by Chris Hadfield on stopwatch duty.
Chris returns briefly to talk of humans sending objects into space. How we started with Sputnik and now we’re sending things to Mars and beyond. He introduces space scientist Professor Monica Grady who speaks of her work on the Philae and Rosetta missions and the sheer, unbridled joy of landing on a moving comet.
It’s impossible to talk about music and space and not mention David Bowie. Given his last ever live performance in the UK took place at the Royal Albert Hall, as a special guest of David Gilmour, we had to pay tribute. Robin talks of Bowie before a Chris returns to performs Space Oddity with the band, just as he did on the ISS. Many eyes get glassy. And then, to close the first act, Chris lets us know we can’t just do one Bowie song here, and introduces none other than recent Oliver Award Winner Sheila Atim who, with the band, brings the house down with a performance of Life on Mars.
After interval Steve Pretty and the Origin of Pieces, with Sally, welcome everyone back. We kick off Act 2 by digging into some of the audience questions. Robin chairs a panel with the returning Chris Hadfield and is joined by two new guests in the shape of two astrophysicists. It’s Sky at Night’s Professor Chris Lintott and the winner of Chris Hadfield’s Astronauts TV show, planetary scientist Dr Suzie Imber.
Next, it’s astronaut time. Chris Hadfield stays on stage to talk about his time on the ISS and shows off some of his favourite pictures he took while orbiting the Earth. Then he welcomes to the stage, Rusty Schweickart, who arrives to a thundering round of applause. Rusty, the Lunar Lander pilot of Apollo 9. A man without who’s work we may never have got to the moon. He and Chris chat about the Apollo programme and Rusty’s latest work in protecting the Earth from potential asteroid strikes.
Seb Lee-Delisle has been busy all night with lasers, but now he takes centre stage with a new laser based arcade game. With Rusty in the building, Seb’s build a lunar lander simulator game in which the thrust of the craft is controlled via audience volume. We quickly learn the audience would’ve have all perished in an instant. Oh, and Rusty stays on stage with Seb and has a go. If you’ve got a lunar module pilot handy, you’ve got to use one right? He makes a perfect landing on his first attempt!
Apart from his work with Apollo, Planetary Defence, being a science advisor to government officials and much more besides, Rusty Schweickart was also a key figure in saving Skylab from disaster when he was part of the support crew. Without Skylab, the field of solar science would be much poorer for it. So next up it’s our favourite solar scientist, Professor Lucie Green to talk of her love of Skylab and how it ended up getting NASA a littering fine.
Robin returns to talk about death and stars and Feynman and reads a new poem he’s written about up quarks and down quarks which leads him to talk of Carl Sagan, and his famous Pale Blue Dot speech. It seemed only right that we read that speech in such a venue, backed by the band playing the beautiful Heaven and Hell, better known as the theme from Cosmos. But to do the speech justice, we decided to bring in a proper actor with BAFTA awards and everything. The great Reece Shearsmith takes the stage to deliver a moving reading of Sagan’s words.
The band is joined by Grace Petrie as Reece leaves the stage and they slide into a performance of Grace’s The Golden Record. A lovely song about love, inspired by The Golden Record, attached to that same spacecraft that took the Pale Blue Dot image. She sits on a stool, and is joined by Sally in what is somehow the most intimate of moments in a 5000 seat venue.
The problem with NASA astronauts is they’re too commercial and they shut out the more independent touring astronauts from getting mainstream media attention. At least, that’s what Stewart Lee claims as one of most acclaimed comedians in the world does his thing.
Robin and Chris return and ponder how we could possibly sum up the evening, all of space travel and human progress in twenty minutes. Could it be done in song perhaps? The privacy screens that had sat stage left all night protecting ‘Special Massive Space Secrets’ are removed and our final secret of the night is revealed. If you’re doing a space show, at the Royal Albert Hall no less, there can really only be one band on Earth you get to close the show. Public Service Broadcasting play things to a close with Progress, Gagarin, The Other Side and Go! And they play it loud.
The Space Shambles Playlist
After every one of our live events we get asked on social media about some song or other that was playing before the show. That’s because at every live event we do, we put far too much time into curating the playlist for pre-show, post-show and interval. We treat the playlist like the show itself. Keep it on theme, as much as possible, and pepper with well known names and some great people we really think more people should know about. The person in charge of that changes around from event to event and for Space Shambles, producer Trent Burton had the honour/stress.
So let Trent explain what you heard while you were reading your programmes, drinking your wines and wondering why the interval started about the time most shows finish.
Blue Moon of Kentucky – Elvis Presley
My mother is obsessed with Elvis because let’s be honest, isn’t everyone’s Mum? Oddly, I don’t think she really likes this song, but I do, so you take what you can get Mum. Listen
Galaxy Song – Monty Python
A straight up no brainer. How could we not include this from our ole chum Eric Idle? Listen
Once Around the Sun – Cold Chisel
One of my favourite bands though sadly not that well known in the UK. We’ve also had founding members, and now award winning authors, Jimmy Barnes and Don Walker on the Book Shambles podcast as well. Listen
The Astronaut – Something for Kate
Not just very on theme, but coincidentally one of Space Shambles co-producer Melinda’s favourite ever songs. Listen
Space Race is Over – Billy Bragg
A song that Billy has actually played as part of one of our Christmas Compendium shows at Hammersmith a few years ago. Listen
Planet Earth – Duran Duran
Chris Hadfield introduced Duran Duran at one of the Hammersmith shows a few years ago. He made a simple mention at the end of his talk about the beauty of looking down on Planet Earth. Cue a curtain drop and the emergence of Simon Le Bon and co. Listen
Brain Damage – Pink Floyd – It would’ve been madness not to include something from Dark Side of the Moon so this is what I went with. Sadly we had to not include Eclipse on the night for timing reasons. Listen
Sally Ride – Janelle Monáe – Our puppet astronaut for the evening was named Sally, after Sally Ride, and so how could we not include the song by the great Janelle Monáe named after the pioneering astronaut as well? Listen
Space Girl – The Imagined Village
I can’t remember where or how I first came across The Imagined Village, probably via Billy Bragg, but just as I thought I’d finished with this playlist, this song jumped into my head and I had to put it in. Listen
Moondance – Van Morrison
At some point, during every Sunday night barbeque during university, a few bottles of wine into the evening, someone would put The Best of Van Morrison on the CD player and no-one ever really complained. Listen
Under this Moon – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
It is company policy that there be a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song in the playlist for every event we do. Also, Nick Cave remains at number one on our dream guests for Book Shambles list. Listen
We Are All Made of Stars – Moby
“The cosmos is also within us, we’re made of star stuff,” Carl Sagan, 1980. Listen
Space Jam – Quad City DJ’s
It’s the theme from that cinematic tent pole that is Space Jam. How does this require more explanation? Listen
Man on the Moon – R.E.M.
The thing is, there’s a frightening amount of people who do not believe we put a man on the moon. Also, we would’ve love to let Andy Kauffman loose at one of these shows. Listen
Distant Sun – Crowded House
I saw Crowded House at the Royal Albert Hall many, many years ago and when we arrived there were blank sheets of paper left on every seat in the circle, with no apparent reason. At some point in the show people started making paper aeroplanes and chucking them from the circle, across the entire hall, through the lights, into the stalls and orchestra. Neil Finn stopped, mid song, smiled and looked up at the circle and said, “That’s what we hoped would happen when we stuck all that paper up there”. Brilliant. Listen
Child of the Universe – Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians
The great Robyn Hitchcock has played many a Nine Lessons show for us over the years. Listen
Fly Me to the Moon – Frank Sinatra
You always want the right song as the first song of your interval playlist. Not only did Sinatra finally feel right, but the particular version we played on the night was actually recorded at the Royal Albert Hall itself when Ole Blue Eyes played it in 1984. Listen
I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon – Ernie
We love puppets at Trunkman. Sally at Space Shambles, The Quest for Wonder series, The Infinite Monkey Cage music video. So it felt appropriate to have a spot of Sesame Street. Muppets aside, this is just a gorgeous song. Listen
Rocket Man – Elton John
Another track that more or less picked itself. Listen
Under the Milky Way – The Church
The Church are another one of those great sort of post rock bands that came out of Australia in the early ’80s that should’ve been much bigger than they were. There’s also a properly beautiful cover of this song by Jimmy Little that I was very tempted to include. In fact I probably like Jimmy’s version better but had to go with the original. Listen
Lost in Space – Aimee Mann – Nothing to do with the TV show, but the title track of a great album. Aimee Mann is fantastic and not enough people know as much, or if they do, never dug any deeper than the Magnolia sound track Listen
Outer Space – John Grant – When we do shows and podcasts at the Latitude Festival each year, we’re usually too busy to go and see many of the acts on the main stage. We made time for John Grant though a few years back. Listen
Cosmic Love – Florence And the Machine – It just feels like a song that should be played at the Royal Albert Hall don’t you think? Listen
Cosmic Girl – Jamiroquai
Another recommendation courtesy Melinda. Apparently this song was basically everything when she was in Year 12. I’m not sure the science of the lyrics checks out though. Listen
Urban Spaceman – Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band
The traditional first song after the end of the show at our gigs is Gagarin by Public Service Broadcasting, but since they’d just played it live and loud minutes before at Space Shambles we needed something else. And so to the Urban Spaceman. Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band played at Hammersmith for us one year, and it was quite the honour. I think this song kinda captures the spirit of the show. And the Bonzo’s are a personal favourite of Robin’s as well. Listen
Starman – David Bowie
We had to put some actual Bowie in the playlist. And since Life on Mars and Space Oddity were performed live earlier, this was the obvious next cab off the rank. Listen
Around the World – Daft Punk
I was bit of a latecomer to Daft Punk and I’m pretty sure this was the first time I became properly aware of them. My enjoyment of this led to cooler people trying to convince to go to ‘night clubs’. Terrible idea as it turned out. Listen
Space Dog – Tori Amos
I recall seeing Tori Amos at the RAH many moons ago. It was with an orchestra I think. Melinda is an admirer. I’m not a massive fan but like quite a few of her songs, appropriately, this is one of them. Listen
Sleeping Satellite – Tasmin Archer
Just a bit of pure ’90s pop. Nothing more, nothing less. Listen
E.T. – Katy Perry
One for the kids. Also, it seemed doubly appropriate as Katy Perry was playing The O2 just up the road the same night. Not sure what sort of audience crossover we have with Katy but there you go. Also, probably the less said about Kanye the better at this point. Listen
Bowie – Flight of the Conchords
Given the show itself included a Bowie tribute we didn’t want to put a Bowie song in pre-show too. So this seemed the next best idea. Plus, Bret and Jemaine were on stage at the same time as us across the water in Dublin that night. Listen
Sounds of Earth – Jim Moray
A really beautiful tale of Voyager and Sagan from friend of Shambles Jim Moray. At 2017’s Nine Lessons shows, this was the final performance of the entire run. Complete with an 80s tape deck and ‘golden cassette’. Listen
And now here’s the Spotify playlist of it all, except Ernie’s song as it’s not on Spotify. For shame
The Cosmic Shambles Network was proud to be supporting The Trussell Trust once again. At this gig we had a mobile food bank outside the Royal Albert Hall collecting goods for those in need.
If you couldn’t bring something along, or just couldn’t make it to the show but you still want to contribute, then this is where you can do that. Click the Just Giving link below to make a monetary donation. Your donation will go towards the ever increasing storage costs incurred by the Trussell Trust charity, as they try to help as many in need as they can.
More and more food and other items need to be kept on hand by the Trust as currently, thirteen million people live below the poverty line in the UK, with individuals going hungry every day. This is unacceptable. Please support the Trussell Trust, if you can.
Presented by Royal Albert Hall, Trunkman Productions and The Cosmic Shambles Network • Produced, Curated and Directed by Trent Burton, Melinda Burton & Robin Ince • Production Manager Giles Wakely • Stage Manager Matt Watson • Photography Steve Best • Runner & Production Assistant Jo Gostling • RAH Production Team Sam Weatherstone Matthew Williams Rebecca Margariti-Smith Richard Lower • International Space Shambles Illustration Neil Davies • Programme Design Mike Williams • House Band Musical Director and Arrangements Steve Pretty • Puppet Design, Direction and Construction Little Angel Theatre: Peta Swindall Alison Alexander Samantha Lane Melinda Burton • Puppeteers Lori Hopkins Jo May • Camera Marius Ulevicius • Laserist Assistant Paul Hayes • PR Paul Sullivan PR • Special Thanks to Chris Hadfield Inc. Association of Space Explorers Vanessa Furey Andrew Mickelburgh
This show is dedicated to anyone who’s ever gone outside, looked up and smiled.
Trussell Trust background vector created by GraphiqaStock * Robin Ince and Chris Hadfield headshots by Francesco Petitti * Stewart Lee headshot by Steve Ullathorne * Rusty Schweickhart image by B612Julie * FOTSN image by Idil Sukan/Draw HQ * Monica Grady image via Open University *