Aberdeen Music Hall


Meet your avatar: Emeli Sandé

Emeli is a Scottish double Brit award winning artist and songwriter, who got the world on its feet during the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Emeli took her first steps on stage at the Aberdeen Music Hall in 1995 and launched herself into the musical spotlight. 

Aberdeen’s much-loved Music Hall has been a part of the civic and social life of the city for nearly 200 years. Its transformation involved the restoration, redevelopment, and upgrade of this historic A-listed concert hall, one of the oldest in Scotland, securing its place at the heart of city life for generations.

The original building was completed in 1822, designed by Aberdeen architect Archibald Simpson. He was one of two local architects who designed and built most of the famous buildings of that time which earned Aberdeen the name of ‘Granite City’.

To complete this project the team carried out complex demolition and excavation work, restoring the concert hall’s original features whilst building new public areas with improved access. This renovation allowed the classic auditorium with its renowned acoustics, historic Willis organ and Strachan murals to be safeguarded forever for the people of Aberdeen.

The renovated music hall reopened in December 2018 and welcomed over 160,000 visitors through its doors in the first six months.

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The category ‘A’ listed Aberdeen Music Hall is one of Scotland’s oldest and most historic concert halls. Originally the County Assembly Rooms. Archibald Simpson who won the architectural competition launched in 1818 was responsible for much of the ‘Granite City’ buildings designed around that time. Work began in 1820 and the Assembly Rooms opened for business in 1822.

In 1858 plans were put in place to extend the building to include a grand music hall, designed by the architect James Matthews. He was responsible for many of the buildings in Aberdeen including the Art Gallery. At the same time a new organ, with the reputation to be the best in Scotland, was commissioned from Henry Willis. Along the walls of the Music Hall are panels designed by the Scottish artist Robert Douglas Strachan (1875-1950). The building narrowly avoided demolition in the 1960’s and was redeveloped again in the 1980’s. It is now once again in need of attention.

The variety and quality of musicians to have appeared in the Music Hall is truly astonishing. Classical artists such as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Halle Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Henry Beecham, Sir John Barbirolli, Nicola Benedetti, Nigel Kennedy and Evelyn Glennie have all performed here.

At the contemporary end, Aberdeen has enjoyed The Proclaimers, Emeli Sande, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Eartha Kitt, Humphrey Lyttleton, Van Morrison, the Manic Street Preachers and Paloma Faith.

Aside from music, today’s audiences have enjoyed performances from comedians and writers such as Sarah Millican, Lee Evans, Frank Skinner, Billy Connolly, Jimmy Carr, Carol Ann Duffy and Christopher Brookmyre.

The Hall also has a lesser known role as a community venue for civic events, charitable fundraising, gymkhanas, distribution of ration books and political rallies and was also used as a sporting venue for wrestling and basketball matches. In the 1930’s the Music Hall hosted the world record breaking  nonstop roller-skating record (61 hours and 36 minutes).

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People are at the heart of the history and the future of the Music Hall so Your Hall Your Story was launched to collect stories from everyone who has memories. See more of the stories from the Music hall.

Ted Burnett

Scott Burnett’s grandfather Edward Burnett (everyone called him Ted) was the caretaker/manager of the Music Hall from 1955 until 1974/5.

Ted lived in a flat in the Music Hall that was later turned into offices.  The flat in the Music Hall had a large bedroom, kitchen, living room, dining room and another hall which was partitioned off into another bedroom. Scott’s two aunts lived and grew up in the Music Hall. Scot remembers that it was really scary when he was in the building by himself. Even aged 11/12 he didn’t enjoy coming inside when there were no lights on. He had the free run of everything as a child, played with all of the old props and instruments. He remembers staying there when he was studying for his O levels.

Ted looked after the building and had a diary for bookings every day. He had two dogs, a Dalmatian and large white Samoyed called Kim who was blind and would sit on the Music Hall steps behind one of the pillars. Scott would help set up the seats and enjoyed when they would get the dogs and help clear up after the concert. The last place to clear was always the Green Room and occasionally he was allowed in to meet the performers. Sometimes he would get their autographs. He recalls Pete Seeger and Tom Paxton who were Scott’s favourite. He used to sing anti-Vietnam songs and was lovely. He always spoke to Scott and took an interest in the dogs.

Scott says that the Music Hall did everything, it was the People’s Palace. He remembers sun bathing on the balcony, sneaking into sold out gigs and sometimes he would sit in a tiny recording booth near the stage. Scott remembers that the boxing was really big and his grandfather used to MC the matches. He recalls the boxers and wrestlers were often enemies in the ring but mates in the Green Room.

John Wood

John Wood was the Kier site manager at Aberdeen Music Hall. He was delighted and honoured to deliver such a historic and important project.

John started his journey in the construction industry when a bulletin was sent out advertising for two apprentices, a joiner and bricklayer when he was at school. After a short interview with the boss, John was offered a place on the apprenticeship.  Working as a joiner on a 3 year apprenticeship, he gained experience working on new build housing schemes carrying out all aspects of joinery work.  After 18 years in the industry working as a tradesman, John was promoted to a Site Foreman, working on the Kepplestone development.

John has now been in a management role for 12 years, and still enjoys the challenges. This includes organising labour and materials on a project, managing health and safety on site, meeting with both clients and designers and help to ensure the project is delivered on time, within budget and to the highest possible standard.

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Your Hall: Your Story

The ordinary and extraordinary stories below are part of the Music Hall’s shared heritage and help create a colourful archive of its place in history for future generations to enjoy.

In March 2016, as the building closed its door in preparation for its transformation, the building played host to the Your Hall Your Story performance. This event painted a picture of the building’s past and hopes for its future. Many of the stories were told by the people themselves. some funny, some inspiring, many unbelievable, but all true and all set against the bigger picture of the history of the Music Hall. Brief introduction to Your Story’s include as follows:

“In January 1931 my father broke the amateur indoor roller skating championships on a skating rink in the Music Hall. His record of 61 hours and 36 minutes is still unbroken.”

“From June 1964 to September 1970 I came to every wrestling match at the Music Hall. One woman always had a front row seat up. She’d practically get up on the stage with the wrestlers.”

“The Music Hall holds a special place in my heart.”

“A huge live performance fan, I’ve visited the Music Hall 50-60 times since 2000.”

Aberdeen Music Hall has many ambassadors who help support the music hall including:

  • Aidan O’Rourke, musician, composer and Aberdeen Performing Arts associate artist
  • Bill Bailey, comedian and musician
  • Billy Connolly, comedian and musician
  • Emeli Sande, artist and songwriter
  • Peter Oundjian, music director for the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
  • Phil Cunningham MBE, Scottish folk musician-composer
  • Vladimir Ashkenazy, pianist and conductor

Stepping Out

While the building was under wraps, our client created a busy events programme taking the Music Hall gigs, concerts and comedy to the other two Aberdeen Performing Arts venues, His Majesty’s Theatre and The Lemon Tree. Over the two-year period of the Music Hall’s closure they also delivered an Associate Artist programme. Through this programme they commissioned a host of art from Associate Artists, both established and emerging. This was to create work inspired by the building and its history, deliver inspiring workshops for young people around Aberdeen, mentor new young artists, and delight us all at their Pop-Up Unplugged events.

Schools engagement activities

The transformation team, led by Kier, actively tried to make an impact in the local area by engaging with the local community and local schools, including visiting the Primary Seven job fair at Quarryhill Primary School. This also worked to promote the industry, inviting pupils from Gilcomston Primary School to the Music Hall, so they could get an understanding of the industry and the historical nature of the project.

Kier Construction employees: Ashley Dunsmore (assistant quantity surveyor), Ewan McDonald (project manager) and Mary Smith (office manager) attended Primary Seven Job Fair at Quarryhill Primary School. This involved raising career awareness of different industries among the sixty pupils. This will give them a better understanding of the opportunities ahead. Sharron MacDonald deputy head teacher was extremely gratefully for Kier employees taking the time out of their busy workload to attend and support the event.

Music Hall Babies

As part of the Music Hall’s transformation, Aberdeen Performing Arts invited babies born in the community in December 2017 to take part in a special programme of arts activities in their first year.

The Music Hall Babies can join monthly creative workshops in music, dance, drama and visual arts by experienced early years arts practitioners. The aim is to give the 57 infants and their families a positive and exciting first experience of the arts which will benefit them throughout their life. Parents will share arts experiences with their babies and be provided with support and learning that will enable their child to keep developing through the arts long after each session is finished.

The little ones and their families have joined up and will be a key part of the relaunch celebrations for the Music Hall, when the babies will be one year old. The transformed Music Hall’s new spaces will provide a permanent home for an exciting and diverse programme of activities from birth to teens and into adult life.

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