Concert-goers move ‘pronto’ if Thames shipping needs Tower Bridge to lift—or ‘B Flat’

PUBLISHED: 00:47 27 September 2016 | UPDATED: 01:06 27 September 2016

Bascule chamber where concerts are performed

Bascule chamber where concerts are performed


Chamber concerts were performed at one of London’s weirdest places—deep in one of the two bascule chambers of the iconic Tower Bridge.

Composer Ian Chambers Composer Ian Chambers

A composer called Chambers returned for 14 concerts in the south chamber below water level at the weekend after his ‘pilot’ performances last year.

Ian Chambers put together a composition inspired from the creaking sounds Tower Bridge makes when its bascules lift to let shipping through into the Port of London.

“I heard an incredible sound survey recording made in the bascule chamber of the bridge lifting up which sounded like brass music,” he tells Thursday’s East London Advertiser.

Narrow staircase iinto bascule chamber Narrow staircase iinto bascule chamber

“So I analysed what notes they were and got musicians in to play alongside the bridge recording. I only used those notes for the brass players.”

His work is set to two poems by Emily Dickinson, I Started Early With My Dog and Singing Bowls.

But being in the audience deep below in the chamber under the Thames water level can be a dangerous thing, apart from having to make your way down a steep, narrow spiral staircase which can give some people vertigo.

Bridgemaster Chris Earlie Bridgemaster Chris Earlie

Shipping has the right by law to navigate the Pool of London. That means the bridge must lift on demand, bringing the 1,100-tonne bascule counterweights down into the two vast chambers including the south chamber exactly where the concerts are being performed, requiring the audience to scramble out pronto.

Bridgemaster Chris Earlie explains: “The headache is that we’re governed by an Act of Parliament that we have to raise the bridge for any vessel requiring it.

“You’ve got 800 ticket-holders for a weekend of concerts that can be interrupted at any time by a vessel requiring the bridge be lifted—they would have to clear the chamber before the bridge goes up.

Tower Bridge bascules are raised Tower Bridge bascules are raised

“But that’s part of the experience—they get to see the bridge lifting.”

It actually happened twice when the first ‘pilot’ concerts were performed in the chamber last year.

It is a weird place to perform music and potentially dangerous if you don’t manage the bridge lifts correctly, composer Ian acknowledges.

Tower Bridge raises for Thames shipping Tower Bridge raises for Thames shipping

Ian, who lives less than two miles from Tower Bridge with his family in Stepney Green, recalls: “We did have some bridge lifts last year, but managed to reschedule performances. Everything has to be removed from the bascule chamber when that happens.”

Tickets sold out weeks ago for all 14 performances in the chamber that hold no more than 50 concert-goers at a time.

They sit on fold-up chairs that have to be whisked away—or ‘B Flat’—as they evacuate and climb back up the steep spiral staircase to the surface, before the 122-year-old bascules are raised and the counterweights come sliding down to fill up the chamber space.

How Tower Bridge works How Tower Bridge works

But then, as Bridgemaster Earlie would have it, that’s all part of the Tower Bridge experience.

Latest East London News Stories

Wondering what the weather has in store for us this weekend? Watch our three-minute Met Office video forecast.


Letters, contributions and comments sent in to the Advertiser this week.

Yesterday, 10:28

A gold-medal winning Olympian officially open a new all-weather hockey pitch in Mile End park which can be used by all the community.

Thu, 16:31

Hundreds of families fearing for their safety following last summer’s Grenfell tower-block fire tragedy have called on Tower Hamlets Council to improve measures “before there is another disaster”.

Thu, 12:40

Police investigating a unprovoked violent attack which left the victim partially blinded have released the image of a man they would like to speak to.

Thu, 11:54

Workers on the Docklands Light Railway are to hold a 48 hour strike over a “comprehensive breakdown” of industrial relations.

Thu, 09:52

Residents will soon be able to get urgent healthcare advice and prescriptions issued from GPs, paramedics and pharmacists over the phone.

Thu, 08:40

The American president has been given “a clear message” that he isn’t welcome in London’s East End after Tower Hamlets Council last night voted unanimously to declare “a Trump-free zone”.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read news

Show Job Lists


Having a brand new kitchen is something that lots of people want but can only dream of. Sadly keeping up to date and making our living spaces as nice as they can be is a costly and incredibly stressful business. Even a fresh coat of paint makes all the difference but isn’t easy or quick.

Who wouldn’t love the chance to go on a shopping spree. Imagine being able to walk into a shop and choose whatever your heart desires without having to worry about how much it costs.

Digital Edition


Enjoy the
Docklands and East London Advertiser
e-edition today


Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now