Could any concert be more post-Brexit than The Last Night of the Proms? It harks back to a Britain of people's imagination: cream teas, handlebar moustaches and bunting, accompanied by music of pomp and circumstance, and songs praising Britain's mastery of the waves.

It's hard to see what that has to do with 21st century New Zealand. Yet Proms concerts attract large audiences here, with many dressing for the occasion in Union Jack waistcoats and red, white and blue bowler hats.

Is it a vestigial memory of our connection to the empire or just a good excuse to get tarted up? Peter Thomas, music director and conductor of the Auckland Symphony Orchestra (ASO), which plays two Proms concerts in Auckland this month, says people love the spectacle.

"Auckland has a large population of British people but a lot who come are just Kiwis who want to have a good night. It's a chance to let your hair down, have a sing-along, join in with whistles, dress up, pop balloons."


You'd almost think the music's irrelevant. It's definitely eclectic; Thomas has programmed everything from Puccini arias to show tunes and even a tribute to forces sweetheart Vera Lynn, who turned 100 in March.

Also to be included is a new work by local composer David Hamilton, written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Epsom Girls' Grammar, where Thomas is head of music. "It's about Auckland, about New Zealand, it uses some Maori text and is a beautiful piece."

The two Proms concerts straddle the British and Irish Lions test match in Auckland on June 24. It's not a coincidence; the ASO moved the date of its first performance to capitalise on the 14,000 domestic and 20,000 international rugby visitors who are expected to pump $26.7 million into Auckland's economy.

Whether or not the concert is the sort of event that appeals to Brits on tour is another thing entirely. Coals to Newcastle?

David Purchase, a Lions supporter who hails originally from that very city, says he would be keen to take in a Proms concert. Away from the rugby, though, his focus has been seeing as much of the country as possible. When Weekend caught up with him, he was in Dunedin having already notched up 3000km on tour.

"Doing the distances we have, evenings are needed to recharge the battery," he says. "But if the Proms is like the Last Night in the UK, I'd love to go for a great chance to open the lungs."

That's precisely what the ASO is banking on and there will be plenty of opportunities to sing along to the likes of Jerusalem and Rule Britannia.

Thomas knows the power of a mass sing-song: "There's something about a big group setting that does something for your mental health. It's a little bit nutty but it makes you feel good."

What: Auckland Symphony Orchestra, Last Night of the Proms
Where and when: Friday, June 23, Bruce Mason Centre; Sunday, June 25, Auckland Town Hall.