Thursday, 11 October 2007

Behind the scenes with Katie Melua

The Beeb are not running competitions at the moment. Thanks to Blue Peter, some kittens and a lack of respect for its paymasters' intelligence it got itself into hot water (not the kittens) for fixing competitions and currently all competitions are banned.

That notwithstanding, I (and a hundred or so others) won a competition recently. Radio 2's Ken Bruce features an 'Album of the week' and this week it is Katie Melua's latest offering - 'PicturesPictures by Katie Malua'. A bit of mutual back-scratching (I think Ken got the better deal, there) meant that she performed Live for the show at the BBC Radio Theatre. Competition entry involved filling out a form on t'interweb on his Home page, or sending a text via mobile 'phone. The skill element was completing my details correctly, which I managed with a bit of head scratching. A week later, I was contacted to say I had won and this morning, the alarm went off at 6.30 in preparation for the journey. I'll gloss over the journey except to say that there are charities out there caring for animals that have a better life than the intercity commuter.

BBC staff were efficient, if numerous at getting us into the building and our 'green room' and soon after 9 a.m. we were shepherded into the studio. Ken himself was the warm-up act, completely at ease despite being away from the comfort of his studio, facing a live audience and having a floor manager counting him in. After the banter between him and Terry Wogan he did the necessary introductions, played a couple of tracks and then introduced Katie, who proceeded to open with her latest single. Ken then hot-footed it back to his studio, but kept a beady eye on operations through a video link as well as chatting to Katie before and after each spot during the rest of the morning.

Although Katie only performed five numbers, she rehearsed each with her musicians and the BBC Symphony orchestra and chatted to the audience between.

There was a lot of waiting around as her spots were spread over the 2 1/2 hour show, but it provided a fascinating glimpse into the operations of a Live performance. I counted three sound desks - hers on-stage, one at the back of the auditorium and one in the glass Control room at the back. They may not all have been in use, but at least two were and if anyone can explain why more than one was needed I am all ears.

The BBC, for all its criticism, liquid lunches and overpaid chat-show hosts, does know how to patch a broadcast together from multiple locations; the Symphony orchestra was excellent at picking up a number with (presumably) no notice and making it sound good and Ken proved that you don't have to be a trendy young gift-of-the-gab DJ type to get an audience onside and produce a slick operation whilst giving out an air of casualness.

This was a free competition, but BBC TV and Radio recordings in general are free to go and see - all you need to do is apply for tickets for the show of your choice You'll be well looked after and get a glimpse of what goes on.

Oh and one final 'thank you' to Katie Melua who seems to be unaffected by new found stardom unlike certain other primadonnas of her generation and was more than happy to sign autographs and chat afterwards. I classify her as a folk rather than pop singer and this is a visible trait on the Folk Scene with very few pretensions around.

A day out of the office, some great music and afterwards a pleasant lunch at a Turkish restaurant a couple of doors down (recommended). Lovely jubbly. Shame about the trains.

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