Project 366 #110: 190420 Mischief Managed
Even to the untrained eye most people will recognise this as an audio waveform, and it’s what I’ve been staring at for a frankly unhealthy amount of time over the past ten days or so.
Rewind 20 years or so, and between about 1998 and 2001 I did a lot of recording off-air of the BBC Radio 2 ‘In Concert’ programme. The recordings went onto minidisc and they’ve been sat on the shelf for twenty years.
What better use of an Easter weekend in lockdown than to start transferring them into a more accessible format? The job got finished today, and while it was a huge amount of work, let me now prove my age beyond all reasonable doubt as I say with a completely straight face: “bloody kids today don’t know they’re born!”
Back in the day I was splitting the tracks and naming what I could using the minidisc deck, and even with a QWERTY remote it was cumbersome. These days – my God, what a transformation!
Start by sucking the 57 minute broadcast into the PC. These days the whole thing will sit in RAM. You need to make track marks? No problem, you can see where most of them need to be visually. Got a bit of voiceover you want to remove? Click, drag, delete. Ah, but won’t that leave a glitch? Click, drag, crossfade – instant seamless join.
Ah, but what about naming them? No problem. If you know the Artist and you know the venue then there’s a good chance you’ll find the setlists on setlist.fm or similar. Not sure about the venue? No problem – hit the BBC Genome project and search every TV and Radio listing since God was a boy. No setlist available? Not a problem – just google a lyric and you’re done.
In that spirit I’ve now got an accessible collection of about 75 concerts and 992 songs, all of which have been named apart from three. Two of those are instrumentals by the Afro Celt Soundsystem which I’ve got Dave working on, and the other is an instrumental by the James Taylor quartet.
It’s been a fascinating journey exploring this snapshot of music in quite a narrow timeframe. With the exception of three historical concerts that got broadcast (The Kinks at the Rainbow Theatre, Bob Marley in the same venue, both in 1977 and something labelled as a Beatles Fantasy Concert, compiling live footage from 62-66) the shows are from between 97 and 2001.
Some people make the job easy – and let’s blow some kisses to Mary Black here, who has an archived setlist of every gig on her website. When you’re searching for lyrics life gets much easier when you’re dealing with someone who has beautiful diction, and I’m raising my hat to Trisha Yearwood. Other people make the task a bit harder. When the diction gets sloppy, it’s tricky – and yes, I’m looking at you Elvis Costello. And whatever happened to the good old-fashioned virtue of introducing your songs? If David Bowie can do it (and he does) then so can everyone else! Not that announcing the song helps when you’re dealing with an impenetrable Irish accent (thanks Sharon Shannon) or titles in Scots Gaelic (nice one Runrig).
The shows threw up some interesting peculiarities, particularly where I had more than one show from the same artist. The Bee Gees in Las Vegas really sounded like they were turning the handle on the mimeograph to crank out another identikit performance. Put them in the intimacy of the BBC Radio Theatre and they become warm and witty. For Gary Barlow it’s the other way round. He sounds very uncomfortable in the Sheffield Boardwalk, but in his element in the Manchester Apollo.
It’s also illuminating to see how people respect their back catalogue, or not. Ray Davies sounds like he’s singing ‘Lola’ through gritted teeth in 1977, whilst in 1999 Boy George completely owns the Culture Club back catalogue, gleefully introducing ‘Karma Chameleon’ as ‘one of our favourites, as it paid for a lot of very nice cars and a house in LA’. Sting is never afraid to dip into his previous work, often creatively reworking it. Bowie really goes the extra mile, as cognisant of the fact that he’s performing to an invited audience of a few hundred Bowie-geeks he plays one song that he hasn’t performed for decades and another that he’s never performed live at all.
There were some gifts. The Chaka Khan concert that started with three screamers from the James Taylor Quartet, including the Starsky and Hutch theme. A Prince cover by ‘Texas’. Pop culture references, including Vonda Shepard talking about dancing babies and the guitarist from Space proclaiming that ‘I think the Tellytubbies would kick shit out of the Wombles’. George Michael very convincingly performing ‘The Long and Winding Road’ at the Concert for Linda, and Midge Ure belting out ‘Vienna’ at ‘Scotland for Kosovo’ and loving every second, even though he’s flat as a pancake through most of it.
Oh my, this comment got very long, didn’t it? Sorry about that.
Update: Whilst I’ve been typing this Dave has been back to me with the two missing ACSS titles – Yey!
Update 2: I've got the JTQ track - 'Europa'.