Paul Westwood/Life as a session player

What happened just before a TV show, due to be broadcast ‘live’ to 500 million people. (Prince’s Trust Gala - Part 1)

My first TV show in the 1970s proved to be nerve racking. However, years later, I realised I had overcome my nerves when I not only experienced the ‘ultimate nightmare scenario’, but actually enjoyed every minute of it. Watching the intricate organisation of a major TV show slowly unravel had a certain fascinating horror about it.

In 1987, the Alyn Ainsworth Orchestra (with myself on bass guitar) was booked for a charity TV show in aid of Prince Charles’ Trust. Alyn was asked to write some of the music, but most of it was to be provided by the show’s many guest singers. Nevertheless, once artists from all over the world started arriving at the studio, it soon became apparent that many of them had no music for the band. Hence problem #1: how to obtain all the arrangements for our thirty piece orchestra before the show was broadcast worldwide at 8.00pm that same night.

We musicians were playing at TV studios on the South Bank of the Thames, whereas the show was actually taking place at The London Palladium two miles away. Since the theatre venue could not cope with all the TV paraphernalia, landlines were set up to link the two venues. Hence problem #2: would time delays between the orchestra at London Weekend Television studios and singers at The Palladium prove to be too serious to overcome? Then there was problem #3: would singers at The Palladium be able to follow our conductor, who they could only see on small TV monitor screens?

Rehearsals featured the show’s host, US comedian Robin Williams, running through what he might do…..or not do, later on. He warned the producers that anything could happen, since he had no script. The producers then told Robin that anything could indeed happen, because the music had not yet arrived for many of the show’s performers, who were still waiting for it to be faxed from America. The show’s running order would now depend on whose music arrived first!

All of this contributed to problem #5: how can you organise a live TV show with no script or running order? Robin’s solution was typically funny, ‘No problem. If nothing arrives, I’ll do the whole two hour show myself!’

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