Let’s Hear it for the House Band

On October 20, 2012

There aren’t any great music shows on TV any more. Nothing in the style of Channel 4’s The Tube or The White Room or, further back, Ready, Steady, Go! These shows celebrated music in its raw, live state and gave it a platform fans could respect and identify with. Even Top of the Pops – different in character, admittedly – was a place where great artists, like David Bowie and Bob Marley, were able to be themselves. Of course, there have always been artists who mimed but these days it’s the norm. It’s what we expect and at the same time it’s something we don’t much like. Viewers object to miming and the insipid sound backing tracks tend to produce. When stars mime they inevitably come under fire. People want them to sing live – that’s how they know they can actually sing. Now, though, the chances are that even those who do sing live are doing it to a backing track. There’s something special about a band. It has its own unique energy, an ability to affect people in a way the mime/backing track approach, however good it might be, doesn’t.

Maybe that’s why there’s so much affection for the brilliant house bands on TV. It’s impossible to imagine Strictly Come Dancing without Dave Arch and his band. Someone out of shot pressing a button on a playback machine would not cut it at all. For me, the Strictly band makes the show and elevates it to a different level. The popularity of the @SCDband is reflected in its 8,000-plus followers on twitter.

It’s a similar story with The Voice. When the series launched and all four coaches performed the opening number live with a great band it established its credentials from the off. One of the joys for me of watching the series was the singers getting into rehearsal studios, working with their coaches and musicians, and performing live each week with the @ukvoiceband. I am slightly biased in all this. A few years back, while working on an ITV series, Reborn in the USA, I met Pete Murray, the musical director. Pete plays keyboards with both Strictly and The Voice house bands. I’ve also worked alongside the immensely gifted Andrea Grant – once one of Tony Hadley’s backing singers and now a singer with the SCD band. If Pete and Andrea are representative of the calibre of musical talent in these outstanding bands, no wonder they produce such great sounds week in, week out.

If we can’t have the kind of music shows we once did any more, let’s at least hear it for the immensely talented house bands keeping music live on some of the most-watched shows on TV. It just so happens that both programmes I’ve mentioned are on the BBC. Other music shows are, of course, available on other channels, for those who enjoy miming and/or backing tracks.

Cover picture via flickr

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