David Essex was one of the category of artists that was never
allowed to sing to the backing-track of the records: it had to
be played live with the Top of the Pops Orchestra. It was
like a cattle-market, the sound quality was dreadful. And it's
not that the people there weren't good at their jobs, but they
were under the pressures of having just a few run-throughs, of
having a sound-booth that wasn't designed to be a music studio,
and you had - depending on the style of music of your artist -
the complexity of trying to get live arrangements of something
that was produced in the studio. And although everything was written
out and you had the same notation, if you were using synthesizers
- which were embryonic in that era - or if you were doing anything
at all complex arrangement-wise, a couple of run-throughs wasn't
But the reason David, along with other artists of that type, had
to do it live was that he didn't have a band that he was paying
royalties to. The Musicians' Union, and I think the BBC, had this
agreement that distinguished between the band artist and everyone
else, who fell into this cattle-market approach. And there was
a lot of tension, a lot of bad playing. Not deliberately.
In those days it was not very good. The guys got the score and
they had like two rehearsals, and unless you had a couple of hip
guys that you used, you knew the rhythm was going to sound bad.
The sound was going to be bad because everything was chaotic.
I used always to complain and moan and bitch, but what can you
do? That's how it was in those days. And maybe my timing was not
spot-on because I'm not a conductor, I mean I'm not a trained
musician. I've been playing music all my life, but it's quite
daunting when suddenly here's this little kid from India and he's
got the BBC orchestra and he's on Top of the Pops.
Biddu used the Top of the Pops Orchestra, pretending to
conduct. It was hysterical.
It was a nightmare. You had to use the terrible band that they
had - they should have been pensioned off years ago - and you
had the kind of musicians who had no feel, all they were doing
was reading the notes. And they couldn't give a shit. They were
in the pub from one to three, and they'd come back in and read
the notes. Once I had to do 'Dance Little Lady' and it was twice
the speed, and I couldn't stop, because I thought: well, if I
stop I'll be classed as being an awkward artist. I actually did
it that way and it went out that way. Which was silly really,
I should have stopped it.
The ridiculous thing [about the Orchestra] was that very often
they'd have a substitute come in either for the rehearsal or for
the show. What's the point in having a rehearsal if the person
who's at the rehearsal and the person who's going to be at the
show aren't one and the same person?
The Top of the Pops band was one of the old sinecures,
people that'd been in the job for years and were still doing it
and it was a death really. It was a job-for-life job if you see
what I mean, and so a lot of people in it didn't give a toss.
And also, let's say you used thirty or forty strings on your record,
you'd get about six on Top of the Pops because the BBC
was too cheap to hire a proper orchestra. So it all sounded a
And BBC live sound has never been the greatest thing in the world:
the guy who did the sound at the BBC would do Match of the
Day one day and Top of the Pops the next. They weren't
specifically music engineers, so you were on a hiding to nothing.
And forget anything strange, like adding echo on your voice. It
was a nightmare, to be honest.
The worst nightmare was when they made you do it live. With us
being classed as a vocal group, sometimes we had to use the house
band. Oh God, man, that was a nightmare. They used to have a house
pit-band and they were all pissed. The first time we did 'You
To Me Are Everything', the producer got pissed and insisted on
conducting the orchestra himself on the live thing. And you didn't
argue. You just had to get on the friggin' show, cos it was so
important. I mean, it sold a lot of records, man, it sold a lot
of records for you. And we had no clout whatsoever. They said
to us, 'You're doing this,' and you had to do it. And you couldn't
be seen to be even moaning about it, you just had to appear to
be glad to be doing the programme.
That was another big problem we had - the Top of the Pops
bloody Orchestra. They were dreadful, they didn't know a thing
about soul music, they were used to playing 'Congratulations'
and all that kind of stuff.
Funk and soul music - they couldn't deal with it, they couldn't
play it. They just could not play it.
It always amused me that no one could play 'The Funky Gibbon'
except Dave Macrae. It's actually really hard, a really busy clavinet
part. When you did Top of the Pops in those days, you were
supposed to use the orchestra, and I thought: they'll never play
it. So I said to Dave the first time we did it: 'Would you mind
coming to the studio because we're gonna have trouble with this?'
And we dropped the music down in front of the Top of the Pops
guy and he went: 'H-h-hah, I can't do this.' And I said: 'That's
alright, I know a man who can.'
We performed 'Get In The Swing' on Top of the Pops and
the Top of the Pops Orchestra was having real difficulty
staying in time. Tony Visconti was conducting them and they were
really having troubles, cos that song changes its tempo and the
metre and stuff - it's 3/4 in one part of it.
The only time it got tricky with Smokie was when they had 'Living
Next Door To Alice', which had strings on it. We'd done the back-track
but the strings had to be done by the Top of the Pops Orchestra.
And when they were rehearsing to the back-track it was so bad,
it sounded dreadful, and just before the live take Chris Norman
said, 'This is terrible, what are we going to do?' I suggested
that he might have a sore throat, so he called the nurse five
minutes before airing and they were panicking. So I said, 'Well
for reference I just happened to bring along a copy of the record.'
And they said, 'Do you mind if we use that and they mime?' And
I said, 'I'll have a word with him.' So we got over it that way.
And behind the Top of the Pops Orchestra were always the
equally soulless backing vocals of The Ladybirds, another target
for the scorn of the artists.
Anything that Connie Francis used to do - great. But you talk
about soul, and they were totally lost. Not a clue.
We would get our thing together and then you go on TV and you're
faced with session singers who didn't have a clue about where
the first beat started. Now what we understand is that it was
nothing to do with making the artist look good - it was a show
and you accepted it as it is and that's it. I mean their backing
voices were so bad it used to sound like echoes sometimes, it
was so behind. They couldn't get it, and it wasn't their fault
- they just weren't exposed to it. Something that took us two
weeks to make, or more, and they were expected to do it in an
afternoon. But if you're really on the ball, you should be able
to do it, you should be able to cut it really. It just was not
within their culture.
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