How Live is Live?

We saw part of The Culture Show on BBC2 this week, which amongst other things included the launch of a campaign by the Musicians Union to provide an on-screen indication of whether a musical performance is mimed or live.

The campaign has been launched following an ICM poll that had found that 71% of the public would like some sort of indication. They then had different artists giving their opinion, Beverley Knight arguing for the indication, and Faye Tozer, former member of Steps arguing for the benefits of miming.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the item was the discussion with a Top of the Pops producer. Top of the Pops like other similar shows such as CD:UK have a mixture of people miming, people singing live to a backing track, and occasionally fully live performances. The item included some footage of live shows where the singer couldn’t hear the backing track, and some footage of Oasis who apparently have never sung live on Top of the Pops because it meant that they wouldn’t be able to drink before the performance! In the initial interview, the producer said that in a show with so many different acts in a short space of time, it was very complicated to have them all play live and be properly set up. He then justified it by saying that in his opinion people weren’t bothered too much by miming. What was interesting was his pretty surprised reaction when the interviewer quoted the results from the poll.

From a personal point of view, especially if I’m paying good money, I feel short changed if it isn’t live. To be frank if I wanted to hear a recording, I could go down to a record shop and get a CD! The same is true about TV shows. I haven’t watched Top of the Pops for years, however the one programme I do watch from time to time is Later with Jools Holland, which was noted on The Culture Show item as being about the only show on TV that is 100% live. What they do on Later is take advantage of the live medium to do special versions of songs, or to put interesting combinations of artists together. Indeed some of the older albums I listen to frequently are live recordings, CD’s such as “Way We Walk Vol.2â€? by Genesis which is a set of six live songs the majority of which run for between ten and twenty minutes. Another favourite is the live version of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band that Paul McCartney has on “Tripping the Live Fantasticâ€?. Here he combines the original song with the original reprise – which is in a different key – into one six minute performance by almost three minutes of guitar solo by both Paul and another guitarist, passing the solo back and forth across the stage, still one of my favourite performances of the song. So do I think that the liveness of a performance should be highlighted? Absolutely, whatever people may say about how miming gives bands the opportunity to put on more of a show, ultimately what I’m interested in is the music!

One thought on “How Live is Live?”

  1. Of course – these ‘live’ albums are often touched up in the studio after the event – so you don’t hear the missed note – broken guitar string moments. Live dvds are often cut to conceal the mistakes aswell. Sadly the only guarantee of a live recording is an ROIO aka bootleg – which some artists are happy to have happen and others aren’t – checkout archive.org for legitimate bootlegs.

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