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Rehearsals with a Eurythmic

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Sarah Murphy Sarah Murphy | 12:26 UK time, Thursday, 12 March 2009

The bare trees outside LSO St. Lukes church on a dreary afternoon last Saturday look like something out of a Tim Burton film - stick-like and eerie. Inside it's a great deal more inviting. The BBC Concert Orchestra's string section are warming up and the lighting is being pleasantly toyed with.

The crew are ready to start rehearsals for the latest BBC One Session featuring distinctive contralto, Annie Lennox. Cameras are being manoeuvred into place, cables carefully placed out of harm's way.


The string section run through the percussive opening to Sweet Dreams... signaling that this performance will be a tour through her greatest hits spanning Lennox's multicoloured hair dye days with Eurythmics, as well as her successful solo work.

4:35pm. A relaxed looking Annie arrives wearing tracksuit bottoms and a white t-shirt. I love a woman who dresses for comfort. She meets the director Nick Wickham and conductor Robert Ziegler as they prepare to get down to the business of rehearsals.

4:40pm. Annie lets fly with an unexpected, very loud high pitched yelp into the mic. I nearly fall off my stool, and hope no one saw anything. (Must remain inconspicuous fly-on-wall observer. Must not be forcefully removed for clumsiness). Her backing vocalists practise some synchronised sways and hand claps with the first full track, Little Bird taken from her 1992 solo debut Diva.

4.47pm. There's no applause as they finish the track and it feels strange. I'm not about to come to the party though - even though it sounds impressive inside the Hawksmoor church. This is the bit the audience never sees. All the pre-performance fuss.

4.52pm. The strings launch into Walking on Broken Glass and Annie practises her strut and where she'll move on stage during the recording.

4.58pm. Solo keys play the opening to 1985's There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart). It's slow and crisp, without any hint of the original synth. (I presume there'll be no harmonica either. Thank God the 80s are long gone). Annie launches into her 'da da da da das' with a soulful approach and it's shiver worthy.

5.10pm. Lennox sits down to rehearse the solemn Cold. She practises where she should come in and apologises profusely for confusing the lyrics. There's some conferring with the backup singers over forgotten words and they continue to practise it. In her soft Aberdeen accent she reveals the 'beauty of it not being a live broadcast'. The cutting room can fix possible errors, but you can tell she's a perfectionist.

5.16pm. OWWWWWWWWWW. Loud amp fuzz prompts heads to turn and glare at the guitarist. Messing with a lead? GUILTY.

5.22pm. Annie moves to a small satellite stage in amongst the tables where the intimate audience will be seated (including, thanks to a tip off, a certain handsome Doctor). She practises her piano playing and a rendition of another 80s hit she recorded with Aretha Franklin.

Microphone placement is proving a slight problem. She sings, "Behind every, great man, there has to be a great woman". Make that "behind every great woman there has to be at least five men if one's mic is buggered".

5.35pm. The string section are busy delving into the daily papers and other reading material as they wait for their next cue to play. Looks like they're off the hook for the moment.

5.49pm. Tea lights are being delivered to the tables to add to the ambiance and 'reserved for fans' signs are placed on the front tables. Her devoted followers are going to get the best seats in the house.

6.01pm. The string section put down their newspapers and mags to contribute to I Saved The World Today, as the jimmy jib moves round to hone in and out on Annie as she sings. A gentlemen next to me measures the decibel output with a compact toy making sure the sound levels won't disturb the neighbours later on.

6.06pm. Annie strikes a bass drum with force and conviction as her band turn up the volume during Ghosts in My Machine from her solo album of 2007 .

6.15pm. Time for a survey. Annie turns to the orchestra and asks "Hands up who'd still be doing classical music if they had another choice?"

A few of the players hesitate, but I think that's a two thirds majority in the affirmative. She reveals how she could have been doing that. "Playing cello". Lennox was originally a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London after being offered a place at the age of 17.

6.16pm. Her new cover of Irish band Ash's Shining Light prompts hand claps from her three backing vocalists. She helps them out a bit with the timing and they take note.

6.27pm. Rehearsals come to a close with a classic and Annie thanks everyone for their efforts. She takes a breather and contemplates the real performance due to take place in around two hours.


8:50pm Back at St. Luke's, I return to a room that now looks ready for a show. The audience have arrived and have no idea what to expect. I take my seat, smug and all-knowing, yet hoping for some surprises. The orchestra are dressed in black tie. The band and back up singers are all made up. There's lights, cameras and soon-to-be action. Annie is introduced to warm applause and the real show begins... again.


Watch the full BBC One Session with Annie Lennox on Saturday 28 March.



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