Two weeks in the past, in a walled backyard in Hertfordshire, Sir Tom Jones performed a biggest hits set to an viewers of crickets, butterflies and Trevor Nelson.
“I felt like I’d regressed 20 years and gone to my first concert,” enthuses the broadcaster.
“He was incredible. Just celebrated his 80th birthday and his voice was still great, so I felt really, really privileged.”
Under regular circumstances, Nelson would not be handled to a personal viewers with a singing knight of the realm. But these are irregular occasions – and there was a plan afoot.
This Sunday ought to have been the tenth instalment of BBC Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park – a “festival in a day” that sees the nation’s greatest radio station throw a big celebration for 50,000 followers in central London.
This 12 months’s line-up was signed and sealed at the beginning of 2020, however it quickly grew to become obvious that coronavirus was going to play havoc with the stay music business.
‘Hugely completely different’
“A lot of us realised in March that things were going to be hugely different,” says Radio 2’s head of music Jeff Smith. “And I thought to myself, ‘We need to make some plans’.”
Almost instantly, he says, he “had a vision that we would try to replicate the feel of a park or an outdoor event in the context of a virtual concert”.
The search started for another venue – one sufficiently secluded to cease crowds gathering, however sufficiently big to accommodate the articulated vehicles the BBC would want to construct a set and movie the present.
Once the situation was recognized (an undisclosed however spectacular manor home outdoors London), Smith went again to the artists. Some needed to pull out, however the core line-up remained intact. And so, this weekend, audiences will get to see and listen to Sir Tom taking part in within the open air alongside The Killers, Craig David, Chic, Sheryl Crow, The Pretenders, Erasure and McFly for Radio 2 Live At Home.
“Let’s be honest, we’ve actually provided them with a decent backdrop,” says Nelson, who will host the TV protection with Jo Whiley. “I’ve seen enough bookshelves to last a lifetime.”
Pulling the live performance collectively was no simple activity. The crew needed to be stored to a naked minimal, and each performer needed to have Covid-19 assessments and temperature checks on web site.
“The risk assessment was about 35 pages long,” says Rhys Hughes, head of content material for the BBC’s Live Music workforce.
But even after months of planning, Hughes was ambushed by the one factor he could not account for – the British climate.
“We caught the back of Storm Ellen as we were building the set,” he says. “The crew had 50 or 60mph winds, torrential rain and lightning, and a couple of trees went down.”
Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders needed to carry out her soundcheck in the course of a downpour – however when it got here to filming the precise performances, “the weather gods smiled on us and we just about got away with it”.
For lots of the performers, the live performance was the primary likelihood they’d needed to carry out stay in months – albeit with out an viewers.
“It was a bit surreal, if I’m honest,” says Rebecca Ferguson, who recorded her half of a duet with US-based Nile Rodgers on the day.
“It felt a bit like I used to be partying alone in a area – however I had my mum dance about and had enjoyable by myself.
“Just to get out there and sing again… I felt so grateful to be able to do what I love.”
For Nelson, watching the performances felt “strangely intimate”.
“It’s very naked for the artists because there was no feedback from the audience. So they had to be seasoned performers who could still turn it on.”
Some, like Erasure’s Andy Bell, have been impressed by the surroundings. “It really was an immersive wildlife experience,” he says, “with actual butterflies and bees darting around the flowers – so you may see a few little creatures photobombing the set!”
Others, like McFly, have been transported again to their early days as a band. “The first gig I ever did was for my nan’s birthday in the garden like this,” observes bassist Dougie Poynter.
“Yeah, I’ve done a few of these,” replies his bandmate Danny Jones. “You know, when your mum goes, ‘Why don’t you play at the barbecue tonight with your band’?”
However, the dearth of an viewers posed a problem for Hughes. How to seize the present on movie with out it feeling sterile?
“I’ve seen a bit of footage of socially-distanced country shows in venues in America and it just looks awful,” he confesses. “They’re in a 4,000-capacity venue with 300 folks inside and it could actually’t be a nice expertise.
“So it’s difficult to get that atmosphere, and we had to concentrate on the music and how we film and record that, to shoot it tight and make the visual backdrop look interesting for the audience.”
The US acts present additional glamour – with The Killers filming their set on high of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and Gregory Porter performing to panoramic views of Los Angeles from the roof of the Capitol Records constructing (accompanied, just about, by the BBC Concert Orchestra).
The footage appears to be like spectacular, offering a breath of contemporary air after months of lo-fi stay streams. “Live from Lady Gaga’s kitchen – we’ve all probably had enough of that,” laughs Hughes.
But the Live At Home live performance additionally highlights a extra major problem – the way forward for the stay music business.
With live shows cancelled all summer season lengthy, and for the foreseeable future, as much as 60% of jobs within the sector might be misplaced.
For lots of the crew engaged on Radio 2’s present, from the caterers to the stage fingers, it was the primary job they’d had all 12 months.
“Some of them said they’d had job offers in Dubai,” says Nelson. “Another man hadn’t accomplished something. The caterers have been saying usually they’d be doing festivals. So it hit dwelling to me how strangling Covid is for stay performances.
“It’s really cut the guts out of the live music industry.”
No-one actually desires to repeat this socially-distanced model of the festival subsequent summer season – and the federal government has simply introduced plans to trial mass testing for audiences for indoor and out of doors venues – however the chance is at all times there.
“Who really knows?” says Smith. “In my head, I’m planning for next year. I’ve got headliners. But we just don’t know where those people will be at that particular time.”
Hughes says everybody within the stay music sector is “watching the money to see what happens with football”.
But for now, Smith is optimistic that audiences will benefit from the various festival – even when they’re lacking out on the “trestle tables and the hampers in the park”.
“I’m not sure this is better than Hyde Park would be,” he says. “But in some ways I believe we have replicated what that ought to really feel like.
“So instead of feeling like an excuse and an apology, we’ve made a virtue of it.”