Here is a recap of my report on the filming of Another Audience With Shirley Bassey. The report was originally published on Songs Of… in October 2005:
‘Another Audience With Shirley Bassey’ was an electrifying evening with our amazing legend. The show was fabulous. Three new songs, two new medleys, four gowns. The Dame was in top voice, top humour, and looked 29, not 69. To die for – trust me – Shirley is reborn!
The show was recorded on Sunday 30th October 2005 by Granada TV at The London Studios on the South Bank in London SE 1derland and the recording lasted approximately 2h 30m.
Before the show it was confirmed that the show would be broadcast in Britain on ITV1 early in 2006, and that the show would also be released on DVD. It was also confirmed that Shirley will be releasing a new album which will feature some of the songs performed on the show.
Getting In There
Granada had issued free tickets on a lottery basis, with applications being processed at random. The tickets went quickly.
The queue started forming at 2.00pm with the keenest fans, though some had arrived even earlier! It wasn’t cold and the rain kept off. The audience reception is via the left side of the building, a skyscraper (pictured right) formerly known as LWT – London Weekend Television’s HQ. The queue gradually stretched around the corner on to Upper Ground (the street name).
By 4.00pm there were over a hundred in the queue. After 5.00pm it grew exponentially. By the time we were seated at 6.45pm there were hundreds still waiting. Many were turned away. TV studios always deliberately issue too many tickets to allow for no-shows. For Dame Shirley, of course, everyone showed up.
The security staff were light-hearted and amused the queue with some antics. It was tough on the old feet, but we endured the torture with the knowledge of rewards to come. The people in the queue were friendly, chatty and good fun. Shirley’s fans are the best.
The celebrities and VIPs didn’t have to queue, of course. The front of the building had been given the red carpet treatment, with special signs for the show and bright lighting.
Danny La Rue was among the first to arrive, and got a big cheer. Stars from Coronation St, Eastenders, The Bill, Brookside and Emmerdale were two-a-penny. The crowd enjoyed seeing their soap heroes and villains in person, with plenty of cheering as each limousine arrived.
Also in the audience were members of the rock group ‘Never The Bride’, who wrote one of her new songs. More below.
Inside The Vast Studio
Shirley’s musical director for the show was Mike Dixon. In his diary, which can be found on his official website, he says that the “whole thing went extremely well. Wonderful band who responded to everything brilliantly and made my job a complete pleasure! Chris Egan – great orchestrations. Maestro in full flight!” – The orchestra was faultless.
The scenery was simple but effective. Backlit panels, soft mirrors, strip lighting, lasers, flashing star fields, spotlights, projections and an array of special effects were well designed. The shiny triangular stage was a perfect size for a solo artist. Her entrances and exits were through a central sliding door. The orchestra was situated to the right of the stage.
State-of-the-art equipment included two boom cameras. Each needed two men to operate the hydraulics as the arm swept around to give that bird-like swooping effect. Static and wheeled cameras completed the set-up.
Widescreen monitor TVs were suspended from the ceiling gantry, showing the audience what the final product would look like.
Photography was not allowed. Otherwise this report would include dozens of Peggy’s MPEGs.
Shirley’s Still Here
Ten years since Shirley’s original audience. Suddenly the orchestra struck up, the door opened, and a smiling, confident Shirley was magically there, radiating warmth from centre stage. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to another audience with… moi!”
Her first gown was a dazzling silver-blue or aquamarine metallic creation. Full length with a slinky tinsel-effect skirt. She went straight into S’Wonderful. Triumphantly. The voice is as strong as ever, as expressive as ever, as distinctive as ever.
The second song was I’m Still Here, which although featured previously in some live concerts, has never been recorded by Shirley. As if to tell her fans that she never left, she’s back full strength. You can’t keep a good Diva down.
Shirley’s hair was in her new straight style, longer than in recent photos, and above her ears. Her make-up is now a new modern style, with piercing eyes. She looked slim and happy.
The first question was from Ben Shephard. “Have you always been so glamorous?”
“No!” was her instant reply. She told the story of when she was first on stage. She was wearing a ‘Merry Widow’ which is today called a basque. In those days that was underwear. She borrowed a long lavender skirt and an elastic belt. But suddenly “the skirt came down!”
“That’s why I’m wearing a dress tonight.” She joked.
The Living Tree
After emphatically displaying that she is still here, Shirley performed a brand new song. The mesmerising, and pulsating ‘The Living Tree.’
The song was written and originally recorded by the great rock group Never The Bride (right), and is taken from their album, Surprise.
# Let me dance, let me choose my life #
It has a heavy rock beat, almost like a native American (Red Indian) drum rhythm and a forceful electric guitar solo. A cool new departure.
# Let me dance till my shoes cry…#
Click here for a short RealAudio clip of Never The Bride’s original recording. Unfortunately it fades just as this gorgeous song develops. Try to imagine Shirley singing it at full throttle!
How did she find such a gem? We understand the group sent the song to her with a message to please record it. The band were in the audience, and it must have been a proud moment.
Time for a break. The stage managers brought her a deserved sip of water. She joked with the audience. “Drink! It’s alright for you lot. You’ve had champagne. They gave me water. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up later.”
After the break she appeared in a looser, whispy dress. A bright, almost candy electric green. It looked totally tropically terrific.
The Lady Is A Tramp was launched into with all cylinders firing. The studio was filled with Shirley’s big voice. She hardly needed a microphone.
The next question was from Jimmy Tarbuck.
“Oh no, not Jimmy Tarbuck!” she protested in jest. Jimmy explained that he’d seen Shirley sing everywhere, from Las Vegas with Bobby Davro…
“…to the Miners’ Welfare in Splot.”
“Now you’re living in France, how’s you French coming on?”
Shirley replied with a well rehearsed “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?”
(French for “Would you like to come to bed with me?”)
Jimmy quipped “You’ve got the right man but thirty years too late, m’dear.”
Later in the recording Jimmy had to repeat the question to a ‘dummy’ Shirley, the Stage Manager, because there had been a fault on the first take.
The Warm-Up Man
Throughout the event, the audience was kept amused during the breaks by a very good warm-up comedian, a tall, black Londoner. He later teased Jimmy Tarbuck by asking “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” which Tarby didn’t answer. “Don’t fight it, Jimmy” the comedian commented, affecting a gay pose. The audience was in hysterics. There were too many jokes and repartees during the breaks to report here. He judged the atmosphere perfectly.
How’s The Dame?
Katherine Jenkins (pictured right with Shirley) asked the next question.
“How did you feel when you were made a Dame?”
Shirley recounted the story that she was sleeping in late one morning. Her manager has the keys to her Monte Carlo apartment (Cries of “Ooh!” from the audience). She hates being woken up, and just wants to be left alone when having a lie-in. Worst for her is being shaken, or someone shouting “Wake up!”
So her manager “kept twiddling my toes” but she was going back to sleep.
“Oh, so you don’t want to be a Dame, then?” her manager asked as he left her room.
“I sat bolt upright. And that’s how I was told the news.”
The Greatest Love of All was the next song.
Gloria Hunniford asked “You sing with passion and power. At what age did you realise you had this power?”
DSB promptly replied “Twelve.”
Rehearsing in her school choir, the teacher told her “Too loud!” and to get further back. This happened three times. “Until I found myself in the hall.”
Right To The Point
“Here’s a number I never get tired of. It’s a bit naughty, but…”
The orchestra thumped the familiar opening bars of Big Spender and she was prancing in style. We have seen it so many times, and this was a definitive performance.
Another short break, and Shirley gave Bradley Walsh a big hug.
The Bovver Of The Bling
“They call it a technical hitch…” Shirley announced “I think it’s the bling that upset everything.”
The studio is air conditioned, with very dry air. Shirley commented “It’s a dry studio. Can I have some champagne?” No chance.
After a brief delay it became clear that there was indeed a problem. The stage managers explained things to her. Shirley handled it with consummate professionalism.
“I’m sorry to put you through this again.” she apologised, but the audience were delighted to hear another take of The Lady Is a Tramp. A perfect carbon copy of the first performance. She possesses incredible concentration. It was clear that she could do retakes in her stride, and in good humour. No wonder her albums are perfect.
Her third gown was gold. Tight fitting, long and curvaceous. You could see how she has slimmed to the ideal weight to squeeze into it. Gold appliqué on a cream base, designed in an abstract leopard skin effect.
You Needed ME, Not The Earring!
Shirley launched into another new song, You Needed Me.
# I cried a tear
You wiped it dry #
A beautiful love song written by Randy Goodrum. It has been recorded by several artists, but was made famous in the late seventies by Anne Murray. Click here to go to Amazon.co.uk, where you can hear a clip of Anne Murray’s recording. To view the complete lyrics click here.
Shirley wore a dazzling set of diamonds. Don’t ask if they were real. You can tell easily. It’s in the sparkle. The earrings were long, and the right-side one caused Shirley trouble. It kept falling off, resulting in the need for retakes.
“I lost the bling” she said “Do I have to do it again? I think … it’s natural!”
She was hoping nobody would notice, or if they did they would accept it as a natural thing to happen. The Stage Managers thought otherwise.
“They’re whispering. It’s about me but I don’t know what they’re doing…”
After another check they decided they had to re-shoot.
“Ouch! I want to go home!” Shirley said in a little girl voice. A member of the audience called “You ARE home!”
They had to do the whole song again.
“I’m going to stay in bed tomorrow, or check into a Nursing Home. They’ve run me ragged!” she joked, and added in a husky voice “But I love every moment of it!”
“I think you liked that song, didn’t you?” and sang it for a third time.
“The earrings are going back to the shop tomorrow.” she stated.
Another brief delay, and Shirley told the audience “It’s a lighting thing now”
She started singing again, but stopped. “Now it’s my voice. I’m sorry”
Shirley took a drink of water. The dry air and retakes had got to her.
Another attempt, but again her voice dried up, and she almost crouched in disappointment. “Oh No, no, no…” More water before the fourth take.
Jokingly, she cursed the loose earring. “You ruined it for me. Should have left the earring off!”
She asked the Floor Manager “Can we do it….” and on being told they could edit part of the song into the first take she was filled with glee.
“Of course, it’s television!”
By this time the crew and orchestra were laughing at the calamity of the earring.
“Yeah, funny for you. Not funny for me.” she shouted at them, laughing with them.
At the end of the retake she said “They STILL bloody came off!”
Star Struck Shirley?
Next Question: “You have sung with some of the biggest names. Have you ever been stage struck yourself?”
Shirley’s reply was clear. “Elvis”. The audience cheered at her recognition of The King.
She explained that she had gone backstage in Las Vegas wearing a jump suit. The kind that was in fashion in the Seventies, with open buttons down the front. “He started doodling” on her skin. “I went to my dressing room. There were all these crazy drawings. I never washed again.”
Advice From The Professional Herself
Louis Walsh asked the next question. “What’s the best advice you could ever give anyone?”
Shirley smiled “Well, since I’m only 29.…” and told of the time she was at The Pigalle. “In the live audience was my idol, Judy Garland, and she invited me for a drink. I told her I was going to America and should I change my act? Judy told me to ” Go with the show tonight. Don’t do what I did listening to everyone.” Judy had been advised to change the lights. “And I looked like a damn clown.” So Shirley kept to the same act, and was a success.
More Earring Trouble
The earring again. “Keeps coming off. The spring has gone. What are we going to do about this?”
The make-up woman came on stage.
“You’re going to put tick tape on my ear? No!”
They asked her if she wanted it done in the dressing room.
“I think the audience would like to see this…”
But the tape did the job. The offending jewels stayed on.
“Are you up to no good?” she asked a couple in the front row. “I know, I’ve worked with you!” More laughter.
Throughout the unscheduled retakes, the delays, the niggles with the jewellery and the dry air, Shirley was light-hearted and full of humorous comments. She talked to the audience. Some artists would be having tantrums after the many gremlins, but Shirley proved what a trooper she is. After fifty years of experience, nothing could slow down our Dynamic Diva.
The cameras rolled again and without hesitation she went straight into George Harrison’s sublime Something. This version had extra echo, which really was something.
How Do You Stay So Young?
The next question was from Julie Goodyear: “How do you stay so youthful? What is your secret?”
DSB explained “When I was 29 I couldn’t stand the idea of turning 30. So I said I’ll stay 29 for ever. And put the painting down in the basement.”
Nobody Does Bond Better
Former Eastenders star Chris Parker asked the next question: “You’re the only artist to have recorded two Bond themes…”
Shirley quickly put the record straight. “Three Bond themes, including ‘Moonraker’ which was meant for Johnny Mathis.”
For some reason Johnny Mathis was unable to record it, and John Barry asked her to cover it.
“I’ve never sung it on stage… till now.”
On that cue, the orchestra played the opening bars and she sang a completely new medley of Goldfinger, Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever. The orchestral arrangement was excellent, seamlessly moving from one song to the next. Her performance was flawless.
A standing ovation. She was visibly overcome by the intensity of the cheering, whistling and waves of applause. In classic Shirley style, she left the stage leaving us on a high.
Here’s To Shirley
After another break, it was time for the final section to be recorded.
The band struck up, the door slid open, and the crowd was amazed by her sudden appearance in a fabulous long white gown. The skirt was flared, and two short sleeves were attached to the shoulder straps. We often say she “looked stunning” but this time “stunning” isn’t strong enough to describe this magnificent, regal work of art.
Juan wrote on the fans’ message board: The last dress was absolutely breathtaking. A shimmering pure white silk type dress which had a high split up the front, a great bust and 2 shoulder covers. It was truly magnificent.
Another new song, Here’s To Life, was sung so well. No gremlins this time, a straight first take. Shirley was positively glowing. A powerhouse generating thousands of watts of elegant music. The orchestra supported her brilliantly.
# Here’s To Life, no complaints and no regrets #
… well certainly no complaints when it comes to Shirley’s fabulous performance!
Here’s To Life was made famous by another famous Shirley, Shirley Horn, who sadly passed away only ten days prior to the recording of this show. Click here to go to Amazon.com, where you will find details or Shirley Horn’s acclaimed album, also called ‘Here’s To Life’ and where you can hear a sample of her recording. To view the song lyrics click here.
The Party’s Over
Shirley ended the show with a wonderful medley:
Maybe This Time
Never Never Never
As I Love You
Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me
I Am What I Am
An extended standing ovation. Then she was gone.
The Song List
I’m Still Here
The Living Tree
The Lady is a Tramp
The Greatest Love Of All
You Needed Me
James Bond Medley:
Diamonds Are Forever
Here’s To Life
Maybe This Time
Never Never Never
As I Love You
Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me
I Am What I Am
The Final Word
Everyone was in a state of shock. Tonight we had seen Shirley as never before. After two years sabbatical, she is revitalised, resplendent and recording. This incredible 69 year old Groovy Gran is as magical as ever. The loyal fans are overjoyed. Can’t wait for the DVD.
Caveat: I’m sure there are mistakes in my report, but please remember it’s all from memory and scribbled notes. I hope it brings the atmosphere closer to all the fans and friends who were unable to attend.