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BBC Global Beats - BBC, London, 21/12/2015

  by Owen Peters

published: 8 / 3 / 2016

BBC Global Beats - BBC, London, 21/12/2015


Owen Peters invites us to join him in a long, drawn-out but entertaining queueing experience while he waits to see one of the BBC's Global Beats recordings.

I'm standing in a looong queue outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London, hoping I can gain access to become part of the recording process for Global Beats. I have a ticket. There isn't any cover, it's raining, I'm cold, and extremely bored just waiting around, but I have ideas. "Global Beats is a programme which brings together music from diverse cultures and countries by bands and individuals who are based in London. An eclectic and diverse range of musical genres,“ explains the BBC marketing blurb. ”Not to be missed." Well that's me, trying to get it, not miss it. First idea: I should have brought along a decent winter coat. One with a hood would have been a good start. Secondly: although I’m not a great lover of the contraption, an umbrella would be a good idea. Thirdly: instead of leaving it until the last minute to queue, I could have arrived earlier instead of wasting an hour in Waterstones on books I had no intention of purchasing. So fourthly: maybe I should offer my editor another half-arsed idea, this time something to do with a monthly contribution on world music. I can see him reaching for the whisky bottle as the email arrives. I've been to numerous BBC shows, some live and some set up as recordings for later release during the following weeks and months of scheduling. I've never had to queue this long or with so many people for a BBC show. I've attended sporting events with fewer folks in attendance. Things don't look too promising when a man comes out to greet the masses flanked by two blokes dressed all in black. I'm searching their persons for guns and batons (thankfully without success). He's wearing a bright tight fitting pink shirt which confirms his gym membership has lapsed, or has yet to begin. He walks up and down the line repeating the same message. As people say, "What did he say?", he has to repeat himself as he can't be heard for people saying "What did he say?" In true game show host mode he repeats: "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming out tonight to the BBC to be involved in the recording of Global Beats. We have some exciting music on offer tonight. I must tell you we have a lot more people turn up than expected, as such unfortunately we won't be able to seat everyone". This is called raising expectations then dropping them from a great height. Rumbles of crowd discontent begin. He continues "Entry will be in ascending numeric order starting with number one until we run out of places. If you currently don't have a registration number my colleagues (at this point he pirouettes to show his glamorous assistant in the form of the same two blokes in black who don't look happy) will be pleased to assist.” Really! I swap paperwork with the heavies who tell me I'm on the "stand by" list. I'm given a purple sticker. Great news! I weigh up my options. I could go to the pub. I could go and watch a football game in the pub. I could go home. I could stay. I'm wet, cold and grateful I don't have anyone with me to start a complaint campaign between the two of us. I decide to stay. Under these circumstances, people-watching becomes an occupational hazard. I've watched the passing flow of traffic, followed the blaring sirens of ambulances and police vehicles and checked my phone too many times. In front of me are a couple. A picture of young love in old bodies. They are constantly grabbing brief kisses from under the close proximity of their bright red umbrella. It's like watching my parents kiss. Uncomfortable, embarrassing and uncalled for. Their dress code indicates they are about to attack Ben Nevis. In matching climbing boots (immaculately clean) purple thermal type socks, blue waterproof trousers and red Helly Hansen jackets. Warm, snug, happily in love. I bet they aren't on the purple sticker stand by list. As the clock ticks and the kissing continues I'm trying to stay around, but the call of Wetherspoons, a packet of salted peanuts and a pint for less than three quid is beginning to have strong magnetic thirst quenching pull. The queue is moving about as fast as my tax rebate. Here comes our pink-shirted hostess with the mostest, this time without his bodyguards. They are probably in Wetherspoons right now luxuriating over a pint of Stella complemented by a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. Pure decadence. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are running late, so the show will start some 30 minutes later than planned. I'm sorry but the number of people wishing to see the show has caught us by surprise a little.” He cracks along quickly. “We need to provide thorough security checks,” he adds, in the knowledge that any mention of security will meet with little resistance. He waits for complaints. Not a murmur. What a triumph. What a performance. I expect him to take a bow. He resists. The announcement triggers many of those in the queue to go forth and party elsewhere. For us hardy or stupid souls who remain, we are getting closer to the warmth and sanctuary of a BBC reception area. The rain has stopped, the mood has lightened, umbrellas are down along with hoods, and jackets are being removed. The kissing silver foxes continue their lip exploration, and I continue to turn away. At long last we (the collective) are inside and the problem is glaringly apparent. There is just one guy operating the security machine. I wonder if he’s training to become an astronaut and is still caught up by the effects of weightlessness. His actions and instructions are all played out in slow motion. If time and tide had to wait for one man, this would be he. Eventually - eventually - having cleared security at the pace of rampaging tortoises, we find the cafe/reception area is a mass of people either reacquainting themselves with their clothing, or stripping off unwanted layers. Those lucky enough to have made it this far can look down across onto the panoramic open office plan which is the BBC’s main newsroom. Hundreds of staff. Cameras, tables, chairs, PCs, lights, a surround of bright red fascia. Information pulsing throughout a swathe of bureaucracy and monitors. Staff caught in a huge goldfish bowl. There is a small flurry of activity at one of the viewing windows. Someone down below is recognised as being "famous". Two ladies enter into a Mensa challenge "See I told you it was him. He reads the news and covers things to do with the Queen. Oh, what's his name? He has such a lovely Scottish accent.” A man steps forward: "That, my dear, is Huw Edwards,” he says with a well manicured pointing finger, “and he's Welsh. I should know. My mother was born in Swansea.” His wife beams with pride at his geographical knowledge and ability to communicate with clarity and purpose. I bet they don't have purple stand by tickets. Announcement time: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are truly sorry for the delay in getting you to this point but we will be processing you into the theatre as quickly as possible.” He treats his captive audience to a theatrical, purposeful shoe cleaning exercise. Whipping out his pocket handkerchief with the swish of a matador's cape he raises a foot onto a nearby chair wiping the offending intruders from his gleaming brown brogues. Having slayed the unseen bull on his shoes he continues: “so those of you with green stickers please come forward in numeric order. Starting with one.” Now, there's a surprise. His tone changes as if about to announce a death. "For those of you with purple stand by stickers we will call you when the green stickers have been processed.” There is now a divide between the haves and the have-nots. Those moving forward look back at the sorry mob which makes up the standby gang. Yes, we are going through, guaranteed a seat, and you're not. Look at us, with our green stickers. We build up our own purple-sticker hierarchy, working out who has the high and who has the low numbers. I'm number 69. Should have gone to the pub. "If we don't manage to get you through into the theatre you're more than welcome to stay and watch the show here on the big screen,” and with that man in pink shirt, shiny brown brogues and matching socks is gone. His role is done. The green stickers are a happy bunch, conveying smiles and pleasantries as they converse with the various ticket collectors. The kissing couple have made it through and are now sporting matching red sweaters. Jackets, waterproofs, and umbrellas stored safely in rucksacks costing as much as a mid-terraced semi in Skelmersdale. We the purple sticker mob all seem to be wearing jeans of varying quality, cleanliness and design. The greens are attired in slacks with pleats and creases that could cut open a finger. "Might as well as we wait..." agree a couple no older than forty. At the first clutter-free table they take out from a string bag (emblazoned with "Benidorm” on both sides) a flask and tin foil wrappings. As the tin foil wrapping is peeled back, a stack of cheese and tomato sandwiches emerge. These aren't in the same category as cucumber and salmon finger sandwiches, neat tidy and precise, these are doorstops, roadblocks, slabs used on motorway construction sites. It's a two-handed job to lift one from its wrapping. Another ten minutes pass. The green sticker gang are no more, all safely through to the waiting theatre of music. A queue of purple sticker holders has begun with an unexpected game of bingo underway. "Thanks for your patience - we will try and get as many of you into the theatre as possible, but we won't be able seat everyone, sorry,” a BBC employee tells us. The Bingo session begins. There is a waving of purple stickers: “here... yes, here... that's me”. The smiles say it all and we are on our way to join the green team: how good can it get? As more numbers are called there are more cries of ”Got it... here..." Some of them even run to the ticket collector. Some are performing high fives, while others grab a congratulatory kiss as their number is announced. I'm just waiting for someone to call "House!” If only this level of enthusiasm and glee could be bottled. More BBC staff enter the reception area. A huddle ensues probably working out how to tell the remaining purple stickers life has dealt us another blow. We won't make it, or indeed be invited to the ball. They break away, announcement forthcoming. "We are trying to make space in the theatre, but there is only standing room available. If you are unable to stand for 90 minutes you may wish to watch it here on the big screen. We will be calling you now by single numbers, starting with... 60.” This time there is no hollering, whooping or bingo calls, but your correspondent is finally beckoned within the hallowed BBC Radio Theatre. A rather forlorn lady walks to the front with aforementioned ticket in hand. "I'm sorry but we are a couple" she says, looking back at her partner who is holding number 61. Their tickets are a sentence to their separation. Interesting. Has this been thought through? What happens if you're in a party of three or four? Will those single attendees (me) have to give up their places because, well, it's the right thing to do? A brief intercom discussion takes place resulting in "and number 61 please step forward”. They embrace like lovers from a scene in 'The English Patient'. The ritual goes on until they call the last two numbers, 69 and 70. As 70 goes in, ahead of me a roped barrier is drawn across the entrance. There is no more room at the Inn. I look back. The couple with flask and sandwiches didn't make it. They wave. I wave back. Once inside there is an air of anticipation. Or of expectation. Or maybe it's one of relief. Sure enough, as promised, late entries to the theatre need to stand. Rita Ray is the master of ceremonies who is explaining locations of toilets, fire exits and general requirements in terms of audience participation. "Remember, this is being recorded to go out live.” A voice from the audience rings out: ”Excuse me, love, but who are you, what's your name?" I'd bet he has a green sticker and is now overdosing on the euphoria of having a seat. Ray looks as if she's about to leave the stage and deck him. "My, what a strong pair of lungs sir has,” she quips. The evening offers bands, duos, trios and solo performers from countries such as India, Somalia, Poland, Iran, Nepal, Canada. Some are playing together for the first time, others haven't played live before, and a few have years of experience and acclaimed catalogues of work behind them. Each performer is allowed one song, then they get around three to five minutes of interview time with Rita Ray. There is a rich and diverse mix of talent on show. Funky horns, choral strings, a cappella sections, ballads which make you hold your breath. The audience is swayed from wanting to dance into quiet contemplation. The overall quality of music and passion towards their craft and countries has convinced me I should offer the editor my half-arsed idea: each month bring to the readers of Pennyblackmusic at least one interview from a developing and emerging talent. Give them a voice to discuss opportunities and obstacles in making their music a success in the UK. To also gain an understand the history in the heritage of the country in which they were born. So was the cold, wet and wait it worth the effort to see Global Beats? Absolutely. Although I'm still attending weekly counselling trauma sessions trying to eradicate the memory of silver surfers snogging for an hour. Yak!

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