In the run-up to the opening of the Millennium Dome in London Richard Chappell and Richard Evans talked to Martha Ladly about the process of working with Peter on creating the music for the Dome’s live show. The music was then released as the album OVO.
This interview was conducted on 29 November 1999, so the deadline was looming.
“When we started off eighteen months ago, the original plan was to work on Peter’s record and to do the Millennium music at the same time. Initially the work was split between Richard Evans and me – Richard was going to do the Millennium stuff and I was going to carry on working on the album. The projects had been crossing over for months. But we found that, from a concentration point of view, it became easier to just work on the Millennium stuff together. That was about a year ago, in November ’98.
We were spending a lot of time auditioning different music – stuff that we’d worked on that hadn’t been used, songs from the archive, work in progress, that sort of thing. It was paramount for Peter and Mark Fisher to write the story for the show and they spent a lot of time in meetings figuring it out. The first piece we finalised, which came together in March, became the last piece in the show. We sort of worked in reverse order. From there on in, we’ve been working on fitting in music around the story.
We knew we were dealing with three acts, each act representing a different time in history and evolution. We auditioned the music for each act, and by a process of arbitration and elimination, distilled the choices down. Mark supplied us with a 3-D animation of the show and we used that like a rough-cut, to work to. Then we started matching our chosen pieces to the show, working with Micha, the artistic director. He was running bar charts and putting timings and cues in place for the performance; at that point it was a bit like working on a film score.
What have I been doing? Ask my counsellor! Seriously. My role has been mainly co-ordination and programming and working on the music for Act 2, the industrial score. Richard Evans has been working on Acts 1 and 3 mainly, and doing a lot of playing. (You might want to speak to his counsellor too.) No, it’s been interesting to be involved in something really different; it’s a live-action show, nothing like working on a record.
I think it would have been easier if we’d actually had the studio set up in the Dome, working more directly with the choreographer and the performers. When Peter was working on the ‘Last Temptation’ soundtrack with Martin Scorcese, he had the studio set up in New York in the suite where Martin was editing the film, so the whole thing was pretty organic, and very immediate. The problem with the Dome is that it’s a big, cold, noisy tent, with people welding and banging all day long, on the side of the Thames, five hours away. There is an absolutely massive production team there; you feel a bit lost. But it wasn’t until we finally got to the Dome and started working there with the performers that I actually understood what we’ve been doing. Suddenly, it turned into a show.
Now we’re on the last leg, getting the final performances and putting things into shape for the mixing. That’s Dave Bottrill’s job, bless his cotton socks.”
“It’s two weeks now until the first live performance. At this moment we’re in the ultimate stages of the music for the show, waiting for the lyrics and getting ready to record the final vocal performances. They’re not all confirmed yet, but I think that Iarla Ó Lionáird will sing one of the main parts, with Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins and lately, Massive Attack), and we’re hoping to get Ray Charles as well.
There are some good songs; one very long piece that Simon Emmerson has done some production work on sounds a bit Afro-Celtish, interjected with a Gabriel song. There’s a piece called ‘Father and Son’ which makes every bloke we’ve played it to cry – that’s just piano and vocal at the moment, but we’re going to record it with the Black Dyke Mills Brass Band. There’s a song which is currently called ‘64’ (it’s song number 64 of 120 we’ve been working on) which is the favourite for a single. Song ‘18’ is finished; it came out of one of the pieces that didn’t get completed for the US album, called ‘Feed the Flame’. It’s got Tony’s bass and Manu’s drums and I think that Iarla will be singing it for the finale of the show.
My role has been a bit vague – I turned up eighteen months ago for a three-month gig and I’m still here. I’ve spent most of that time generating options, parts and random directions. And playing – it’s been fun; it’s given me a lot of freedom and opportunities to play guitar, bass, flute, mandolin, whistle, bits of keyboards, that sort of thing.
There have been technical problems, due to the ambitiousness of the project. Allegedly, the Dome is an advert for British innovation and achievement, so everybody involved has been pushing the boat out technically. And as usual, cutting edge technology has a tendency to break down; luckily that’s something that we’ve got used to, working with Peter.
Now we’re making final musical decisions before we send it all to the Dome, where Dave Bottrill will mix it on the Sony desk there. It’s a pretty complex acoustic, big long reverb, but by luck (or acoustic design), more like a concert hall than a car park.
It’s been pretty scary; this is complex and high profile and the knives are out. Being British, everyone is looking for reasons that this should fail. And it’s been difficult working in that atmosphere. I think we might just pull it off.”