RTÉ.ie Entertainment emails 'Strictly Come Dancing's musical director David Arch and finds out about working on the show, preparing for a Saturday night and the new 'Strictly...' CD.
RTÉ.ie: How did you become involved with 'Strictly Come Dancing'?
David Arch: I was asked to take over from Laurie Holloway for Series Four (in 2006). I had worked on several other shows for the BBC prior to this, including the spin-off 'Strictly Dance Fever' (two series) and 'Just the Two of Us'.
RTÉ.ie: Can you take us through what each week on the show involves for you in terms of preparation, songs etc? How long are the days?
DA: During the series, my week begins on the Sunday. After the live Saturday show, I'm given a list of the music for the following Saturday. Most of the tracks will already be edited and approved by both the production team and dancers, although this process can sometimes carry over into the early week.
Part of my job is to transcribe these edited records for a live band, so I listen again and again to the tracks, and write down all the individual parts for each instrument in a score. I then send these scores to my copyist, who then provides parts for each player. This normally takes me about four whole days (ie about 8am to 10pm), as I don't relax until I'm ready for the Saturday show.
Thursday and Friday are slightly easier, unless there are any last minute additions or changes (not uncommon), and are normally spent on the practicalities of running a band!
RTÉ.ie: Looking back on the series you've been involved in, are there contestants that you feel were far better off camera at dancing than on it?
DA: There have been some great characters on the show, but I would say, on the whole, the live performances are more or less the same as the rehearsals.
RTÉ.ie: Can you tell us about the songs on the new 'Strictly Come Dancing' CD and how they were chosen?
DA: The tracks on the CD were chosen in conjunction with the 'Strictly...' production team, BBC Worldwide, and Universal [Music]. The criteria were that the music had been broadcast on 'Strictly...' in the last two series, with one exception, 'Sing Sing Sing', which was performed on the live tour. Members of the band suggested a
shortlist, and this was whittled down.
RTÉ.ie: Do the contestants and judges have any funny rituals before they go on?
DA: I don't really know, as I am normally on the set before them.
RTÉ.ie: Who is the funniest judge?
DA: They all make me laugh.
RTÉ.ie: Could you to make the judges dance with some of the professionals one week? Or Bruce Forsyth with one of the professionals?
DA: Unfortunately, this is beyond my control, although Bruce did a song and dance with all the professionals at the end of the last series, and something is planned for this series. I believe the judges danced on stage at the end of the show when it was on tour.
RTÉ.ie: The singers in your orchestra are fantastic. Can you tell us about them?
DA: They are fantastic. On the television show there are four: Tommy Blaize (head singer), Lance Ellington, Priscilla Jones-Campbell and Hayley Sanderson. On the album we were also joined by Andrea Grant. Tommy has done 'Strictly...' from the very beginning, Lance from Series Three, I think, Priscilla from Series Four, and Hayley from Series Five. As you know, they have a huge variety of 'voices' to cover, and they also do backing vocals.
RTÉ.ie: What musical guests would you most like to appear on the show? Your wishlist?
DA: My only wish would be that more of them perform live!
RTÉ.ie: Who was your favourite contestant so far in any series and why?
DA: That would be telling, I love them all!
RTÉ.ie: What was the funniest thing that happened off camera on the show so far?
DA: A boy in the audience cheekily asking Bruce when he was going to retire. Bruce then chased him 'round the studio. Not on air!
RTÉ.ie: Do the contestants or you choose the music for their routines each week?
DA: The music is chosen between the pro dancers, and the production team. Very occasionally their requests include music that I don't feel we can do justice to with a 15 piece band, in which case I say so!
RTÉ.ie: We have heard the contestants have their first live rehearsal with the band on Fridays, so presumably they are using CDs prior to that. Does that mean you have to customise your arrangements around the originals?
DA: Unfortunately this is not true. The contestants first rehearse with the band on the afternoon of the show (which is our first rehearsal as well). Prior to that they are working to edited CDs all week, and I need to get as close as I can to what they are used to hearing.
As you may sometimes notice on the show, they frequently ask for the tempos to be faster or slower than the originals.
RTÉ.ie: Two shows are recorded on Saturday night; the majority of the second one after the phone lines have closed. How long does the full recording take?
DA: The first show is live, the time is variable, but it's normally around 6 or 7pm. This normally runs at about an hour and 15 minutes. We then have a small break, then dress rehearse and record the second show. The team is very slick, and we pretty much record the second show as live, finishing around 10.30ish.
RTÉ.ie: Can you tell us about your career outside of 'Strictly Come Dancing'?
DA: Apart from other television, the bulk of my work is in the recording studio, both as a player and as an arranger conductor. Over the summer I was working on an Il Divo album using a large orchestra, and also Leon Jackson's debut album. Prior to that I worked on the Leona Lewis album, and some tracks for a Charles Aznavour duets album.
I also often play on film scores; some of the bigger ones I've been on in the last few years, have included 'The Queen', 'Star Wars -Revenge of the Sith', the first three 'Harry Potter' films and 'Notting Hill'.
Last year I played keyboards for Paul McCartney on some gigs in America. In addition to that I compose and arrange music for TV. Currently I have the theme music to 'GMTV', 'Emmerdale', and quite a few adverts, notably the big British Airways campaigns over the last few years. So I get around a bit!
RTÉ.ie: Thanks David! Love your work!
DA: Love yours too!
'Strictly Come Dancing' is out now on Universal Music.