My phone rang just as I was setting out to supervise an orchestral recording session with a well-known piano soloist and conductor in London’s Abbey Road Studio No.1. It was the manager of the CD label employing my services as a producer. The Prime Minister is visiting the studios today, she said, so you won’t be able to park there. My feeling of self-satisfaction that the PM should consider my session worthy of her interest soon evaporated. Her ratings were at a low ebb, and she was obviously eager to embrace a photo opportunity behind Ringo Starr’s drum kit in Studio 2, or perhaps even to be snapped striding over the famous zebra crossing, handbag no doubt akimbo. So my session was small fry to her.
After the customary sound check, I began producing the session, monitoring the ‘takes’ and noting the bits which needed to be re-recorded. Suddenly a small woman in a green dress, flanked by two bouncer-looking chaps, was ushered in and sat in front of me to my left, next to the balance engineer at his mixing desk, at which point I admit to feeling a perverse delight in having asked her to move a little to her right, as her head was between me and the left-hand loudspeaker. The apology came in the familiar studied, measured tones, the following body language including a facial expression of rather pained, professionally-donned curiosity. “I’ve never heard such a beautiful piano concerto”, she breathed, prompting the possibly uncharitable thought that she’d probably heard very few. We were recording Rachmaninov’s Second.
As expensive minutes ticked by, she requested that I introduce her to the orchestra, puzzling at how big it was, and insisting that I send her an advance copy of the recording since this was the time of glasnost, we were working with a Russian conductor, and she was having lunch with Mr Gorbachev next Tuesday. I had to tell her that to come up with an edited master by then, I’d have to work for more than 24 hours a day. Came the reply, “I sometimes wish there were more than 24 hours a day, don’t you?”. I replied that his was one area in which we agreed.
Thus reminded of the Thatcherite work ethic, I ushered the PM off the premises and we resumed the session, the momentum of which was now somewhat fractured. We were in danger of getting behind schedule. So, via my microphone link to the orchestra in the studio, I went into my Margaret Thatcher impression – not as uncanny and justly celebrated as Steve Nallon’s maybe, but not, so my friends tell me, too bad. To sit in on this recording, she/I reported, had been such a joy and an inspiration that ‘she’ had agreed to conduct the orchestra in a gala performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at next year’s summit, adding that until then, we must remember Beethoven’s setting of Schiller’s hymn to the brotherhood of man, “…and I can assure you that I will be taking the score to bed with me every night until then”. Amid laughter, the session recovered, a photo of the PM behind Ringo Starr’s drumkit appeared in the press the next day, and mastering of the recording was duly completed.