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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
 
BMJ. 2007 August 4; 335(7613): 262.
PMCID: PMC1939767
In and Out of Hospital

Doctor in the booth

James Owen Drife, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Leeds

It's five years since we've been in the recording studios, but little has changed. Some gizmos have been updated and the photo of the producer as a member of a long-haired pop group has gone, replaced by a picture of his contemporaries, the Beatles. Still, the elderly sofa and scattered musical instruments are comfortably familiar.

Can it really be more than three decades since our first show in the Edinburgh Fringe? This time we've decided to break with tradition and learn the songs before the dress rehearsal. Recording helps. Oddly enough, it's hard to memorise your own words. You have to work at forgetting the ones you deleted during the agony of composition.

Performing to a microphone generates a special kind of adrenalin. On stage, after the preliminary rush of anxiety all that matters is that the audience has a good time. Mistakes sometimes help. Alone in the recording booth, you need to get everything right for the friendly but fastidious team listening next door. You can't relax.

Your long-time collaborator (once a fellow houseman) plays his music immaculately and then it's up to you. You put the headphones on and your brain immediately ceases to function. Your colleague sellotapes the lyrics to the glass and mimes encouragingly. When you finish, a voice invites you to come out and listen to your efforts.

Sycophancy is not part of the producer's repertoire. After the second take he compliments you on no longer imitating a wounded boar and asks if you can try to avoid sounding like a man about to be hung in the morning. He suggests that you sing across the beat and you feel it would be uncool to ask what that means.

Modern technology, he says, can correct small errors in tempo but it has its limits. It cannot insert raw emotion. Goaded, you return to the booth and give it some welly. You wave your arms. You pout. You smile coquettishly at the microphone. You emerge drained and find the team next door chatting about football.

The songs are supposed to be funny. As the tapes play you watch surreptitiously, hoping for a smile, but everyone is concentrating on musical minutiae. Suddenly someone notices a joke and gets a fit of giggles. Bless him. There's still hope.

Notes

James Owen Drife will be performing in the Edinburgh Fringe in The Secret Life of Robert Burns, which runs from 21 to 23 August.


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