"Are you atmosphere?" the young pretty woman asked me, as I stepped into the side door
to Stage 21 at Universal City Studios in California. While I was feeling rather
spacey from the early hour. I cautiously answered, "no, I'm with the band".
"Band over there; atmosphere over here!" she barked. And so began the taping
phase of a three day adventure of performing as part of the "side band" in an episode
of "Murder, She Wrote" entitled in a typically Irish compact way: "To the End I
will Grapple with Thee".
"Atmosphere", I later discovered were those poor faceless people, the extras,
who always hover around in crowd scenes behind the big stars. Our job was to provide
a taste of real Irish music in a made-up pub built right on the stage called "Fenian's Chase".
We had all come in the day before and prerecorded the tracks at Universal's
huge airplane hangar of a music studio. The room was obviously designed for large
orchestras; our "orchestra" which consisted only of me on the Celtic harp, fiddler
Cait Reed, piper Richard Cook, guitarist Mark Romano, my wife Paula Doyle on the bodhrán
and the union accordionist who had originally contacted me for the job. The idea
was for us to prerecord the two reels, one jig and one planxty in the music studio,
then on the days of the actual video taping, we would "act" like we're playing. The
sound people wanted total control of the mix of dialogue with music, so we had
to be absolutely silent when we were appearing to be having a grand time. Have you
ever tried to "act" like you're playing an instrument, a drum for example, and not actually
touch the instrument?
The next day we had to be in the studio at 7AM, an impossible hour for Irish
musicians. After a check of our wardrobe and a little brush-up, we began our routine
of "hurry-up and wait", followed by "wait and hurry-up". It wasn't until 10 AM when
were were called to get up on the little stage set up against one of the removable
walls of the "pub".
It was the cleanest, nicest pub you've ever seen. No smoke; no drunks spilling
drinks; everyone paying attention to the music,-in short a totally unreal situation.
Instead of Guinness in the glasses, they had root beer (we sampled it) and the pub
grub looked good, but was mostly plastic. When the star of the show, Angela Landsbury, arrived on the set,
she remarked on the how great the set was but noted that "every pub I've been in
is usually full of smoke." The set dressers offered to fill the place with smoke,
but the extras rebelled chanting "no,no,no".
Though Angela is British born, she raised her family in Ireland, so she should
know what a pub should look like. Angela is like she appears, -a very classy and
nice lady, though stage etiquette forbade people from actually going up to talk to
her. She mostly hung out in her trailer until needed. She remarked favorably on the band,
as did the director .
After an eternity adjusting lights and cameras, they rehearsed and rehearsed
again, then they did the shot, then did it again, then did it again.
Then they moved the camera, changed the lights and shot the same scene again and again
from three other angles. By this time, we all had the dialogue memorized.
After lunch in the commissary (we saw Andy Griffith who was shooting his show
in the nearby stage), we had to hang around waiting in case they needed us, but we
weren't called again until 5 PM. For most of the time there was nothing to do but
to sit and eat (there were always snacks and treats spread out). It's a wonder everyone
who works there isn't fat. Fortunately, I had a new recording coming out and I had
to fold a few thousand little paper inserts to put in with my cassettes. We finished
them all as we waited.
Suddenly, quick, quick, quick, we had to change. (They were shooting the "next
day" of the teleplay and we couldn't be wearing the same clothes.)
After the rush-rush-rush, then they decided that the lighting wasn't right and
it took another forty minutes while they adjusted them. And so it went on like this
through to the next day and evening.
Taken all in all, the whole adventure was a combination of moments of excitement
followed by hours of intense boredom. When we finally saw the show, which aired
on CBS on March 15, 1992 and has since been rerun many times usually on St.Patrick's Day, our three days of work amounted
to three or four seconds here and three or four seconds there during the first half of
the show and we were featured in all the previews of the show that week. But I was
happy to notice that they did use our music throughout all the pub scenes, even
when we were not in the shot.