Wednesday 29 February 2012, 11:42 | By Chris Cooke
Q&A: Chris Pattinson, Black Cab Sessions
Launched in 2007, the ‘Black Cab Sessions’ has grown into one of the music community’s most popular web-based programmes. The concept is simple: An artist jumps into the back of a black cab, plays a song and gets out again. With them, handily, is a camera crew to catch it all as it happens.
Over a hundred artists have now been featured on the show, from First Aid Kit to Brian Wilson, and tonight Black Cab Sessions makes the move from the web to our TV screens, with the first of six half hour shows airing at 12.10am on Channel 4.
The TV version of the show will see the black cab visit six cities across the USA, meeting a variety of artists from each. Included in the series are Spank Rock, The Morning Benders, Washed Out, Caitlin Rose, Jack White, Those Darlins, Courtney Tidwell, Sharon Van Etten, Suzanne Vega, The Roots, Phosphorescent, John Legend, and more.
Ahead of the first programme, CMU’s Chris Cooke caught up with one of the people behind the venture, Chris Pattinson, to find out more.
CC: Where did the original idea for the Black Cab Sessions come from?
CP: Originally we wanted to find a way to showcase upcoming London talent in a way that hadn’t been done before, while the production company that films the sessions, Just So Films, specifically wanted to find a way to use the then relatively new YouTube platform to give people a chance to see these bands play. Our first session was with Johnny Flynn, who had literally just performed a show we were promoting and filming at the Old Blue Last. A cab came past us and Johnny jumped in with his guitar and two of us with a camera and microphone. It became a bit of a YouTube hit and Black Cab Sessions was born.
CC: There are a few people involved – who are they, and what are your respective roles?
CP: There are five of us involved – Jono Stevens (director and founder), Jonny Madderson (director and editor), Will Evans (editor), Gen Stevens (producer) and me (director of music and producer).
CC: What’s your background?
CP: My background is based in music. A&R, PR, marketing and product management.
CC: At the outset, was it difficult to persuade artists to take part? Are any artists put off by the ‘one take’ rule?
CP: No. They loved it and still do. It’s different and doesn’t involve any interview. Plus we can actually work as a real life taxi! We’ve been known to pick up and drop off to help fit into a band’s busy schedule. We recently picked up Charlotte Gainsbourg from a radio show in Soho and took her back to her Shoreditch hotel. We can be useful! And I think the bands are keen to take on the ‘one take rule’. It’s their chance to shine. Some get in and nail it. For others there can be a few nervous false starts but most of them get through it in one straight take.
CC: How did you come by the black cab? Do you own it, or just hail one?
CP: We hail it. That’s the good thing about them – they’re everywhere. And they sound great. Those high roofs that were initially built to accommodate a gentlemen wearing a top hat offer some great acoustics! We also ask each cab driver to present the session, so we now have a montage of over 100 London cabbies introducing the bands.
CC: Why do you think the Sessions have captured the imagination of so many music fans?
CP: It is one of the most intimate ways to experience music on the web – I think people enjoy the fact that we don’t have make up, lighting, amplification etc. Each performance is unique and engaging. People also enjoy coming to the site and finding bands they have never heard before. Average time on the site is almost ten minutes per person, which suggests people are watching three or four sessions. We want to showcase the very biggest bands we can get, but fundamentally we want to discover the next big things in music. We have been instrumental in the careers of bands like Dry The River and Lianne La Havas and many more.
CC: What have been the challenges of making a show for a web audience?
CP: Sometimes demand for new sessions can be greater than we can actually cope with, but I think we do a good job of providing a regular stream of excellent music. We also try to keep on top of all the social aspects of a modern website. Sharing sessions among users is a huge part of what we do, so we are very keen to be able to give our viewers the tools to interact with the site. This is something we’ll be focussing on a lot more in the future.
CC: Are there any other music-based web TV shows that have impressed you?
CP: In my view, there are too many of them out there now. Not having a dig at anyone in particular, but there are a lot of the ‘something sessions’, which just gets a bit dull. But there are some fantastic sites – including our friends at Blogoteque in France, and Daytrotter and Yours Truly in the US, who all keep on supplying some amazing content.
CC: The Channel 4 show sees you take the format to the US – why did you decide to do that?
CP: This is the second time we have been across the Atlantic. The first time we were there, we took a cab to SxSW and filmed 50 sessions in three days – that was hardcore, but it showed the concept worked outside of London. We then wanted to take the cab into different US cities as we had picked up a lot of contacts through the London sessions, and so we wanted to use these and have the bands show us around their hometowns. We chose a route that took in some of the best musical cities in the US – Philly, Athens, New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville and New York. Obviously, these places each boast a huge musical heritage, and we wanted to document what it’s like to be a musician in these towns today.
CC: How does the TV show differ from the sessions people have seen online?
CP: The session format stays the same as it always has done. It’s just that we spend more time with each artist, who show us around their hometown and talk about the places and faces that have helped them get to where they are today. For example, in Nashville, we picked up Jack White and Wanda Jackson outside his Third Man record store. They performed a duet in the cab and then Jack told us why he moved to Nashville, and also who he thought would be next big thing to come out of there. We then go and film a session with that band and so on. It’s a great way to discover new music and get a real snapshot of the city’s musical pulse.
CC: Are there plans to now do a UK-based TV series?
CP: Not at the moment. But we do plan to take the cab out of the UK again – we want to put it in territories all over the world to discover the best new music we can, while showcasing some of the biggest names we can. This is a global thing!
CC: Will you still keep posting new sessions online?
CP: Absolutely, this is core to our development and allows us to give the new bands a platform to showcase their talents. The website will become bigger and better in 2012.
CC: Who has been your favourite Black Cab Sessions artist so far?
CP: Oh wow, difficult question. I have loads… For me personally, it was a real triumph to get Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy in the cab. He is my personal hero so it was a real thrill to finally have him involved! He was our 100th London session. I think people were expecting us to get Prince or someone HUGE, but we were very keen to get the guy we had been after for ages.
Also, the new bands. When we filmed Lianne La Havas, we just knew she would go on to be a star. She has that quality that so many artists strive to possess. It was from that cab performance that Jools Holland’s producers saw her and booked her – now look where she is! It’s very exciting.
CC: Who would most like to do a Black Cab Session with?
CP: We can strike off Bonnie Prince now, but we each have our own personal act that we want – don’t want to jinx it though!
CC: What’s the most people you’ve ever had in the black cab?
CP: I think it was when Brian Wilson took part. I think there were seven of us in total… Oh hang on, perhaps that was one my favourites too. Like I said, there are so many!
Black Cab Sessions USA trailer: