LONDON (Reuters) - It’s a rainy Friday afternoon stuck in traffic with the windshield wipers slapping back and forth, and Barry Hyde, lead singer of the British rock group The Futureheads, grins as he tears through the band’s latest hit.
“Very nice,” says the audience of one, our cab driver. “You have a lovely voice, Barry.”
Welcome to the Black Cab Sessions, the most intimate concert series ever filmed, bringing some of the biggest bands in Britain to the smallest possible venue.
The idea is as simple as can be: a film crew meets the band on a London street, flags down a black taxi and everyone piles in the back. The band gets one take to play one song as the cab cruises along the city streets.
It was the brainchild of four friends, two of them with jobs in the film production business and two of them working as music industry gig-bookers.
In just over a year, they have recorded nearly three dozen concerts in the backs of taxis, with their clips becoming a cult hit on Youtube and their own website blackcabsessions.com.
They have attracted independent bands you’ve probably never heard of and big-time headlining acts like the triple-platinum selling group The Kooks.
It’s not all rock and roll: cellist Jonathon Byers of the Badke Quartet nails down a haunting movement from a Bach solo suite while balancing his instrument as the cab negotiates corners, the nighttime lights of London flashing behind him.
A performance by a poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, has attracted 221,000 viewers on Youtube and counting.
“We’re very strict that it has to be one take because otherwise the cab fare gets too expensive,” said Chris Pattinson, one of the founders of the project. “We have to pay the fare ourselves. We try to keep it under a tenner.”
One surprise was how good the acoustics turned out to be in the back of the cabs, Pattinson said. “It really sounds great. We had no idea.”
Another surprise was just how popular it would be with the bands.
“I heard about it because a few of my friends in other bands did it. They were raving about it,” said Hyde, whose band from Sunderland in northern England is going on tour of Europe and North America to promote its new album.
A Reuters correspondent managed to squeeze into the taxi session by agreeing to be the sound man and hold onto the microphone.
Hyde bends the rules a bit and plays three new songs, accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar in stop-and-go traffic as the taxi prowled through North London.
At one point the taxi passes a woman pushing a shopping cart filled with groceries in the rain as Hyde sings a lyric about loneliness that seemed to fit the scene perfectly.
“Aye, it was good craic that, loads of fun!” he says with a grin, using the Gaelic word for a good time, as the taxi pulls over to let the crew out onto a rainy London street.
Hyde still has to get across town to a gig the band is playing at a south London concert hall that night. He tells the driver not to worry: he’ll take an underground train.
Editing by Paul Casciato