What it’s like to be the musical director of Strictly Come Dancing

“I sometimes find it hard to sleep,” says Dave Arch. “The buck stops with me!”

Strictly Come Dancing (BBC, EH)

Despite being Strictly’s musical director for 12 years, Dave Arch admits it’s still a nerve-racking job. “I sometimes find it hard to sleep,” he says. “The buck stops with me! On a Sunday I find out what the songs are and spend my week arranging them. I write out every single part for the band. My ethos is to do each of the styles, whether it’s a big band number or a rock song, as authentically as we can.


“We get three hours’ rehearsal on a Friday evening with the rhythm section — the drums, bass and keyboards — and the singers [Tommy Blaize, Andrea Grant, Lance Ellington and Hayley Sanderson]. I bring in someone new if we need a specialist — Jamie Squire has sung on a couple of shows and he was fantastic. It’s not easy singing live to millions!

“On Saturday the rest of the band sight-read the music. In all, I have 15 musicians — a drummer, percussionist, two guitar players, a bass, two keyboard players, three trumpets, two trombones and three woodwind/saxophones. And I play whatever else needs playing!

“The dancers use a recording, cut to the correct length, in training, and the song can sound different played live in the studio. If they can’t hear quite so well a bit they have to make a move to, we’ll work hard to make sure they can.

Each pair gets two run-throughs, so it’s quite seat of the pants! And some songs — like Julie Andrews’s The Shady Dame from Seville last week — have complicated tempo changes, so they take a bit of rehearsal.

“But the band are all there because I know they can do the job. We’ve worked together a long, long time.”

One of those old bandmates is singer Tommy Blaize, who has been singing since 1972, when he and his brothers toured the social clubs as a Drifters tribute act. He has been on Strictly since the pilot in 2004. “I’ve always been a live performer,” he says, “but when the red light goes on, I still feel nervous.

“Nothing major’s ever gone wrong, though occasionally one of us might come in at the wrong time or have a little croak. And they’ve thrown some different languages at us — we sing a lot in Spanish and I’ve even had a go at Tamil!

“Hayley does the jazz and show tunes, Andrea does the soul and R&B, Lance does the big band stuff and I love the waltzes and ballads, but I’ll have a go at anything. I come from Liverpool, so singing You’ll Never Walk Alone was a joy.

“We get as excited watching the dancing as the viewers at home. In the first couple of series the singers were at the back, behind the trombones, but since Dave arrived we’ve had the best seats in the house. I feel so privileged to have sat there all these years.”

Fans of Tommy, make a note: his debut album of soul classics, Life & Soul, is released on 1 December.


Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturday 11th November at 6.45pm on BBC1