Here's What Happened Over the Course of 24 HoursNine Lessons and Carols for Socially Distanced People - Wrap Up
Ok. Nine Lessons and Carols for Socially Distanced People. 24 and a bit hours, live, from Midday GMT to December 12th. Here’s what happened…
Just before midday our new animated title sequence, brought to life by William Marler and featuring a new funky edition of our theme song from The F-Gs kicks things off followed by a sleigh bells infused edition of it from Steve Pretty, live on stage in a cavern of musical kit at Kings Place (where he will be for the next 24 hours). We were then meant to cross to Helen Czerski at the stroke of midday on the Prime Meridian in Greenwich but in a year in which she’s cycled around 4500km without issue, she got two punctures between her house and the Observatory so instead Steve throws to our host for the 24 hours, Robin Ince.
He introduces the show, the charities we’re supporting (Doctors Without Borders, Mind, Turn2Us and the Kings Place Music Foundation and you can still donate right now at this link), the safety measures in place at Kings Place and, not for the first time, blames producer Trent Burton for this whole foolish endeavour.
There are some audio issues with a bit of an echo for the first 10 mins but that’s quickly sorted. Our first ever livestream, with Robin and Josie, one day after lockdown started had an echo issue off to the top so it seems only appropriate.
First guest is Chris Lintott and he intros his supernova challenge for the viewers. Working with observatories around the globe, we’re going supernova hunting with the Zooniverse team. Then Ginny Smith calls in from Singapore with her Bop It based brain challenge for Robin over the next 24 hours. That’s two continents down. Helen Czerski finally makes it to Greenwich and tells us about the birth of time before Steve introduces his mad, world first idea he’ll be debuting later and also his challenge on making a song out of the show by the end of it.
Next it’s Mark Watson, because of course he had to be our first proper guest, to offer Robin advice on surviving a 24 hour show and discuss whether it’s better to start it in daylight or nighttime. Jim Al-Khalili is next on the big screen to chat with Robin about quantum biology and why lockdown has been good thinking time for physicists. Then it’s Rebecca-Wragg Sykes to talk Neanderthals via the medium of primary school recorder. Then Gecko plays two songs remotely, while Steve accompanies live in Hall.
Robin crosses live to the Scriberia studio over the road where illustrator Matt Kemp is drawing the entire show in infographics and cartoons, live for the whole 24 hours. Then it’s emo astrophysics from Jen Gupta and poetry from Joshua Idehen. Next up was the first of three Festival of the Spoken Nerd members, Steve Mould, who didn’t understand a remote control or his radiator.
Now it was time for Family Hour which, because it’s us, was two hours. Bec Hill arrived in studio to co-host the entire slot with Robin. They chatted about this and that before Simon Singh arrived on screen with, appropriately, nine maths puzzles for Robin, Bec and the audience. Questions set, Jamie Gallagher is up next with the chemistry of cola, Simon returns with quiz answers and then it’s time for Steve Pretty to unleash his robot band.
In what, we think, is a world first, Steve had a whole bunch of real instruments in the room including a full upright piano, sleigh bells, drums and more that were all be played, in real time, remotely, by our usual Nine Lessons house band from their various locations around the UK. Steve Thompson played laser harp at home that played sleigh bells in the room. Ben Handysides drummed and Jeff Miller swapped his tuba for a piano. It was utterly bonkers, it worked, and it was damned amazing.
Next it’s Suze Kundu to separate the snowflakes from the snowflakes and then Lori Hopkins screens her Mars based puppet film The Mariner. The quizmaster himself Bobby Seagull is up next to pit Bec against Robin in a Christmas Maths based University Challenge in which Bec emerges victorious much to her delight. Jonny Berliner plays live remotely, singing about radioactive materials and such while Steve accompanies live in the Hall.
Then Bec takes centerstage for some patented Christmas flip chat fun.
The inspiration that is Jocelyn Bell-Burnell calls in next to talk to Robin of pulsars and astronomy before he is joined on stage by Claudia Hammond. They talk of the value of rest which, with 19 hours still to go, seems unfair but then Trent knew that when he scheduled it…
Meanwhile Bop Its are being bopped and songs are being mixed and cartoons are being drawn.
Time to tick off another continent as Apollo 9’s Lunar Module Pilot Rusty Schweickart joins us from the US for a fun chat about the Apollo programme and its legacy. After this we’re joined by a distinctly Welsh Santa for a great conversation about mental health with Robin and Claudia. From some angles you’d swear Santa was actually neuroscientist Dean Burnett. We say goodbye to Claudia and delight in two brilliant songs from Tanita Tikaram.
Teaming up once more with our friends from the Genetics Society and the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, it’s an end of year episode of Genetics Shambles. Robin is joined by, now series regulars, Emma Hodcroft and Dan Davis and also Kevin Fong to talk about where we’ve been and where we’re going in this year of COVID. It ends with a heartfelt thank you to Kevin and all the healthcare workers around the world.
Time to welcome our second ‘Nerd’ as Helen Arney reworks the Elements song in a number of ways, including a brand new edition designed specifically to annoy Matt Parker. Robin breaks his first Bop It, checks in on Matt’s art and then our laserist of choice Seb Lee Delisle pops by to show us our Nine Lessons viewers can control a laser light show in various cities around the UK live during the show.
It hits 7pm, the time Nine Lessons and Compendium would normally start so it seems only right that we welcome Brian Cox to the stream to chat about the year in physics and his 2021 plans with Robin.
Chris Lintott returns to say the supernova quest is looking good but the next few hours are critical so our live chat and social media boss Jo Gostling (ably assisted throughout the day and night and day by Vanessa Furey, Sarah Mann and Amy Seales) fires up the viewers and they all get to work.
It’s comedy next from the brilliant Lost Voice Guy and then Andrea Sella calls in with a wonderful story of chemistry and doesn’t blow up his own house. Then it’s some absolutely beautiful music from Nitin Sawhney accompanied by Anna Phoebe on violin and YVA on vocals.
Continent number four is ticked off as we cross live to Peru to chat with Isabel Felandro about her work with the Cool Earth project protecting the rainforests in South America. Then Ben Goldacre fits his customary four hours of content into 15 minutes talking about NHS COVID data. Our Shambles chum Josie Long is next along to chat to Robin about his odd new facial hair choice and definitely didn’t spoil anything about their upcoming appearance on Celebrity Pointless.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor calls in to chat about her year of Kitchen Discos then delights us with a version of My Favourite Things from said Kitchen Disco.
The second Santa of the night arrives next but this time he wanders onto the actual stage. He’s unhappy about this year of COVID One Nine and how he really should be sheltering at this time of year given his age. He also looks terribly like Stewart Lee.
Astronaut number two is up next and it’s our friend Chris Hadfield live from Canada to take some questions from our younger viewers, talk about the future of spaceflight and play his Christmas song, Jewel in the Night, accompanied in hall by Steve.
More Bop It fury. More Matt Kemp art. And then Dickens.
In a 40 minute segment that took about as much planning as a normal entire Compendium an absolute all star cast perform an abridged version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The soundtrack is live mixed in Hall by Steve Pretty using samples sent in by our regular house band of Steve T, Jeff and Ben from earlier, plus Tamar Osborn, Will Bartlett and Ollie Weston. The cast list for A Christmas Carol is, quite honestly, insane. It features, in order of appearance, Jo Brand, James Nokise, Andy Nyman, Guy Pearce, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Eddie Izzard, Joel McHale, Rachel House, Katy Brand, Ben Bailey Smith, Jessica McNamee, Sharon D Clarke, Donna Lynne Champlin, Helen Zaltzman, Chris Addison, Eve Lindley, Nikesh Shukla, Kevin Eldon, Deborah Frances-White, Isy Suttie, Ariane Sherine, Reece Shearsmith, Amy Hoggart, David McAlmont, Matt Haig, Richard Herring, Charlotte Church, Natalie Haynes and Mark Gatiss. I mean, come on.
Robin welcomes everyone back and now it’s time for Robyn Hitchcock. There is chat about giant killer crabs and then a song about trilobites. Suzi Gage is next, in front of a giant Christmas tree and holding her sleeping three week old son (definitely the youngest Nine Lessons performer ever) to talk about nitros.
Next up is a special surprise guest only announced a couple of hours earlier. The Cure fans have descended on mass to the livestream as Robert Smith performs an exclusive three song acoustic set for the show to mark the 40th anniversary of Seventeen Seconds. It is quite brilliant.
The logical thing to follow Robert Smith with is, of course, a far ranging interview with medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Robin and he speak of 14th century science and what he knows of Bob Monkhouse. Cure fans are very confused. We were hoping to be joined by comedian John-Luke Roberts in this spot but he couldn’t make it…
As part of this late night comedy slot we then have hilarious sets from Charlie George and Kiri Pritchard-McLean before Steve Pretty and his remote controlled robot band give us some Xmas tunes. Matt Parker messages producer Trent to say it is one of the maddest/best things he’s ever seen.
It’s midnight. We’re halfway. And so it’s time for a sort of version of one of our podcasts, An Uncanny (Half) Hour. Joined by psychologist and horror fan Bruce Hood and horror historian Kier-La Janisse they chat to Robin about great Christmas horror films and best horror posters.
Ding! Tick off continent number five now as Tim Minchin, another surprise guest, logs in from Australia. He and Robin chat about the problems of social media and self doubt before everyone gets a bit glassy eyed as Tim swivels to the grand piano for a version of a song played at many a Nine Lessons of years gone by, White Wine in the Sun.
Back to the US now to talk about the Light in the Void stage show with its producer Tony Lund, BAFTA award winning composer Austin Wintory and two of the three scientists involved in the show, astronomer Carolyn Porco and physicist Maria Spiropulu. The third scientist involved will be joining us in the morning.
Then it’s back to Australia for a full on science AMA with our pal Dr Karl who tackles everything from crying to astrophysics via a tribute to the humble toilet.
Then, around 2:10am, the internet dies. We lose all internet at Kings Place and Trent and two of the KP tech team launch into action. Things are looking grim for a period but thanks to some utterly stellar work by Kate and Holly, we are offline for around 30 minutes before going back online. Co-Producer Melinda Burton is seeing how liquid she can make the rest of the run-order, while helping out with the social media as she’s been doing all show. Truth be told, it’s one of the most heartwarming moments of the show as 100s of early morning UK viewers just hang out in the live-chat, swapping favourite science inventions led by Jo, of course, and Suze Kundu and Karl Byrne. Honestly, it’s such a joy.
But then, bang, we’re back and Robin’s talking about favourite slapstick movies, performers and more with two of Australia’s slapstick icons, Shaun Micallef and Colin Lane of Lano and Woodley. They were just announced as the next guests when the internet died and yet they hung around for 40 minutes and then still came on after. Legends.
The loss of time in the early hours did sadly however mean we lost our chance to cross live to Monty Python alumni Eric Idle. Next year Eric, next year.
Then it’s early morning astrophysics and the end of the universe with Katie Mack, Ginny Smith checks in on poor Bop It progress, we have a song from Australian music icon Diesel and comedian Yianni tells us a sweet story of his grandma.
More neuroscience now and we’re back to America to talk consciousness with David Eagleman. It’s a lot for Robin’s 4am brain to process.
Sixth continent gets signed off now as we head to South Africa and hear some music from one of that countries biggest recording artists, Zahara before we get an early morning physics lesson from Jon Butterworth.
An art check in and the, what next? Oh yes. Steve Pretty decides it’s time to do something extremely musically difficult, Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, while chanting Merry Christmas and Happy New Year which links in perfectly to the phasing Jon’s just been talking about. Trent and the tech team start dancing in the booth and it’s pretty certain everyone has lost their minds by now.
Then it’s video games with Pete Etchells and a motivational chat about Zoom from Dave Coplin. We check in to see how many of the current few thousand viewers have been with us since the start and it’s a lot. Champions.
There’s some genetics from Matthew Cobb and thermodynamics based poetry from Sunayana Bhargava and a spot of improvised jazz from Steve before we cross to New Zealand where Michelle Dickinson makes custard and then blows it up with fire.
Back to Australia for a discussion about Indigenous science, particularly in the areas of biodiversity and astronomy with two brilliant Aboriginal scientists and science communicators, Krystal De Napoli and Zena Cumpston.
Then it’s Rubik’s cubes and multiverses with Lawrence Leung and then a chat about excess and life on the road with rock legend Jimmy Barnes. It ends with a performance of Flame Trees, one of our producer’s favourite songs.
It’s 7am and Helen Czerski has arrived at the hall and she’s making cocktails and seeing how different fruit floats in them on stage. It’s time for breakfast and we’ve all been eating pasta in a cup for 19 hours so George Egg calls in for some hotel room anarchist chef action, blows a fuse (literally) but still makes a lovely meal.
Another check in from Ginny Smith then Chris Lintott returns with very good news set to become even better news with a few more hours of data crunching from our observatory in Hawaii at which point it’s fair to say Robin and Steve hit a bit of a wall.
Steve has taken 45 mins to do a 1 minute task in the mixing of his song and Robin now has to do all interviews standing up in case he falls asleep. Melinda and Jo had their wobbles in the early morn and insomniac Trent is doing just fine. He had his issue at 9pm, a very specific time that Mark Watson warned him about.
Now it’s time for Helen Czerski’s mad, live advent calendar. Viewers have sent in random pictures from around their homes during the show and she has 24 minutes, 1 minute per picture, to find some cool science in each picture. From mousetraps to vines to sleeping cats, she manages to do it. It’s as impressive as it is chaotic.
Next guest on the video chat is Alice Roberts and they chat about humanism and bones before Lucie Green and Matt Parker call in, in matching ESA Solar Orbiter hoodies to talk about what the Orbiter is up to and how it’s getting ready to slingshot around Venus.
One of Helen’s fellow 2020 RI Christmas lecturers is next on call, and it’s Chris Jackson. They talk the wonders of geology and tease what’s in store with the lectures. There’s a slight tech hitch next, which is entirely predictable as we try to hook up with our seventh and final continent.
While we sort that it’s a lovely short film from Ben Moor about phone numbers and then, our phone connection to Antarctica fires up and we chat with Alexandra Dodds who has been in the Antarctic researching Albatross. There’s talk of birds and isolation. Every continent achievement unlocked!
From Antarctic ice to sea levels, Tamsin Edwards is next on the bill to talk climate and then it’s back to space. Astronauts Helen Sharman and Samantha Cristoforetti link up to make our astronaut tally four (which will be five next week when Tim Peake joins us for the encore that Robin’s just announced). They compare the luxury liner that is the ISS to the floating caravan of MIR and more.
Jim Moray debuts a brand new song to send off a terrible year and look to brighter days before Ginny Smith checks in for the final time. She’s graphed Robin’s Bop It progress and it’s difficult to draw many conclusions beyond Robin hates Bop Its and isn’t entirely normal. Then Milton Jones emerges from a cupboard with some of his superb tales and one liners.
Marcus Brigstocke and Rachel Parris are next for a chat, a Christmas song and musical quiz with Robin and the early morning socially distanced audience. Chris Lintott returns a final time with a success story! We’ve found multiple candidates, confirmed some others and as such are able to adjust the age of the Universe ever so slightly. The end result is actual science and a published paper with some Robin, Trent, Melinda and Jo joining Chris and some of our viewers as co-authors. One of the discoveries in fact is a type of supernova new to even Chris. It’s quite a moment.
We can see the finish line now and Steve debuts his single, One Lesson and Carol (which you can buy now, all profits to charity)
Right now we’re close to midday and 24 hours and we’re supposed to cross back to the Prime Meridian but Helen has, seriously, gotten another puncture. So after 23 hours and 45 minutes on stage Trent says to Robin, ‘Just fill’ which almost breaks him. But Robin Ince is Robin Ince and so he talks of Seamus Heaney’s blackberries and Carl Sagan and reads Pale Blue Dot. He finished it at 11:59 at which point Helen has made it! We cross to the Prime Meridian right on the stroke of midday. There is applause and Helen reminds us why people and places matter. There are some tears.
Trent comes on stage to thank a whole bunch of people and then limps off. Robin reveals he Trent has quite likely fractured his ankle literally 12 hours before the start of the show and so has done the whole 24 hours on it.
And we could end there, but we don’t. There’s one final surprise guest to close the show. Harry Hill appears on the big screen for a quick chat and then sings My Way backwards. Because of course he does.
We’ve raised around £22K at this point. Steve plays a couple of notes, the credits roll, and off we go.
We didn’t fit everything in even with all that. And so we’re back the Saturday, December 19th, at 7pm for an encore with Robin, Helen, Tim Peake and more. The Crowdfunder is ongoing until after that show. Matt Kemp’s amazing artworks will be up for auction soon. There’s probably a bunch of stuff that happened that we’ve forgotten as well.
Highlights of almost the entire show will be on this site and our YouTube channel soon too. There’s going to be a fun Behind the Scenes AMA with Team Shambles next week as well, a livestream exclusive to our Patreon supporters so sign up here.
If this whole thing reads like a weird fever dream. It was. Thanks to everyone who made it happen. Thanks to everyone who watched and donated.
See you on Saturday and then, hopefully, properly, on stage, like old times, next year.