Live Lounge Month: Clara Amfo on Radio 1’s annual celebration and her favourite ever performances

Includes anecdote about Haim playing drums on a bottle of washing-liquid

The days are closing in, and it’s come time to dig out your jumpers from the cupboard where you hid them as the never ending heat-wave blessed the UK over summer. And here’s another sign that we’re well and truly in the midst of autumn: Radio 1’s Live Lounge Month is well and truly underway. You know the drill: it’s your favourite artists covering songs by your favourite other artists. For the fourth year in a row, BBC hero Clara Amfo is hosting the series, which you can hear on Radio 1 every Monday to Thursday. So far, she’s already been joined by Twenty One Pilots and Jorja Smith, with performances from Christine and the Queens, The 1975 and Blossoms still to come.

“I like the continuity of it,” Amfo tells NME after her first day of broadcasting the series, “I like the fact that the listeners know that everyday at midday they’re gonna hear live music; it’s just fun. I think the great thing about the live lounge for me is that it serves as a mini gig for people that don’t always get to go to them.”

We spoke to the presenter about the legacy of the Live Lounge, and Clara even revealed some of her favourite ever performances.

What was your first ever Live Lounge like?

Nothing prepares you for being in that moment. I remember being so nervous, thinking, ‘What if I don’t push the right fader up so the audience can actually hear the live music? Because that would be awkward. Where do I look, what do I say?’ But now it’s like riding a bike. It’s just second nature to me now. My very first one, I think there were technical issues – I’d been used to using radio desks for ages, doing that particular part of the show, I had a mini freak out. But it was all good in the end.”

What’s it like, being involved in such an iconic piece of broadcasting? 

“It’s a massive honour. If I think about the people that presented the show before me, how long they were on the show and how much it means to them as broadcasters – and all the audience that were with them, who’ve decided to carry on with me – it’s a bit overwhelming. I remember seeing adverts about the ‘Live Lounge’ album on TV, and I remember hearing some of the iconic ones, and now just yesterday I was in the studio recording the voiceover. I went from being the kid that listens to the Live Lounge to being the person that presents it.” 

Does it ever get old?

“Absolutely not. It never gets old. Anything can change in a moment. I think that’s the great thing about live performance- we know what people sound like and we have a general idea of what to expect. The minute I play that jingle and you chat to the artist preparing themselves for the start of their song, it’s already different to what’s happened previously.”

Want to revisit some classics? Here are some of Clara’s all time favourite Live Lounge Performances:

Ariana Grande, ‘Them Changes’ by Thundercat

“Most recently, Ariana Grande covered ‘Them Changes’ by Thundercat, which I loved. She’s a really cool person and I just adore Thundercat – very much like Christine [and the Queens], he’s an artist I think we need. He’s just fantastic. She’s a great artist. The pop market is a touristy harbour, and she manages some really cool stuff. And the girl can really sing – she’s great.

Haim, ‘Bad Liar’ by Selena Gomez

I love the Haim girls. Any time they come in, it’s just wonderful. The last time they came in, they performed ‘Want U Back’ and did a cover of Selena Gomez, which was really cool because they got a load of stuff from the Radio 1 kitchen to use as percussion. They used an empty coffee pot and forks and old washing-up liquid bottles.”

Stormzy, ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ by Shanks & Bigfoot

“Every time he comes in, it’s super impressive and he did a beautiful version of ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ last year. It was him and a wonderful singer called Vula, who you’ve probably seen doing vocals for Quincy Jones and Basement Jaxx. They did a version of ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’ and the lyrics were very cheeky. It was charming. It was like being in an old school garage rave. It was really fun.”

Little Mix, ‘Dance With Somebody’ by Whitney Houston

“Little Mix are just everything a British girl band should be. The songs are fantastic. All of them can sing just as well as each other. They are truly friends, and they have a lot of fun when they perform. They did this Whitney Houston / Jason Derulo medley and it was really fun. They are just a laugh.”

And the best of the rest

“Kings of Leon did a really good version of ‘Hands To Myself’ by Selena Gomez – that was cool. Oh, and Florence was really good at Maida Vale as well. She was amazing! P!nk as well. Her vocal live is honestly one of the most incredible voices I’ve had the pleasure to hear. She was ill that day but you’d never know – she sounded incredible. I’ve been spoilt, it’s safe to say.

– Listen to BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge Month on Radio 1 every Monday – Thursday, 10am-1pm. You can also listen to the Live Lounge Uncovered podcast on BBC Sounds throughout November.