Petula Clark, “Downtown” and The Death Of The High Street

It’s a strange old time isn’t it? I’ve tried to lift my spirits of late by keeping busy and thankfully Mr WIAA seems to have orders coming in again, but I had a bit of a reality check yesterday regarding the times we are living through. After dropping off some packages at our local post office I headed into the town centre to do some banking, and it was a sobering experience to put it mildly. First of all the bank now shuts early so I had missed the boat so to speak, but as I walked from the somewhat empty car park (unusual) to the High Street, I counted four empty shop units in a row of five. Some were boarded up and some were just empty shells, with nothing left of their former glory days. Once I turned the corner it was no better as I was faced with large TO LET signs and only a few of the high-end shops are still operating. One popular tourist shop even had a notice asking customers to ring a bell if they wanted to come in, and only then, one at a time.

This really can’t go on.

I later found out that DD’s former workplace on one of the side streets has been closed down entirely, with four of the six staff made redundant, the other two now working from home. She hasn’t worked there for a couple of years now, but I still have fond memories of popping in past to take her out for lunch, and having a chat with the rest of the staff. There was such a buzz about the place and DD was the first person you met when you went in.

Happy days…. , but no more.

I’ve mentioned this around here before, but Highland, where I live, was the fourth most visited region in the world in 2018 (and probably 2019 too) as millions of tourists used to flock here over the summer months. Along the High Street of an evening, street performers danced and played traditional instruments (yes, even those noisy bagpipes) as they entertained the many holiday-makers strolling up and down the busy pedestrianed thoroughfare.

This year, no hanging baskets, and the streets are empty.

Before I headed home, banking matters unfulfilled, I cut through our large shopping centre, or mall as they like to call them in America. By half past four on a Tuesday it was dead, and it seems highly likely the flagship deparment store (where DD had a Saturday job back in the day) will soon shut its doors for the last time. We all know the era of the High Street is over, as we do much of our shopping online nowadays, but this pandemic has brought its demise forward by about a decade. To see so many empty and boarded up town centre units was just depressing, and for all those people like DD who found work in them over the years, it must be doubly so.

Our shopping centre on Tuesday afternoon

But hey, this is a music blog and I’m afraid I’m going way back in time with the song choice, but it just came to me as I wrote the above. It was common for us to head down town on a Saturday for a spot of lunch and a bit of leisurely shopping, or to walk along the river on a summer’s evening soaking in the atmosphere that comes from living in a tourist town, but those days have most certainly gone and who knows when they may return. Back when I lived the life of a singleton, I often used to walk the short distance down town when at a loose end, as there was a good chance you would bump into someone you knew and plans would be made.

Tony Hatch knew the appeal of Downtown when he wrote the song for Petula Clark back in 1964. Yes, Tony knew that if you were a bit sad and lonely, all you needed to do was head towards the city centre and everything would be waiting for you. In 2020, …. not so much.

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go, Downtown

Downtown
Things will be great when you’re
Downtown
No finer place for sure
Downtown
Everything’s waiting for you

Downtown by Petula Clark:


Petula, or Pet Clark as she used to be known, was one of the first singers I remember watching on television as a child, as she was a staple of those flimsy but entertaining prime time shows we used to watch with our families in the 1960s. Petula is still active in music today, aged 87, and released a new album in 2018. Considering she started out during World War II as an entertainer on BBC Radio, she is one of only a few artists to have had a career that spans eight decades.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I’ve been trying to avoid pandemic-related stuff around here of late but that trip into town yesterday really got me down. We knew the economic fallout from the health crisis was going to be harsh, but I have a terrible feeling it’s going to be even worse than is currently being predicted. We are a nation that loved (past tense) social spending – Shopping, eating out, and going to theatres, cinemas, bars and nightclubs, but those days are over for the time-being. Many whose lives have not been unduly affected by the pandemic yet in terms of income (the retired and those who can work from home) have understandably no desire to go into town any more and without them, the social spending on which so many livelihoods depend, is at rock bottom. Tough times ahead I fear.

Until next time….

Downtown Lyrics
(Song by Tony Hatch)

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go
Downtown

When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know
Downtown

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose?
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares

So go
Downtown
Things will be great when you’re
Downtown
No finer place for sure
Downtown
Everything’s waiting for you

Don’t hang around and let your problems surround you
There are movie shows
Downtown
Maybe you know some little places to go to
Where they never close
Downtown

Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova
You’ll be dancing with ’em too before the night is over
Happy again
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares

So go
Downtown
Where all the lights are bright
Downtown
Waiting for you tonight
Downtown
You’re gonna be alright now
Downtown

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

8 thoughts on “Petula Clark, “Downtown” and The Death Of The High Street”

  1. Many, many moons before I was born, my parents went to a gig – they wouldn’t have called it that, of course, but that’s what it was, essentially – with Alma Cogan topping the bill, Petula Clark as the support act. Afterwards, my parents waited at the stage door to see their idols up close. Alma came out in a fur coat, didn’t stop, got straight into a chauffeur-driven car and whizzed off. Pet came out, dressed much like the fans assembled around the stage door, stopped to sign autographs, then hailed a taxi. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Alma, but this speaks highly of Petula, I think.

    Years later, as a young lad, I accompanied my mum to see Pet on stage as Marie Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Afterwards, we wrote to her, asking for her autograph, and she kindly sent some nice signed promo shots from the show by return post.

    A class act, Petula, is what I’m trying to say.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And this is why I love blogging about music – There is always the chance someone may drop by with a personal story about the song or artist. Great stories from you so thanks for dropping by – Petula Clark always came across as being a very intelligent lady who didn’t have any diva-like tendencies and of course she married a Frenchman/lived in France for most of her life which probably helped. She just carries on working to this day and was apparently in the West End version of Mary Poppins last year as the Bird Woman. All theatres now closed of course, which is making me sad, as one of my favourite pastimes.

      I wrote about this song in my early days of blogging as one of my favourite songs from the 60s – Wasn’t until I did some research that I discovered it was about a couple having “a domestic”. Somehow, because it was so jaunty, it had never occurred to me but now makes sense. Still like it though:

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  2. Oh Alyson, it’s all so sad, we just never envisaged such times. I feel like we’re in a never-ending limbo, but we just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until we eventually get to the other side (and, hopefully – Edinburgh?!)
    Lovely tale about Pet from Martin too. She seems to be a great example of classy, hard-working artiste keeping it real!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I probably shouldn’t have written this one as it’s not a great advert for our town but my trip into the centre this week was a bit of a shock to the system and by 4.30pm it felt really dead. The good news is that as of today the areas of grass that have been left to grow wild for months have now been cut and things are at least looking tidier. I just hope some more shops re-open soon but with the rules they way they are it’s not easy for them. Same everywhere though and as you say we will eventually get to the other side and cross fingers…. Edinburgh!

      Yes, I really liked Martin’s story about a classy, hard-working lady. Ha ha – Keeping it real indeed.

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  3. Very sobering indeed. I am about to go into downtown Boston tonight for the first time since February. It will be interesting to see how it is. Either way, it will never dim the glory of Petula Clark’s masterpiece of friendly advice and citified good times. One of the first songs I ever remember loving on the radio. Hang in there, Alyson!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rick – Hope your trip downtown went better than mine. I want to feel positive about the future of our town centre but not easy at the moment. I can only hope that a solution is found for the current crisis, and the tourists return, but it’s going to be a while. The pace of change has been rapid for many sectors and I don’t think people will go back to their old ways now.

      But as you say, once you listen Petula’s jaunty song, it makes things feel a whole lot better. One of the first songs I remember too.

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