Eurovision, Conchita Wurst and “Rise Like A Phoenix”

It has just occurred to me that I have now written about Celtic soul, Celtic rock and Celtic punk since starting the blog two months ago and have ended up writing about two traditional songs with lyrics attributed to unknown in the last week alone. Time to get back to more mainstream pop material I think but as mentioned earlier this week, the song Loch Lomond sung by Runrig is a great way to end a “do” and last night that is exactly what happened at my sister-in-law’s “big birthday” party. All age groups gather in a circle and after about 3 minutes of hand-holding and arm-swinging, the mayhem ensues. You’ll have to come to Scotland and experience it sometime.

So, what could be the opposite of Celtic music I wonder – Something unconventional, not traditional; something from a country far from the fringes of Northwestern Europe; something perhaps by a solo artist and not a band of instrumentalists – I know, Rise Like a Phoenix by Conchita Wurst, the winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest!

Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst:

I have written about my love for all things Eurovision before (link here) and how last year, after watching the song contest on television for nearly 50 years, I went with friends to watch it LIVE in Vienna. The reason it was held in that beautiful city was of course because the previous year’s winner was the inimitable Conchita Wurst, an Austrian drag queen who treated us to an amazing performance of her country’s entry, Rise Like a Pheonix (a potential James Bond theme song if ever there was one).

It is now nearing the end of March and this year’s contest is just around the corner being held this year in Stockholm as the wonderful Måns Zelmerlöw won last year for Sweden with his song Heroes. But back to the story of how a drag queen ended up winning the 2014 contest. She was selected to represent her country after receiving the most votes during the selection process but of course she is not going to be for everyone, and many did see her selection as promoting LGBT rights. On the other hand, she has now established herself as a gay icon and regularly performs at pride parades and has been invited to the UN Office in Vienna and the European Parliament.

conchita

The inclusion of the beard as part of the Wurst character was very much a statement to say that “you can achieve anything, no matter who you are or how you look.” Her message is very much one of tolerance and as Graham Norton said after the contest, it seemed like Eurovision had done something for once that mattered just a little bit.

Despite the controversy about the inclusion of Conchita and her song in the 2014 contest, especially in Eastern Europe, from the personal experience of having visited Vienna last year, she is a bit of a national treasure there. She was one of the co-hosts of the show and presided over the green room. Her voice featured on the metro system as she had recorded announcements for visitors. Her face was on the cover of just about every newspaper and magazine and I lost count of the many groups of people wearing little knitted beards. (There must have been a pattern made available in advance of the contest.)

eurovision.jpg

As for us, it doesn’t look as if we will be making the trip to this year’s contest in Stockholm so it will be back to the usual plan of hosting a get-together and supplying little flags, score-sheets and the food & drink of the host nation. Some countries are easier than others, Greece for example, but when Lordi won there in 2006 they took the next contest to Finland which was a catering challenge indeed for our 2007 get-together! Looks as if we’ll be consuming a Smörgåsbord of Svinhufvud, Hummer and Speksill (?) this year but that’s the great thing about Eurovision, the sheer cultural diversity between all the countries that participate. In 2014, having a drag queen win the grand final for Austria did appear to be a victory for diversity and tolerance in Europe – Long may it continue.

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Rise Like a Pheonix Lyrics
(Song by Charlie Mason/Joey Patulka/Ali Zuckowski/Julian Maas)

Waking in the rubble
Walking over glass
Neighbors say we’re trouble
Well that time has passed

Peering from the mirror
No, that isn’t me
Stranger getting nearer
Who can this person be

You wouldnt know me at all today
From the fading light I fly

Rise like a phoenix
Out of the ashes
Seeking rather than vengeance
Retribution
You were warned
Once I’m transformed
Once I’m reborn
You know I will rise like a phoenix
But you’re my flame

Go about your business
Act as if you’re free
Noone could have witnessed
What you did to me

Cause you wouldn’t know me today
And you have got to see
To believe
From the fading light I fly

Rise like a phoenix
Out of the ashes
Seeking rather than vengeance
Retribution
You were warned
Once I’m transformed
Once I’m reborn

I rise up to the sky
You threw me down but
I’m gonna fly

And rise like a phoenix
Out of the ashes
Seeking rather than vengeance
Retribution
You were warned
Once I’m transformed
Once I’m reborn
You know I will rise like a phoenix
But you’re my flame

St Patrick’s Day, Shane MacGowan and “The Irish Rover”

A short post today but couldn’t ignore the fact that it’s St Patrick’s Day.

What better song to write about then, than The Irish Rover sung by The Pogues and the Dubliners. I wrote earlier this week about Runrig who are a Celtic rock band, but The Pogues, led by the inimitable Shane MacGowan, were very much a Celtic punk band. From their first outing on television, Shane was not a man you could easily forget. His teeth were the worst in show business and he always appeared to be drunk when performing on stage. I doubt very much if this was possible (he always remembered the lyrics) and it was originally, probably, part of his punk image – Since those days however, he has suffered from the problems that arise from years of drug-use and binge-drinking, and it is an absolute revelation that he is still with us when so many others of his generation are not. The toothlessness is no longer with us however – As of last year, he became the proud recipient of 28 new dental implants, one in gold, so at age 57 Shane is now looking better than he has in decades!

But back to today’s song – It was in the UK charts in March 1987 just around the time I was preparing to leave my home city and move to the Highlands. A farewell party was planned and I bought this record and Living In A Box which were my two favourites at the time (odd mix I know). I can’t remember much about Living In A Box now and whether we danced to it or not, but I absolutely remember dancing to The Irish Rover as it lends itself well to the kind of ceilidh dancing we are fond of in Scotland. It was a night to remember!

pogues

And as for Shane, he may have looked less than perfect, but later that year he penned the most perfect Christmas song, so there is the balance that I talked about last time. In December 1987, Fairytale of New York performed with Kirsty MacColl, reached No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart and in 2012 was voted Britain’s Favourite Christmas Song ever – Thoroughly agree with that verdict and look forward to sharing it with you later in the year.

Happy St Patrick’s Day.

The Irish Rover Lyrics
(Song by Unknown – Traditional)

On the fourth of July eighteen hundred and six
We set sail from the sweet cove of Cork
We were sailing away with a cargo of bricks
For the grand city hall in New York
‘Twas a wonderful craft, she was rigged fore-and-aft
And oh, how the wild winds drove her.
She’d got several blasts, she’d twenty-seven masts
And we called her the Irish Rover.

We had one million bales of the best Sligo rags
We had two million barrels of stones
We had three million sides of old blind horses hides,
We had four million barrels of bones.
We had five million hogs, we had six million dogs,
Seven million barrels of porter.
We had eight million bails of old nanny goats’ tails,
In the hold of the Irish Rover.

There was awl Mickey Coote who played hard on his flute
When the ladies lined up for his set
He was tootin’ with skill for each sparkling quadrille
Though the dancers were fluther’d and bet
With his sparse witty talk he was cock of the walk
As he rolled the dames under and over
They all knew at a glance when he took up his stance
And he sailed in the Irish Rover

There was Barney McGee from the banks of the Lee,
There was Hogan from County Tyrone
There was Jimmy McGurk who was scarred stiff of work
And a man from Westmeath called Malone
There was Slugger O’Toole who was drunk as a rule
And fighting Bill Tracey from Dover
And your man Mick McCann from the banks of the Bann
Was the skipper of the Irish Rover

We had sailed seven years when the measles broke out
And the ship lost it’s way in a fog.
And that whale of the crew was reduced down to two,
Just meself and the captain’s old dog.
Then the ship struck a rock, oh Lord what a shock
The bulkhead was turned right over
Turned nine times around, and the poor dog was drowned
I’m the last of the Irish Rover

Live Aid, Freddie Mercury and “Radio Ga Ga”

Last time I wrote about rousing live performances that induce mass participation. The performance most people my age will remember as being one of the finest ever to take place however, was when Queen arrived on stage for their segment of the Live Aid Concert, held on July the 13th, 1985. I still remember that day well and who knew before the concert began that this would be a seminal performance. To see and hear all 72,000 people in Wembley Stadium sing along with Freddie Mercury to Radio Ga Ga was a landmark moment in pop history. His a cappella section at the end of the song, featuring his amazing vocal range and ability to work the crowd, came to be known as “the note heard round the world”.

Radio Ga Ga by Queen:

There had been quite a build up to Live Aid day, but what we had mostly been hearing about, was the sheer logistical nightmare of having so many artists performing on one stage on one day. Also, there was to be a parallel concert in the US, in Philadelphia, with Phil Collins jetting between the two venues. Harvey Goldsmith, the promoter behind the staging of the Wembley show, was a man under pressure to deliver. Bob Geldof, who with Midge Ure had first come up with the idea of raising money for the Ethiopian famine crisis by making a charity single (Do They Know It’s Christmas?), was now the main driving force behind the event. A man renowned for his dishevelled appearance, Bob was now looking even more so than ever, but there could be no denying that his passion for the cause was immense and who could forget his impatience with the presenters when they just weren’t taking the business of money pledging seriously enough – “F**k the address, let’s get the number”, “Don’t go to the pub tonight, stay in and give us the money”, “There are people dying NOW so give us the money” and so it went on…..

live aid

But back to Radio Ga Ga – It was actually written by Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor and the silly sounding song title belies the fact it has some very serious lyrics about the state of the music industry in 1984. The emergence of MTV and the pop video in the early ’80s led a lot of artists to think visuals were going to take over from radio and the aural-only music experience. Ironic really as Queen had been one of the first bands to make a film to accompany their 1975 masterpiece, the triumph that was Bohemian Rhapsody. They needn’t have worried however as all these years later people are still making records, and although the visuals can be really impressive they have never taken over, yet.

It has become a cliché, too often used by talent show judges, but it is fair to say that Freddie “owned the stage” that hot summer’s day in 1985. He was in control, and had the crowd in the palm of his hand. I think the band did have the advantage over a lot of the younger artists that day in that they had experience on their side, both in terms of age (Freddie was nearly 40 – hard to believe looking at the footage now and also hard to believe that six years later he was dead), and in playing in front of these large crowds. I think they knew the impact the concert would have on the careers of those taking part that day, so they had hired a large theatre to practice in during the build up to the concert.

freddie

Having written about a few extrovert artists now who have this ability to create such magic on stage, there is a common personality trait amongst them all – They are generally very shy people. Surprising to those of us who are not that way inclined but I think that’s where the balance lies – If you are a shy person you need to create an alter-ego as an outlet. David Bowie in the ’70s was very shy, thus his Ziggy Stardust creation. Elvis Presley was very shy, and Freddie notoriously gave few interviews due to his shyness. All I can say is thank goodness we were given the privilege of watching them perform and although all of the above have now sadly passed away, we are lucky to still have amazing footage of them in action. In the Radio Ga Ga lyrics, Roger Taylor was worried about the visuals taking over, but that has never happened, and thankfully we get to share them with the generations to come.

RIP Freddie.

Radio Ga Ga Lyrics
(Song by Roger Taylor)

I’d sit alone and watch your light
My only friend through teenage nights
And everything I had to know
I heard it on my radio

You gave them all those old time stars
Through wars of worlds invaded by Mars
You made ’em laugh, you made ’em cry
You made us feel like we could fly.
Radio.

So don’t become some background noise
A backdrop for the girls and boys
Who just don’t know or just don’t care
And just complain when you’re not there

You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour
Radio, Radio.

All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio goo goo
Radio ga ga
All we hear is Radio ga ga
Radio blah blah
Radio, what’s new?
Radio, someone still loves you!

We watch the shows, we watch the stars
On videos for hours and hours
We hardly need to use our ears
How music changes through the years.

Let’s hope you never leave old friend
Like all good things on you we depend
So stick around ’cause we might miss you
When we grow tired of all this visual

Postscript:

Just in case you’ve never seen Bob in full flow on Live Aid Day, a record was made sampling his now infamous lines. Just shows what you can do nowadays with a clever bit of technology – Love it.

Celtic Rock, Runrig and “Loch Lomond”

Last time I wrote about George Martin and of his legacy in assisting The Beatles and all those other great Liverpudlian bands and artists achieve great things in the 1960s.  Before that however, the thread I had been following was concerned with artists who are very much identified with their “place” in the world.

Anyone who has read my posts will have worked out by now that I come from the North of Scotland and although my childhood was rural, I have since lived in both of the big(ish) cities up here. You would have thought that the tracks of my years might have been very different to those of someone who has lived all their life in, say, Norfolk or Manchester but no, we pretty much all listen to the same radio stations, watch the same television shows/films and now have access to everything that the world wide web can throw at us.

It was not until I arrived in the Highlands however that I really started to appreciate some of the great Celtic rock bands that hail from this neck of the woods. In 1987, the band always guaranteed to sell out any concert was Runrig, orginally from the Isle of Skye. Their lead singer Donnie Munro had taught my husband art at school in the ’70s, but by the late ’80s he was very much a full-time musician. When he’d told the class he was involved with a band, and that they played a kind of Gaelic/Celtic rock, the class were highly sceptical (this was the decade of glam rock, punk and disco after all) but he certainly proved them all wrong. In the period 1987-1997 they were signed to Chrysalis and released five very successful studio albums. I remember buying “The Cutter And The Clan” in 1987 not long after arriving in the Highlands and I saw them perform three times in a short space of time at various venues, including a large marquee during a memorable homecoming trip to Skye.

runrig

I really don’t know how familiar they would have been to audiences in the rest of the country but they did enter the charts several times during that period so did achieve mainstream success despite the fact they were very much of their “place”, the Gaelic-speaking Isle of Skye.

In 1991, they released an EP which of course I bought, along with the rest of the population of the Highlands. The main song on the EP was Hearthammer but on the B-side was Loch Lomond (really gets going after 3:00), a traditional song given the full-blown Celtic rock treatment.

Although Loch Lomond itself is north of Glasgow and not really closely connected to Runrig’s place in the world, it is a rousing song and I am sure it must go down really well in Canada, New Zealand, the US, Australia and all the other places with a large Scottish diaspora. Suffice to say, if you are at an event in Scotland, it is a definite crowd-pleaser and is often the last song to be played at the end of the night. Lends itself well to the forming a circle and letting the mayhem commence.

cutter

The band has changed its lineup many times since forming in 1973 but the two songwriters Rory Macdonald and Calum Macdonald have been there right since the beginning. Donnie Munro left in 1997 to pursue a career in politics but was replaced by Bruce Guthro, a Canadian from Nova Scotia, who seems to have been just the right fit.

I visited Skye last summer and met up with a native who has been a friend for years. She took us to one of the many fine-dining restaurants on Skye (two have Michelin stars) and pointed out that if we looked closely when the door to the kitchen swung open, we would see Donnie Munro loading the dishwasher! Turns out his son is now a successful chef and his dad is only too happy to help out behind the scenes, even supplying the tablet that we thoroughly enjoyed with our coffee. How things change over the years…..

Loch Lomond Lyrics
(Song by Unknown – Traditional)

By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes,
Where the sun shines on Loch Lomond.
Where me and my true love spent many days
On the banks of Loch Lomond.

Too sad we parted in yon shady glen,
On the steep sides of Ben Lomond.
Where the broken heart knows no second spring,
Resigned we must be while we’re parting.

You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before you.
Where me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Ho, ho mo leannan
Ho mo leannan bhoidheach

You’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,
And I’ll be in Scotland before you.
Where me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

George Martin, The Beatles and “Alfie”

I did say recently that I didn’t want the blog to become an obituary column which seemed to what was happening throughout January and February but I don’t want to omit mentioning the passing this week of one of the music world’s most well-known and influential record producers – George Martin, the 5th Beatle.

Looking back now at photos of George working with The Beatles, he could be their dad, always dressed in his shirt and tie, his brylcreemed hair immaculately combed back. As it turns out he could have been an older brother in age terms but it goes to show how that small age difference in the ’60s meant that you were either part of that pre-war generation who had suffered the hardships and direct involvement, or you were the new post-war “never had it so good” generation who were bringing such innovation to music, film, fashion and ideas.

george martin

George however, although he may not have looked like his protégés, certainly had the ideas that contributed to their incredible success. In fact during their short career (considering their impact on the music world even to this day), they spent half of it in the recording studio with George, choosing that medium for their musical output rather than returning to live shows in front of screaming fans, who wouldn’t have been able to hear the songs anyway. There can’t be many people who haven’t heard of, or listened to, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which truly was a landmark album in the history of pop music. It won four Grammy Awards in 1968 and often tops polls of “The Greatest Album Ever Made”. None of this would have come about without George.

Again, I am probably going to horrify people by admitting that I was never a great fan of Sgt. Pepper and preferred The Beatles earlier pure pop output. It is simply that I was too young in 1967 to appreciate its sophistication. As a child, the films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! appealed to me much more and were shown regularly on television. As happened with David Bowie, I was just born too late to appreciate them at their creative height, but have kind of come round since.

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_Band

George Martin’s relationship with The Beatles came about because of his link to Brian Epstein, the band’s manager. During the early ’60s, Brian Epstein and George Martin between them, were pretty much responsible for creating the Mersey Sound or Merseybeat as it came to be called. Brian had tried all the major labels to sign his Liverpudlian stable of artists, but it was not until an initially reluctant George Martin at Parlophone saw something there he could work with, that the magic began. As well as The Beatles, other artists such as Cilla Black, Gerry & the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas all made the regular trip south to visit George and the team at Parlophone. Cilla Black may have referred to the orchestra he used as “a bunch of auld fellas” but they certainly all contributed to making those artists the massive recording stars of the day.

cilla

There are just so many songs I could have picked to write about in relation to George Martin but the most obvious for me is of course Alfie, the song I used as inspiration for the title to the blog. Cilla Black was initially reluctant to take on this Bacharach and David classic but after Burt came across to London from the US to play and conduct on this oddly titled song, she could hardly refuse, despite her reservations that it was the name you would give a dog! George Martin was at the mixing desk performing his magic and after many takes of the song, they produced something truly remarkable.

Alfie by Cilla Black:

It’s now over 50 years since Cilla was asked to record Alfie in order to promote the Michael Caine film of the same name. Right at the end, our eponymous hero poses the question, “What’s it all about?” and I have come to realise that after 50 years of listening to popular music and now writing about the memories it inevitably conjures up, the answer is very much love, just as the song lyrics say. It is the love for our family as children, the love for our best friends as teenagers, for the various boyfriends/girlfriends on the way to finding that special someone, and now for me, the love I feel for my husband, daughter and special friends. Since starting this blog, I have never once reminisced about that important work deadline, that crucial exam result or the completion of that lengthy report, it is always about the people along the way. There is the old adage that you never go to your deathbed wishing you had spent more time at the office and after writing this, my 30th post, I am more convinced than ever that this is the case. As The Beatles sang – “All You Need Is Love”!

RIP George Martin.

Alfie Lyrics
(Song By Burt Bacharach/Hal David)

What’s it all about Alfie
Is it just for the moment we live
What’s it all about
When you sort it out, Alfie
Are we meant to take more than we give
Or are we meant to be kind?
And if, if only fools are kind, Alfie
Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie
What will you lend on an old golden rule?
As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above
Alfie, I know there’s something much more
Something even non-believers can believe in
I believe in love, Alfie
Without true love we just exist, Alfie
Until you find the love you’ve missed
You’re nothing, Alfie
When you walk let your heart lead the way
And you’ll find love any day Alfie, oh Alfie.

The Proclaimers, Hibs and “Sunshine On Leith”

Last time I wrote about Elvis Presley, a performer who could only have come from the southern states of America. His accent, his good manners, his songs, all reflected his roots and his “place” in the world, right from the very beginning and throughout his career. In Scotland, we didn’t produce an Elvis Presley but we did produce The Proclaimers. Like Elvis, their accents, their good manners and songs were very much of their “place” and like most Scots I am really proud of what they have achieved.

I will admit that unlike Elvis they were never destined to become teen idols, but ever since twins Charlie and Craig Reid appeared on the music scene in the mid ’80s they have produced an impressive body of work and kept entertaining audiences around the world with their very distinctive brand of anthemic music.

proclaimers1

I first saw them in concert in the autumn of 1986 when they supported The Housemartins who were touring the UK at the time. I can still remember my quite “posh” friend’s surprised reaction to the twins, as she had never heard anyone sing with such strong Scottish accents before. Also they sang about places and happenings that we all could relate to. It didn’t take them long to cross the Atlantic and appear on US television chat shows, their songs becoming big hits over there too. They have even appeared on Family Guy!

procs

My favourite Proclaimers’ song is Sunshine On Leith which came from their second album and was a minor hit in 1988. It is a song that is just so connected to their birthplace, Leith, a district in the north of Edinburgh. A stage musical called Sunshine On Leith was written in 2007 featuring the songs of The Proclaimers, and an excellent film of the same name was made in 2013. It is one of the rare times I have enjoyed a film so much that I went back to watch it for a second time the next night.

Sunshine On Leith by The Proclaimers:

Like last time with the Elvis song, I have decided to include more than one version and these next two bring a lump to my throat every time. The first shows just what can happen when football fans adopt a song and in the case of Sunshine On Leith, that could only have happened with Hibernian FC, the club based right there in Leith. Fortunately Charlie and Craig are fans of the club and they must have been really moved by what happened after Hibs’ amazing Scottish League Cup Final win in 2007 – You can tell that the club’s manager, John Collins, definitely was.

Sunshine On Leith Cup Final version (best bit kicks in at 1:14 – no pun intended):

The second version of this song is from the film and is performed by Jane Horrocks. A completely different version from the one sung with such passion on the football terraces but sung with a different kind of passion, that of a wife for her poorly husband. If you haven’t seen either the stage show or the film, I would thoroughly recommend both although I would also thoroughly recommend bringing a large supply of tissues as I ran out last time – Not a pretty sight leaving the cinema.

Sunshine On Leith from the film soundtrack:

Sunshine On Leith Lyrics
(Song by Charlie Reid/Craig Reid)

My heart was broken, my heart was broken 
Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow Sorrow
My heart was broken, my heart was broken
You saw it, You claimed it
You touched it, You saved it

My tears are drying, my tears are drying 
Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you
My tears are drying, my tears are drying
Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness

While I’m worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the Chief, puts sunshine on Leith
I’ll thank Him for His work
And your birth and my birth

Elvis, “If I Can Dream” and the ’68 Comeback Special

Since writing about Elvis Presley last time, and how it came about that the first album I ever bought was one of his, I have done a lot more reading about “The King” and how he re-emerged in 1968 as one of the world’s most electrifying live performers. Hard to believe that prior to the ’68 Comeback Special he had not performed live since 1961.

The thing with Elvis however, and I absolutely understand that he is not for everyone, is that when you watched him perform, you could really tell that he “felt the music” like no other. The reason he got into such bother in the 1950s with his pelvic rotations and thrusts, was simply because he couldn’t stop himself! The music he developed with his band was a hybrid, particular to him and his Mississippi roots, of hillbilly, gospel, country and rhythm & blues.

elvis

So, when he performed live over ten years later, in the intimate setting of the the Comeback Special studio at Burbank, you could really tell he was not just singing these songs he was “feeling them” with ever fibre of his being. In some of the Las Vegas shows, there are close-up shots where you can see the small muscles in his face move in time to the nuances of the music. None more so than during the sweet Bahamian lullaby segment within An American Trilogy. This song wasn’t actually written specifically for him but I cannot think of any artist for whom it could have had more significance, thus his obvious empathy with the music, lyrics and drama of the piece. I love watching him sing that one and I’m not even American so goodness how you guys across the pond must feel.

But the song I did want to write about was actually If I Can Dream from the ’68 Comeback Special. For some reason it was not until I re-visited the DVD last year after a friend and I at work had been discussing our love for old Elvis movies, that I really sat up and took notice of this song. It was the very last one of the show and he was dressed all in white, very much the southern gentleman. Now this is not one of those really popular songs that everyone will have heard of, and it wasn’t a big hit when it came out in the UK in 1969, but I was totally blown away by the lyrics and the passion with which he sang it. It had apparently been written just two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King who is directly quoted in the song. There was a definite gospel quality to his performance and whatever your beliefs, this was a powerful message coming from the man in the white suit.

After watching the clip numerous times, I was so blown away with the song that I decided to share it with my Facebook friends. As I said above however he is not to everyone’s taste and when I got no feedback, I took the post down. Imagine my delight therefore when before Christmas last year, a new album was released called “If I Can Dream” featuring vocal recordings of Elvis accompanied by orchestral arrangements from our very own Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. My new favourite Elvis song was the title track. Must have been one of those serendipitous things where I stumbled across something earlier in the year that would become the big hit of last Christmas. Over 47 years had elapsed since the song was written but (sadly) it was now as relevent as ever, if not more so. Probably why it resonated with the buying public so much.

I don’t know which version is best (perhaps Harry Hill could help with that one) but personally I still like the original as it is more purely Elvis. Great idea for an album however and meant that he is now back on top, being the artist with the most No. 1 albums ever in UK chart history. Not bad for someone who passed away 39 years ago.

If I Can Dream Lyrics
(Song by Walter Earl Brown)

There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true

There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away
All the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won’t that sun appear

We’re lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We’re trapped in a world
That’s troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly

Deep in my heart there’s a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there’s a beckoning candle
And while I can think, while I can walk
While I can stand, while I can talk
While I can dream, please let my dream
Come true, right now
Let it come true right now

First Albums, Elvis Presley and Flaming Star

Last week I wrote about “bad boys” in film, and Elvis Presley’s name had cropped up. Now I have always been an Elvis fan, and am proud to admit it, so it seems disloyal to call him a bad boy when we all know he had impeccable southern manners and respected his elders. There is no denying however that he caused a furore in the middle-class homes of America when he started appearing on television in the mid 1950s. So much so that he could only be filmed from the waist up, his pelvic rotations proving too animalistic and vulgar for viewers to handle! It seems laughable now but a letter from the Catholic church was sent to FBI director J Edgar Hoover warning him that “Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States – His actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth”. So you see where I am coming from when I say that he was branded a “bad boy”.

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It makes me really sad now to think that many people only remember Elvis as the bloated, jumpsuited, cabaret singer who forgot the words to his songs and rambled incoherently during a performance (a lot to do with the sheer number of pretty appalling Elvis impersonators out there). I fortunately, have chosen to erase those Elvis images from my mind and remember mainly those great films from the ’60s, derided by the critics but loved by his fans. If you were a 10-year-old girl living in cold and windswept Scotland, to watch an Elvis film set in Hawaii, was joy personified. My dad and I were great fans of musicals and during the long winter months when there was no gardening or outdoor chores to be done, we spent many a Sunday afternoon watching Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and of course Elvis, sing and dance their way across our television screens.

And so it came to pass, that the first album I ever bought was an Elvis one. I am highly sceptical of those people whose supposed first purchase was something really cool like Pink Floyd. It is much more plausible that like me, their first purchase was something bought as a child with Christmas or birthday money from a relative, whilst accompanied by a parent. I remember that back in the late ’60s/early ’70s, the best place to buy records was Boots the Chemist’s music department (sounds strange I know but true) and the 10/- (ten shilling) postal order given to me as a present by an aunt was converted to pre-decimalisation cash and then used to buy “Elvis Sings Flaming Star” which was a compilation album released in 1969. An unlikely choice considering he had so many great film soundtrack albums to his name, but I am pretty sure the main reason was that it was a new release based on the success of the ’68 Comeback Special and was on sale for the special price of 9/6 (nine shillings and sixpence) so fitted my budget. I was happy however as the album was full of great Elvis songs including Flaming Star, the title track to the 1960 film of the same name.

Flaming Star by Elvis Presley:

I am pretty sure I had watched that film at some point with my dad, but it was one in which Elvis had a straight acting role with no songs. He desperately wanted to be taken seriously as an actor and turned in one of his best performances to date. Sadly, due to poor box office success compared to his previous films, where he always had a singing role, he was persuaded by his mentor and manager “Colonel” Tom Parker to return to the former. I wonder now how things would have turned out if he had been allowed to carry on with straight acting roles. It is often cited that his Hollywood years were his unhappiest – He knew the films received little or no critical acclaim but he was heavily controlled by those around him whose livelihood depended on them continuing. Generous to a fault, he did what was expected of him, and that hastened the start of his decline, as his dependence on prescription drugs ramped up a gear to cope with the relentless lifestyle.

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Since buying my new turntable I have revisited the album but have just worked out today, when listening to the song again in the clip, that the key change I always thought happened half way through, must have been a scratch on the record causing the needle to jump. Only took me 45 years!

Flaming Star Lyrics
(Song by Sid Wayne/Sherman Edwards)

Ev’ry man, has a flaming star
A flaming star, over his shoulder
And when a man, sees his flaming star
He knows his time, his time has come

Flaming star, don’t shine on me, flaming star
Flaming star, keep behind me, flaming star
There’s a lot of livin’ I’ve got to do
Give me time to make a few dreams come true
Flaming star

When I ride, I feel that flaming star
That flaming star, over my shoulder
And so I ride, front of that flaming star
Never lookin’ around, never lookin’ around

One fine day, I’ll see that flaming star
That flaming star, over my shoulder
And when I see, that old flaming star
I’ll know my time, my time has come

The BRITs, Adele and “Someone Like You”

Thought this post would be really easy to write as it was BRITs week and we found out who the big winners were on Wednesday night’s live show. Unlike my husband, I have always watched the BRITs, since the days they were called the BPI Awards. Back then, in 1982, it was cosy little affair held in a smallish venue, not the juggernaut of show now held in the O2 Arena with an audience of thousands.

The great thing about the BRITs for me, is that I get a chance to find out about all those artists who may have slipped under my radar in the course of the year. Apart from Tame Impala who won the award for Best International Group, I had heard of everyone and sorry to say, most of the nomimees have been around for a very long time. Coldplay won the award for Best British Group and yes they are a great group, and yes they have had massive success, but their first BRIT award was in 2001 for goodness sake. When it came to nominations for Best International Female, Bjork’s name was read out which surprised me as she has been around since the 1980s when she fronted Indie band The Sugarcubes. Lo and behold – Bjork was the winner.

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So it seems that the British Phonograph Industry has gone the same way as a lot of other well-established industries. The median age of the people running them is going up every year, and this is reflected in who wins awards. Maybe I am wrong here, but to me, the winners were all a pretty respectable bunch who have been around for a long time and are a safe pair of hands when it comes to their musical output. None more so than Adele who every few years produces a new album that sweeps the board at award ceremonies and outsells everything else on the market – She did it at 19, at 21 and now at 25. She was the big winner of the night and bar the fact that the bleeper man misjudged his timing, and let one of her conversational expletives slip through to live television, all the “Suits” as she herself has called them, must have been feeling pretty smug with themselves.

So if the awards themselves were a bit predictable, what about the performances – There are usually a few excellent ones in the course of the evening including a pretty special duet and something we will all be talking about the next day. Last year there was Madonna’s spectacular “fall” from grace when her cape fastening malfunctioned. This year, other than some questionable choreography from Rhianna and Drake, there was nothing of note. I did enjoy James Bay’s guitar accompaniment to Justin Bieber’s vocals but nothing to write home about. Jess Glynn did a great set but although very now and of the moment, I feel she could have come from any of the last few decades – Something about her style I think.

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Adele, the big winner of the night, performed her song Hello to close the show. It was predictably perfect but didn’t blow me away quite as much as her rendition of Someone Like You at the 2011 BRITs. She was quite a bit younger then and was visibly moved by the song she was singing, which was about a failed relationship.

I have written on a few occasions now about the “break-up song” and this one really tugs at the heartstrings. My break-ups were all a lot earlier than 2011 thankfully, otherwise this song could have caused immense distress, but watching Adele perform it that night at the BRITs did bring back memories. How many of us I wonder have split up with a significant other because they say they never want to get married, only to find that they do exactly that a couple of years later with someone else? I used to think, bitterly, that it wasn’t that they didn’t want to get married, it was just that they didn’t want to marry me. As I’ve matured I’ve realised that it’s rarely that simple, it’s just that the  timing was wrong. I have a pretty big hunch that had I met my husband ten years earlier we would not be married today. Fortunately for us, when we did meet, the timing was just right!

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Someone Like You Lyrics
(Song by Adele/Dan Wilson)

I heard that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re married now.
I heard that your dreams came true.
Guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you.

Old friend, why are you so shy?
Ain’t like you to hold back or hide from the light.

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it.
I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded
That for me it isn’t over.

Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me, I beg
I’ll remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead,
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead”

You know how the time flies
Only yesterday was the time of our lives
We were born and raised
In a summer haze
Bound by the surprise of our glory days

Nothing compares
No worries or cares
Regrets and mistakes
They are memories made.
Who would have known how bittersweet this would taste?

Johnny, Baby and “She’s Like The Wind”

Don’t know what’s happened to me – Since inadvertently revisiting the movie Dirty Dancing when writing about the Ronettes in my last post, I have been unable to stop listening to the soundtrack. I’m behaving like a silly teenager with a crush! The Patrick Swayze song She’s Like The Wind has always been a favourite of mine and the lyrics perfectly fitted the movie’s storyline. But here’s the thing – It was always a given that Johnny wasn’t good enough for Baby and that at the end of the holiday, she would head off to college and then join the Peace Corps (it was the sixties). It became clear however in the course of the movie that her father’s assessment of young men was not infallible (he disapproved entirely of the honourable dancer Johnny but was happy to sponsor the womanising student Robbie). The theme of clever, sensible, middle-class girls falling for “bad boys” is an eternal one and every generation of parents dread this happening to their daughters – Think how the Air Force Officer father of Priscilla Beaulieu must have felt when at 14 she fell in love with Elvis Presley, and moved to Graceland to live with him at age 17.

She’s Like The Wind by Patrick Swayze:

I would like for once however, to see how things would have turned out if the movie had kept rolling – Love is a powerful thing and parents are not always right. I know of many couples who stood firm against parental disapproval and have gone on to have long and successful marriages. Johnny didn’t have the great start in life that Baby obviously had been privilege to, but he was incredibly talented and personable. With the right girl by his side he could have gone far in the entertainment business, or become the proprietor of a dance academy!

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We know that Danny and Sandy headed off in his systematic, hydromatic car at the end of Grease but what happened then? I would like to think they went on to great things with Danny running his own chain of “Greased Lightening” garages and the two of them producing a brood of Italian-Australian babies.

In West Side Story, Maria was never going to be allowed to have any sort of relationship with Tony from the “Jets”. Her brother, the leader of the “Sharks” would never have allowed it, but for Tony to lose his life because of it was one of the saddest and most tragic moments in film history – I am pretty sure they would have made a great couple and lived a long and happy life if family disapproval hadn’t got in the way. (I did struggle a bit with Richard Beymer’s portrayal of a tough, gang-member but those beautiful songs balanced it out.)

I have written about Buffy and Angel before and how their relationship had to end despite their “perfect happiness” but what if it hadn’t? In Highlander, the wife of the immortal Connor MacLeod, his bonnie Heather, grew old whilst he always stayed the same age – She didn’t understand why he stayed with her, but he did because he loved her, right up until her death.

Yes a theme as old as life itself, and despite wanting to hope for the best with all these relationships, would I be as open-minded if my daughter brought one of these “bad-boys” home? I would like to think that I would as I trust her judgement, but not easy, as the Beaulieus of Wiesbaden, Germany must have found in 1959 when Elvis came a-callin’!

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She’s Like The Wind
(Song by Patrick Swayze/Stacy Widelitz)

She’s like the wind
Through my tree
She rides the night
Next to me

She leads me through moonlight
Only to burn me with the sun
She’s taken my heart
But she doesn’t know what she’s done

Feel her breath in my face
Her body close to me
Can’t look in her eyes
She’s out of my league

Just a fool to believe
I have anything she needs
She’s like the wind

I look in the mirror
And all I see
Is a young old man
With only a dream
Am I just fooling myself
That she’ll stop the pain?
Living without her
I’d go insane!