Robbie Williams, Formula One and “Supreme”

I seem to have all but abandoned the idea of writing randomly as each song I write about seems to lead straight onto another one – Just the way the brain works I suppose. Inevitably therefore, after mentioning Robbie Williams last time, I would end up thinking about all those other great songs and videos he made at the end of the ’90s/early 2000s. For the video to accompany Millennium he played the role of James Bond but for the video to accompany the year 2000 song Supreme he played “Bob Williams”, a fictitious rival to Jackie Stewart at the height of his Formula One career. The video was edited using the split screen technique often seen in films from the ’60s and they cleverly wove together new footage of Bob Williams with the original 35mm celluloid footage of Jackie Stewart.

As I have said before, there was a real worry in the early ’80s that video would kill the aural-only music experience (as per the lyrics to Radio Ga Ga) but that never really came to pass. I must admit however that I did enjoy Robbie’s videos at this time immensely and they definitely added to the appeal of the songs. He seemed to be having the time of his life and who could blame him – Cocktails with Nicole Kidman and horse-riding with Daryl Hannah for goodness sake.

I am conscious of the fact that since starting this blog I have hardly written about any songs from the 2000s (only Tears Dry On Their Own) and this one just creeps into that decade and no more. When you are a working parent of a 5 to 15 year old as I was throughout that decade, you have very little time for yourself and the music I ended up consuming was my daughter’s choice of pure pop, Disney soundtracks, the songs from television shows (yes we were fans of Pop Idol and The X-Factor in the early days) and older stuff caught on the radio. If we ever visited friends who didn’t have children, the CDs lying around were all by Nora Jones and the sophisticated bands of the day whereas in our house it was S Club 7, Busted and Avril Lavigne. I might be exaggerating a little here but it is kind of true – The importance of what is No. 1 in the charts is not really an issue when you perhaps have a poorly child and a work deadline to meet. There are those lovely moments however when something comes on the car radio and your small child gives you a big smile and lets you know that your favourite song by “Robbie Michaels” has just come on!

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But back to Robbie and Supreme, I think I especially loved the video for that song because I have a fondness for all those old films about the world of motor-racing. As I said last time, I particularly love the Sean Connery Bond era (the garish colour, the glamorous locations, the beautiful clothes) and another ’60s film that covered all those bases was Grand Prix starring, amongst others, James Garner and Eva Marie Saint. Like with Robbie’s video, the use of footage from the real world of Formula One was incorporated and even our own Graham Hill had a cameo role as one of the drivers. It must be something about the long Scottish winters but when colour came to our television screens in the early ’70s and we were able to watch these films properly for the first time, we couldn’t get enough of them. I do blame my mother however for not pointing out until I was around ten, that Grand Prix was not pronounced phonetically (embarrassed myself a few times with that one I think).

As well as the film Grand Prix there was also the excellent film Le Mans starring Steve McQueen, and more recently Rush starring Chris Hemsworth which was about the ’70s rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. I remember that era well and used to love watching interviews with Hunt, a firm favourite on television chat shows. The film recreated it all really well.

Robbie Williams has continued to have an amazing career and even rejoined Take That for one album and a tour (didn’t ever expect that to happen but glad he and Gary made up in the end). Something that does bother me however is that he has had long bouts of depression over the years. He is the consummate entertainer and can sing, dance and play the fool on stage, but like so many before him the pressure of keeping us entertained has taken its toll. I have written before about the flamboyant artists who are incredibly shy in private and create a stage character or alter-ego. Robbie isn’t shy but he finds it hard to be serious, always resorting to the funny one-liner or comedy moment (even at the end of the video for Supreme). There have been numerous studies on the link between creativity and mental illness and sadly there does seem to be one – The phenomenon of the sad clown. I hope now that he has a family, he can rid himself of the black dog.

Before I finish I’d like to mention that Robbie’s career started with a stint playing the Artful Dodger in Oliver! (exclamation mark part of that musical’s title, not shock on my part). I have already written about Davy Jones of The Monkees who also shot to stardom after a similar stint on Broadway and it is part of pop folklore that Phil Collins also started out that way. There are no doubt many others out there I don’t know about but it makes me wonder – If your son is currently treading the boards in that role, it could be the first step on the ladder to global stardom. Just saying……

robbie.jpgSupreme Lyrics
(Song by Robbie Williams/Guy Chambers)

Oh it seemed forever stopped today
All the lonely hearts in London
Caught a plane and flew away
And all the best women are married
All the handsome men are gay
You feel deprived

Yeah are you questioning your size?
Is there a tumour in your humour,
Are there bags under your eyes?
Do you leave dents where you sit,
Are you getting on a bit?
Will you survive
You must survive

When there’s no love in town
This new century keeps bringing you down
All the places you have been
Trying to find a love supreme
A love supreme

Oh what are you really looking for?
Another partner in your life to
abuse and to adore?
Is it lovey dovey stuff,
Do you need a bit of rough?
Get on your knees

Yeah turn down the love songs that you hear
‘Cause you can’t avoid the sentiment
That echoes in your ear
Saying love will stop the pain
Saying love will kill the fear
Do you believe
You must believe

I spy with my little eye
Something beginning with (ah)
Got my back up
And now she’s screaming
So I’ve got to turn the track up
Sit back and watch the royalties stack up
I know this girl she likes to switch teams
And I’m a fiend but I’m living for a love supreme

Come and live a love supreme
Don’t let it get you down
Everybody lives for love

Bond Themes, Nancy Sinatra and “You Only Live Twice”

Yesterday I wrote about Rise Like a Pheonix, the song that won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014, and how it was very much in the style of a James Bond theme song. Led me to think about all those great (and some not so great) themes from over 50 years of Bond films and I have put together my own list, ranked by personal preference. There are many such lists out there and it seems there is mixed opinion on which is the best theme song ever but at the moment, for me, it is You Only Live Twice by Nancy Sinatra from the 1967 film of the same name.

You Only Live Twice by Nancy Sinatra:

The song has a really beautiful intro which Robbie Williams cleverly used for his recording of Millennium in 1998. In the video for Millennium, Robbie, dressed in a tuxedo parodies James Bond and references many of the early Sean Connery films. Turned out to be a great way to get back on top after his departure from Take That.

But back to my list – Nancy up there at the top at the moment but like any list it changes all the time, especially with oft-heard songs such as these. There seems to be a tipping point at which a song has just been listened to just once too often and it goes from being a joy, to something you have become a bit tired and weary of hearing. I hate when that happens and rush to turn off the radio if one of my all-time favourites comes on as I just don’t want to reach that point any sooner than need be.

nancy

All Bond Theme Songs – Personal Ranking (feel free to disagree)

1. You Only Live Twice – 1967 – Nancy Sinatra
2. Live and Let Die – 1973 – Paul McCartney & Wings
3. For Your Eyes Only – 1981 – Sheena Easton
4. The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977 – Carly Simon
5. The Living Daylights – 1987 – A-ha
6. The World Is Not Enough – 1999 – Garbage
7. From Russia with Love – 1963 – Matt Monro
8. Goldfinger – 1964 – Shirley Bassey
9. Skyfall – 2012 – Adele
10.We Have All the Time in the World – 1969 – Louis Armstrong
11.Diamonds Are Forever – 1971 – Shirley Bassey
12.All Time High – 1983 – Rita Coolidge
13.Licence to Kill – 1989 – Gladys Knight
14.A View to a Kill – 1985 – Duran Duran
15.Thunderball – 1965 – Tom Jones
16.GoldenEye – 1995 – Tina Turner
17.Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997 – Sheryl Crow
18.Writing’s on the Wall – 2015 – Sam Smith
19.Die Another Day – 2002 – Madonna
20.The Man with the Golden Gun – 1974 – Lulu
21.Another Way To Die – 2008 – Jack White & Alicia Keys
22.You Know My Name – 2006 – Chris Cornell
23.Moonraker – 1979 – Shirley Bassey

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I still think the Golden Age of Bond movies was the Sean Connery era or perhaps it is just that I am reminded of watching them on television as a child. By the early ’70s they were a staple on high days and holidays and because the world was a much bigger place then, with foreign travel something very few of us experienced, it was worth watching them for the glamorous locations alone. Although the age of feminism and bra-burning had well and truly started by then, it really didn’t filter through to Bond movies until the Timothy Dalton era and for many of us, that was a low point in the franchise. To try and make Bond politically correct was a stretch but with the latest batch of movies starring Daniel Craig as Bond, they seem to have found the right balance.

And if you want to compare intros, here is a clip of Robbie playing Mr Bond – Don’t think he’ll ever get the main gig but it was great fun watching him in those videos from his album “I’ve Been Expecting You”. A wonderful homage to those glamorous films of the ’60s.

Millennium by Robbie Williams:

You Only Live Twice Lyrics
(Song by Leslie Bricusse/John Barry)

You only live twice or so it seems
One life for yourself and one for your dreams
You drift through the years and life seems tame
Till one dream appears and love is it’s name

And love is a stranger who’ll beckon you on
Don’t think of the danger or the stranger is gone

This dream is for you, so pay the price
Make one dream come true, you only live twice

Postscript:

Just in case anyone else has “anorak tendencies” like myself, yes there have been 24 Bond movies to date (and two by other production companies) but the first one, Dr No in 1962, did not have a title song. Monty Norman did however compose the now infamous James Bond theme for it which has been used in all the films since.

For the 1969 film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starring one-time Bond George Lazenby, John Barry was the composer of the opening theme of the same name but Louis Armstrong’s song We Have All The Time In The World was a secondary theme, played at the end of the film. The only other exception to the rule was that Matt Monro’s vocal version of From Russia With Love was not played for the opening titles to that film but used for the closing credits.

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.

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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.)

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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!

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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…..

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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.

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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.