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

Petula Clark, “Don’t Sleep In The Subway” and The Music of 1967

Yesterday’s foray into the musical output of Andy Williams, has reminded me of some of those other great songs from the 1960s. Turns out many hits from that era were recorded by a whole host of other artists and Petula Clark often released songs previously recorded by Mr Williams.

1968-petula-downtown-3.jpg

A good few years ago after discovering iTunes, we went a bit mad revisiting the “tracks of our years” and probably down to the nostalgia element of remembering happy times as a child with my family, I ended up purchasing quite a few songs from 1967, which was probably the first year I really started to take heed of anything from the world of grown-up music. One of these songs was Don’t Sleep In The Subway by Petula Clark simply because it summed up the sound of my 1960s. The whole hippy thing was happening on the West Coast of America but flower power and psychedelia definitely didn’t come to my Scottish village so the kind of music listened to by families like mine, who watched mainstream television, came from people like Pet Clark, Cilla, Dusty, Lulu and The Seekers. The song was written by Tony Hatch (along with his wife Jackie Trent) and the relationship he had with Petula was likened to the one between Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick. They also worked together on Downtown, I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love and The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener.

Don’t Sleep In The Subway by Petula Clark:

Listening to this song again, it is about a couple having a “domestic” so not really the jaunty, upbeat number I had always considered it to be. There are a few lyrics in there that I find vaguely amusing and don’t quite fit the rhythm of the music (’cause it hurts when your ego is deflated, um-m-um-um-um-um) but I don’t profess to be an expert at this kind of thing and it did sell an awful lot of records so who am I to pick holes?

As a matter of interest, a couple of the other songs I purchased from that year were Georgy Girl by The Seekers and To Sir With Love by Lulu. Neither of the films that these songs came from were about particularly jaunty, upbeat topics either but they are still great songs, so well worth another listen.

Georgy Girl by The Seekers:

To Sir With Love by Lulu:

As it turns out my rose-coloured spectacles regarding the 1960s were severely tested this week as I watched the 1966 Ken Loach television play Cathy Come Home starring Carol White and Ray Brooks. It was a landmark piece of broadcasting at the time and told the harrowing story of an initially happy young couple with children, who due to unfortunate circumstances suffer the trauma of unemployment, poverty and homelessness. It was filmed in a doumentary-style which made it all the more poignant but for me the worst aspect was that fifty years on, many young couples with children still suffer the same problems today. It does sadden me that although we have made amazing advances in certain aspects of life (having the technology to amuse ourselves with all this malarkey), we still have people sleeping in subways, and that just can’t be right.

Getting too maudlin now so will leave it there for today but realising as I revisit the tracks of my years, that those seemingly happy, up-tempo songs often told a very different tale, and one which I am only now appreciating.

Don’t Sleep in the Subway Lyrics
(Song by Tony Hatch/Jackie Trent)

You wander around
on your own little cloud
when you don’t see the why
or the wherefore

Ooh, you walk out on me
when we both disagree
’cause to reason is not what you care for

I’ve heard it all a million times before
Take off your coat, my love, and close the door

Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’
Don’t stand in the pouring rain
Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’
The night is long
Forget your foolish pride
Nothing’s wrong,
now you’re beside me again

You try to be smart
then you take it apart
’cause it hurts when your ego is deflated
um-m-um-um-um-um
You don’t realise
that it’s all compromise
and the problems are so over-rated

Good-bye means nothing when it’s all for show
So why pretend you’ve somewhere else to go?