London Royal Festival Hall, July 5 2014
Tony Hatch, you’ve all heard of him, right? The TV bloke. The chap who wrote the music for Crossroads, Emmerdale and something else, now, what was it? Oh yes, Neighbours. Bloody Neighbours. The cheesiest soap ever, and the song wasn’t much cop either. Used to drive me barmy. So why would anyone want to go and see that? And what’s it got to do with NUTsmag?
Think again. Yes, he did write those tunes (as well as the themes to Champions, Mr And Mrs, Hadley, Sportsnight and other shows intrinsically associated with retro-lounge culture, all of which are splendidly aired tonight) but he also wrote some of the finest pop songs of the 1960s, as well as laying down superior reworkings of popular standards (such as his sitar-drenched interpretation of Bonnie Dobson’s “Morning Dew”, for instance, hands down the best cover of said song ever recorded) Even some of his lesser known efforts reside among the tunes you twist to regularly on soul dancefloors, whilst others well, to call them simply ‘classics’ wouldn’t even begin to do them justice.
I mean, Chris Montez’ “Call Me”, Jackie Trent’s “Where Are You”, Bobby Rydell’s “Forget Him”, the Searchers’ “Sugar And Spice” Scott Walker’s “Joanna” and most of all, Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep In The Subway” “Colour My World” and “Downtown” : That’s what I call an output. Yes, almost every single note and lyric of all of them- as well as producing Bowie, the the Montanas, the Overlanders, Brook Brothers, Viscounts and half the other acts signed during the early Beat boom to Pye, in stereo, before anyone else in the UK (with the obvious exception of Joe Meek) had even tried. In short, this geezer is seriously important to our lives, which therefore means that to witness him discussing and performing the songs that shaped them is an honour.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of some of the musicians- and I use the term in its broadest sense- chosen to interpret those compositions tonight. I mean, seriously, Rhydian? Joe McElderry? And in the case of Sophie Evans, er, who? Surely there are people within the indie scene- Jarvis, Neil Hannon and yes, even B*b St*nl*y springing to mind- whose sonic debt to the man is obvious, and understanding of his music greater? Of all the younger guests, the lounge-tastic Rumer leans closest to “our planet”, and thus, with her do any hopes of musical salvation lie. Sadly, despite managing deftly on two other numbers, she accidentally sings the first verse of “Call Me” (for which Hatch handles all keyboard duties himself sublimely, thus highlighting the error) in a key as yet unknown to human ears (a fact she is only too well aware of), fleeing the stage immediately after the final note in a visible huff. Oops. However, among this era’s “coffee table” chanteuses, she’s still the only one thus far displaying talent or originality enough to go the distance, and, even if she does reside slightly outside our orbit, I know she’ll recover from such minor embarrassments.
As for us, I suppose we’ll just have to batten down the hatches and concentrate on the genius himself… genius which, thankfully, remains unwithered by time. Not only does he still play piano with consummate skill (when the mood strikes) but he isn’t averse to taking the mike once in a while either, even treating us to a spirited rendition of a song I’m sure many had forgotten was his own in “Messing About On A River”. “Hang about”, I hear you cry, “that’s about as Mod as Nell Gwynne’s frock”… sure, but it’s another element of a multi-faceted man who is, in essence, our own Bacharach and David rolled into one. Admittedly I shan’t dwell too much on his showtunes (not up to the standard of his best work anyway), save to say that as a vocalist, Marti Webb still knocks almost everyone else onstage tonight into a cocked hat. But the stories behind those 60s standards… spellbinding isn’t the word. Just imagine, for a moment, what it was like to not only work, but be in demand, at the turn of the decade that revolutionised British music, in doing so leaving our stamp on the entire world? To produce beat groups when they were still a new invention, and show them how to use studios when the inherent possibilities of recording technology were only just being discovered?
Here, tonight, Hatch tells all and more, and jaws drop. Therefore to some extent, the spoken sections (with former agent Michael Grade acting as questionmaster) far outweigh the performances- again, understandable given the choice of singers- but regardless, the orchestra plays a blinder, recapturing perfectly the atmosphere of both London and New York circa 1963. It’s almost enough to make your NUTsmag correspondent saunter down the Kings road in his finest whistle’n’flute looking for a suitable dollybird with whom to repair to his space age bachelor pad- were he to own one, that is. There’s also a surprise in store for those whose love of 60s culture extends to British cinema: usually, I’d run a mile at the sight and sound of Les Miserables’ John Owen Jones, but witnessing the giant Welshman attempt “Look For A Star”, originally voiced by Garry Mills in 1960’s Circus Of Horrors, is a possibly never-to-be-repeated treat.
Yet ultimately, there’s only one singer, man or woman (or at least one still talking to him, in the absence of ex-wife, co-lyricist and muse Jackie Trent) whose name is synonymous with Hatch’s music, and who can truly do his songs justice: thus it’s Petula Clark, even if only performing three numbers, that everyone has really gathered to see. From her first entrance, the sprightly 82-year-old receives a heroine’s welcome from fans of all ages: rightly so too, for, even if the current generation of reality idols have misinterpreted, her back catalogue, within this woman lurks not only the essence of every descendant from Dusty to Cilla to Dionne, but most latterday post-punk indie-retro babes from Tracey Thorn via Sarah Cracknell to Nina Persson. In short, the true antecedent of every Mod feller’s dream, and that’s before you even acknowledge her peerless quality as an interpreter of popular song.
Her appearance could also only mean, after one promising new track, two things – “Don’t Sleep In The Subway” and “Downtown” , still better descriptions than any others of the respective ups and downs of metropolitan life, written by the man who somehow conveyed them better than anyone else of his age, sung by its true female voice. The cities described may now be poor shadows of those described within, but here, in context, they suddenly seem bearable- as does our intrepid endurance of certain earlier performers- and with Hatch and Clark’s arms linked in an exultant display of musical kinship, the end seems to have justified the means. Next time, though, assuming he’s around to celebrate his 80th- could we at NUTsmag pick the lineup (not to mention drop the Settlers’ “Major To Minor” and some Montanas tunes into the set?) Trust us, we know what we’re doing…
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