Living with…South Pacific…for a week
And I’m bored. We’ve gathered as a family again to mark a royal occasion. We’ve had the jubilee thing and I think we played football in the garden all that day. We always seem to end up at my grandparents, nan and pop we call them. for these events. They’re good times with chattering family and plenty of food and for the grownups there seems to be plenty of alcohol and laughter. Last time there was the matriarch of the family, sitting in her prime spot like Giles’s grandmother, pinching people’s bottoms and drinking whisky mac.
We’re celebrating the wedding of two people we don’t know in a church we don’t know, apart from seeing it on Mary Poppins, and yet we all seem very happy about it. This time we’ve moved the telly in to their large living room so we can all watch it together. Adults on the sofas, children on the floor. We never come in this room as its for special grown-up occasions, it feels slightly strange with it’s old fashioned furniture in a modern house. Our normal territory as kids is the very small ‘telly room’ where we play pong, or the kitchen where we scrounge food off my very generous nan or the very small room where they keep a piano where we make up tunes and pretend we can do music.
But this time we’re in the large living room. And the laughter continues and the flicking of peanuts. People are largely ignoring what’s going on the telly in favour of their own jokes. My nan has the dirtiest laugh known, and we can’t but join in. And then there’s silence when the dress appears out of a coach with a young blonde-haired woman in the middle. Someone makes a quip about a meringue, and the laughter continues over the wedding backdrop.
I’m half paying attention as I am strangely fascinated by the ritual of the wedding, but I know that I shouldn’t be. It’s not cool to be a fourteen-year old boy and watch this wedding. Punk has largely gone, it had it’s moment in ’77, but that feeling that the Royals are decidedly uncool still sits with us all.
The wedding drifts in to a long service so I get decidedly more bored and explore my nan and pop’s collection of lps that lies neatly stacked next to the sofa. They have quite an impressive stereo that they bought when pop retired I think, and although I’m jealous I know that I won’t be able to put anything on so I switch to the music. There’s a lot of Rachmaninov – pop supposedly played the piano well, but I don’t think I ever heard it which was a shame. Some collections of James Last. Doris Day. Lots and lots of Jim Reeves which I flick over to look at the track listings to see if I know any. Some of the tunes sound familiar but I never knew why they loved gentleman Jim Reeves. And then at the back a beautiful bright cover with a couple in love shines out at me.
Sad to say that I didn’t give the music a second thought – I thought it was a travel album possibly containing polynesian folk songs so I never even looked at what was on it, I just liked the bright cover and never gave the music another thought. Captain Sensible was to have a massive hit with Happy Talk a year later but even then I didn’t make the connection.
As the wedding unravelled, we were allowed to go outside rather than cooped up with the grownups. So it’s time for swingball and we vent ourselves on the poor battered tennis ball as it spins between us. That’s better.
Well, they phoned up the next day to tell us they’d found them. Didn’t say whether they’d liked it or not.
If I was afraid that a week with South Pacific would be an historical irrelevance, rather like meringue princess weddings, I couldn’t be further from the truth. It may be 31 years between seeing the album at my nan’s and listening to it but I’d clearly picked it all up through musical osmosis over the years. So many songs are more than familiar – Some Enchanted Evening, There is Nothing Like a Dame, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy, Happy Talk to name the big ones! Most musicals would delight in having only half the wonderful numbers of South Pacific, or even being spoofed by Morecambe and Wise.
When it came out in 1949 it swept all before it – a winning combination of love, war, exotic beauty and racism with an excellent musical score – this tapped in to what the American and British public wanted. The film in 1958 was equally successful and it was the soundtrack from that I originally saw. To put that soundtrack in context it spent 115 weeks as the No 1 album in the UK and the whole of 1959! It has spent more weeks at No 1 than any other album in history, a record unlikely to be ever surpassed.
The end of the week was a visit to Birmingham’s New Alexandra for the touring production of South Pacific. And I loved it, a little slow at first it burst in to life with Bloody Mary and never looked back after that. For once I found that I cared about the story in a musical (I hadn’t checked that out before so there were some surprises!) and willed the characters to that happy ending. My personal favourite was the beautiful Younger than Springtime sung by Lieutenant Jo Cable to young Liat.
So, 31 years on I got to hear the music of South Pacific, maybe some day soon I’ll discover gentleman Jim Reeves as well. My nan would like that.
Below, the beautifully sung Mandy Patinkin version of Younger than Springtime: