Living with…Shirley Bassey…for a week
Shirley Bassey quickly became an obvious choice for my week’s companion on two counts.
At this time of year our thoughts turn to all things James Bond with the excellent Skyfall. She is and probably always will be the only triple Bond girl. Not that she ever graced the screen but with the titles to Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever and Moonraker under her belt who could ever touch her.
And secondly, I felt it was time to reclaim back the seventies. The revelations about Jimmy Saville have not only shocked and disgusted us all but left everything about that decade sullied by what he did. As various other names get dragged in to the mire, whether justified or not, that whole era of radio, music and television seems to be viewed through a new rather twisted set of binoculars. We’ve always liked our heroes and heroines in Britain to be a little larger than life possibly even a little eccentric. And maybe that’s how Jimmy Saville was viewed, although I’d added the word creepy after the Louis Theroux documentary of his life. But that doesn’t mean that we should now distrust all our larger than life heroes from that period. Shirley Bassey. Ms B, led a colourful life, but still an amazing story that rose through the sixties and seventies.
And what better way to claim back the seventies than a little Morecambe and Wise extract from 1971 when Ms B was their guest and allowed the usual foolery to erupt around her while belting out a great rendition of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (you’re guessing what’s going to happen, aren’t you?!):
She started life on the rough side of town, Tiger Bay now called Cardiff Bay, around the docks of Cardiff. From early on it was recognised she had talent and an amazing voice. In choir practices she had to join in from the corridor outside as her voice drowned out all the others! But this wasn’t a woman supposed to go anywhere in life given her background, and yet somehow she emerged to become one of the largest selling and honoured stars of her era.
With such an expansive career, I listened to three albums spanning her life this week. For starters I went with The Ultimate Shirley Bassey, but there are so many others that will do. Take your pick! Apart from the Bond themes there are some amazing cuts of Never Never Never and I (Who Have Nothing).
That collection took me back to a classic of the early 60s which set her off on the road to mega stardom, Let’s Face the Music, where she collaborated with Nelson Riddle and his orchestra. Nelson Riddle was behind the classic Sinatra sound of the time. Although a beautiful collection, it sounds like much of that era, and at times I felt I was listening to Ella Fitzgerald. I know that’s a massive compliment, but I like the fact that Ms B has a distinctive coarser sound which is uniquely hers. I’m pretty sure that the closing track What Now My Love is the version so brilliantly spoofed by The Muppets though!
And finally, I caught The Performance from a couple of years back. She’s not belting them out with as much gusto but this is a fine collection of collaborations that shows the respect she has from others, and is also more intimate and reflective. If nothing else, check out The Girl from Tiger Bay.
Like Tom Jones, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett and even The Rolling Stones have discovered you do get kudos for longevity. For hanging in here and being prepared to put yourself up on a stage when the audience in front of you is often half your age and the rest. But it’s not just about brownie points for long term attendance, you also have to deliver and I’m going to end on this performance of Big Spender (probably one of the most iconic Ms B track and the one that I remember from my childhood) at Glastonbury from 2007. Firstly, she can move about in ways that I’m struggling with now (that’s a low dip at one stage!), and secondly don’t they just love her? True star quality will shine through whatever the barriers that may seem to exist between star and audience.
Say, wouldn’t you like to know what’s going on in my mind?