Let's not start an argument about the most distinctive voices in popular music, we could be here all night. You - Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Chrissie Hynde. Him - Gotta be Bjork. Me - Ethel Merman – go with me, who else has ever sounded like her? While we're on it, Dusty. And, and.
The men? You're shoving me in that piranha pool? Smokey, Stevie, Marvin? Bee Gees? The growling ghost with a bourbon in each hand, aka Tom Waits? Maybe the fearless falsetto, trembling tenor and vibrant vibrato of Radiohead's Thom Yorke. Or Neil Young. Or Jeff Buckley. Or Lou Reed. Or Robert Plant. Or Marc Bolan's choking goat. But I have to land on Freddie Mercury's 4.5-octave range, those top notes clearer than yon crystal Alpine lake. Like Mary Poppins, practically perfect pitch in every way. There'll never be another him.
I hear you, Bob Dylan- and Elvis- and Bowie-voters. They fall, for me, into the category of Voices Easily Imitated. In order to be truly unique, genuinely inimitable, the voice needs to be not only instantly recognisable, but also impossible for anyone else to impersonate. I'm thinking Costello instead of Presley. Tony Bennett instead of Frank Sinatra. Boy George.
What prompted this pointless musing (since we are never going to agree)? A remark made by my friend Nick Fitzherbert last night, en route to a rarer-than-sheep-in-make-up gig by one of the most distinctive voices in popular music: Jim Diamond. I'll own up here - Jim Diamond has been my cherished friend for more than thirty years. We once did a radio show together, with our other great chum, Bill Padley, on Radio Clyde. Those Friday nights in the Holiday Inn Glasgow after broadcast inevitably ended in the pool. I'd like to say that I perfected the art of flying with a hangover so consuming, it caused the retinas to detach for the duration. I never did.
Back to the recuhds. Nick was bemoaning his daughter's adoration of Sam Smith, newly nutrified and toned and slimlined, just like his bank account since a certain Tom refused to back down. Petty vacant, but just the start. He pulled up some Diamond Geezer and gave her a listen. I'm picturing scales confettying from Eliza's eyes.
Jim Diamond was running rings around the greats with that voice decades before the Sam Smith sperm was spawned. He's just a little guy, but the voice spews like lava from a volcano. It's arresting. I remember Pete Townshend telling Jim years ago in a gym that his voice was a 'priceless gem', to be preserved at all costs and never squandered. Jim was so proud, he told me that story every time we met for about ten years.
You're thinking, Jim who? Maybe you're going, oh yeah, PhD, 'I Won't Let You Down', and that other one, the Number One he threw away when he told everyone to rush out and buy the Band Aid single the following week at Christmas 1984, feed the world. 'I Should Have Known Better'. Or you're humming 'Hi Ho Silver' and grinning from ear to there at the memory of the late actor Michael Elphick, star of the show and Jim's mate.
Few know that Jim is a soul singer at heart. He summons pain from the depths and joy from the heavens. He is bashful when introducing his own compositions, shamelessly tearful when announcing 'this beautiful thing' by Smokey (My Girl), 'a lifelong favourite' (Stand By Me), or the Beatles' 'Eleanor Rigby'. He hasn't performed in public for years, other than for charity. Getting him up on stage at the Half Moon Putney was a fluke. A genius fluke.
He's still got it. 'One of our great underestimated talents,' as the great Keith Altham describes him. Yet another of rock's unsung heroes, the voices that got away. Voices that should have soared all the way to Coutts and beyond the international space station, but never quite did. He's still Jim. Unshakably rooted in the Scottish homeland he eulogises as he remembers his Daddy, the late fireman whom he adored. He acknowledges the song that 'bought the house.' He dedicates songs to his friends, his children, his beautiful wife Chrissie – 'the one thing that is always there, that has always been there, constant, no matter what.' We all have that, Jim? No, we don't. We'd all like that.