Monday, 28 December 2015

SINATRA: WE DID IT OUR WAY

FRANK SINATRA at 100, CHANNEL 5, TONIGHT, 9pm
followed by a live recording of Sinatra in concert in New York in 1974.

Frank Sinatra strode out onto the stage at the Royal Albert Hall in September 1980, ambled across to the orchestra stalls where my father Ken Jones and I were seated in the front row, and sang the opening verse of 'Fly Me to the Moon' right into my face. Old Blue Eyes locked with Young Green Eyes, and that was it. It had long been a habit of his, I would discover later, to zoom in on a female in the audience to sing the first song to. I'd grown up on his music, thanks to Dad. I knew the songs by heart. Everything crystallised in that moment. I've been hooked ever since.
This Sinatra centenary year has been one of tributes. What could Simon Napier-Bell's documentary add to praise already heaped? I did wonder myself, when he invited to take part. But I can't say no to Simon.
He never disappoints. Taking the long view back over Frank's career from a British viewpoint was a clever idea. Although Francis Albert was flogged to America via live performances, movies, recordings and relentless press and publicity, whipping up hysteria among the bobbysoxers and cementing his place in the pantheon, information about him here during the Fifties and early Sixties was scant. The result was a British music-loving public intrigued by and hungry for a singer they couldn't get their hands on. Sinatra fan clubs began mushrooming all over the UK long before his records were ever released here. Every import became an instant collectible. 
Those fans stayed loyal for life, tidal-waving to catch him in his Royal Albert Hall and Festival Hall concerts. His nod to them? The only Sinatra album ever made outside the US was recorded here. 'Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain' featured gems by the British composers he most admired, including Noel Coward's 'I'll Follow My Secret Heart', Ivor Novello's 'We'll Gather Lilacs in the Spring', and Ross Parker's and Hughie Charles's most enduring war-time rouser for Vera Lynn, 'We'll Meet Again'. The recordings were made in 1962 at CTS Studios in London W2. Only a few days before Sinatra began taping in Bayswater, the Beatles were convening a couple of miles away at Abbey Road. The world was about to change irrevocably.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

IT'S YOUR SONG, ELTON

I confess to a double-take at Kelvin MacKenzie's Sun column yesterday, announcing that PR and communications supremo Gary Farrow had terminated his working relationship with Sir Elton John. Surely some mistake: these two go back more than forty years. To 1974, in fact, when gift-of-the-gob Gary landed a job as a runner at Rocket Records after pestering the Rocket Man for a break. Which I happen to know first-hand, because I've known Gary since I was a teenager, when his garden backed on to my Mum and Dad's.

Only one way to find out. Our conversation today left me saddened beyond words. Gary, who once flogged singles off a barrow in Berwick Street market, Soho, before rising to fame in the entertainment industry, has represented, promoted, protected and made superstars of the cream of the crop: Bowie, Elton, Wham!, George Michael, Bob Geldof, Frankie, Duran, Jonathan Ross, Ozzy & Sharon. But he has called it a day with Elton, with whom he was once so thick that they attended each other's weddings, and Elton became Godfather to Gary's eldest daughter. He can apparently no longer abide EJ's husband, David Furnish, nor the way in which he is running the singer's life. We could go into blood-curdling detail here. Let's not. Although how could we ever disregard the misery of Elton's mother, Sheila Farebrother, forced to hire a tribute act to her son to perform at her ninetieth birthday party, because her own son has not spoken to her for seven years. Why? Because Sheila refused to end her friendships with Elton's former manager and sometime lover, John Reid, and with Bob Halley, Elton's ex-driver and PA. They are 'like sons' to her.

Life being too short. It's a long time since I last saw the excitable Furnish. In Atlanta, Georgia, probably. God knows when. But from what I've heard, he has found his vocation as a talentless control freak hell-bent on destroying the most meaningful relationships in his partner's life. Who knows what he's trying to prove. What will they do when there's nobody left?

Knowing Gary, never short of a line of two - he once bumped smack into Mel Gibson and retorted, 'What a f-ing stupid place to put a mirror' - he'll be raising a glass to the good times, and privately wishing Elton well. He's unlikely to lose much sleep over it. I bet Elton will.

I owe Gary, by the way, for the best piece of advice a media guru could give a writer.
'It only takes one,' he told me. 'Of all the nine billion however many people on the planet, it only takes one person to invest, to go 'let's have a punt', and to make your dream a reality. I've seen it happen more times than I've had cold breakfasts. I've seen for myself that it's true. So never, ever give up. Keep doing what you're doing. If you're any bloody good, then sooner or later it comes to you.'

Remember it.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF FRANK SINATRA

It makes you think. I grew up on the maestro's music - my parents were (are) die-hard fans. I interviewed Ol' Blue Eyes in LA - twice - and spent time with his widow, Barbara Marx. I got to know his daughter, Nancy, when I lived with Raquel Welch in Beverly Hills - 'Boots' was her best mate. Only after his death, when I was researching Ava Gardner, did I realise I'd known barely the first thing about him.
What we knew was the Sinatra myth, the legend. What we didn't want to know was what got him there. We certainly didn't want to hear about his backstreet-abortionist mother, nor the hell through which she dragged him - which accounts, at least in part, for who he became. Perhaps most telling was that night in Elaine's, New York - the night that Frank, on being introduced to Mario Puzo, author of 'The Godfather', refused to shake his hand.
A recent survey on the kind of music played at funerals revealed that traditional hymns are now chosen by fewer than 35%, while pop songs have soared to an 'incredible' 58%. It 'devalues human life', declared one commentator about the survey, to take one's final, shortest journey on earth to the accompaniment of music from popular culture.
Why so? Why not pop our clogs to popular music, if that's the way we lived?
Unsurprisingly, the song most played at funerals these days is Sinatra's 'My Way'. What's so bad about that? Whatever turns you off.
My friends and I have spent countless happy moments dancing round the kitchen to 'New York, New York'. I've certainly slated that one for my own funeral - along with Cockney Rebel's 'Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me). performed live. Every time I see Steve Harley, he asks me if I've got a date. Clearly I have. I just don't know it yet.

Thank you for the music, Francis Albert. For better or worse, way to go.