No, this isn’t a kiss and tell. Just my memories of a performer for whom I always held a very special place in my heart.
1972 didn’t start well for me. My dad died on New Year’s Day, aged 48, and I was just 11. With no brothers or sisters, it was just me and my mum left at home, with uncles and aunts telling me at the funeral “look after your mother” and “you’re the man of the house now”. And so it was; within a few days of Dad dying, I had switched from boy to man, and I still remember the burden of responsibility. You might think that I didn’t really have it in any practical sense – but I still felt the pressure both to somehow protect mum and to live up to the relatives’ expectations.
I’d always loved pop music, and followed it as closely as I could, even as early as the age of 5. I had a little transistor radio; I was addicted to Top Of The Pops; but most of all, living in a pub, I was lucky enough to receive all the old records off the jukebox each time new records were installed. It meant I used to acquire five singles a fortnight – for no cost! As a result, I rapidly built up a pretty good collection and played my favourites constantly, B sides and all.
But when Dad died, so did my interest in pop music – “just like that”, as Tommy Cooper would have said. I retreated inside myself, read more, played less, although I did pound out my frustrations on the piano he had bought for me in 1970. I remember Mum taking me on holiday to Spain in May 1972 for a mid-term treat (wouldn’t be allowed today) which I enjoyed enormously but apparently spent the entire eleven days saying “Dad would have loved this” which I don’t suppose helped Mum much. I did catch some snatches of pop music on that holiday. There was a jukebox in the hotel bar (the Hotel Internacional in Calella on the Costa Dorada could never be accused of being a classy joint) and someone kept on playing Paul Simon’s Mother and Child Reunion. It felt hideously appropriate for my life at the time. “I would not give you false hope on this strange and mournful day, but the mother and child reunion is only motion away. Oh little darling of mine, I can’t for the life of me remember a sadder day….” and so on. I liked the song, and it made me grateful that I had at least one parent left, but nevertheless it still made me cry.
Then in the summer I discovered European Pop Jury on Radio 2. It was like a monthly Eurovision Song Contest and I couldn’t wait for that one Saturday in four to come round. It seemed to me that every month it was won by either Neil Diamond singing Song Sung Blue or Hot Butter’s Popcorn. But I loved it, and it gave me a warm feeling on Saturday nights, sat alone whilst my mum worked in the bar downstairs. So I was obviously in the right mood when, one September morning, whilst being driven to school by the mother of a friend (she collected about four kids from various villages so it took about 45 minutes to get there), I heard on the radio this new song. It was bright, cheeky, funky, and for the first time in my life I realised that a voice could be… sexy! I didn’t catch the name of the singer, but I heard that the song was called Sugar Me.
I waited for the next lot of jukebox singles to arrive, and sure enough, there it was. Sugar Me, by Lynsey de Paul, on the MAM label. In the afternoons after school I could play the records on the jukebox for free, and I gave Lynsey a right old pounding, if you’ll pardon the expression. I loved that song. It had that constant drum beat, the quirky piano rhythms and of course, that breathy voice. I also enjoyed the B side, Storm in a Teacup, but hadn’t realised it had already been a single for the Fortunes, as it had been released whilst I was in post-mourning-music-denial. That week I watched Top of the Pops for the first time in ages, and, yes she was on it. And of course, my heart skipped a beat. I was besotted!
I started buying Melody Maker and New Musical Express again because my pop music mojo had returned. I found a classified advert to join her fan club. So I sent off my subscription cost, and not long later received back a membership pack: a newsletter (short, and on pink paper), a signed photo (except it wasn’t really signed, just a photo of a signed photo), and a membership card. I was member number 199. Over the next few years the fan club was a bit of nothingness really – the newsletters were few and far between, and there wasn’t much exciting going on. But at least I was officially a member!
We were heading into Christmas, and I was watching Top of the Pops again, when I saw Tony Blackburn come on and say “we’re having such a good time here but I don’t understand it – Lynsey de Paul says it’s getting a drag” – camera switch to Lynsey at the piano with her new song. Even funkier piano, even cheekier vocals; I had a sense the lyrics were a bit naughty but “innocent me” didn’t quite get why. I hadn’t known that a new single was going to be released, so I added it to my Christmas list of singles I wanted from Santa, even though I’d probably be getting a copy via the jukebox. The others were The Osmonds – Crazy Horses, Little Jimmy Osmond – Long Haired Lover From Liverpool, Slade – Gudbuy T’Jane, Lieutenant Pigeon – Mouldy Old Dough, and T.Rex – Solid Gold Easy Action. That’s what I call an eclectic mix. I remember the disappointment I felt that Getting A Drag only got to Number 18 in the chart. Sugar Me had got to Number 5; but it wouldn’t be the first or last time that my musical tastes would be out of kilter with the rest of humanity. The B side was Brandy – rather a silly song I always thought, but I liked the concept that “mating was better than hating”.
If I hadn’t been watching the music press I would never have found out about Lynsey’s next release because it was a complete flop. All Night didn’t make the charts at all, despite my buying it on the one and only week it was on sale in the local record shop. Looking back, I can see that it was a “treading water” type single, very similar instrumentations and structure to her previous songs, and even though it was good, it was perhaps just not quite good enough. The B side, however, was a mini adventure: Blind Leading the Blind. Much longer than your average single, its very quiet piano introduction and an incredibly laid back verse suddenly get contrasted with a really rocky chorus and an arpeggio-filled arrangement – and it all descends into quiet and hush at the end. Great stuff.
Then in the summer of 1973, Lynsey’s first album came out. It was called Surprise because of the surprise decision not to include her next single in the track listing. Both the new single and the album took her output in slightly different directions. The album contained elements of jazz that I hadn’t suspected she would do (I’ve never really enjoyed jazz much) so the tracks Mama Do and Sleeping Blue Nights never really did it for me, but there were plenty that did. My favourite song off the album – and probably still my favourite non-single song of hers – is Water, co-written, as many of Lynsey’s songs were, with Barry Blue (although then he was still Barry Green). It’s about as jazzy as I like to get, with a great tune and a really funky beat. But other highlights include the beautiful Ivory Tower, a sad and gentle song with a lullaby melody, the quirky Doctor Doctor, the futuristic Just Visiting, and the reflective Crossword Puzzle. I remember discovering the album in the record shop – I didn’t have enough cash on me to buy it, so I rushed home to beg my mum to lend me a little extra so I could get it that day. She obliged, nice old thing that she was.
The famous surprise missing single was Won’t Somebody Dance With Me which was (still is) a most moving romantic ballad about the lonely wallflower feeling undesired – the 13 year old me desperately wanted to rescue her. Famously “may I have the pleasure of this dance” was spoken by radio DJ Ed Stewart – although in subsequent re-recordings other voices took that part, including (slightly bizarrely) Lionel Blair I believe. It showed that Lynsey was never going to be just a one-hit wonder, and deserved a much higher placing in the charts than the Number 14 it achieved in November 1973. Perhaps even more of a surprise was that this song convinced a couple of my more metal-headed school friends that, actually, she was worth a listen. The B side was So Good To You, a sexy, intimate, love song which I always took as her personal message to me about how one day I would have a nice lady looking after me. She was right – and maybe we should draw a veil over any other associations I have with that song, as being just a private matter between her and me.
Lynsey trained as an art student, and her first job was designing album sleeves. Indeed her own illustrations are all over the centre spread of the Surprise album, but of course it is as a musician that we remember her. Won’t Somebody Dance With Me won an Ivor Novello award, the first ever awarded to a woman. I wonder how much more we would have heard from her had she not had constant wrangles and legal battles with successive managements. That’s why so many of her hits are re-recorded on later compilations, due to ownership issues with the original recordings. Won’t Somebody Dance was the last song she recorded on MAM. She signed with the aggressive Don Arden (father of Sharon Osbourne) and her first single for him was Ooh I Do (co-written with Barry Blue) on the Warner Brothers label. It’s a great record – a terrific Latin/jazz arrangement, with Lynsey giving a brilliant, wide-eyed innocent but romantic performance, and it reached No 25 in the charts in June 1974.
Don Arden then created his own label, Jet Records, and Lynsey’s first single on that label was her most successful since Sugar Me – and that was No Honestly, the theme to the TV programme starring John Alderton and Pauline Collins, which won her her second Novello award. That was in November 1974. At that time I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg’s Tuesday night chart show from 9.30 to 11.00pm, when really I should have been asleep because of school the next day. I’d acquired this massive, super-duper, state of the art (for that time) radio, because a school friend (who became an ex-friend as you’ll understand) broke in to our pub and stole money from the till. He used the money to buy this radio. The police caught him and said that as it was our money we could have the radio. Don’t think my mother was that impressed but I was delighted! I remember listening to the chart the week that No Honestly had really caught on and had lots of airplay and was thrilled that it got as high as No 3 on the Radio Luxembourg chart. Alas, by the time the BBC chart came round on the Sunday evening it was just No 7. Lynsey was ace at composing a ten second burst of music that could be used as a jingle, and those opening four bars of No Honestly must count as one of the most arresting introductions to a song for all time. And what a B-side! Lynsey’s version of Central Park Arrest that she had written for the group Thunderthighs earlier that year. “Come out, I know that you’re there – I have a gun and so you’d better beware”.
Melody Maker did a big double spread on Lynsey around that time and it was called “Pop’s Leading Lady”. I removed it from the paper and pinned it to the green baize board on the back wall of my classroom at school for everyone to see. If you know my surname, you’ll understand it was easy for some wag to amend the “Pop” by adding a couple of letters thus personalising it for me! I remember thinking that this big article and interview with her must mean that she had really “arrived” as far as pop music was concerned.
Records were always top of my Christmas list, and 1974 had a bumper crop, the pride of which was Lynsey’s next album, Taste Me Don’t Waste Me. Very different in mood from Surprise, or No Honestly. Romantic, laid back, soft-centred; with tender, gentle orchestrations with the merest hint of jazz. The most upbeat track is probably Let’s Boogie; a great tune that I remember her performing on an episode of The Golden Shot once. That takes you back, doesn’t it! Actually Lynsey wrote the 1970s theme to The Golden Shot. The major “single off the album” was My Man and Me, a sweet thing that she wrote with – I believe – James Coburn in mind. With all those older men that featured romantically in her life, someone ten years younger than her was never going to have a chance, was I! Other significant tracks included her version of Dancin’ on a Saturday Night, that she co-wrote with Barry Blue and was a big hit for him; although to be honest, I prefer Barry’s disco version. Whilst we’re talking of Mr Blue, my favourite record of his is the camp Ruskipop Hot Shot, all balalaikas and Russian Army la-la-las, which was also part-penned by Lynsey. That hit the charts in October 1974.
The Taste Me Don’t Waste Me album also has its delicate title track, but for me it’s surpassed by the wonderful When I’m Alone With You, which is a kick off your shoes, snuggle down on the sofa, comfort-blanket of a song. Do you remember the radio comedy series, Hello Cheeky? It starred Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer and John Junkin. I used to love it. Lynsey guested on the show once and sang When I’m Alone With You; and she added extra lyrics – where on the record she sings “do do do do do do do do, (etc)” she sang “lovers may come and others go, only by now I’d hoped you’d know”. It’s much better with those additional lyrics.
I remember waiting (in vain) for new output from Lynsey throughout 1975 but everything went quiet. It wasn’t until Christmas that Santa again turned up trumps with her next album, Love Bomb. I loved the cover, with Lynsey dressed in sub-military dungarees – who can resist a girl in uniform? For the most part, this album is Taste Me Don’t Waste Me Part Two, with many soft, luxurious, laid back songs about sweet love – the titles alone give you a clue to the tone of this album: Sugar Shuffle, You Are the Happiest Day of my Life, Hug and Squeeze Me, Dreams; not to mention Shoobeedoo Wey Doobee How. There’s an album version of No Honestly on here too, with just a slightly different arrangement if I remember rightly. I think I was a little disappointed in this album at the time, because Lynsey hadn’t moved on from her lovey-dovey Taste Me phase. Don’t get me wrong, they still sounded good, but even the 15 year old me thought that she wasn’t stretching herself musically. The best tracks are the ones that don’t conform to this quiet romantic style – title track Love Bomb, with its fantastic tune, Crystal Ball with its elegant fade out and Season to Season (where she says “bye bye” at the end). And then as a Christmas bonus, together with Barry Blue she did the fantastic Happy Christmas To You From Me. For me Christmas is not complete unless I play this at least once over the festive season. Yes I know it’s repetitive, derivative, and shallow…. But I love it.
I’ve always been an avid theatregoer, as you’re probably aware, gentle reader, if you’ve read any of my other blogs. At the ridiculously early age of 7 I started going to the local amateur dramatic society in Wendover where we lived to watch their plays. I would get taken there by my mum and then left in the front row to watch the play and then met by mum at the end to walk home. At 8 I saw my first West End shows, and basically haven’t stopped since. By the time I was 15 I was going to London by myself to watch matinees – the instruction was that I had to be back home in Wendover by 7pm. But in April 1976, shortly before my 16th birthday I put my foot down. I was going into London by myself for the evening. Why? Because, for one week only, at the London Palladium, there was a revue starring Sacha Distel, with Mike Read, Marti Caine, and… you guessed it…. Lynsey de Paul. There was no way I was not going to see Lynsey. I went on the Tuesday night in my flash “going-out” blue suit, blue shirt and blue tie – I was indeed a vision in blue. My memories of Lynsey’s performance are that she had a small band on stage with her, and a grand piano at the front at which she sang and played; she entered the stage to the band playing the introduction to Sugar Me, but when she finally sat at the piano and started, she played something completely different – can’t remember what it was though. She sang the majority of her hits, and ended up with Sugar Me as a finale. The first half of the show was Mike Read, Lynsey and Marti Caine, with Sacha Distel being on for all the second half. We didn’t see Mike or Marti again, but Lynsey came back on to do a duet with Sacha. And that was it – no curtain call at the end when we got to see the acts again, just Monsieur Distel taking all the limelight. I was really disappointed not to be able to give her another big round of applause. But at least I saw her. Getting back home at 1am with school the next day wasn’t the brightest thing but There Was No Alternative.
Two of the songs she sang at the Palladium were the A and B side of her next single – Rhythm and Blue Jean Baby with Into My Music. They were so typical of the time, and I really loved them. Into My Music in particular was a quirky, introverted little number about the song writing process – always a good subject, and it made a change to hear a song that isn’t about love! It wasn’t much of a success, and her next single didn’t trouble the chart at all. I heard her sing If I Don’t Get You The Next One Will on some TV programme but the local record shop never stocked it, and, as a result, I never bought the single. It’s a good song though. “I’ve been wined, I’ve been dined, I’ve been given the bill…” or was that The Pill, I was never sure – either way is funny.
Sometime in the summer of 1976, much loved and respected music historian and broadcaster Steve Race presented a programme on Radio 4 (I think it was) called The Composer as Entertainer. It was a fascinating programme where he examined how well or otherwise composers in general perform their own music. He went as far back as Albert Chevalier, and en route to modern times his musical journey encompassed Hoagy Carmichael, Noel Coward, Sergei Rachmaninov, The Beatles; and his final example was Lynsey de Paul. He described her as “an acquired taste, and I admit, I’ve acquired it”. He was very complimentary about her song writing and her ability simply to sit at a piano and perform with a remarkable degree of purity. The piece of music he chose to illustrate her style was Rainbow, from the Taste Me album. Talking of Lennon and McCartney (as I nearly did), one of Lynsey’s other projects that year was to appear on the All This and World War Two album. This was the soundtrack to a desperately unsuccessful film that combined wartime newsreel footage with Beatles songs performed by other artists. Lynsey performed Because (from Abbey Road) and gives it her usual breathy style. It was the only track I ever played on that album!
And then in 1977, two loves came together: Lynsey de Paul in the Eurovision Song Contest. The Song for Europe programme wasn’t televised due to last minute strikes – such was the flavour of the era – so I had to listen to the contest on Radio 2. I was so thrilled when she and Mike Moran won with Rock Bottom. The song was great – very contemporary Eurovision – and it looked brilliant at the Wembley Conference Centre with the whole business suits/newspapers/Ronnie Hazlehurst conducting with an umbrella-look. Lynsey had some microphone troubles at the beginning, and her vocals on the first verse were pretty ropey. Nevertheless, at one stage it really looked as though the UK would win – and Lynsey did a stagey “chewing fingernails” look to the camera which I remember at the time thinking had the potential to be very hubristic. And so it was, with France beating the UK by fifteen points into second place. Six countries gave Lynsey and Mike their douze points, whereas Marie Myriam for France only got three douzes – but every single country voted for France, while three countries did not vote for the UK – Greece, Switzerland and most notably Ireland, who had been the recipient of the UK’s twelve points. Such is the way of Eurovision. Still, the single hit No 19 in the charts.
One day in 1979, I was rifling through the records in a music shop in London – probably HMV or Virgin, can’t remember now – and was amazed to discover a Lynsey album I knew nothing about: Tigers and Fireflies. Of course, I had to buy it, for Old Time’s Sake, realising I’d completely given up on ever expecting her to record something again. It has two stonking good tracks on it – the eponymous jolly Tigers and Fireflies and the very romantic Before You Go Tonight.
I saw Lynsey live just one more time – in the West End, starring in Pump Boys and Dinettes at the Piccadilly Theatre on 16th March 1985. She’d just taken over the role from Carlene Carter. Whilst the rest of the cast – Paul Jones, Brian Protheroe and Kiki Dee – had their biographies and photos all over the programmes, Lynsey missed out as she was the new girl and the new programmes hadn’t been printed yet. I remember feeling quite annoyed that I missed out on some Lynsey ephemera there! I don’t remember much about the show because it wasn’t really my kind of music – I just wanted to see Lynsey.
And that was it – I never saw her again. Only doing her celebrity Come Dine With Me on TV a few years ago. I never saw her shows for Sky (we don’t do Sky) and I kind of missed her self-defence for women stuff. I would have loved to have seen her co-hosting that Marc Bolan memorial concert a couple of years ago, but the timing wasn’t good. I always thought there’d be another opportunity to see her – but now there isn’t. I can’t tell you how astonished and numb I felt when I heard she’d died. I think I simply said “oh no, oh no, oh no” constantly for about three minutes. She never smoked or drank, she was a vegetarian, she kept fit – and she only reached the age of 64. Where’s the justice in that? So remember to live life to the full, and tell your friends and family you love them because one day, they won’t be there for you to do that anymore. In the meantime Lynsey, if you’re up there, thanks so much for all those melodies and harmonies, crystal balls, zodiacs, lifetime guarantees, voodoos, boogies, wallflowers, telegrams, rainbows, pots of gold, and all that sugar that characterised your lyrics. You helped a boy become a man and gave him a star to follow. I’ll never forget you.