Thursday, July 17, 2008

Our Shirl

Shirley Bassey hails from Cardiff, just like my Dad. Shirley grew up in Tiger Bay, a dockside district of Cardiff that had always been cosmopolitan, and also working class. My grandfather had worked in the docks there and dad grew up in another working class district of Cardiff – Splott. Both are charming names in their own way but Tiger Bay sounds somewhat more alluring than Splott doesn’t it? Lucky for Shirl. It’s bad enough that she always has to suffer being referred to as Burly Chassis (so inappropriate), imagine if she had been Burly Chassis from Splott!

I’m sure the Cardiff connection is, at least in part, the reason my Dad has always had a soft spot for her (incidentally, my Auntie Joyce has always been mad on Tom Jones: the Welsh stick together). So there are a few albums of hers at my parents house. One of these is “I Capricorn” which I think I bought for Dad as a present on its release in 1972. It contained what would prove to be her biggest hit, “For All We Know”, which was seemingly ever present in the UK pop charts in the latter half of 1971, just at the time I was discovering music. I really liked that single. Undoubtedly it would have been qualified as a guilty pleasure at that time – Shirley was Dad music, I couldn’t admit to liking it, at least not to my friends. Anyway, I also admit now that there was probably a bit of self-interest in me buying this album for Dad, as I secretly wanted to hear it. Dad played it occasionally but I was left with the impression that he preferred her earlier work, Shirley could belt ‘em out in the sixties and I think Dad preferred that style, “I Capricorn” for the most part had a much more lush and soulful feel. Which is what attracted me to it and so every now and then I snuck it on the turntable and enjoyed my, then, guilty pleasure, and from that point on I also have had a soft spot for Shirl.

Due to the material that Shirley has chosen to sing over the years, and the style and arrangements that typify her output – by turns lush and relaxed in an easy listening sort of way, or bold, brassy, showy – she would never be categorized as a soul singer. However, there is no doubt she is a soulful performer, she puts her heart and soul into the songs and is really living them.

The other day, dropping in at the parents house, I spent a few minutes trawling through the albums there – I was surprised by how many of mine are still there – and dug out “I Capricorn”. I had forgotten what a great album cover it had. Shirley's ethnicity is there for all to see (her mother was in fact Nigerian) and she looks stunning in a straight on head shot with some tasteful artwork behind her, and framed in gold with, top and bottom, her name and the album title in bold black lettering*. Classy. This could easily be the cover of a classic soul album, and in fact it does bring to mind the cover of one, one that I will feature here next time.

I was going to feature "For All We Know" here but in fact it didn’t sound as good as I remembered it - nothing wrong with Shirley’s voice but the arrangement is a little twee and lightweight in places. Ah, you were thinking of the Carpenters version, I here you say. Well no, I don’t think so, the version that plays in my head definitely has Shirley singing. Maybe my mind remixed the backing.

There are a few show tunes on the album – very much par for the course in the musical world of the time that Shirley was inhabiting – but I’m steering clear of those, not that there’s anything wrong with them. I just think some of the other tracks are more soulful and have better arrangements. For example Shirley’s interpretation of “The Look Of Love” is powerfully sensual and has groove that I think sets it apart from other tracks on the album. In a way it reprises the feel of her take of the Doors “Light My Fire” that did indeed light up her 1970 album “Something” (if you haven’t heard her version of "Light My Fire" then you should, and it’s becoming something of a rare groove classic).

Shirley is 71 now and has enjoyed hit records over five decades. She has sung the theme song of no less than three James Bond films. Last year she made an appearance at the mudfest that is Glastonbury, famously sporting diamante wellies. This is not the first time she has been seen by the masses wearing strange footwear – those of us of a certain age and British will no doubt remember a classic sketch on the Morcambe & Wise show where she ends up wearing… well watch it and see:

Shirley is a private, and even mysterious, person, a true professional but also somebody who evidently retains a good sense of humour.

I’ve only just caught up on the fact that Shirley underwent a stomach operation recently. Get well soon Dame Shirley and keep on doing it, we love you!

Shirley Bassey – The Look Of Love (mp3) 1972
Shirley Bassey - I Capricorn (mp3) 1972 (sorry about the scratch in the intro)

*I’m afraid my scan omits the lettering on the album cover, I haven’t got the ability to “scan and stitch”.

“I Capricorn” is available on CD (with a slightly different cover to the original album).


Anonymous said...

ez share is horrid it forces you to use internet explorer thus one has to view all the ads (some porn is included)
because of adblock on firefox ez share on firefox is nearly impossible to use

Darcy said...

well thanks for the info on ezshare anon. But just to underline I use Zshare which, ok has some ads (in my experience never porn related), but is perfectly usable on both IE and Firefox.

Ravel said...

GREAT post! Loved the sketch! And the tunes.
The little scratch is nothing...
You have an interesting blog, good work!

b1xx1b said...

great blog. love your site!
i just started a solid private mp3 site. invitation only. use invite code inthegame - enjoy!

Marc said...

Darcy, I love your comments about the "I Capricorn" album. In particular, I've always been enchanted by the album cover, too; it does have a very 70s 'blaxploitation' vibe to it. Good work.