There are few careers so irretrievably lost as those built on great success many years ago. Those damned few that have this misfortune and are further cursed with having their own success be forever iconised within it's own time frame are presented with few choices. Those choices were superbly demonstrated at Darlington's Civic Theatre over the course of a recent weekend.
The "Silver Sixties Show" rolled into the city that steam built on the final leg of it's four month trip around England bearing such one-time chart toppers as The Searchers, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the most curious choice of all, Peter Sarstedt. While the first three rockin' combos share common roots in the uproar of Merseybeat and the general post-war bop period of the coyly explorative early Brit rock, Sarstedt has no such ideological framework to build his act on. Best known for two completely different sounding hits from the swinging sixties, it would initially appear that he has little else to offer an evening of almost teddyboys - grey haired mods and rockers reliving their own groping music.
The audience went for the bop, went for the "singalong to the sixties" atmosphere that the alledged merseysiders liberally encouraged. The silver set waved their bracelets and watches, shook their bouffants and "toops" and responded to every onstage call to "take their turn" on the choruses. If Friday night's second show audience was typical then it's probably safe to assume that none of these bands have actually sung a chorus to their big hits for years. The groups were professional in a cabaret sort of way and, in the case of the "Jeans", easily communicated a sense of self deprecating humor that has doubtless been honed over thirty years of such audiences.
While sometimes bordering on schtick, it was nonetheless harmless fun for the most part and after the Jeans and the Searchers had each filled thirty minutes with sparkling, record perfect renditions of the sounds of our youth came a short intermission during which the crowd attacked the ladies with the parfait trays.
Sarstedt opened the second half of the show and was given the unenviable task of taking a party-happy crowd who had been steadily building towards Gerry Marsden's brand of merseypop bop 'n' boogey and somehow holding their attention and entertaining them with only his voice and a guitar, a little taped backing track and the mystery of an artist who hasn't "worked the clubs" much in the last thirty years.
He opened with a medley of folk songs...Dylan, Simon, McTell, Paxton, Peter Paul & Mary... I thought the crowd would surely lynch him. But they sang along.. furtively at first, and then with growing enthusiasm. At the end of the medley it was clear that Sarstedt had tapped into the other side of the sixties nostalgia, the folk boom. The greyhairs rediscovered their sense of Art and "Communication Above the Neckline" and took advantage of the opportunity to show that they remembered and more importantly understood that the sixties gave us more than just Rock and Roll. The few moments of some of the more important folk songs of a generation were sufficient to remind us that music has lyrics and that good lyrics can be equally as powerful as a good fat backbeat in the awakening of spirits and memories.
At the end of the medley, the lone figure onstage took a second to introduce a medley of his own songs which began with the exquisite "Boulevard" and worked onward through some of his finest early work. Snatches of songs allowed the audience a chance to hear the less familiar without risking a loss of interest and when the inevitable hit "Frozen orange Juice" swept into the show the audience were expertly reeled back into the singalong. A few more originals including "All Together Now" which he wrote with brothers Clive (also known as Robin) and Richard (also known as Eden Kane) and then it was time to deliver the knockout punch or, in this case, the coup de grace. He stepped up to the mike and announced that he "only had one more song..." and the accordian strains on the taped track played over the speakers. For the first time in the evening, the audience applauded the beginning of a song, so unique is the melody and sound of "Where do you go to - my lovely?" Unloved by it's own record company, the song was originally released as almost a throwaway single... too long, too few instruments.. and an accordian for heaven's sake...it's not too difficult to see their point. Who knew that the general public would have bought a song that mentioned Sasha Distel and Juan-Les-Pins? But they did buy it, bought it in sufficient quantity to keep it on the top for over a month. It became a rallying cry against social climbing while simultaneously explaining the need for it. It touched an astonishing cross section of the public and apparently most of the audiences at these shows were touched as well for they sang fervently along with even the most convoluted of the lyrics.
During the entire twenty minute set, Sarstedt held the crowd with his simple and eloquent performance... like the groups which had preceded him he was playing memories rather than songs, but his memories were uniqely timeless - their comments and reflections on society as valid and vapid today as they were almost fourty years ago and as they doubtless will be for those of us that make it another fourty. It is fitting that this troubadour should be able to play with the big loud boys and yet still carve out his own niche so effectively.
Somehow, a revisit to the tumult of the sixties bop era, even expertly proferred by the likes of Marsden himself held little promise for my mood. The re-introduction of the thinking process had spoiled me for even such classics as "How do you it" and the "Ferry 'cross the mersey" anthem.
It benefits all of us to be reminded that the so called swinging sixties held more than simple mindless beat music. I left and walked into the night air....humming snatches of Sarstedt and the haunting chorus from Paxton's "Last thing on my Mind". They were curiously equally reflective of my life and times, and those to come along.
I didn't once sing "Love potion number nine".
to return home
click your mice together