Lady BSM’s brother, Drew, spotted it quite a few months ago. Burt Bacharach was playing at The Symphony Hall in Birmingham – did we fancy it? We did.
Now, the decision to go and see him may have been driven initially by some sort of post ironic attempt at celebrating kitsch, but on the journey to the concert, we realised perhaps it was something more. You see, Burt Bacharach played a major part in our childhood during the 60s.As soon as you hear the opening bars to a Bacharach song, The Look of Love or Alfie, for instance, I’m immediately transported back to those times of swirly carpets, sunny summers, mini skirts, radiograms and turtle neck jumpers.
In fact, when I was 7 years old I would imagine myself as a grown up, attending sophisticated cocktail parties, wearing sharp suits, smoking king size cigarettes and listening to … Burt Bacharach songs.
“So, what do you think the top 3 Burt Bacharach songs are?” asked Drew from the back seat of the car as we travelled up to Birmingham.
“Walk On By has to be a favourite, “ I suggested.
“Ooo good one, The Stranglers covered that,” replied Drew.
“I Say a Little Prayer, that’s my favourite,” said Lady BSM.
“Yes, Aretha is so good, “ said Drew, “so is Dionne Warwick – Anyone Who Had a Heart…”
The discussion continued until we decided to ‘Google’ it. The results were surprising at first, but after some consideration, made sense. (See the results at the end of this blog).
The Symphony Hall was an impressive venue- we had tickets in the circle, in the middle of the second row. This meant we had to disturb quite a few people to get to our seats and a chance to mention the audience demographic. Although not the youngest members, we were definitely at the younger end. There was lots of grey hair, slacks and spectacles. There was a queue to use the gents as men either tried to start or tried to stop peeing. You could tell this was the type of audience that wouldn’t tolerate any to-ing and fro-ing without a stern look or reproachful sigh. In fact, one or two bristled, their poise stiffening, when I stood up to remove my jacket. You could sense there suspicion. This young whippersnapper could have been a punk rocker, you could almost hear them thinking. They would have been correct.
There were arrows formed using white tape on the stage floor, pointing towards the grand piano.
“Do you think that’s to help Burt?” I asked Lady Barton St Mary.
“Well, he is 85,” she mused, “and it may be a bit dark when they turn down the house lights.”
Burt made it to the piano, looking good in a suit and bright blue shoes with white soles. He moved very deliberately, as if not to make any unintended movements.
“Good evening,” he said, “this is my first visit to Birmingham. What a beautiful city; canal boats! Wonderful architecture! What a gem of a place!”
He explained that tonight they would play some new songs as well as all the favourites, which was politely received by the audience, most of whom would have been happy with the ‘old’ stuff.
He sat at the piano, counted in the 10 piece band and they were off into a medley of songs. Suddenly Burt looked positively animated, his hands flowed over the keyboard as he played hit after hit… What the World Needs Now Is Love, Don’t Make Me Over , Walk on by , This Guy’s in Love with You , I Say a Little Prayer, Trains, Boats & Planes, Wishin’ & Hopin’, (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me… all 2 minute vignettes of absolutely classic songs.
Stop, Burt, stop! Don’t play all your hits in the first 10 minutes! What are you going to do for the next hour and 50 minutes??!!!
That’s what we were all thinking. How naïve we are. Do you know how many hit songs he’s written?
The medley ended and Burt picked up the microphone to introduce Josie James, one of three singers for the evening, the other two being John Pegano (who did a pretty good impression of Elvis Costello and Tom Jones) and Donna Taylor. They were all very good – who would have thought?
Anyone Who Had a Heart, Windows of the World, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself …
Burt then took some time to tell us little of his history; touring with Marlene Dietrich, writing songs in a New York block filled with publishers. Was it easy? No. In fact, he had to borrow $5000 from his father to carry on. Finally, one of his songs became a hit. Then another, then another. Burt paid his dad back. Burt played the songs – Magic Moments – yes, he wrote that! – The Story of my Life and then, to the delight of horror film aficionado Drew, the theme to the film The Blob.
Another medley: The Look of Love. Arthur’s Theme, What’s New, Pussycat? The World is a Circle, April Fools.
Then Burt had a go at singing. Now, Burt’s 85. To be honest, it was more like a Tom Wait’s tribute to Burt Bacharach. But, then I thought, they’re Burt’s songs. He’s 85 years old. He can do what he likes!
There was an encore. Burt led the singalong version of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’, old people in the boxes started dancing and jigging about. It was like a geriatric mosh pit.
Then he thanked the audience once more and with a nonchalant wave, strolled away in that deliberate manner recognising his advancing years. But he’s still cool, as well as being one of the most successful songwriters on the planet.
On the way home, we realised that we were all suffering from Bacharach earworms – humming, whistling or singing sections of favourite songs. Drew suggested we see if we could catch each other singing a song and score points from each other. He was the first to fall with ‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose?’
‘Trains and Boats and Planes’ turned out to be my downfall. Lady BSM? ‘Say A Little Prayer’, of course.
The earworms continued the following day.
Yes, the songs are easy listening. Yes, some of them are cheesey. But with all the trouble going on in the world, do I want to be a grown up living like that?
I say, put on my lounge suit, pour me a cocktail, put ‘Look of Love’ on the radio gram and snuggle up to Lady BSM. What the World needs now, is love, sweet love…
Top 3 BB Songs according to The Washington Post:
* #1 – Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head #2 – Arthur’s Theme #3 – I Say a Little Prayer