-When you're alone and life is making you lonely You can always go - downtown When you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry Seems to help, I know – downtown. -
These are the opening words of one of the great pop hits of our time, and really still hold a lot of meaning in today’s world. This song was written in 1964, and became a worldwide no.1 chart topper towards the end of that year, by a relative newcomer to the North American scene. The British invasion was on, and from Surrey, England came this 32 year-old blue-eyed blonde with a new sound. It was fresh; the music was brassy and easy to sing along to.
Downtown was the very first big hit on this side of the pond for Miss Petula Clark, and it was the first of many more classics to come such as: I know a Place, A Sign of The times, My Love, Color my World,, and it keeps on going. They are songs that are easily part of the soundtrack of the sixties and early seventies.
At 77, Petula Clark is still going strong performing to sold-out audiences, and still proudly embracing her great body of work, and with her concert this coming Saturday at the St. Denis Theatre, and me being in school while we were being invaded by the Brits like a swarm of bees, I thought it was time for the Celebrity World to go international, so we caught up with Pet Clark in an exclusive interview in a delightful phone conversation from California in advance of her show last Saturday in Palm Springs.
In 1964, with the Brits in full control of the North American music scene, Petula was still a European star, had recorded Downtown in England, but being able to sing in French, and was already in Montreal, playing in a well known theatre of the time and Petula remembers it well when things were just about to break.
“ It all happened when I was in Montreal at the Comedie Canadienne, I was doing my own show as a French performer and the whole show was in French and had already been a big star in France for a long time and I had made this record “ Downtown” in England with Tony Hatch ( he wrote many of her hits) not very long before, and it had become a hit in England just before I came to Montreal and while I was on tour in Quebec, it then became no. 1 in the States, and it was an exciting time, and they kept calling me from the States, you have to come here, you have a big hit here, and I said I can’t, I have contracts here, so it was an exciting time, and that’s exactly when it happened,” remembers Petula.
Petula having already been a big star in the 50’s and early 60’s in Europe before her break here definitely had some well-known influences. Petula goes on to say, “I always had a wide interest in music, always enjoyed jazz and some classics, but the singers I used to listen to were Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, and Peggy Lee, and in my English act I do a tribute to Peggy Lee, as I thought she was wonderful, and I got to know and sing with her, so I suppose if there was any influence at all, it would be Peggy Lee.”
Being exposed to the multi-linguistics of Europe, Petula, besides English and French, has had great success with German and Italian, and a little bit of Spanish, and this parlayed into Top 10 hits in both sides of the Atlantic.
Anybody having ever seen Petula Clark in concert knows that she does and enjoys singing other people’s songs, such as that 1963 classic, “I Will Follow Him” and fellow Brit’s Dusty Springfield’s 1967 hit Wishin’ and Hopin’ and making them her own and gets satisfaction from doing the songs of others, Petula continues, “ I think it’s rather fun to take somebody else’s songs and make it your own, I’ve always done that way back after Downtown when I made my first album, we change the songs around a bit, and I still do that to a degree, and I also write my own songs, so I just don’t sing the old songs.”
Petula has had an illustrious career. She’s sold over 70 million albums worldwide. She’s had 15 Top 40 songs in North America, with 9 of those in the top 10 in Canada, including 3 no.1 hits. She’s earned 3 Grammy awards, including the song Downtown, which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003, amongst countless of other awards from the music industry in so many other countries. Petula is also in the Guinness Book for being Britain’s most successful solo recording artist.
In 1998, after making her Broadway debut with David and Shaun Cassidy in the highly successful production of Blood Brothers, she returned to England, and was presented with the prestigious CBE, the Commander of the British Empire by the Queen in honor of her legendary career.
Through the years, Petula would also star in 30 British and American films, most notably in the later 60’s opposite Fred Astaire and the great Peter O’Toole in Finian’s Rainbow and Goodbye Mr. Chips. Needless to say in those early years as well, went on to perform on Ed Sullivan, the Dean Martin show, Hollywood Palace, and guest shots on teen shows like Shindig and Hullabaloo, and of course, starred in so many more US TV specials through the years, and of course has played in many of the famous theatres of the world.
Montreal has also been good to Petula through the years, with her last big triumph being almost 10 years to the day at the St. Denis where she is this Saturday, when she presented a new self-written one-woman show, a concert highlighting her life and career to critical and audience acclaim.
Also, here in town she has had other great moments having appeared on the Ed Sullivan show at the Expo theatre, and unbeknownst to many was also in town when John and Yoko did their thing for peace and, yes, Petula Clark sings on Give Peace a Chance. So I asked about her memories of our native land.
“Canada has always been dear to my heart, long before I started singing in French, when I was a little girl in the war, the Canadian soldiers were so fantastic with the British kids, as we didn’t have very much in England and they were so generous and kind with us, so the first time I came to Canada I had a very warm feeling and I have been back many times, and certainly in the Province de Quebec is one of the most beautiful places in the world and going along le St.Laurent is marvelous, said Petula in a nostalgic voice.
Before telling this survivor of the British invasion that my two fav Pet Clark hits were: I Know a Place and Sign of the Times, I put her on the spot a bit an got this answer, “ If I had two favorites it would be Don’t Sleep in the Subway and I Couldn’t Live without your Love, but you know I like them all, some more than others, I was blessed with some very good songs, and the songs I do on my show are a variety as I do new songs as well.”
In this column as many of you have come to know, I like to find out a little bit of someone outside of their career, and their passions and so on and certainly family life is important.
“ Well I have three children, so they’re my passion, got 2 grandchildren, apart from that, I like listening to music, like writing, going to the theater, things like everybody likes to do I like nature very much, just came back from Australia and I like to do and see as much when I travel,” mentioned Petula.
I got a real chuckle when I asked her about her some of her likes. “TV shows, I’m still stuck with the Simpsons, Family Guy, I like drama, and I like British television which is still very good, as for food, like all kinds, spicy food, I like to eat too much, “ said Petula with a chuckle.
Anybody who has seen Petula Clark in concert can be considered lucky and those going to her upcoming concert are in for a treat with a consummate entertainer, and for those of us who were around that exciting time known as the “British Invasion” can consider to be fortunate to see one of the last survivors of that era. There aren’t that many left performing besides Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and maybe a few others being part of oldies package tours. Her career info is there for all to see on her interesting site at www.petulaclark.net .
In ending our conversation, I just had to ask Petula for some advice for Montrealers when riding our subway system. “Well, just don’t sleep on it, that’s all.” I love it! Thanks to you Miss Clark for your valuable time and above all, thanks for letting us all go Downtown one more time.