Monday, 3 October 2016

INTERVIEW Petula Clark

MOST people when they hit retirement age begin to think about winding down and enjoying an easier and more relaxed pace of life. Petula Clark is not most people.
Indeed when Shakespeare wrote of Cleopatra “age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety” he could have done so for Petula Clark.
The 83-year-old composer, singer and actress has enjoyed an incredible career spanning more than seven decades and can be described as a true international superstar and living legend. Her longevity in the cut throat world of pop music and showbiz is down to the fact she has the elusive X factor, a rare gift in that she has managed throughout her career to have captured the spirit of each decade and every generation.
And she is also still going strong. And to prove that she has absolutely no intention of retiring, Petula is about to release her new album - From Now On - and is set to do a small UK tour which includes a night at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on Sunday, October 23.
In a chat ahead of the tour I find her fizzing with energy, utterly charming and very much looking forward to being back on the road entertaining her legions of fans.
She’s also keen to tell me about the album which bar three cover versions, is made up of brand new material that draws on the various influences from her life and astonishing career and features her new single, Sacrifice My Heart.
“It’s a bit difficult to describe but it’s a collection of songs where each one is different so it’s a bit of a mixed bag,” she says. “I have also done three covers - Blackbird, Fever and While You See A Chance. 
“We recorded the album in London in a tiny studio at the bottom of the producer’s garden - it looked like a garden shed until we walked in! 
“We had cups of tea and biscuits all day and I did a lot of writing. I co-wrote a lot of the songs and wrote one or two completely by myself so I’m very proud of it. And of course I’ll be doing a lot of them in the show so it’s very exciting.”
Petula has of course been a star all her life having started singing at just seven years old. She made her radio debut aged nine and two years later performed at the Royal Albert Hall.
Since then she has sold an astonishing 68 million records worldwide including the hits I Couldn't Live Without Your Love, Don't Sleep In The Subway and of course Downtown making her the best selling British female artist in recording history.
If that wasn’t enough, in 1964 she was the first British woman to win a Grammy and then again a  year later for the Best Female Vocal Performance with I Know A Place, and scored 15 consecutive American top 40 hits, paving the way for female British artists ever since.
And as well as being a singing sensation she has also appeared in 30 films, and in one, Finian's Rainbow, she danced with Fred Astaire.
Despite her working with and enchanting the greats and being such a star, she has a refreshingly down to earth attitude about life, retains a youthful energy and is delightful company - although she says she has to pinch herself when she thinks about her life, career and continuing star status.
“Music was always in me,” she says. “I didn’t know what showbiz was but I became a star quite young and quite quickly. I still don’t know what it means really as for me being famous and all that stuff is beside the point.
“My career has been about a lot of hard work. You have to be courageous and I still feel that I am learning at how to do this! My ambition is to try and get it right.
“Even now when I am not working and have a bit of free time I tend to enjoy reading and the opera. If I’m in London like hanging out and walking through the streets people watching - that’s quite nice!”
But she concedes she has a lot of “amazing” memories over the years of which there are a few that stand out.
“Finian’s Rainbow was so exciting to do as it was an amazing time to be in LA,” she remembers. “It was the end of the 60s and we were shooting this film directed by Francis Ford Coppola who was not hugely well known at the time but was very special.
“Being part of a film with such talent was amazing but it was very intense too. We were shooting at Warner Bros on the back lot where they built a whole set that was virtually a village, it was extraordinary.
“When I arrived in America, Downtown had been number one for a while and I had been working in France and was really busy. It was weird because I couldn’t understand why the Americans were excited about me being there! I met Steve McQueen and he told me he loved me so much - I couldn’t believe it, it was pretty extraordinary. 
“And then of course Elvis came on to me,” she adds chuckling. “He was charming, a Southern gent and almost irresistible!
“But that’s how it was and how America was for me - so generous, and it still is.”
Although things have calmed down a bit over the years from those heady days Petula tells me she still gets a thrill out of touring and can’t wait to get out on to the Theatre Royal’s stage next month.
“I do still like touring,” she says simply. “I hear other people in this business say it’s exhausting and sometimes it can be but I find it really energising. Sometimes I am feeling a bit weary but when I go on stage it’s gone. 
“I love the Theatre Royal, it’s a fantastic venue, and full of history, in fact I think there is a ghost in there! Some theatres you feel something is happening as soon as you walk in.
“But really it’s more about the audience. To make contact with them is wonderful but it’s not one way traffic - they give stuff back to me and that’s what makes it energising. 
“Sometimes they sing along of course - Downtown in particular - which is lovely.”
Petula admits it will be hard to choose a playlist for the show but she promises as well as a selection of songs from her new album and from shows and films such as Sunset Boulevard, Finian’s Rainbow and Goodbye Mr Chips there will be some sung in French, and those classics from her extensive back catalogue - including arguably her most famous, Downtown.
“I would be lynched if I didn’t sing Downtown,” she laughs. “The old ones are all still fantastic songs and it’s hard to pick favourites.
“When I did Downtown originally I had no idea it would be such a hit and in fact when I first heard it, it wasn’t actually finished. I was in Paris at the time and Tony [Hatch] played it on the piano for me. I realised it was a fantastic tune and said ‘let’s do it’! So we did.
“We recorded it a couple of weeks later in London and the orchestra was amazing and I couldn’t wait to get to the mic and start singing it. We recorded it very quickly and with very few takes. We knew we had made a good record but we didn’t know how good until the audience told us.
“I still love singing it and love the fact that people love hearing it all these years later. But there are lots of others I still love because Tony wrote me such fantastic songs.
“But I am so excited about singing the new songs so I hope the audience likes them too,” she adds. 
“Each song is a different facet, a different aspect of me and who I am. I can’t wait to see and hear the audiences’ reactions.”

Petula Clark will perform at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on Sunday, October 23. Tickets from £29.50 Visit for full listings.

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