Barbra Streisand Live at the Bon Soir


All I can say is wow! This album is a must, not only for Streisand fans, but for anyone. A word of warning, though. This is not an album to be streamed piecemeal, picking out one or two tracks here and there. To get the full experience you need to buy the physical CD or LP, read the liner notes and listen, really listen, from beginning to end to get the full flavour of what it must have been like to experience the young Streisand live at the tiny Bon Soir. To those who actually saw her, I assume you know how lucky you were. You were there experiencing the beginning of one of the greatest careers in all popular music. Though Streisand always thought of herself as an actress who sings, it was the voice and her unique singing style that first introduced most of us to her talent.

Later of course she became more polished, maybe less spontaneous, but here she sounds wonderfully relaxed, joking with the audience and the band and everyone is clearly having a fabulous time. Then there is the voice itself, a miraculously pure sound, which somehow can encapsulate a range of moods and emotions, switching one moment from the goofiness of Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf to the quiet inner happiness of I’ll Tell The Man In The Street the next.

As always with Streisand, there’s an eclectic mix of songs, many of them from obscure stage musicals, but with a few standards thrown in. Most of them are well known from her first few studio albums, but here they are given added immediacy by being performed before a live audience. I couldn’t possibly pick out any standout tracks because each and every one of them is an absolute gem, but please do listen to the whole album in one sitting. You can almost see the smoke-filled room, hear the chink of glasses and feel the atmosphere of the Bon Soir.

The disc was recorded over three nights, whilst Streisand was still doing her star show-stopping turn as Miss Marmelstein in I Can Get It For You Wholesale on Broadway. With the energy of the young, she would finish the show and then dash down to the Bon Soir to do her turn there. She had just signed with Columbia and the plan was to make these live performances her first album for the label. However, the final tapes proved unsatisfactory and the electricity generated in the club had somehow failed to come across on the tapes. Though the project was shelved in favour of a studio album (the now famous, multi award winning Barbra Streisand Album), the tapes were preserved and have now been re-mastered with state-of-the-art technology, clarifying the true artistry of Barbra and her band. Bootlegs have been around for decades, but none of them had access to the master tapes and are sonically massively inferior.

Don’t hesitate. Get yourself a seat at a table for one of the most thrilling debuts in the history of show business. I can assure you; you will not be disappointed.


Happy Birthday, Barbra Streisand


Is it really over fifty years since I sat in a darkened cinema in Paris and found myself falling in love with the amazing talent that is Barbra Streisand? The movie was of course Funny Girl and, in the way that teenagers sometimes have of trying to swim against the tide, I had gone into the cinema determined not to like her. By the time she had finished singing I’m the Greatest Star I believed her. Her personality just burst out of the cinema screen and surely she has been the greatest star ever since and rightly now considered Hollywood royalty. Without doubt she is one of the few stars to whom the epithet living legend can be applied.

Born in 1942, Streisand’s rise to fame was positively meteoric. Still only 18, she started out singing at various nightclubs in Greenwich Village, and by the time of her final engagements at the Bon Soir in 1962, she already had amassed an enormous (mostly gay) following. Never one to stick to the rules, her set would be a mix of eclectic songs, ranging from Arlen’s A Sleepin’ Bee (often her unconventional opener) to her crazy version of Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf. She always considered herself an actress who sings, rather than the other way round, and in 1962 she made her Broadway debut in the musical I Can Get It For You Wholesale playing the minor role of Miss Marmelstein. Though the show flopped, she garnered great reviews, and around this time she was also signed to Columbia records, with whom she has remained ever since. Even back then Streisand, convinced she would be a star, was only going to be a star on her terms. Her recording contract, unbelievably for a newcomer, gave her complete artistic control over the material she recorded. Her first album gave her the first of her 15 Grammy awards!

Never conventionally pretty, most would have thought her destined for a career in character roles, but she knew that she was leading lady material. Though she was advised to fix her nose, to change her name, she never did, and the only concession she made was dropping the second ‘a’ from her name. Barbara became Barbra. She had a reputation for being difficult even back then, but, it is no doubt her uncompromising belief in herself, that propelled her to stardom.  She knew she was different and she was determined to stay different.

In 1964 she appeared on Broadway as Fanny Brice in the musical Funny Girl, and the rest, as they say, is history. When the show became a movie, it was a foregone conclusion that Streisand would be its star, not often the case when a Broadway show becomes a movie. In between Broadway and Hollywood she had played Fanny Brice in the West End production of Funny Girl, made three TV specials, the first of which, My Name is Barbra, won five Emmy Awards, and even became a mother. (She had married her first husband, Elliott Gould, her co-star in “Wholesale”, in 1963). Inevitably, in 1969 she went on to win her first Oscar for Funny Girl. There was no stopping her.

With sales exceeding 150 million records worldwide, Streisand is one of the best-selling recording artists of all time. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), she is the highest-certified female artist in the United States, with 68.5 million certified album units

At the height of her fame, Streisand was the highest grossing female star in Hollywood and the only woman in the top ten box office attractions. Her co-stars have included some of the biggest heart throbs in Hollywood, amongst them Robert Redford, Omar Sharif, Ryan O’Neal and James Caan. She was also the first woman ever to produce, direct, script and star in her own movie.  Never one to suffer fools gladly, she acquired a reputation for being difficult, a bitch and a ball breaker, though she would always aver that, if she were a man, she would simply have been called tough. A perfectionist, she would go over a scene a hundred times if she thought it wasn’t right, and this no doubt contributed to that reputation, though many of her leading men found her a joy to work with.

After Funny Girl she went on to play Dolly Levi in the hugely expensive Hollywood version of Hello Dolly. She was no doubt too young for the role, being uncomfortably matched with Walter Matthau, with whom she did not get on, but, seeing the film now, she is hilariously funny and touching as the meddling matchmaker. On A Clear Day You Can See Forever is, in my opinion, an underrated classic, and has she ever looked more beautful than she did in Cecile Beaton’s period Regency costimes?


Other highlights would include the zany Peter Bogdanovich comedy, What’s up, Doc? with Ryan O’Neal, the wonderful political romance The Way We Were with Robert Redford and of course her 1970s remake of A Star is Born with Kris Kristofferson, which were some of the highest grossing movues of the 1970s.


She and Elliott Gould split in 1971, and post her marriage, she was romantically linked with many high profile figures including the Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, Don Jonson and Andre Agassi, before finally settling down with James Brolin, to whom she has been married for the past 24 years. Her unconventional looks never seemed a barrier to her attracting some very attractive men.

Stridently political, she is an outspoken supporter of equal civil rights, which include gay rights. In 2007 she helped raise funds in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Proposition 8 in California. She also has publicly raised $25 million for various organisations, both political and charitable, through her live performances. Her only son, Jason Gould, is gay and she very publicly supported him when he came out. They evidently enjoy a close relationship and, in her most recent tour, he appeared on stage with her, singing in duet.

To understand what made so many gay men respond to Streisand in her early years, you really have to listen to some of those early records. Her recording career roughly breaks down into three different periods. In the early stuff, up to around 1969, she sings mostly standard repertoire, songs you might have heard sung by Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald or Julie London, but still puts her own inimitable stamp on them. With the Richard Perry produced Stoney End in 1971, she started to sing more contemporary music (she was, after all, only 29), and this change of musical direction broadened her appeal even further. Her most successful album, Guilty was a collaboration with Barry Gibb of The BeeGees. In 1985, she returned to her Broadway roots with The Broadway Album, which was another massive hit. That said, it marked another change in direction and, in my opinion, none of her subsequent albums has had the impact of her earlier work. They seem to have settled into a more comfortable, middle of the road, easy listening bracket. Her early records may well have been usually found in the “Easy Listening” section of a record store, but listening to Streisand at that time wasn’t always that easy. She demands attention. The bitterness with which she spits out the lyrics to such songs as Free Again or Cry Me A River, the pain and heartache enshrined in her rendition of My Man, at the end of the movie of Funny Girl, the vocal sparring with Donna Summer in the disco hit No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), the way she belts out the Laura Nyro classic Stoney End; if you only know Streisand from the stuff she has recorded from the 1990s onwards, then you really need to listen to these classics.

You also need to see the film that made her a superstar, Funny Girl. When Streisand sings I’m The Greatest Star, falteringly at first, then growing in confidence, believe me, by the end of the song you will have no doubts. Streisand was, still is, and no doubt will be long after she has left us, the greatest star.

A Nostalgic Look at Ten of My Favourite Popular Singers

This is a companion piece to the piece I wrote some time ago entitled Singers Who Changed My Life . 

Choices are again personal, and some of them may not be amongst the greatest singers of all time. I’d be the first to admit I know far less about what is collectively called pop music, than I do about opera, so no doubt some of my choices may seem eccentric. I can already hear the cries of disbelief. What! No Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holliday! No Tony Bennett or Nat King Cole! No Aretha Franklin or Nina Simone, no Marvin Gaye, you can’t be serious, I hear you say, but the ones in my list are singers who have meant something special to me at various times of my life, and, for that reason, I make no apology. Together they have provided some of the musical signposts of my life.

Passing over such early loves as Doris Day (as a child, I loved her recording of Che sera sera, recently re-invented by the fabulous Pink Martini), and Nina and Frederick (Little Donkey my favourite Christmas song), the first singer who really spoke to me was Dusty Springfield  (how could my parents not have known I would turn out gay?). Her solo career roughly coincided with my teens and her first solo album, A Girl Called Dusty , was the first LP (vinyl back then of course) that I owned. Dusty’s smoky voice filled with pathos such songs as My Colouring Book and the classic You Don’t Own Me, and belted out such blues classics as Don’t You Know? I bought each one of Dusty’s subsequent albums, right up to Dusty in Memphis, which didn’t sell well on its initial release, but subsequently acquired the status of one of the classic albums of all time, housing, as it does, Dusty’s definitive readings of such songs as Son of a Preacher Man and The Windmills of your Mind. Though an enormous critical success Dusty in Memphis was not a commercial success at its first release, and Dusty’s subsequent albums did no better and she seemed to disappear for several years, until she guested on the Pet Shop Boys’ What Have I Done To Deserve This? in 1989. This and the use of the song Son of a Preacher Man, in Tarrantino’s Pulp Fiction helped revive her career and she had another brief spell of success until breast cancer tragically took her life in 1999.

This was also the time of The Beatles, and nobody of my generation could possibly have escaped their influence. I remember having a crush on Paul McCartney  (well he was extremely cute back then), though I didn’t really understand that’s what it was . Just to hear Paul sing and shake his mop top to songs like All My Loving and I Want to Hold Your Hand was enough to get me screaming like a girl. Please forgive me. I was only 11 or 12 at the time. If any band personifies the sound of the 60s, then asuredly it is The Beatles and their music still seems incredibly innovative today. I love all their early albums still but it was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which changed forever the face of pop music. I love every track, and would find it impossible to pick out a favourite; possibly Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, or that gorgeous mini symphony She’s Leaving Home or the sublime fusion of Lennon and McCartney that is A Day in the Life, apparently an amalgamation of two songs that John and Paul were working on independently. 

Reluctantly I pass over The Shangri-Las, whose outpourings of teen angst, struck a chord in my teenage soul, ( Leader of the Pack, with its signature screeching bike tyres, once banned by the BBC,  has since become a classic of the gramophone, a paean for every teenager who was ever in love )  and move on to a French singer, whose music I still enjoy to this day. With her long, straight hair, fringe half covering her eyes, tall and lanky, a square cut jaw, high cheek bones and thick lips, Françoise Hardy looked like a female Mick Jagger, and was the very epitome of the sixties chick. She had a small, slightly husky voice of limited range, but it was extremely expressive, in a French non- committal way, and has hardly changed in all the years she has been singing.  She is stil singing today and hardly sounds any different from the young girl who first sang Tous le garcons et les filles way back in 1964. Incidentally her diction was, and still is, superb. I remember a French teacher, agreeing to a lesson in which we all listened to Françoise Hardy songs, translating the lyrics into English as we went along. The piano riff that opened the glorious Voilà was even sampled in Robbie Williams’ recent You Know Me.  Françoise, je t’adore.

Then there is Cher. She may not have the greatest voice in the world, nor would she claim to have, but you have to admire a woman who has managed a number one hit in every decade from 1960 to the last one. Her career has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster, and her private life was almost as rocky. When her daughter Chastity came out to her as a lesbian, Cher was surprisingly (she admits this herself) less supportive than one might have expected. However, having  finally come to terms with the fact, she seems to have accepted with total equanimity Chastity’s transition into the male Chaz Bono, regularly tweeting support for her son in her twitter feed. She has also had a great career as an actress, with a string of excellent movies to her credit and an Oscar for her role in Moonstruck. Cher is a legend, and as a singer her voice has come a long way from the days of Sonny and Cher, which is when I first became a fan. The woman has been with me from adolescence till today and I would find it impossible to leave her out; and I actually think she is a better singer than she gives herself credit for. Just listen to the joy with which she sings the words “Man I am tonight”, when the preacher asks her if she is a “Christian chile” in her version of Walking in Memphis. I had a particular fondness for an album called Stars, after the Janis Ian song of that name, but it doesn’t ever seem to have been reissued. Cher may not be one of the greatest singers of all time, but she has definitely earned her place in the pantheon of great stars.

As lead singer of the Walker Brothers, Scott Walker wrapped his gorgeous, velvety voice round such hits as Make It Easy On Yourself and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, but some of his own material had shown a darker side to him. As a teenager, I responded to their downbeat, esoteric lyrics, which were to be more fully explored when he left the group and embarked on a solo career. His first solo album, simply called Scott, definitely tried to cash in on Walker’s big ballad appeal, with songs like The Big Hurt and When Joanna loved me, but also contained a fair amount of Jacques Brel and Scott’s own compositions. The next album followed along the same lines, but Scott 3 was made up only of songs by Walker himself and by Jacques Brel. Scott 4, arguably the best and most homogeneous of his early albums, was the first of his albums not to make the top 10. It was also my favourite. Particularly ambitious is the first track, a glorious musical evocation of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, with its Morricone style arrangement, and the dark foreboding of The Old Man’s Back Again.  I also treasure his Jacques Brel covers, particularly a hauntingly beautiful If You Go Away, though Walker also has a way with the wickedly malevolent Funeral Tango and the sarcasm and pain enshrined in Next. In later albums, he became more and more experimental, the music and arrangements ever more spare, and I found it harder to get on with him, but I still listen to his first solo albums regularly.

And so to Barbra Streisand. When did it become fashionable to knock Barbra? I suppose round about the time she achieved superstar status. Before that she was this kooky American Jewish comedienne with an amazing voice, and she was very much in vogue, especially amongst gay men, who responded to her the way previous generations had adored Judy Garland, and future generations would revere Madonna and Lady Gaga. Maybe it was the bitterness she injected into a standard like Cry Me A River or Free Again. I was slow to jump on the Streisand bandwagon, I’ll admit. In fact I was determined not to like her. So when the film of Funny Girl was released, I reluctantly went along to see it. By the time she’d sung I’m The Greatest Star near the beginning of the movie, I was agreeing with her. She truly was the greatest star, the talent just bursting through the screen. Later on, I suppose, some of the mannerisms began to grate, but that first exposure to Streisand at full tilt was a knock out. I’ve heard all the stuff about it actually being a small voice and only really suitable for recordings, but even if that is the case, it’s an amazing instrument. I’ve heard many classical singers praise her impeccable legato, breath control and intonation (she’s always bang in the centre of the note). She has sung a wide range of music and I suppose I would have to agree that the song does tend to come second to Streisand. We are often too aware of the singer and not of the song. That said, she did manage to sublimate her ego to an extent in the Richard Perry Stony End album, when she fully embraced the music of her own generation for the first time. She is also an intelligent singer, as Stephen Sondheim discovered, when he worked with her for the first time on The Broadway Album. She was the first singer to notice that the last verse of Send in the Clowns didn’t properly follow from what went before. When she asked him about it, he told her that, in the musical, there was a scene inbetween that explained it. She asked him to write a bridge to make it work better as a song out of context, and he did. I have most of her albums, though, if I’m honest, it’s the Streisand of the early and middle period albums I enjoy most. After The Broadway Album, released in 1985, her albums settled into a more standard, easy listening vein, but her most recent album, Walls showed she could still be relevant today. She has always taken an interest in politics and the environment and has been openly critical of Trump’s presidecny. Don’t Lie to Me, being written as a direct response to the barrage of ranting tweets from Trump. It could just as easily be addressed to Johnson here in the UK. Streisand is, and will always be, unique.

I first heard the voice of Karen Carpenter on the Carpenters’ single Rainy Days and Mondays, a voice of such richness and beauty, so easily and evenly produced, that it simply drew you in. The dark colour of her voice was particularly suited to melancholy ballads, and reached its apogee in the wonderful Yesterday Once More, which can still evoke memories of sitting alone in my room listening to Radio Luxembourg, or the pirate radio station Caroline, the only stations that played non-stop pop music in those days. Streisand praised her “marvellous instrument” and k d lang went one step further, comparing her to Nat King Cole “and uh….there’s very few singers that are that rich actually….”   She died tragically young, a victim of anorexia nervosa, but her legacy lives on.

Now, there can hardly have been a time when I wasn’t aware of Frank Sinatra, as my parents both loved him, but I only really started to listen when I heard his 1969 album of Rod McKuen material, called A Man Alone. Although the album was recorded in 1969, I was only really aware of it in the late 70s after a break up with my then girlfriend. It’s melancholy mood certainly chimed in with my own at that time, and I remember sitting alone in the dark, wallowing in my misery with the voice of Ol’ Blue Eyes. Sinatra had a way with a lyric, a way of making you feel that the thought came newly minted from his lips. I particularly enjoyed the Nelson Riddle years, and my favourite albums still seem to be the more melancholic ones – In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning, allegedly recorded as a response to his break up with Ava Gardner , and the equally downbeat Only the Lonely. Sinatra may have been great at the up tempo classics like I’ve Got You Under My Skin, but it was the sad resignation with which he sang such songs as I Get Along Without You Very Well that always touched me most.

Moving forward in time a little, I confess I’d taken very little notice of George Michael until seeing him sing Somebody To Love (on tv) at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness in 1992. He was one of the few singers to really do justice to a Freddie Mercury song, and his was undeniably the star turn of the concert. Just over 18 months later, I got the chance to hear him live on Wednesday December 1st 1993, at an AIDS benefit in the presence of HRH Princess Diana at Wembley Arena. David Bowie presented and the other artists were Mick Hucknall and k. d. lang (more of whom below).  George live was even more impressive than George on tv or on record; I was totally bowled over. Subsequently I rushed out and bought the albums Faith and Listen Without Prejudice, Vol 1 (too bad that, because of his battle with Virgin, we never got Vol 2), and I played them incessantly. Older I liked even better, I think, though it would be a tough call. In 1999, he released an album of covers,  Songs From The Last Century, that was, and remains, the least commercially successful of all his albums; but I love it, if only because it is only in the songs of other composers that an artist reveals his true credentials as a singer. Ranging from jazz standards like My Baby Just Cares For Me, to the Police’s Roxanne, George shows a masterful appreciation of different styles. My personal favourite is his version of The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, sung with a quiet rapture, so full of wonder and awe. In interview he always struck me as incredibly intelligent, and incredibly tortured. He had an unhappy private life and struggled for many years with drugs and alcohol. He died tragically young, a victim of heart and liver disease. Somehow I doubt he really minded.

The other singer to knock me out at that AIDS benefit in 1993 was k. d. lang, whom I’d hardly even heard of before that time. The majority of the material she sang was off her album Ingénue, which I  didn’t know, though I bought it straight after the concert. At the end of her set, she brought the house down with her rendering of the Roy Orbison classic Crying, which of course she had already recorded with Orbison himself. Lang is another singer who has proved herself equally in her own material and the music of other composers. She sings a heartrending version of the Cole Porter classic So In Love, on the AIDS charity album Red Hot And Blue, and her version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is arguably the greatest of all the many covers of that song. There is a youtube clip of lang singing the song at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame induction of Leonard Cohen in 2006. It is the most touching tribute that one can performer can give to another, and Cohen, who is in the audience, is visibly moved. At the other end of the scale is her stupendous singing of the song at the Opening Ceremony for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, which is more epic in scale, to suit its surroundings. Her career hasn’t quite reached the heights it ought to have done, possibly due to her uncompromising attitude to her sexuality, which she has refused to play down. Whatever the reasons, she is a major artist, with an extraordinary voice, and a way with a lyric that draws you into its meaning. You really feel she is telling you a story. I think she is one of the greatest singers in the world today.

I’d like to finish by adding my niece, singer/songwriter Kavalla, who has just issued her latest single, Broken Ground. She’s certainly one of my favourite singers and, were she to get the exposure she so definitely deserves, she might become one of yours. The single is available on iTunes and all the usual platforms, as well as streaming services like Spotify, but you can hear it here on Youtube too.

My fave teenage pop albums

Loads of people seem to be doing lists of their favourite/most played albums, and showing themselves to be pretty cool in the process. Looking at mine, I was obviously not that cool as a teenager. The first single I owned was Johnny Leyton singing Johnny Remember Me and the second was Doris Day singing Move Over Darling. Definitely not cool.

The first LP I ever owned was Dusty Springfield’s A Girl called Dusty(it cost 32/6 or around £1.65) but that was supplanted by some of her later albums, particularly Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty,

This was a real deluxe affair and came in a hard back cover with several pages of  photos of Dusty inside. The track listing above is for a CD reissue. Side 1 of the original LP ended with Doodlin’. There isn’t a dud on the album, but favourites included the gently reflective I had a talk with my man and the rip-roaring account of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King classic I can’t hear you.

The Shangri- Las never quite made it in this country, but I was hooked from the first time I heard their debut single, Remember (walkin’ in the sand) and the following single Leader of the pack (banned by the BBC, believe it or not), I liked even more. It has since become a classic of course. Their debut album had on it both singles and their B sides, plus their next hit, Give him a great big kiss, on Side 1, and a live concert (with added audience noise) on Side 2. It was hardly ever off my turntable.

The Beatles were unavoidable back then. I’d love to say that the album I played most was The White Album or Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but truth to tell, it was much later that I learned to appreciate them. My favourite album, at least in my early teens was With the Beatles.


Should I be ashamed to admit I had a bit of a crush on Paul McCartney back then? In my defence, he was pretty cute when he was young. Favourite tracks were All my loving and Please Mister Postman.

The latter was covered by the Carpenters and their third album called simply Carpenters was another regular visitor to my turntable. The first time I ever heard Karen’s voice was on the radio singing Rainy days and Mondays and I was hooked from the outset. She had a voice of velvet, which she used with consummate skill, never seeming to breathe, with a vein of melancholy that tinged every song she sang. I still rate her as one of the greatest female singers of all time.


It was my brother who first became a fan of French chanteuse, Francoise Hardy. I think we first saw her on Ready Steady Go singing Et même. Pencil thin, with her long straight hair and fringe shading her eyes, she was the very epitome of sixties chic. I had loads of her albums, but the one that stood out for me was one she brought out in 1968, called Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux, which had on it what is still one of my favourite ever tracks, Il est trop loin. One of the great things about her, for a French student anyway, was that she had perfect diction. Even with my schoolboy French I could understand what she was singing about, and even used to write down the words. I remember one of our student teachers at school using her albums in class to get us more engaged with the language.


I think it was the summer of 1965 when Sonny and Cher made it big, with their seminal hit I got you babe. I’ve been a fan of Cher ever since, and one has to admit that the woman has had the most extraordinary career. I had most of Sonny and Cher’s early albums, as well as Cher’s solo efforts, my favourite of which was her third album, called simply Cher.


Aside from the opening track, Sunny, this included Cher’s rendition of the Bacharach/David penned Alfie, which was the theme song for the film that made Michael Caine a star. I also really liked her version of Buffy St Marie’s Until it’s time for you to go. That said, there is no doubt that Cher is a much better singer now than she was then.

The Mamas and the Papas swept to fame with their single California Dreamin’ and subsequently had a stream of hits including Monday Monday and Creeque Alley, which basically told the story of the group. I only ever owned one of their albums, but it is rather special, my one big favourite being the folk inspired Dancing Bear. Great vocals from, especially, Mama Cass and Denny Doherty, with fantastic renditions of Dancing in the street and Words of love, amongst others.


In the early 60s I had been a big fan of The Walker Brothers and had even seen them live in Stockton-on-Tees. Scott Walker’s rich baritone was at the centre of some major hits, including Make it easy on yourself, My ship is coming in and The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, and it seemed inevitable that Scott would eventually leave the group to go solo. His first two albums mixed pop standards with more esoteric fare by Jacques Brel and Scott himself, but the third album was dedicated almost exclusively to material by Scott, apart from three Jacques Brel songs at the end of side 2. For me he reached his peak with Scott 4, which was the first album of songs only penned by Walker. Maybe not coincidentally it was the first of his albums not to chart and was soon deleted, though it has now achieved something like classic status. Walker was finding it harder and harder to balance the creative and the commercial. However I’ll go for Scott 3 as the album I listened to most in my teens, with its progression of vignettes of sad, lonely individuals. Stand out tracks for me were Big Louise and the opening It’s raining today, not to mention the best ever version of Jacques Brel’s If you go away.

Just creeping into my teenage years is Carole King’s Tapestry, which is surely an all time classic. I’d known Carole King mostly from the many hit songs she penned with her then husband Gerry Goffin during the 60s, many of them sung by Dusty Springfield. I was unaware of her as a singer until the release of the single It’s too late, which also appeared on the album Tapestry, which has since become one of the best selling albums of all time. Every track is a winner and most of them have been covered by artists as diverse as James Taylor and Barbra Streisand.


And finally there was Barbra Streisand herself. I was knocked out by her performance in Funny Girl, and subsequently bought every single one of her albums, but I think the one that first did it for me was My name is Barbra, which John Morton originally leant to me, then finally gave to me. I couldn’t get enough of that voice and I used to go around the house emulating her singing style. How on earth didn’t anyone, least of all I, know I was gay? The album has some of Barbra’s best vocal performances on it, I can see it, He touched me, Jenny Rebecca, Where is the wonder and of course My Man, which had ended the movie version of Funny Girl.