Monday, August 18, 2008

An Evening With Don Black

A few weeks ago my partner suggested we get tickets for a concert at the Palladium, organised by Radio 2. My heart sank. It was a Tribute to Don Black to mark his seventieth birthday. Who's Don Black, I said. I got a contemptuous look, which in itself is nothing unusual :).

It was then explained to me that Don Black is one of the world's most famous lyricists and that he has penned the lyrics to songs like Diamonds are Forever and To Sir With Love. Apparently some very famous people would be singing. Ok, I thought, anything for a quiet life. So I duly booked the tickets for the two of us and a couple of friends - in fact, I thought, why not splash out and get the Royal Box - that ought to be win me some brownie points. I knew not what I was letting myself in for...

Anyway, we got to the Palladium in good time and although the view from box was a little restricted, it was nice to have the extra leg room and comfy chairs. Michael Parkinson introduced the evening and the musical accompaniment was by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We got underway with a song performed by Peter Grant, who was followed by the likes of Marti Webb (Take that look off your face), Mica Paris, Jonathan Ansell (from G4), Hayley Westenra, Lee Mead, Elkie Brooks (Sam), Raza Jaffrey (who I recognised from Spooks, but was apparently the lead in Bollywood Dreams) and believe it or not Joe Longthorne who, it has to be said, looked a bit like a waxwork. I have to say the whole first half was hugely enjoyable.

As the second half was about to get underway the door to the box opened and a woman with a head mic appeared along with a man. She asked would it be alright if Mr Black watched the second half with us in our box! To bo honest I hadn't even realised the man was Don Black - he looked about 50, rather than 70. So she brought in an extra chair and we watched the likes of Lulu, Craig David (who murdered the Michale Jackson song 'Ben'), Maria Freedman and Gary Barlow (who sang Born Free) alongside the man who had written all the songs they were performing. Lulu did a brilliant rendition of To Sir With Love. Michel Le Grand conducted the RPO at one stage and Mica Paris rounded the show off with Diamonds are Forever.

It was a truly memorable evening and it really set me thinking. We always associate songs with individual people who sing them, rarely giving a thought to the person who actually wrote the music or the lyrics. Don Black has penned hundreds of songs, which we are all familiar with, yet I didn't know his name. That may be due to my philistinic ignorance, but I suspect I am not alone.

Anyway, if you would like to listen to the concert, I think it's being broadcast on Radio 2 next Friday night.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

The concert is actually being broadast on Radio 2 on FRIDAY night as part of their Friday night is Music night series (7.15 I belive)

Andy said...

"So she brought in an extra chair and we watched the likes of ... alongside the man who had written all the songs they were performing."

...which was nice.

[* fast show]

Alan Douglas said...

Iain, a magical experience, thank you for sharing.

Alan Douglas

Bob Piper said...

...Anyway, if you would like to listen to the concert, I think it's being broadcast on Radio 2 next Sunday night.

Alternatively, you could have a better evening piercing your eyeballs with hot needles.

Lady Finchley said...

Crikey, Don Black must be as rich as God. He sure wrote a lot of hits. I was surprised to learn that in addition to being a country singer with a perpetual bad hair day Willie Nelson has written dozens of hits - country and mainstream.

Anonymous said...

Nope, never heard of him.

Dilog said...

It was the most brilliant evening - like Iain it made me realise that it is the song not necessarily the performer in these days where everyone seems to want singer/songwriters we have forgotten the great writers and pure performers.

They worked up to the Oscar winning songs and Mica Paris did wonderfully with Diamonds are Forever - Shirley Bassey was forgotten. Gary Barlow sang 'Born Free' which excited a lot of the audience who had just come to see him perform.

Maria Friedman performed a definitive version of 'As if we never said goodbye' from Sunset Boulevard, Lee Mead took on songs from Billy and Aspects of Love. Wonderful to see Elkie Brookes singing a stunning version of Sam. Lulu both looked and sounded brilliant with 'To Sir with Love'

Jonathan Ansell and Hayley Westenra performed 'Amigos para siempre' 'friends for life' written with Andrew Lloyd Webber for Brightman and Carreras at the Barcelona Olympics - obviously more operatic than the film/musical theatre theme of the evening but what voices.

Come on BBC this was pure entertainment with such talented people why was this not being televised and broadcast on BBC1. But do not miss next Friday evening on Radio 2 and it will be available all week thereafter.

Anonymous said...

I have read the reviews on this show on Jonathan Ansell's Official Site
http://jonathanansell.forums.umusic.co.uk/ and I have to say that I agree with Dilog - this should have been recorded for TV as it had a great castlisting - well worthy of a Royal Variety Show - but I suppose a Radio broadcast is better than nothing and I will certainly be tuning in on Friday to Radio 2 for this.

I didn't realise that Don Black had written so many wonderful Film Themes, as someone said, you associate the song with the singer and not the writer.

judith said...

Didn't realise Elkie Brooks (Pearl's a Singer) was still performing - I never understood why she wasn't a really big Star, she's terrific.

Charlotte Corday said...

I cannot believe the ignorance of the people on this website.

Don Black is megafamous. I've seen him on the box many times discussing the trouble he got into when the executives of the film "Diamonds Are Forever" realised how sexually explicit the lyrics were.

He was also a regular guest on "Countdown" and came across as a very witty but down to earth bloke.

You and your partner should have bowed down to his chair and chanted:
"We are not worthy......"

Paul Burgin said...

Well look at it this way Iain, you probably know more about ABBA's songs and their background etc.. compared to some of the people who were in the audience

Anonymous said...

agree about elkie brooks being someone who has star quality but for whatever reason never had it truely recognised. didn't janice joplin also sing 'pearl's a singer'?

Anonymous said...

I got a contemptuous look, which in itself is nothing unusual...." Hehe the trials of married life.
Cannot stand Lulu but her "To Sir with Love" is still the best
Freedom to Prosper

Anonymous said...

Never heard of him. Sounds like a pikey if he couldn't afford his own seat!

Anonymous said...

Don Black also co-wrote the Meat Loaf song "Is Nothing Sacred" with Jim Steinman.

John M Ward said...

Good article, well worth having here.

I learned long ago, when I worked for the main audio/hi-fi dealer to London's own "Tin Pan Alley", just how important, talented and significant those behind the finished product really were (and are).

Yes, Don Black is a name I have known for a long time, along with a number of his works, and I can say the same about many others.

The "front man" or woman, cavorting around on a stage or being recorded (and generally heavily processed!) in a studio, is just one ingredient.

Everyone else, from the music write and lyricist, the producer and production company, the session musicians who often end up on records rather than the members of the typical group (a.k.s. "band" these days), has a vital part to play -- even the roadies at live performances.

Dave said...

Zaf can sing?!

JuliaM said...

"Alternatively, you could have a better evening piercing your eyeballs with hot needles."

Or reading Barmy Bobby Piper's blog...

Yes, Don Black is pretty well known for his lyrics. He deserves to be up there with Hal David (of Bacharach and David fame).

Richard Havers said...

Iain, there's two ways of looking at this. The fame from singing 'em, vs the money from writing 'em.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that you've never heard of Don Black. Don't any of you listen to Radio 2?
He was interviewed on Michael Ball's show on Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago. Don was also great mates with Matt Monro (Google him..).

Chris said...

>We always associate songs with individual people who sing them, rarely giving a thought to the person who actually wrote the music or the lyrics.

That'd be 'we' as in 'I', Iain. If you don't think of Cole Porter, Rodger & Hart, Jerome Kern, George & Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, I'm sorry for you.

Jilted John said...

I'd never heard of him either, but then I'd never heard of the truly prolific (and slightly terrifyingly so) Diane Warren until recently.* Iain's right on songwriters, I think.

*I forget which, but some comedian pointed out that it must have been hell for her boyfriends. Because when one splits up with a partner one often feels a bit like every sad song on the radio is about you. But in that case they actually would be.

Edward said...

Iain said ... "We always associate songs with individual people who sing them, rarely giving a thought to the person who actually wrote the music or the lyrics."

Chris said ... "That'd be 'we' as in 'I', Iain. If you don't think of Cole Porter, Rodger & Hart, Jerome Kern, George & Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, I'm sorry for you."

You are very much in the minority Chris. Like Iain, most people think of the singer rather than the songwriter. The names you mention are the exceptions to the rule. Also, people will recognise those names but will not necessarily associate particular songs with them. (Who is Harold Arlen?).

Anonymous said...

Middlebrow, mediocre .. Zzzzz....

Helen said...

(Who is Harold Arlen?).

Among many other things he wrote the music for the songs in "The Wizard of Oz". You do know Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I take it.

Pete Wass said...

I envy you immensely, I am looking forward to catching it on the radio.

Steve Wright had Don Black on a couple of weeks back, and he asked him if it annoyed him when people gave all the credit to the singer. He replied that it used to but you get used to it.

He has written some great lyrics, and is a national treasure.

mo said...

Can remember few years ago Tim Rice being on a programme and some nerd saying 'who listens to lyrics anyway' - said more about him than it did about Tim Rice. Can you imagine some of our favourite songs with bad lyrics, well some probably have!!. Don Blacks lyrics are superb as most of the world knows - and now even Iain Dale lol.

Heard so much about this show can't wait till Friday. Admit to being Jonathan Ansell and Hayley fan and this duet seemed to go down really well - thank you Mr Black.

Anonymous said...

Helen said...
- (Who is Harold Arlen?).
'Among many other things he wrote the music for the songs in "The Wizard of Oz". You do know Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I take it.'

Yes, that was my point. Everyone knows Somewhere Over the Rainbow with Judy Garland sing it but very few people know the name of the composer.