Proper Records (label)
07 April 2014 (released)
26 April 2014
“…thus rounding off an extremely clichéd (but true) story.” Not my words but those of the late Steve Gray in the sleeve notes to this recording of his and Georgie Fame’s Singer performed in Holland in 2004.
In a nutshell the story is of a young girl singing gospel in church, and jazz and blues with local bands. Lured to the big city, she becomes a star but only through singing novelty music. Her heart is in jazz and she sings that at night. to satisfy her integrity as an artist. Running through this tale is her attraction to the dark side of life, which eventually does for her career though she’s given a second chance and…well that would be telling.
Singer came from a suggestion by a Dutch entertainer that Messrs Gray and Fame compose an original work that could be performed with the Dutch Metropole Orchestra. This was in 1984, the project idled a while but was reactivated in 1985 with the piece eventually being completed and performed, with Madeline Bell in the role of the Singer, and Fame as the narrator.
Using Gray’s words as a spring board, best to dispense with the story and concentrate on the songs, which for the most part, are superb. There are no spoken words and after the instrumental prelude, the vocals are shared pretty much 50/50 by Bell and Fame, though they duet on two songs.
An after-midnight piano led orchestral prelude opens the work on a quiet note. Small Town is a breezy blues run-through with Fame in as a good a form as he’s ever been, his familiar tones lifting the song out of the ordinary. This song can be coupled with slightly sleazier, though glitizier Big Town later on in the album. Madeline Bell’s gospel tinged My Second Home is a beautifully realised song, her voice blending perfectly with the singers and orchestra. This almost reverential song is neatly counterpointed by the cynical though fluffy gloss of That’s How Hit Records Are Made (The Crap Song).
Bell is at her most maudlin on The Blues and Me, Fame wringing emotion on the Epilogue (Game of Life) is palpable. The duets, Be True to Yourself and From Now On, run into each other and again there’s a neat contrast with the former being an introspective though lush song, while the latter builds up to a go and get ‘em full blown, leads and backing singers with orchestra- turned-up-to-11 crescendo that neatly segues into the aforementioned Epilogue. Not all of it works it does sag in parts and Where Do You Go From Here, doesn’t sit quite right in the album.
The performances can’t be faulted; Bell and Fame are sublime throughout, and if the orchestration and arrangements are not exactly the most original you’ll ever hear, they do the job of conveying the overall atmosphere of the story. This is an interesting piece of work which fans of Bell, Gray and Fame will welcome. For the more casual listener the album is a pleasant listen and a will hopefully encourage them to look up the back-catalogue of the artists involved.