An Interview With Well-Known ‘Downtown’ Singer PETULA CLARK All About Her Most Recent Collection ‘Living For Today’, Her Current Tour and More!
Posted On 01 Dec 2017
With an incredible career spanning over seven decades, Petula Clark is a legend and a true international superstar.
On November 10th, Petula released her brand new studio album Living For Today in the U.S., which features two bonus tracks, “Living For Today” and “The Rainbow.” The album is out now on digital formats, with physical copies to follow. CLICK HERE to purchase.
On Living For Today, Petula Clark states: “This is a collection of songs that I SO enjoyed recording – most of them in London. The Hut (which I affectionately call the “Wendy House” studio) is small and unusually delightful, nestling at the bottom of John Owen Williams’ typically English garden. John, along with Paul Visser, worked hard on all the UK tracks – fuelled with good old English humour, yummy snacks, and copious cups of tea. Luverly!!”
These tracks include: “Miracle To Me,” one of her own compositions, written in the French mountains, embellished later by her writing on her piano, and a cover of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” to which she gives a very different pair of wings. She also flirts with other genres, like in the country swing of “Endgame,” and in the subtle dance music sensibilities of “Sincerely.”
There are other covers on the record too, all tackled in searching new ways. Clark was nervous about recording Peggy Lee’s “Fever” – they met years ago, and even sang together on one of Petula’s TV specials – but here, the song gains an interesting and sly rocky edge. Steve Winwood’s “While You See A Chance” also gains a choir, created quite by accident by the people working in the studio. She explains, “I love how that happened: organically, naturally. It’s how the music should be – from the heart, and straight out.”
Her newest recordings “Living For Today” and “The Rainbow” have different backgrounds. “The Rainbow” is Petula’s first songwriting collaboration in many years with Tony Hatch – who wrote “Downtown: and many other hits for her. “Tony Hatch and I wrote ‘The Rainbow’ in his lovely house in Minorca, off the coast of Spain. I couldn’t get into the studio right away – but eventually started recording it in New Jersey and then in New York. However, the all important final work was completed in David Hadzis’ splendid studio in Geneva (Switzerland).”
As for the title track of the album “Living For Today,” Petula co-wrote it with her musical director Grant Sturiale. “We had a lot of fun doing ‘Living for Today,’ at first in Grant’s music room in Manhattan – then in Joe Baker’s terrific – if somewhat chaotic – New York studio. (Coffee and donuts essential).” Petula concludes: “So – you see – this is a well-travelled selection of songs that I hope YOU will enjoy wherever YOU are.”
Both releases culminate around a U.S. concert tour – a momentous milestone: her first in over fifty years.
Upcoming Tour Schedule:
3-Dec Austin, TX One World Theatre
5-Dec San Antonio TX Tobin Center
7-Dec Lake Worth, FL Duncan Theater
8-Dec Parkersburg WV Smoot Theater
10-Dec Avon Park, FL Alan Jay Wildstein PAC
11-Dec The Villages, FL Sharon Morse PAC
12-Dec Largo, FL Central Park PAC
14-Dec Annapolis, MD Rams Head Live
15-Dec Kent, OH The Kent Stage
16-Dec Seneca Niagara Seneca Niagara Casino
17-Dec St Charles, IL Arcada Theater
18-Dec Parkersburg, WV Smoot Theater
20-Dec Annapolis, MD Rams Head Live
22-Dec Northampton, MA Iron Horse
23-Dec South Orange, NJ SOPAC
24-Dec Sellersville, PA Sellersville Theatre
26-Dec New York, NY BB Kings
For more information on Petula Clark:
Learn more about Petula Clark in the following All Access interview:
Well, thank you for your time today! Because it is Thanksgiving this week, what do you think, right now, you are most thankful and grateful for in your life?
Oh, so much. Yes, let’s face it, I think we have a lot to be thankful for. I’ve always thought Thanksgiving was an amazing time because we don’t have the thing in England and I like it because there’s not religion and it’s to do with true feelings and gratitude. What am I thankful for? Well, I’m thankful that I’m here and that I’m on tour in the United States, which I have never done before incidentally. So, this is something that I’m really very happy about and I’m working with a great crew, we’ve grown to love each other very quickly and a great band. So, that’s pretty well perfect you know.
Speaking of this tour, how have your… you only had a couple shows so far, how have they been going?
Well, we’ve done four shows actually. They’ve gone great and the night before last we were in Beverly Hills so that was lovely. It was very strange because the last time I had work there was with David Cassidy.
So it was a very strange feeling going back there. But it was great, it was a wonderful audience and we all had a great time. Yeah, and I’m now on a little break and then we start all over again, next week.
Has anything surprised you about being on the road, so far, any unexpected surprises or challenges?
Well, we’re traveling on a bus, which I haven’t done before. I have worked in America over the years doing a concert here and a concert there and then, of course, I did the Blood Brothers on tour and I did Sunset Boulevard on tour here. But, I have not done my own tour, where I go out and do my own show every night. So, this is sort of different for me and, let’s face it, America’s a huge country. The last tour I did was in the UK where the longest trips were, maybe, six hours, the UK is small but America is big.
So, we’re doing some of the traveling by bus, which means sleeping on board, which is quite fun. Yeah it is, it’s great, it’s like a lovely traveling house and I love it. Some of the time we’ll be flying of course, some of the trips will be too long.
Oh, so far, it’s a lot of fun and I’ve just got a few days off here with my son, who lives in Laguna so that’s nice. Spend a little bit of time with him because I don’t see enough of him. My children are scattered around all over the place, he’s here. I have a daughter in New York, I have another one in Paris. So, I do a lot of traveling, even when I’m not working, I’m a bit of a gypsy anyway.
So let’s talk about your just released album. What was it like putting this collection together?
Well, it’s an unusual album in a way because we made the main body of the album in London in this minute but absolutely perfect little studio at the bottom of the producer’s garden in West London. And, it was a typical English garden with flowers and trees and birds and pretty cats and stuff like and it doesn’t even look like a studio from the outside, it looks like a little, kind of, dollhouse. And you go inside and it’s the perfect, perfect little studio.
So, most of the album was made there with John… his name is John Williams, it’s not your John Williams, it’s our John Williams. There are a few others. And, he produced it and that was one thing. And then, it was decided that… at the end the producers decided they wanted to put two extra titles on and one was Rainbow and the other was Living for Today and they decided, well, that’s a good title for the actual album, Living for Today. So, you’ve got these two totally different approaches really because Living for Today was partly recorded in New York and Rainbow was partly recorded in New York, partly recorded in Geneva in Switzerland. So it’s a bit of a well traveled mixture.
Did you approach creating it differently than you have your previous albums? How was this process different this time around?
Well, as I said, the main body of the album was made in London with somebody that I had worked with before. But, you know, any album is different and we didn’t go in with any kind of pre-construed idea of, oh let’s try to make this sound contemporary, let’s try to make this sound, whatever. Because in this end, it’s just me singing a song. Some of the songs, of course, are very contemporary sounding because they’re written by young writers but, the bottom line is, I’m singing them and I’m not trying to sound like somebody else, there’s no point in going in and trying to sound like somebody else. I don’t think so, I know it happens a lot but I don’t do that.
I’d love to know more about the covers you decided to put on this collection, Fever and Blackbird. How did you go about choosing them, those particular songs?
Well, the producer came up with the idea of Blackbird and, you know, I’ve sung so many Beatles songs in the past and the idea of doing another Beatles song was okay but, which one? We went through the list and was, Long Winding Road, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And, then John came up with Blackbird and I had never thought of myself singing Blackbird. And, so I said let me have another listen to it, so he played me Paul’s recording, which is lovely of course. And, I said, what am I going to do with this John? He said well you do it, he said, that is what will make it sound different, that had not occurred to me.
And, it’s really a very simple, straight ahead version of Blackbird. And, actually, I know what Blackbird is all about, of course, we all know. But I also have in my little apartment in London… I leave the balcony door open and, almost every night there’s a blackbird who comes and sings, I like to think for me. And, I actually tried to record this blackbird but technically I’m not very good and so, in the end, I had to give up on that. So we had to have a BBC blackbird. So, anyway, that’s all I can tell you about that.
And, as for Fever, I absolutely didn’t want to sing it at all. Well, you know, when I was growing up, I had an idol and that was Peggy Lee and I just thought she was “it”, you know. And, then one day, many, many years later, I never thought I would ever meet her and, of course, it’s always a moment of truth when you meet up with somebody you’ve idolized all your life. It can be good, it can be bad and it was just great. We got on so well and we sang… we used to love singing together. So, I felt very close to her and so I said to the producer, I can’t sing this song, this is hers. And he said, well think about it and I said, I’ve thought about it.
Anyway, I had to do something else, I had to go somewhere and when I came back, they had done a track for me and he said, now, now try to sing it. And, before I sang it, I said a silent little prayer up to Peggy. I said, hey girl, I hope you don’t mind me doing this but I promise you, every time I sing this will be just as gorgeous and sassy as you always were. And, it’s true, when I do sing it, I think of her.
What about the new songs? How did your approach to songwriting, with your songwriting partner, come about? How did these new songs get written?
Well, I never really looked on myself as a songwriter, for many, many years I just looked on myself as a singer or interpreter of other people’s songs. I would go on stage and perform them but the idea of going on and writing and singing my own songs, was just not my thing. And it was Tony Hatch who wrote all those great songs for me, he wrote Downtown et cetera, he encouraged me, he said, you know, write just write. And, I did and some of them were okay and some not so good. And, little by little… first of all, I enjoy writing, now I actually enjoy writing. It’s almost as much joy to write as it is to sing in a different way. And, of course, when you write something that comes directly from you, it’s a different experience to singing a song that’s come from somebody else. So, I’m enjoying it now, I write quite a lot now.
Do you think this is something that you’ve been able to appreciate because of your experience in the industry and the life experience you’ve had, that you find that it’s more rewarding to write now, more?
You know, experience, what is experience? Experience is only useful if you use it correctly. I think it’s important to… I’ve always felt that singing is a lot more than just standing there and getting the notes out. I mean, it’s important to get the notes out too yes, first of all. But, it’s what’s behind that, that makes it interesting, what’s going on inside this person’s mind, this person’s spirit when she or he is singing. And, that, of course, is to do with your life experience.
So, I think it’s important to live, and do things, and watch, and listen. And, all of that, if you know how to do it, you somehow sort of use all of those feelings to come out when you sing. I put that very badly, I’m sorry…
Do you think that, what motivates you every day to be a singer, to continue this tour now, why do you think that you’re motivated now for all of this? Right now?
Why am I motivated? I love it and I really feel grateful and privileged to be able to do it. I’m fortunate, I’m very fortunate, my voice is there and changed very little over the years, just a bit, just a bit, but not too much.
How do you keep it? How have you maintained your voice?
Oh, I’ve no idea, no idea. Seriously, I do absolutely nothing for it and I know that I should probably be doing something for it. I’ve been lucky, I think, all my life, it just comes out sounding like that. I don’t do anything… I don’t do anything to make it sound like that, that’s the way it is.
In reading about your career last night, I was so impressed with all the different kinds of musical experiences that you’ve had in your career. Do you think that you could pick one or two things, or several things, that stick out to you over the years as kind of the most memorable and special experience you’ve had within the music world?
That’s a hard one to answer.
The association with Tony Hatch, starting with Downtown was extremely important. Before that, I found myself living in France, because I married a Frenchman, and I was on tour with Jacques Brel, I was working with incredible people, Serge Gainsbourg and people like that. And, that was another way of singing, it had more to do with the lyrics than the music. Then, of course, when I started singing in America, I was more to do with the music than the lyrics. And, you know, you never really stop learning, that’s the incredible thing about it. I’m still learning how to do this, I don’t really know how to do this. I don’t. And, every time I go on stage, I think, okay, let’s see what happens here.
That’s part of the fun I think, that there’s always a slight element of risk and I like that. I don’t go on perfectly prepared, ever. I don’t think I would know how to perfectly prepare to go on stage. Except for something like Sunset Boulevard when it’s to do with so many technical… and technicalities, and other people involved. But, when it’s just me, obviously, I know what I’m going to sing, pretty well and the band has rehearsed and everything else is rehearsed but I am always likely, under-rehearsed, that’s the way I like to be.
What do you think about, new music today, is there anyone that you are really admiring or looking up to that you would love to work with if time and schedules weren’t an issue?
That I’d like to work with? Do you know, I was watching the American awards last night [inaudible 00:18:52], yeah I think there’s some fantastic singers in there. But, I can’t say, oh yes, I’d like to sing with her or him. Not, really, no, frankly. Not really. That may sound a bit pretentious, but I don’t hear myself fitting in very well with that and, believe me, I do listen to pop music but I don’t like to be too influenced by it. I don’t want to go out there and sound like somebody else and copy somebody. So, I stay a little bit apart from it.
For my final question, that I like to ask musicians is, at the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music and this album in particular. What do you hope fans take away when they leave your shows right now?
You know, a record is just a group of three minute capsules. Whereas, on stage, there is communication and that, to me, is what this business is about, communication. And, I’d like to feel, when people leave, after my show, that they know me better and I have touched them in one way or another, or maybe several different ways. I think communication is so very important, that’s why I love it, that’s why I do it.