...the evergreen chanteuse romps like a woman a quarter her age...
Morag Reavley 2004-11-19
She's a trouper, our Pet. A one-time child star who sang at the war-time victory celebrations in Trafalgar Square, Petula Clark's 65-year career has lasted longer than that of any other singer in popular music -even the Bachelor Boy himself.
Now a venerable 72, she's still packing in the punters, as evident from this live performance, recorded at the Paris Olympiain September 2003. To the yelps of an adoring audience and the flourishes of the kitschiest backing band you've ever heard, the evergreen chanteuse romps like a woman a quarter her age through an exuberant programme of pop and musical hits from her staggeringly long career.
The venue is significant. While Clark's star has dwindled in Britain since the 1960s, in France she is venerated as a grande dame rivalling Piaf in her popularity. For Brits used to a straitlaced song! stress, its a bit of a revelation. Fluent in French (she also sings in German and Italian), she handles chansons such as "Prends Mon Coeur" and "La Nuit Nen Finit Plus" with flair and elegance, passionate yet polished. The songs Serge Gainsbourg wrote for her -"Oh Sheriff" and "La Gadoue" -are sung with a saucy knowingness. But then this is a woman who appeared in John and Yoko's Bed-In.
Her English numbers, by contrast, are sweetly proper. With her Home Counties' vowels, Clark is Queen of Enunciation, the Prefect of Perfect Pop. The 1960s hits belted out here - "I Know a Place," Sign Of The Times, "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" - are sunny, uncomplicated tunes from that genius of suburban banality, Tony Hatch. Not forgetting "Downtown", Clark's signature paean to the 60s urban scene, where the high life apparently involved nothing more risqué than late night cinemas and double espresso.
Most remarkably of all, throughout this camply nostalgic, deliciously overblown sentiment fest, Anglo-French goodwill flows like a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Forget Maastricht, Schengen and the EU Constitution: what Europe needs now is Petula Clark in concert.