Thursday, 26 July 2007

The Music That Makes Me Dance 26/7

“Memories, light the corners of my mind, misty water coloured memories of “Barbra Streisand, OK, I admit, it I have been a Barbra Streisand fan for about twenty two years. A closet fan? Well it’s difficult to be a closet fan when Babs is the subject of your adoration……. Anyway as we are in the midst of her London concerts it seems an apt time to discuss all things Barbra.

As a child and early teenager I had pretty much loathed her in all honesty, that is until I heard the song “Evergreen” the theme from her movie “A Star Is Born” and from that moment on I was hooked. It wasn’t long after this that her “The Broadway Album” was released and I was ridiculously excited about this as I knew the song “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” was on it and I had got a bit obsessive about the song at the time. I was on tenterhooks waiting for the release. The album didn’t disappoint ,and was one of my first experiences of the music of Stephen Sondheim (a parallel obsession) , remaining a favourite to this day.

So there I am a teenage Barbra Streisand fan, not the hippest of past times I know! I would go to my friend Jackie’s and we would do that very teenage thing of playing each other the songs that had “meaning” to us. It was in this way that Jackie introduced me to Alison Moyet, Prefab Sprout and Everything But The Girl. My legacy to her was Elaine Paige and Barbra Streisand. She liked Ms Paige pretty much immediately but I really had to persevere with Barbra. Eventually I persuaded her to like some of her stuff but it took a great deal of effort!!

It wasn’t long after this that I went into the sixth form. It was really funny but the circle I hung around with got a really awful reputation with the other students, in the sixth form house where we spent our breaks we kind of occupied what became known as “the end room” . Everyone else was really scared of us! To this day I don’t really know why but maybe it had something to with our taste in music! Firstly we had the mods (and modettes) playing their northern soul – and having what they called “serious fun”. “Nobody has serious fun anymore” they would lament, and then dance to their music with the most dour facial expressions you can imagine. It would seem that serious fun was all about being miserable when having a good time! It seemed particularly bizarre when they were doing their moves to the theme from “Rupert The Bear”! Yes Really! Perhaps that was enough to scare anyone! We also had a Led Zeppelin fan called Leper. That wasn’t really his name of course (don’t ask what that was!) but hew was about six foot five and had very long arms and it looked like his hands were dropping off (!?) So everyone called him leper. Then there was heavy metal, a few smiths fans and me. In the space of a lunch time it wasn’t unusual to hear “Stairway To Heaven”, “Wipe Out”, “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and “One Singular Sensation” from “A Chorus Line”. Yes, that was my fault too! So I wonder now if this is what everyone was frightened of. Death by show tune?

Well apart from using the five pound record voucher I won for third place in the May Ball fancy dress contest – to buy the “Yentl” soundtrack that’s about it for my Barbra school years. And no, I didn’t enter the contest as Fanny Brice. But it was only a matter of time until I was working full time in Box Office on the huge sum of one hundred pounds a week – this was the eighties! Collecting Barbra began in earnest. Everything from “Hello Dolly” to “Je M’Appelle Barbra”. Obviously we all have songs that we especially connect to either emotionally or because they remind us of a particular place and time and, for me, her songs are no exception. Her recordings of “My Fathers Song” and “Being Alive” have meant a lot to me for many years.

Anyway, by 1994 when she was due to perform her Wembley concerts I must have had everything she had commercially released and seen all of her movies. I had never imagined that she would be someone I would see live so when I realised that the tickets were way beyond my means I accepted it pretty quickly. A couple of months before the concerts were scheduled I got a call from Plum (remember her?) saying I had to keep a particular night free but she couldn’t say why. Of course I knew that the date coincided with the London dates, but couldn’t allow myself to think that I might be seeing Streisand. After all, whatever Plum had organized it was bound to be something nice! Anyway the day came and I met Plum at the Opera Tavern, opposite Drury Lane, along with her sister, Debs. Now Debs really is a Streisand nut so her presence there was the final clue! My suspicions were confirmed. Debs was under the allusion that we were meeting Plum so she could show us the new sofa’s in her newly bought Barnet cottage. In fact even when she had the ticket in her hand Debs didn’t quite realise that we were going to see Barbra that night. Then there was screaming and tears and bed wetting and, well you get the idea!

In all truth I have seen better concerts than the one I saw that night, but possibly none that felt quite so special. From the moment that she took to the stage, singing “I Don’t Know Why I’m Frightened….” the opening line of “As If We Never Said Goodbye”, it was clear that it would be a memorable night. There is something quite magical about hearing her signature numbers and big hits performed live. “Evergreen” was incredible and actually being there when she launched into “The Way We Were” as Robert Redford appeared on the big screen behind her was spine tingling. “The Man That Got Away” had long been a favourite of mine too so when she sang that for the first time I was really pleased and , schmaltzy as it is, I even enjoyed her singing “People” from “Funny Girl”. She even had Wembley Arena carpeted just for the show! I haven’t seen her this time around but I am not sorry. Seeing Barbra Streisand live is really a once in a lifetime thing. To see her twice would diminish that experience.

So am I a complete Barbra Streisand fanatic? Well no, not really. I have everything she has done (more or less) but I tend to do that with anyone I like – hence 3000 plus CDs. I do however continue to enjoy her music and every now and then go all Barbra and listen to all the old albums again. All I have to do is hear “Evergreen” or “Somewhere” and I am transported back – either to the “end room” or that night at Wembley Arena……

Well where do I start? “The Essential Barbra Streisand” is possibly the best overview, and “The Broadway Album” is an essential for any musical theatre fans. “One Voice” is one of her best live albums and it also features a guest appearance from Barry Gibb for her “Guilty” duets. “The Concert” is the tour I saw, and her new live album is great too. Of her movies “Funny Girl” is the best of the musicals, “What’s Up Doc” the best comedy and “The Way We Were” the best drama. “Yentl”, and “Hello Dolly” also get a special mention! Also on DVD are most of her concerts and, for extra kitsch value, “The Television Specials”. These are very old fashioned, but were highly innovative at the time, and show a Barbra who doesn’t take herself nearly as seriously as she has in more recent years!

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