Spotlight on ……

Dame Shirley Bassey

They say that the real definition of stardom comes when London cabbies don’t charge a fare. Perhaps, but in June 2007, Dame Shirley Bassey came up with an alternative benchmark; personalised wellies. Clambering out of a helicopter in a muddy field for her Sunday afternoon “legends” performance at the Glastonbury Festival, she was dressed in a deer-stalking hat and yellow anorak. Dame Shirley hardly looked like the diva that the Glastonbury punters were expecting to see. That is, until they saw her wellies. Conventionally green, it was the imitation-diamonds marking out the initials “dsb” down the side of each leg that set them – and her – apart. Dame Shirley Bassey had arrived.

Shirley Bassey is one of only two Knights/Dames of the realm who has managed to integrate the title into their name (the other is Sir Jimmy Saville). Some might see it as a presumptuous act, but for Dame Shirley, it just seems right. And by the time she had traded the yellow anorak and wellies for a stunning pink evening gown and feathered shawl, nobody in the wet fields of Somerset had any doubt that a true superstar had come to call. For 40 minutes, Dame Shirley defied her septuagenarian status with a performance that bore all the hallmarks of a 50-year career. For “Goldfinger” and the rest of her Bond medley, she was expansive and dramatic, her thickening vocal timbre now seemingly even more Welsh and even more emotive. For “Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me” (a feature of just about every Bassey concert since it was first a hit in 1959), she was the teasing temptress; and for “Big Spender” she was well, just Bassey, as no one else could ever be. She even managed a pop at one of the groups who’d had the audacity to perform “Diamonds Are Forever” earlier in the week. “Arctic Monkeys”, she screamed, “that’s how it’s done.” It was a gentle put down in an act that was itself an equally gentle send up of the glamour and glitz that has been part of her own performing image for more than 50 years.

Somehow, that last statement seems impossible to be true. 50 years? Dame Shirley Bassey seems still to be such a part of the world of entertainment today that it beggars belief that she began her career in the black and white days of the Fifties. She was born Shirley Veronica Bassey in January 1937 at 182 Bute St, in Cardiff’s Tiger Bay area. She was the youngest of seven children, but with her parents divorcing when she was three years old, her upbringing by her single-parent, Yorkshire-born mother was far from easy. Apparently, she spent most of her time singing and by the age of 17, she had embarked upon a professional career. By the time she was 21, an early ITV television appearance had had such an impact that she had already gained a recording contract, starred on ITV’s iconic Sunday Night At The London Palladium and played three weeks at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas.

The hit records had started to flow in 1957 with “Banana Boat Song” but it was two recordings in 1959 that catapulted Shirley to the top of the charts. First “Kiss Me, Honey Honey” reached no.3 in the New Musical Express chart, quickly followed by “As I Love You”, which took Shirley to no.1, the first female British singer to reach the top spot since Marion Ryan and Alma Cogan had both scaled the mountain four years earlier. The hits continued into the Sixties, when Shirley began her association with James Bond themes with the title song of the 1963 film “Goldfinger”. She was but one of many singers who gave their voices to the Bond movies, but none came to be so closely identified with them as her.

By the Seventies, Bassey was truly an international star, in demand for concert appearances around the world, whilst also producing a succession of hit albums. Each displayed an uncanny knack of finding contemporary songs that were just right for her magnificent voice. George Harrison’s “Something”, Bergman and LeGrand’s “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life” and Marvin Hamlisch/Edward Kleban’s “What I Did For Love” were all strictly, cover versions that Shirley recorded but many would regard them as the definitive treatment of those songs. Even in to her fourth decade as a performer, she was still able to pull off the same trick when she put her signature to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”.

The Eighties and Nineties saw Shirley ease up on her busy performance schedule, devoting more time to charity events, but she celebrated her 60th birthday in 1997 with two open-air concerts, followed by a UK tour the year after. In 1999, she recorded the official song for the Rugby World Cup, performing it live with Bryn Terfel at the opening ceremonies in her native Cardiff. She followed the same pattern into the 2000s, a road that eventually led to the muddy fields of Glastonbury.

This three-CD celebration of four decades of Dame Shirley Bassey contains most of the titles mentioned above, along with some harder to find items. Two songs from her 1962 collaboration with legendary conductor Nelson Riddle are included, along with several titles from her much sought-after 1976 album “The Magic Is You”. She doffs her cap to Frank Sinatra with “My Way” and to Perry Como with “It’s Impossible”, perhaps the only inappropriate title in her repertoire because for Dame Shirley, seemingly anything is possible. Even diamond-studded wellies.

© Ken Crossland

Disc 1

1. Something

2. As Long As He Needs Me

3. Goldfinger

4. Big Spender

5. Diamonds Are Forever

6. With These Hands

7. Don't Rain On My Parade

8. In The Still Of The Night

9. Feelings

10. You Are The Sunshine Of My Life

11. What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?

12. Cry Me A River

13. You'd Better Love Me

14. Imagination

15. All Of Me

16. The Days Of Wine And Roses

17. If You Love Me (I Won't Care)

18. Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing

19. As If We Never Said Goodbye

20. Don't Cry For Me Argentina

Disc 2

1. The Look Of Love

2. Bridge Over Troubled Water

3. My Way

4. You'll Never Know

5. Funny Girl

6. It's Impossible (Somos Novios)

7. Breakfast In Bed

8. One Less Bell To Answer

9. The Greatest Love Of All

10. You Never Done It Like That

11. Better Off Alone

12. As We Fall In Love Once More

13. Night Moves

14. Anyone Who Had A Heart

15. The Magic Is You

16. How Insensitive

17. Run On And On And On

18. I'll Be Your Audience

19. All In Love Is Fair

20. What Kind Of Fool Am I?

Disc 3

1. The Way We Were

2. What I Did For Love

3. Emotion

4. Good, Bad But Beautiful

5. Where Or When

6. Kiss Me Honey Honey (Kiss Me)

7. Ave Maria

8. My Special Dream

9. Let There Be Love

10. I've Got You Under My Skin

11. In Other Words (Fly Me To The Moon)

12. Just One Of Those Things

13. Secret Love

14. Born To Lose

15. Come Back To Me

16. If I Were A Bell

17. Something Wonderful

18. He Loves Me

19. I (Who Have Nothing)

20. I'll Get By (As Long As I Have You)



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Jo Stafford

Lena Horne

June Christy

Nancy Wilson

Johnny Dankworth

Anthony Newley

Andy Williams

Vikki Carr

Missing Matt 2

Michael Ball

Petula Clark

Michele Monro

Lena Horne

Missing Media

George Martin

Dusty Springfield

Richard Moore

Tommy Bruce

Alma Cogan

Kathy Kirby

Tony Bennet

Johnny Mathis

Joe Longthorne

Frank Sinatra

Sammy Davis Jr.

Dean Martin

Nelson Riddle

Tony Christie

Nat King Cole

Steve Woof

Matt Monro Jnr.

Roy Leslie

Ken Dodd

Julie London

Sid Feller