Lynsey and Cilla: a study in opposites

The sudden death of Lynsey de Paul, and the YouTube clips sent by friends, had me wistful, but once again laughing at memories of the day she terrorised a Rock God.

We’re at Air Studios, one of the smaller rooms, winding down after some rehearsal time with Mott The Hoople.

Drummers – always the last guys out of the room. All that screwing off, taking apart, putting into protective bags and boxes.

And I feel it would be ill-mannered of me – the rest of the band have gone – to walk out and leave Dale ‘Buffin’ Griffin to his own devices. So I hang around, chewing the fat while he deconstructs his kit.

And in walks Lynsey de Paul. She’s tiny, Lynsey. You could lift her with one arm. Pretty too. So pretty. And charming – kind, funny, much sexier than television or photos lead you to believe.

She walks through the door, a big cheeky grin on her face. She winks at me, and then says – to his back – “Hi Dale.” I can see she’s making mischief.

Buffin turns around, his eyes go wide. “What’re you doing here. You can’t be here!”

“How are you?” she says, ignoring the fact he’s going into meltdown.

“I’m ok, I’m fine – but you – you can’t be in here. My wife will find out!”

My ears are on full alert now. This is one of the funniest encounters I’ve ever seen. A rock drummer at the height of his pomp, and five feet of pop female has him quaking. This is one of Lynsey de Paul’s life motifs – don’t think of yourself as ‘the weaker sex’, and don’t act like it.

Lynsey’s in control, no question. She cocks her head to one side. “But how will she know, Dale? She’s not here is she?” She’s really enjoying his discomfort.

Panicking now, Buffin. “No, no she’s not here. But she’ll know. She will. She’ll know I’ve seen you!”

I don’t claim to know the background to this. My guess is as good as yours. But it was bloody funny to watch.

Lynsey de Paul was tougher than she looked, and more talented than her career appeared to allow for. She was the first female to win an Ivor Novello Award, and it wasn’t her last. Her name as writer or co-writer is on a lot more songs than those you remember her for.

She was a woman in what was, for sure, a man’s world. I’m not sure how she got involved with Mott The Hoople, but that was a seriously masculine (though not macho) environment.

You see what I’m saying. No shrinking violet would have survived. For all her female and feminine attributes, she held her own with the toughest, including Sean Connery and James Coburn.

Later, she learned self-defence and made documentaries on the subject, for other women. She donated to charities that helped battered women. Later still, she admitted her father had been violently abusive. Much of her post-pop life was devoted to bringing focus to ways in which women could protect themselves, mentally and physically.

So she wasn’t the pop poppet of her 70s image. She was a gifted musician, classically trained. After her pop career faded, she arranged and recorded various pieces of classical music, which she scored for her own style.

All of this is in sharp contrast to Cilla Black, whose profile has risen again after ITV’s three part biographical film. Cilla had no training, not even much experience, before she found herself in the main studio at Abbey Road.

And she’s demonstrated no significant post-career hinterland that might mark her out, like Lynsey de Paul, as having a more serious side.

But she was, is, much the bigger star.

I have no personal stories about Cilla, but I was a fan early on. Her first four singles were pop heaven.

Back then, the next best thing to a new Beatles record was one of their songs by someone else. Love Of The Loved only just reached the Top 40 (which was to say that it wasn’t considered a hit at all). But being a Lennon McCartney song it couldn’t have done a better job of announcing a new talent.

Then, two back to back number ones – including the divine You’re My World – followed by another Lennon McCartney song, the slightly jazzy It’s For You.

Say what you like about the Cilla ‘honk’ – and it did get out of control after she had her nose ‘fixed’ – in her lower register she was heaven on the ear. In the top register she had power to spare.

Her first musical falter was a slightly embarrassing version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. It still made number two. She didn’t recover her mojo, for me, till Alfie. The story of the Alfie sessions are industry legend.

Burt Bacharach, as well as being a wonderful tunesmith, was/is also a talented and demanding orchestrator. Cilla, not keen to record a song called Alfie – “You call your dog Alfie!” – started to set conditions she never thought would be met.

Bacharach must write the arrangement.

Agreed.

Oh! Well then, Bacharach must come to London for the session.

Agreed.

Oh! Well then, Bacharach, as well as running the session, must also play the piano.

Agreed.

Oh. Shit!

Cilla remembers 18 takes. Burt thinks it might have been 31. I’m sure there’s an archivist out there somewhere (Chris White?) who’s seen the tape boxes and can give the correct number. Cilla and Burt can’t even agree on which take made it through to release.

Whatever, Cilla was put through the wringer. Take after take after take – singing live, with a full orchestra in the studio, Bacharach conducting from the piano, George Martin in the control room, a full quota of engineers, tape ops and microphone adjusters on hand.

It could have been humiliating. But Cilla was nothing if not tough. The slight and smiley girl of light entertainment was as competitive and brave as a boxer. Watch her here and – even if you’re a non-believer – ask yourself how many of today’s singers could deliver multiple takes under this much pressure.

And I can’t leave the subject without saying – Sheridan Smith as Cilla. Wow. Wasn’t she brilliant? Her singing of those classic songs was almost pitch perfect. She even managed to hint at the trademark honk – what George Martin called Cilla’s ‘corncrake voice’ – without caricaturing it.

By contrast, I’m not sure anyone will ever make Lynsey, or that any of Lynsey de Paul’s recordings would make the cut as ‘classic’. She was more skilled than Cilla, more talented. But whatever it is you need on top of that, or instead of that, Cilla had it.

Still, the respect and affection in which Lynsey was held might be gleaned from the fact that she was once invited onto the hippest show in town – The Old Grey Whistle Test. So that’s what I’ll leave you with.

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Hi Paul, I met Cilla in a place called The ‘Orrell Ball Room’ circa 63 way back, she was singing with the ‘Big Three’, a popular group in the ‘Pool’ at the time, I thought she was great, she was singing r+b and rock at the time and I was a star struck kid about 18 at the time in my Italian suit, dead short jacket showin’ me ‘arse and tapering kecks with winklepicker shoes, I was the bees knees, a little ‘mod’…;-) I chatted to Cilla after the show and said how much I enjoyed the show, she was lovely to me, down to earth and so friendly, I told her I played guitar and wanted to be a singer too and just generally chit chatted then parted, anyway next thing I know Im at one of the Cavern lunchtime sessions (I was there everyday as I worked in the centre….yes..I once had a ‘proper’ job) and who should be the cloakroom attendant but our Cilla, this was quite a while after our first meeting, anyway, I checked my coat in and politely said hello not dreaming she’d remember me then, to my surprise (surprise…. sorry) she say’s ‘Hiya, are you still playin’ guitar ?’ I blushed (yes, I was also quite shy then) and just replied ‘Yeah, a bit’ and she said ‘good luck’ and I said thanks then proceeded to join in the proceedings doin’ the Cavern Stomp dancin’ away my lunch hour, I was so flattered that she’d remembered me and I would often see her and Bobby going home after work as I waited for my bus and, without fail she’d say hi to me, so, her future success on t.v. with her shows etc came as no surprise (…i won’t again…) as she had that warm, sincere friendly approach back then, wish I’d have forged a friendship back then as she became so huge but she did strike me as a lovely person plus she did pay her dues, she slogged around the clubs in Liverpool for years before she got her big break.

    Dy, Paddie and I also did some sessions for Lynsey when she was working with a singer called Lenny Patel, we rehearsed round at her place for the recording sessions, she was very nice even if her bathroom cudda used a bit of a scrub but she was lovely to work with, would be interested in hearing those sessions……

    Like

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