SCENES FROM A WELL-SPENT YOUTH
Re-discovering the songs of 1965-75
Featuring songs written or made famous by Dusty Springfield, Simon & Garfunkel, Carole King, Bob Dylan, Neil Sedaka, Joni Mitchell, the Temptations, Bacharach & David, Shirley Bassey, Gene Pitney, Paul Williams, The Monkees, the Four Seasons, The Hollies, The 5th Dimension, the Fortunes.
Scenes features gems from an under-explored stash of musical treasures I carry in my
head – the songs I grew up with from 1965 to ’75. It was a particularly fertile time for pop music. UK based-bands were storming charts around the world in the ‘British Invasion’. Detroit was driving the Motown sound, country rock and singer-songwriters were on the rise, there were Vietnam protest songs, hippie songs, and much, much more.
All that ferment created many great songs, even if they were heavily disguised at the time by chart-oriented pop arrangements. Of course, being the songs of my youth, they also come tied up with all sorts of personal echoes of people, places and experiences past down-under in New Zealand. Working with producer and arranger Simon Wallace, I’ve plundered those memories to inform our own reimaginings. I have a lot of friends to thank!
Songs with ‘good bones’
What we did is seek out songs with ‘good bones’. We tried to look beyond the original treatments and check under the bonnet for great tunes and interesting stories. Then, we let each song speak for itself with simple arrangements using just voice and Simon’s beautiful full sized grand piano, enhanced here and there with sounds from his magic box of electronic tricks.
Sometimes we stayed reasonably close to the original pop arrangement and simply performed it with the quite different point of view that experience and a changed world brings. That worked well for many songs. For example ‘Aquarius’, once a clarion call to peace and love, today just seems poignant and sad. As does the whole idea of going to San Francisco with flowers in your hair.
Similarly, singing about ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ from the perspective of six decades on has extra meaning. (Although that is one of the songs we did a little more to, by changing the time signature from ¾ waltz time to straight up 4/4.)
Some radical surgery
Actually, quite a number of the songs were given more radical surgery. A great example is ‘I Who Have Nothing’. That’s normally associated with vocal histrionics and overblown orchestral backings. As a young man I used to perform it that way myself. But behind all that we found a very simple, plaintive song of unrequited love just waiting to be released. And ‘My Eyes Adored You’, masquerading as a Vegas-style pop ballad, is actually a charming little love story. It’s all a matter of letting go, giving the melody and the story space and time to breathe.
The New American Songbook goes international
The majority of these songs are by American composers. This was due in part to an original plan to explore the ‘New American Songbook’, a term I think conjured up by a lady I greatly admire, Barb Jungr.
However, as collaborator Simon Wallace and I delved into the repertoire more deeply, there were some songs from British composers that just said “sing me”. ‘Bus Stop’, originally filled with jangling guitars and close Hollies’ harmonies is a beautifully observed gem that we think benefits from a ‘less is more’ approach. Underneath, it’s a gentle song with echoes of the English folk idiom. It’s interesting to note that ‘Bus Stop’ was written by Graham Gouldman (later founder of 10cc) when he was just 16.
A lucky meeting
My collaboration with Simon came about quite by chance. I was preparing a demo disc of musical theatre songs and was keen to find a studio with a real piano, not just the electric keyboard most places tried to fob me off with. Through contacts of contacts I eventually found a ‘real piano’ studio and almost had it booked. But the owner was getting out of the business and decided at the last minute to refer me on to Simon’s set-up which includes a lovely big Steinway In casual conversation with Simon I mentioned I’d been considering a 60’s or 70’s-themed programme for some time. And Simon said “Why not?”. It was as simple, and lucky, as that. (As I was to find, “why” is Simon’s favourite word. “Why did you choose this? Why are you singing it this way? Why is the character saying this?”. Questions that for the first time, helped me find my own way through songs.)
About Tim Benton
I began singing aged 14 when, after promising my father I’d never even think of a career in performing, he finally let me buy a folk guitar. Since then I’ve sung and acted in clubs, cabarets and theatres around New Zealand, in Sydney, Melbourne, Hawaii and London. I have also toured elsewhere in the UK as well as in Ireland. A New Zealander, I moved to London in 2007. That was a huge turning point for me because it introduced me (eventually) to two men who’ve had a huge influence on me. The first was singing coach Howard Milner, formerly of the Royal Academy of Music but now sadly deceased. In a memorable year, Howard stripped away all sorts of bad vocal habits and screwed up thinking to free my technique. The other is producer/arranger/accompanist Simon Wallace who persisted with me and made me start thinking harder than I ever had about what I sang. That process showed me ways I could bring new insights to songs – and not waste time on inappropriate material. At the age of 60, I’ve finally found ‘my’ voice.
For the record I’ve performed with the New Zealand National Opera company, sung as soloist with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra and with my acapella group, performed twice for the Governor General, the Queen’s representative in New Zealand. My cabaret work has covered the Great American Songbook, Sondheim, a tribute to Tony Bennett and most recently a return to my musical roots with Scenes from a Well-Spent Youth. That’s in addition to years in cover bands and cabaret (including a topless revue in Melbourne called The Bare Necessity – but that’s another story).
Musical theatre credits include Prof. Higgins (My Fair Lady), Magaldi (Evita, NZ and Hawaii), Pontius Pilate (Jesus Christ Superstar), Jean Valjean (Les Mis), Julian Marsh (42nd Street). In London, I played Sydney Carton in the new musical A Tale of Two Cities, directed by Paul Nicholas. The UK’s Stage newspaper rated me “spot on” as the world-weary, alcoholic lawyer.
About Simon Wallace
Producer, arranger, composer and pianist on the project is Simon Wallace. Simon has worked with some of the UK’s most respected names in music, theatre and television. Together with Simon Brint he composed music for top TV series including Absolutely Fabulous, The Clive James Show, The Ben Elton Show and many more. He toured internationally with the Lindsay Kemp company, and was musical director for the West End production of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens.
With beat generation poet and lyricist Fran Landesman, Simon has written songs recorded by leading artists on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1986, he was commissioned to compose a symphony for the King of Thailand’s 60th birthday: a further commission came in 2006 for the King’s 60th jubilee, Simon has also acted as musical director, arranger, producer or accompanist (and frequently in all four roles) for Barb Jungr, Clare Teal, Ian Shaw, Sarah Moule, Pete Atkin, and Gill Manly.
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