Petula Clark, iconic pop singing star of the mid-1960s, made a special appearance, performing at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on the night of Monday, July 12, 2004. For some attending this great concert, it was a chance to relive memories of their youth, when life was simpler, definitely less expensive, and in some respects a lot more fun! Some in the audience like the lady holding the Petula-autographed show brochure from 50 years ago in England, have been fans of Clark’s, longer than some in the audience have been alive. I hope this loyal fan of Petula’s got a chance to show her this brochure as she hoped she would. I’m glad I saw it! This was just one of the many special perks that came my way this evening!
From our great seats in the orchestra section, ‘M’ and I had a ‘bird’s eye’ view of this singing ‘bird’ (affectionately nicknamed ‘Pet’, decades ago in the UK, as a child star in the uncertain times of wartime England in the early 40s). From where we viewed the show, Pet didn’t look much older than she did in the mid-1960s. Up close later in the evening when we met her, she still looked enchantingly beautiful -- and decades younger than her real age of 71. She sang many of her hits from the ‘British Invasion’ era, such as "Don’t Sleep In the Subway" and "My Love". These songs were still just as vibrant and alive this night, as they were when many of us in the audience were school-age pre-adolescents and teenagers - listening to them for the first time on CHUM AM radio here in Toronto. The longevity of these songs, was a refreshing and highly entertaining musical revelation for me, and for several others I spoke to during intermission and at the end of this captivating two and a half hour extravaganza. The time went by far too fast, but the entertainment came across just right, throughout this entirely tantalizing performance.
Petula was accompanied this night by a nine-piece orchestra -- some of whom are part of the Toronto Symphony. Pet’s music director, Kenny Clayton, played the grand piano to perfection, warming up the audience at the beginning of the first great set. He did so in the second set too, when he tinkled the ivories with some upbeat, highly delightful blues, he calls "Pet’s Blues". Clayton told me later that it’s always a different off-the-cuff blues rendition each concert, but nevertheless appropriately retains Ms. Clark’s name in its title. Wearing a 40s-style fedora, he looked every inch the Humphrey Bogart-era blues man - evoking images of a smoky bar, from the days when blues wasn’t so fashionable or lucrative as it is today.
Having now mentioned the incomparable ‘Bogey’, brings to mind the unforgettable tune "As Time Goes By" -- immortalized by ‘Sam’ the piano player in the Bogart movie classic, ‘Casablanca’. Petula sang an absolutely enchanting version of this well-loved tune; performing it with all the sincere devotion one could desire. Her vocals touched the heart with every note; and the audience’s applause afterward reflected their genuine appreciation from seeing it sung so well! Clayton’s piano accompaniment in this tune sounded just right, and helped the moment come alive in a very special way, as if ‘Sam’ and ‘Bogey’ were still with us.
Some of Petula’s fans might have only come to hear the hits; but I’m sure went away feeling that some of their all-time favorites of another era, were also performed with all the warmth and affection that an enduring song deserves. In regards to ‘enduring’, Petula’s classic 1960s hits stood the rigors of time quite well. "Don’t Sleep In the Subway", was the first of these hits we heard. It came across as fresh as it did in the 60s; and also as full of life as it did when I recently saw Petula in the Phil Spector-produced 1966 live concert movie, ‘The Big T.N.T. Show’, from Hollywood, CA. When that same spark from the 60s can still be heard and seen today, as it was at the Hummingbird Centre performance July 12th; this really says it all about the longevity of a truly meaningful song. Petula put on a great performance; singing these well-loved hits with so much enjoyment in her stage presence, that it felt as if they’re being heard now, for the very first time.
Due to the length of this show, a few of Petula’s popular hits had to be sung in medleys, in order to leave time for some of the more current tunes in her fabulous repertoire. "Kiss Me Goodbye", "My Love" and "Downtown", were entitled the 'Love Medley’. It was heartwarming and very meaningful, to see her actually perform these songs we all love, right before our very eyes. The energy that Petula put into these all-time favorites of hers, showed that she loved singing them, just as much as we in the audience loved hearing them, and watching her sing them - from our hearts to hers, and vice versa.
One of my favorite tunes performed this night, was the Trini Lopez hit, "Call Me". It was part of a 60s medley during the first set, which began with the Pet Clark mega hit, "Sign of the Times". What a blast it was, hearing "Sign of ", just as fresh sounding as if it was just recorded. This blockbuster medley, which also included another great 60s hit, "Round Every Corner", came across very well indeed!
I felt that the most personally emotional moment for Petula this entire evening, occurred near the end of the first set, when it was learned her co-star in the 1968 Fred Astaire movie ‘Finian’s Rainbow’, actor Don Francks, was in the audience. Pet immediately upon hearing this good news, asked Francks to come down to the stage and sing a song with her. She was about to go into another tune, anticipating Francks would be coming to the stage later in the evening. However, he magically appeared in front of her shortly after his ‘call to the stage’ was heard. After a brief and heartwarming ‘getting reacquainted’, Francks and Petula sang an impromptu version of "Ol’ Devil Moon". Francks was in fine vocal form, singing a low baritone to Petula’s multi-range vocals, that hit the highs and some very low tones; demonstrating what a remarkable range Pet’s clear, resonant vocals are capable of. (This musical fact regarding Petula’s vocal range, was mentioned to me by "M’, while we were being mesmerized by this truly magnificent performance). Petula made mention around this time, that dancing with the great Fred Astaire was natural and fun. She told the eager audience that Astaire complimented her at the time by telling everyone, "I danced with ‘Her’!" I’m sure that must be one of the biggest highlights and fondest memories for Ms. Clark, in her long, illustrious career.
Speaking of ‘high points’ - Petula shared a story with the audience of the time when she lived in Switzerland, and she met the great Charles ‘Charlie’ Chaplin. The ‘Little Tramp’ invited Petula to his house for tea - both being English, it seems like a natural occurrence - and while there, he entertained her on the piano with some of his original compositions - one of which is the all-time favorite "Smile" (When Your Heart Is Breaking). After we heard this very entertaining anecdote from Ms. Clark’s life, she promptly went to the grand piano and while playing it, entertained us with a beautiful solo vocal rendition of that very same "Smile" -- bringing a ‘smile’ or two to the hearts and souls of many in the audience. This was part of a 3-song Chaplin medley also featuring the beautiful "Eternally Yours", and the unforgettably rousing "This Is My Song", which most people don't associate with Chaplin. (This concert was a learning experience as well as some of the best entertainment around!)
At times throughout this evening’s festivities, Petula went to the front of the stage, and in true English Music Hall fashion, encouraged the audience to sing and clap along, to several of her fun-loving tunes. I remember seeing Ringo Starr also entertain his audience this way at times, at Casino Rama in Orillia, Ontario in 2001, in the same friendly English Music Hall tradition. This sort of one-on-one communication with the audience, is a lot of fun for everyone concerned - fans and performers alike.
Petula sang some of her own compositions, whose lyrics were intelligent, easy to understand, sensible, and highly entertaining. They allowed me to realize that Pet’s a great songwriter, as well as a great performer. She recited an interesting English stage-style poem of hers at one point, which I found engrossing. She then talked about the 9/11 tragedy in New York City from 2001, and how personally devastating it was to her. She has a daughter who was living in NYC at the time, with whom there was no communication for a few days when this cataclysmic event happened. Through it all, Petula composed a song appropriately titled "Losing My Mind". Its lyrics reflect her anxiety about this uncalled for event, through which her creative side was able to deal with what happened that fateful day that changed the world, forever. Not only is this a great song, but also illustrates quite well, how the creative side of us, can be a positive release for tragedies of all kinds that beset us at times - which is exactly how and why the blues genre itself, came into being.
While still in this dramatic mode, Petula donned the red and black satin cape, she wore as Norma Desmond in the play, ‘Sunset Boulevard’. She then proceeded to entertain us with an elegant version of "One Look", which included a short intro about the play, and who her character was in it.
At a few points in the proceedings, Petula sang a couple of songs in French to the delight of the audience. These were songs written by a friend and neighbor of Petula’s while living in France. They were highly entertaining tunes, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The audience seemed to feel the same way, with their energetic applause after these songs were performed. These compositions added a sense of class to the proceedings, which these days is a much-desired rarity.
The final tune of this evening, preceding the encore, was a medley of all-time Petula Clark hits, which she sang with exuberance, combined with the love of pure entertainment. They were called the ‘Love Medley’, and consisted most notably of the ever popular "Downtown" and the rousing, invigorating "My Love". It was such a joy to hear and actually see Petula sing these all-time favorites of mine, with such dedication and joy, that the experience is almost indescribable. After this spectacular and well put together medley ended, and the thunderous standing ovation occurred, Petula went to the front of the stage, and greeted her fans - shaking hands with them, and smiling genuinely to many of them - including this awestruck writer! She then proceeded to sing the encore of this unbelievably beautiful evening, aptly titled "I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love". She sang it with all the love for an audience that the best of performers have for their fans, when they entertain. The audience went wild with excitement and appreciation - many advancing to the stage, to be near their musical ‘idol’. Petula received another hearty standing ovation at the end of this fabulous encore, to an extremely entertaining evening of song and merriment.
I thought I’d add, that towards the end of this exquisite encore, but before it was over, I saw one woman in front of me, turn away from the stage and walk toward the back of the room. Her face was absolutely overwhelmed with emotion, as if she was going to cry - this kind of feeling can only be engendered by a fan’s true love for an artist and the performance this artist evokes in their fan’s heart. I’m happy I witnessed this reaction in Petula’s female fan. It helped me to realize just how important this Petula Clark concert was to many of her devoted fans in attendance. I also feel the same way about this extremely special musical experience with Petula Clark in my own life, having been a big fan of hers since I was a child. I vividly remember listening to Pet’s live appearance on CHUM AM radio here in Toronto in ‘66; just hours before her performance at Maple Leaf Gardens. Her voice sounds the same now!
I’ll never forget what a special, uplifting experience this past evening’s concert was for me, personally. I believe that the fans who enjoyed Petula’s vibrant personality onstage, as well as those lucky enough to meet her after the concert was over (as ‘M’ and I did); will always have a place in their hearts for Petula Clark - the entertainer, and the lady herself. I feel assured that most if not all of us, feel a sense of gratitude to Petula Clark, for sharing this unforgettable and highly memorable evening of great entertainment with us all.
For those of you who’d like to know more about Petula Clark -- her bio, concert schedule, rare photos, etc. -- her official website is: http://www.petulaclark.net/. It’s a fun site to visit, but even more fun to see her in person. You can also read some personal anecdotes and inside stories about Petula, in a chapter of an autobiography written by her close friend and Canadian publicist Gino Empry. The book’s entitled: ‘I Belong To The Stars’. Empry’s engrossing and highly entertaining stories about Ms. Clark and other super stars of entertainment he’s known and worked with, makes this a fascinating book to read. ‘I Belong To ’ features a beautiful photo of Petula and Empry on its cover, with several others of Petula, in a chapter devoted to her and singing star Tony Bennett. It’s available in better book stores, as well as directly from Gino Empry himself, at his official website: www.ginoempry.com
The Hummingbird Centre
1 Front St. East (SE corner of Yonge St. & Front St. E.)
Setlist: Petula Clark ‘Oz’ Tour - Hummingbird Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Monday, July 12, 2004
"WHO AM I"
"DON"T SLEEP IN THE SUBWAY"
"I'M NOT AFRAID"
Charlie Chaplin medley: "ETERNALLY"/"SMILE"/"THIS IS MY SONG
"I KNOW A PLACE"
"LOOK TO THE RAINBOW"
"OLD DEVIL MOON" (impromptu duet with Don Francks, a surprise guest in the audience)
"YOU & I"
"COLOR MY WORLD"
60s medley: "ROUND EVERY CORNER"/"CALL ME"/"DON'T GIVE
UP"/"THE OTHER MAN'S GRASS (Is Always Greener)"
"TELL ME IT'S NOT TRUE"
"IF I ONLY HAD YOU/ JUST ME, JUST YOU"
"STARTING ALL OVER AGAIN"
"A SIGN OF THE TIMES"
"LOSING MY MIND"
"I NEVER DO ANYTHING TWICE"
"WITH ONE LOOK"
"MEMORIES OF LOVE"
Love medley: "YOU'D BETTER COME HOME/KISS ME GOODBYE/MY
Encores: "HERE FOR YOU" & "I COULDN'T LIVE WITHOUT YOUR
As Petula left the stage at the end of DOWNTOWN, the audience (numbering just below 2,000 we were told) was uniformly on its feet with a standing ovation, with many running down through the aisles to get to the stage to touch Petula's hands as she came out for the encores.
Once again , Petula captivated the audience - and Toronto responded in kind with an enormous show of affection and appreciation.
Stephen Allott, Las Vegas