Why not go busking in St Tropez and get discovered by the Dave Clark Five
At school I had a wonderful music teacher, Mr Ponting, who encouraged me to enter a local classical singing competion as a contralto, to sing Kathleen Ferrier’s ‘What is Life’. Nor will I ever forget singing beautiful, soaring harmonies in a mass choir when our school choir joined with the local church choir to sing the Hallelujah Chorus and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, I also learned to play a few chords on guitar and loved to sing folk songs, some Joan Baez and old blues and gospel songs.
Having got scandalously pregnant in the early 1960s, (perhaps another why not), I dropped out of college, took off and hitchhiked to the South of France aiming to sing in the restaurants in St Tropez. I soon became a regular busker in St Trop and several patrons allowed me to sing every night in their restaurants on the port and in the quaint back streets, where I would pass the plate and sing my folksongs. I shared the busking scene with a fabulous trick cyclist called Coin Coin who performed on his tall one wheel bicycle along the port in front of the big boats and the tourists. There was also a West Indian Steel Band busking all around the town and whenever they came along they would stop and drown me out. Their music was so vibrant and loud I always had to stop singing and wait for them to move on.
Of course Brigitte Bardot was often to be seen hanging out in her favourite bars and one night I sang in a restaurant while she was watching me. I later got an invitation from the Steel Band guys to sing with them up at Brigitte’s villa, but I was so scared of these unknown exotic black men, and of being captured by the white slave trade which so many people had warned me about, that I turned them down! Years later when I lived in London and was involved in the 1970s music business I met and became friends with some of these same guys from the St Tropez Steel Band and we laughed at my ignorance.
I also sang in a popular back street St Tropez night club called the Stereo Club, owned by Josefa, a marvellous French woman who let me sing there and gave me a place to sleep in her attic. It was there that I met Dave Clark from the new UK hit band the Dave Clark Five, who heard me sing and invited me to contact him when I got back to England. He said he wanted to put me on the front cover of Vogue magazine and make me famous. I was so excited to be discovered by the Dave Clark Five.
I returned to the UK not long after this and, accompanied by my father as I was still a minor, a meeting was arranged with Dave Clark’s agent, Harold Davidson, where plans to sign me up and make me famous were discussed. I had a few rehearsals at the house of Mike Smith, Dave Clark’s keyboard player, and the plans all looked set to go forward. Then, Dave Clark announced that they were off to do a big tour of America and he asked me to wait for them to return. He wanted me to remain unknown and not to do any more public gigs until they returned to the UK.
I faithfully waited for them to come home, and turned down any little gigs I was offered. There was never to be any more news from Dave Clark, and with mounting disappointment, I began to accept gigs again and started singing around the universities, carrying a sorely broken dream in my heart. This was my first painful taste of the disappointment and heart break of the music business.
I soon got discovered again however! This time, an agent I knew put me forward to audition for a BBC documentary about the making of an unknown girl into a pop star. This was a sort of forerunner of Pop Idol and X Factor, except it was just me and another girl in the running, and to my delight they chose me. Again, as a minor, my proud father was present when, this time, I signed for real with RCA records. I had an agent and a team of lady managers, Kay and Sylvia, all ready to prepare and groom me for stardom. The making of this 1967 documentary, called ‘Man Alive: Can She Sing Does It Matter’, (currently on Youtube) was so exciting but also frustrating as I was a folk singer and they wanted a soul singer and the team around me kept trying to get me to be soulful but I was a bit too posh and reserved for them. The film ends with my press launch of a sadly forgettable record which apparently sold 800 copies but soon burned and died.
Extraordinarily, it came to be that the band chosen by my managers to accompany me at my Press Launch was a Steel Band which had guys descended from the ones I met in St Tropez all those years before. During our rehearsal times, I fell passionately in love with one of those handsome, exotic musicians who became the father of my wonderful son. Through him I moved into a new world of soul and reggae music, weed, violence, black power and racial prejudice and my life changed completely.
A post script to this story is that my singing career survived and metamorphosed; I learned to sing more soulfully and ended up as one of the UK’s successful 1970s session singers, featuring on many commercials and albums, including a memorable all night Stephen Stills session at Island Studios when I was pregnant, and toured as a backing singer with several bands in the UK and one tour in Africa.
However, there was a lot of cocaine and alcohol available on many of these tours and in the studios and I was a prime consumer for all of these and more. The end of the music business came for me when I got a bit too stoned and the session world moved on to new favourites. My life got very hard and hope got lost and I went through some sad years playing Russian roulette with alcoholism and addictions which, thank God, I survived. I would like to write another Why Not story about all this one day but need to be careful to show the light rather than the darkness.
My last main musical happiness was after I got into the 12 Step Recovery programme and got my life back on track and when the three best friends, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit chased away my demons and came to live with me and made me and my son safe at last. Some called me mad when this happened, but I actually began to be restored to sanity again and my life changed so dramatically for the better there was no question that goodness and mercy had come into my life. I joined the fabulous Kensington Temple Gospel Choir and was so happy to sing again and, my favourite songs of all, thanking God. I did my last session with the KT Choir on a Mike and the Mechanics album before I got yet another new lease of life when I left London after 35 years to go back to and live by the beloved seaside of my youth.
And, why not, now I have just turned 70, and In spite of my beloved and hilarious daughter in law who cracks me up when she suddenly has to go out any time I offer to sing for her on the phone, I still sing around the house and in the car and thank God for everything. No regrets, just so much gratitude.