Posts Tagged ‘Olivia Newton-John’

Photo: Maarten Van de Voort. Used with permission. See http://maartenvandevoort.nl/

Photo: Maarten Van de Voort. Used with permission.

I first fell in love when I was 10 years and 11 months old. She was 10 something, too.

It was 1967. Early June. A day trip to Brownsea Island. There was me, my Mum, and my best mate Ian Sinclair.

Ian was from Glasgow. Lord knows what his family was doing living in suburban Bournemouth on the genteel South Coast of England – Costa Geriatrica they call it – but he was incredibly exotic and attractive, with his rough Glaswegian accent, short, nuggety frame, tousled brown curls, and impish good looks. I think every girl in school was mad about him, not to mention a few older girls who had already gone ahead to big school, but with whom we shared the local bus service and cafes. Ian was, naturally, going out with the prettiest girl in school, Helen.

I was going out with the next prettiest, her twin sister Julie. Both girls were exceptionally attractive, awesomely tall, slender, played a demon game of netball, and were kindness personified. But whereas at nearly eleven Helen and Ian were already a little more “advanced” than might have been quite proper with their affections, neither Julie and I really had a clue what we were doing, apart from snatching the occasional mis-managed kiss and giggling inanely. She used to draw a lot of cartoon horses heads, too, and delighted in drawing them kissing each other, which was, she explained, a cipher for our affections, and much easier than both of us trying to surreptitiously watch the more skilled Ian and Helen and work out what we were doing wrong.

At the time, this compromise satisfied my emotional requirements from a girlfriend entirely, and we were great friends. But then, one fateful day, on Brownsea Island, Ian and I rounded a corner, having left my mother reading the early edition of the Bournemouth Evening Echo on the sun-kissed grassy lawns, and walked into Erin. Erin was the same height as me. Her lustrous hair, cut into a fringe behind which a pony tail tumbled and bounded around her shoulders (think Olivia Newton-John in the early scenes of Grease, but with light brown hair) shone – literally shone – and her face seemed almost to have a halo around it.

She wore a simple summer dress, and across the bridge of her upturned nose lay a spray of tiny freckles. Above that, a pair of laughing, humourous brown eyes twinkled challengingly.

I swear I stopped stone dead. Transfixed. She was, without question, the most beautiful creature I had ever clapped eyes on. Despite her holding my gaze, and swinging her body invitingly from side to side, I simply couldn’t speak. Ian laughed: “This is my best friend, Steve. I’m going over there, you talk.” And with that, he left. Wise beyond his years, to a fault, was our Ian.

In retrospect, she did all the work. couple handsShe asked where I was from, explained she was from a village nearby, told me her life history, (which basically consisted of which school subjects she liked), and generally tried to put me at my ease.

She was smiling constantly, as if in possession of a secret I did not share. Before long she had enough of talking, and her innately wild spirit took over.

She insisted we wander the more isolated part of the island, and soon enough, hand in hand, that is what we did. She was not my first kiss. But she was the first that happened spontaneously. Sneaky games of spin the bottle didn’t count, even if I had been introduced to the joys of kissing “properly” by Rick’s big sister Anna, who when the bottle slowly ground to a halt in front of me took me into the hall and proceeded to inculcate in me a joy of necking that stood me in good stead in years to come. With a rather tired and world-weary air, the 13 year old took me under her wing, almost as a social service. It was great. But my goodness, it was not as great as kissing Erin.

Our lips met, without warning, and it was perfect. It wasn’t forced, or scary. I felt a rush of emotions that were mainly composed of testosterone and adrenalin, and it was altogether wonderful. When I pulled back, she stood there with her arms around my waist, and leaned back, gauging, I think, the reaction in my face. Obviously satisfied, she kissed me again.

We walked a bit, mostly in silence, punctuated by laughter. She told me what she liked about me. At that moment, nothing was wrong, or could be wrong.

Then we ran. Ran as if the wild winds of the world were snapping at our heels. We ran for what seemed like hours, but it can only have been only a few minutes, maybe thirty, running with complete abandon, but always hand in hand. Our hands were clasped as if to let go would be to bring the world to an abrupt end. We ran through tree branches and bushes and down tracks and up hills and over the endless fields of purple heather and nothing could stop us; at that moment, I think I could have gladly run forever and never needed to breathe.

Until, of course, we ran into Ian, just before we reached the lawn, and the ferry that would take us and the Triumph Herald back to the mainland, and the inevitable goodbye, and the hilarity in Ian’s face punctured the moment, and Erin kissed me briefly just once more, and wrote down her phone number, and I went home. Somewhere a peacock cried its lamentation to the skies.

As I left, she got smaller and smaller, but it looked like she didn’t take her eyes off the ferry, until we had bumped off the other end, and turned left along the Sandbanks sand-dunes, and she was hidden from view.

And when Mum asked us in the car what we were talking about, she told me in no uncertain terms that I was too young to be getting a bus to another village to see a girl the same age, and goodness me, what would her mother think, for Heaven’s sake, and no, I couldn’t ring, and give me that piece of paper, and that, emphatically and finally, was that.

I’ve had a thing for freckles ever since. And girls called Erin. I never even got to say sorry. She must have thought I didn’t care.

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Sometimes simple was best - it let the music shine

Sometimes simple was best – it let the music shine

Last night, for reasons so obscure they do not need elucidation, one found oneself with free tix for self, Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and Fruit Of One’s Loins at the Melbourne opening night of the latest run of Jersey Boys, the autobiographical re-telling of the rise and rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from the mean streets of New Jersey to mega-stardom and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

First opening night I had ever been to. Always good to rack up a first when already ensconced in one’s middle years. I don’t suppose it’s likely to happen all that often, so the credit card treated us all to dinner on the pavement at an ancient bistro next to the theatre (the type where you have to ask the price of the bottle of wine then you shouldn’t be there) and it was really quite amusing watching minor celebs arrive and be interviewed on the red carpet and photographed in front of the banners for the show and all that fluffy nonsense. Wannabee starlets primped and preened and wandered around squeezed into dresses that resembled sequin-encrusted handkerchiefs rather than practical garments. Luckily it was a warm night.

The PR hacks and the journos and the publicists and the great and good of Melbourne society swirled around, all trying to work out who was looking at them without anyone noticing that it was them that was doing the looking, and in general, a good time seemed to be being had by all. The whole thing was about three millimetres deep in societal relevance, and all the more fun for that. The former conservative Treasurer of Australia, Peter Costello, sat behind and above us in the circle. What my Mum would have called “the cheap seats, for the genteel poor”. It was only continual nagging by the Memsahib that prevented me from pointing out to him that the socialists had the better seats.

This multi-award winning show, which has already done amazing business in the USA and around the world, just seems to roll on and on. Almost everyone I know had already seen it, and I had actually not bothered last time it was here – “Frankie Valli? Pfft!” – so I wasn’t overly geed up to finally make the show.

But what an error, Dear Reader! This was musical theatre at its most approachable, enjoyable, and even, on occasions, genuinely moving. All around the world right now I have friends and readers telling me how they are flocking to see the musical movie version of Les Miserables and coming away feeling sad and drawn. My advice? Forget “The Glums”, (it’s a thoroughly depressing book, it was a thoroughly depressing stage show, and now, apparently it is a thoroughly depressing movie), and hithe thee instead to the nearest production of Jersey Boys. Fly, if you have to. Because it’s a corker.

With a set that brilliantly combines the raw simplicity of steel, echoing the mills and hardships of the young lads’ backgrounds, with witty, eye catching video effects and massive TV panels (allowing the very clever tromp l’oeil effect of combining on-stage performance with genuine footage of the audiences watching the original Four Seasons performing on shows like American Bandstand), the overall effect is to encourage one to suspend disbelief entirely, and to feel one is back in the late 50s and 60s, witnessing the birth of a genuinely mass-movement popular music phenomenon, and the effect it had on both the participants and the society surrounding them.

Jeff Madden channels Frankie Valli so accurately all disbelief is suspended

The Melbourne production was previously singled out by critics as amongst the most impressive worldwide, and I am sure the same plaudits will rain on the heads of the current cast, choreographers, stage designers and musicians. At times, Canadian actor Jeff Madden channelled Frankie Valli himself with a passion and credibility (and the “voice of an angel” that made Valli so famous, with a natural falsetto that defied belief) that meant one had to pinch oneself to remember that the real Valli is now 78 and all this was a very long time ago. But all the cast were flawless. The sets were tight, the timing impeccable, the dialogue convincing, and above all, the music sublime. It was a perfect reminder, and in my case a reminder was needed, that these young people were responsible for some of the finest pop songs ever written and performed. Their talent and their popularity was certainly rivalling other mega groups like the Beatles at the time, or the later Abba, and they deserve to be recalled with affection and some awe. Especially the song-writing and producing skills of Bob Gaudio, charmingly brought to life by Decaln Egan.

What made the evening truly special were a few moments when the audience, swept away by the talent on display, both inherent in the music and in the performances of the young cast, hollered and whooped their full-throated appreciation.

As if taken somewhat by surprise, the cast allowed themselves a little self-regarding emotion, occasionally just taking a second to the thank the audience for their enthusiasm, throwing in the occasional bow, nods of thanks, and smiles, with sparkling eyes.

It was charming, unforced, and it seemed entirely appropriate.

It further blurred the line between history and today, between acting and reality, between New Jersey and everyone else, between the entertainers and entertained.

For a moment the bond between actors and audience really did feel like that curious and intimate mesh that binds pop idol and fan, that can make one feel bereft and bereaved at the death of a John Lennon or a Freddie Mercury, or in genuine awe of the athletic rawness of a Bruce Springsteen or Roger Daltry, or warmed by the sheer good naturedness of an Olivia Newton-John or Cat Stevens or fundamentally,and sometimes life-changingly, stirred by the righteous wrath of a Bob Dylan. In the music of these giants of the entertainment world we see glimpses of them, the real people behind the carefully-constructed images, and thus in turn of ourselves, expressed in new and meaningful ways.

Now and again, last night, we were privileged to feel what Frankie Valli and his friends gave their many fans. And it seriously rocked.

If you’ve forgotten, well, here you go. Do yaself a favour. Some of the video is a bit dodgy. The music sure as hell isn’t.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun loved the show too. As they did in Adelaide. And in Sydney, the Sunday Telegraph commented “Jersey Boys isn’t just a cut above most musicals;  it’s in a different league”. And the Syndey Morning Herald raved “This is easily the best musical ever – truly thrilling – the hits explode from the stage with verve, polish and conviction.”

You can also see exclusive footage of the Melbourne show with cast interviews on this blog.

Well there ya go, and now you know. Be there or be square, man.