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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Petula Clark turns back the clock at B.B. King's

A recent live performance by Petula Clark

Petula Clark’s performance of Peggy Lee’s classic “Fever” was particularly representative of her Dec. 26 SRO show at B.B. King’s.

The song is on her new album Living for Today, and prior to singing it Clark related how she had “worshiped” Lee, and hadn’t wanted to record it since it was her song--though when she does it now, “there’s always a bit of” Lee in it.

And sure enough, there’s a bit of Lee in Clark—and a lot of other influences manifested in her show that fans of her 1960s hits may not be as familiar with. Besides many of those hits the now 85-year-old legend performed songs from her substantial film and theater oeuvre, placing them in the context of her long and remarkable career.

From the 1968 movie version of Finian’s Rainbow, she sang both “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?” and “Look To The Rainbow,” the latter tune sung in the film with co-star Fred Astaire—a most lovely man, she said, who butted heads with then young director Francis Ford Coppola: Astaire initially refused to dance outdoors in an open field, she said, but eventually relented after developing mutual respect with Coppola.

Clark also sang “With One Look” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical production of Sunset Boulevard—having sung it as lead character Norma Desmond in U.S. and U.K. theatrical productions. And she recounted her visit with Charlie Chaplain at his nearby estate overlooking Lake Geneva, after she had an international 1967 hit—sung in several languages—with his “This is My Song” (from his film A Countess From Hong Kong), which she performed.

Another significant visit was with John Lennon—“a very spiritual man,” she said—during one of his “Bed-Ins for Peace.” So she sang “Imagine” at B.B.’s, following a Paul McCartney nod with “Blackbird.”

And of course, Clark sang many of her hits written by Lennon-McCartney’s contemporary, Songwriters Hall of Famer Tony Hatch, among them, “I Know a Place,” “A Sign of the Times,” “I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love,” “Who Am I,” “Color My World,” “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” and “My Love”—here delivered as a twangy country song.

And then there was “Downtown,” naturally saved for last. Everyone in the keenly attentive audience sang the first verse along with her as she turned back the clock 50-some years to when it was her first U.S. hit in 1964, at the height of The Beatles and the British Invasion. And while her voice may have lacked some of the nuance of that first recorded performance, there were no complaints whatsoever regarding her broad choice of material and continuing ability to convey intimacy.

Having also sung much of Living for Today, Clark encored with its closing cut “The Rainbow,” which she recently co-wrote with Hatch. She presented the optimistic song as “a gift,” and as such it was a fitting way to close out both the show and a most troubling year.



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