- 21 Jul 19
Simply Some Of The Greatest Songs Ever Written. Pat Carty Gets Swept Away. Picture: Miguel Ruiz.
If you were inclined to sit down and compile a list of the greatest songwriters of them all, there are a few names that could not but be included. Lennon & McCartney? Sure. Dylan? Of Course. Jagger & Richards? Yes. After that it would become a matter of personal choice, I suppose. Put in Smokey Robinson, Merle Haggard and Willie Dixon, I’d argue. Oh, and Burt Bacharach. There’s no way anyone with a set of ears - anyone who had a heart (yes!) - could leave Burt and his frequent lyric writing partner Hal David out. In fact, such a list would be redundant without them. Another way of looking at it would be to reason that Bacharach, with his casual mastery of complicated chord progressions, unpredictable melodies and borderline experimental approach to meter and rhythm, dwarves them all.
It’s a beautiful night in The Iveagh Gardens with a capacity crowd if the queue outside is anything to go by. When I joined it, its end was a long way up Harcourt Street. Touts were thin on the ground too, as anyone who bought a ticket to this was going in, no matter what. It’s most assuredly a more mature audience than the one here the night before for The Academic. Chilled white wine and cans of G&T, enjoyed sat upon a rug, are the order of the day. It seems doubtful anyone is going to be hoisting anyone on their shoulders.
The band appear first, to gentle applause, and, after a brief tune-up, the master joins them to a roar. I could say Bacharach is looking well, but he’s looking positively miraculous for a man of 91. There’s an enviable shock of white hair, a casual jacket, expensive looking runners (ok, sneakers) and a rakish looking scarf, ostensibly there to keep the man warm, but it doesn’t hurt that it looks cool too.
He tickles a piano intro, there’s an orchestral swell and the three vocalists take turns to guide us through ‘What The World Needs Now Is Love’, a message all the more profound for its simplicity. Once it’s done, Burt comes out from behind the piano and leans on it with a sly grin, still a goddamn playboy in his nineties, and welcomes us all, letting us know he’s happy to be here to share his music. He nods early, as he should, to Hal David and tells us they’re going to play a lot of music. This turns out to be no idle boast. This review could just list the songs played and it would still be a sizable read.
In order to have any chance of making a dent in his considerable catalogue - “I don’t know how many hits I’ve had. I’m not a good counter” was how the man himself recently put it, the card - we get the first medley of the night. Just look at these titles – ‘Don’t Make Me Over’, ‘Walk On By’, ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’ (the trumpet!), ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, the sad travelogue of ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’, ‘Wishing & Hoping’, and ‘Always Something There To Remind Me’. You’re singing at least five of those songs in your head right now, they are tablets brought down from the Mount Sinai of song. And this absolutely crack gang of musicians are just getting going.
‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose?’ takes a little bass drum break, and Josie James steps up and knocks ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’ out over the far wall. A deep saxophone solo briefly takes the melody from her but she snatches it back and stamps her mark all over it, lest anyone try stealing it again.
Burt is back charming us all again with a introduction to ‘Mexican Divorce’ that Dean Martin would have been proud of, detailing how tricky it used to be getting out of a marriage and how he spent six weeks having a good time in Vegas closing out his first one. “One day married, the next day free” goes the lyric over acoustic guitar and gentle percussion. If only it were that easy. John Pagano takes the lead vocal for a great reading of ‘This House Is Empty’ – one presumes that title didn’t follow a song about divorce by chance – taken from Painted From Memory, the 1998 collaboration with Elvis Costello that’s as good as any record bearing either man’s name. There’s something in my eye, and I appear to be sniffling. Thanks, Burt.
‘Falling Out Of Love’ is hardly his greatest song, and ‘Stronger Than Before’ sounds irredeemably eighties with that kind of Christopher Cross sway that used to play over the credits of Dudley Moore “vehicles” wherein he managed to get the girl and come out on top, again. The story that Burt tells before ‘Little Red Book’ is actually better than the song itself. He originally wrote it for a Peter Sellers movie and recorded it with Manfred Mann, a recording Bacharach felt was so poor, he actually later apologised to Mann. When he heard the version that opens the 1966 debut album from Artur Lee’s Love, he didn’t like that they’d changed the melody and the chords, but he liked the fact that it was a hit.
It would take a black heart indeed to argue with the sentiment of ‘Live To See Another Day’, a song Bacharach wrote with Rudy Perez addressing gun violence in America, and it gets a respectful reception, but again, it’s not his finest moment. We’re very much back on track with the immortal ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’ which prompts, to the doubtless delight of those nearby, some passioned singing from your correspondant, which I keep up for an equally great ‘Baby It’s You’. From the sublime to the ridiculous: ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ into the enjoyable daft ‘On My Own’, which engenders an argument with HP Snapper Colm Kelly. I won by knowing it was Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle on the original recording. I’m not very proud of that.
‘With A Voice’ takes a pop at “Little Donnie” as Burt refers to the 45th. The song was written in the first two years of his presidency, “it would be more bitter now” says Burt, joking with the crowd that if he gets four more years, Bacharach might just move to Ireland. The song gets an enthusiastic response, but what we really want is the lovely version of ‘Close To You’, Burt caressing the ivories as Donna Taylor does the singing.
"How long is this review going to go on?" you might be asking yourself if you’ve made it this far. Count yourself lucky, for I could have done a page at least on several of these songs. Burt, perhaps sensing this, and feeling a modicum of sympathy for Hot Press readers, goes into another medley. This one is movie themed, opening with ‘The Look Of Love’, Burt’s affecting voice taking the verses before the band crash in for the chorus. We can forgive the following ‘Arthur’s Theme’ – Dudley again –because of what went before it, and we could say the same for ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’ but the crowd are having a ball, singing along and gently frugging away and they go into overdrive for ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’. “I’m free, nothing’s worrying me.” There’s a dream to aspire to. Forget ‘Making Love’ and smile instead at the snare drum crack in ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’, and marvel at the acuity of this band, displayed during the jazzy break in ‘Wives & Lovers’.
Bacharach has said more than once that ‘Alfie’ is his own favourite, the one he’s most proud of, and his as close to solo as makes no odds version might well be tonight’s highlight. Yes, his voice cracks and some of the notes are beyond him but that only makes Hal David’s lyric somehow more touching. He takes it into a heartbreaking ‘A House Is Not A Home’, standing half way through to conduct the band in a close your eyes and feel it moment.
Before Burt can get back to some impossibly glamourous bachelor pad with automatic blinds, quadrophonic sound, and a drinks cabinet in a globe - or so I’d like to imagine – he returns to the stage for an encore that starts with Pagano's version of ‘Any Day Now’, originally recorded by Chuck Jackson in 1962 but perhaps best known – in my house at least – for its inclusion on From Elvis In Memphis. Burt’s son Oliver has persuaded his father to try a pint of Guinness, he gives it a delicate sip – Come on! Put your back into it, man! – and reckons it tastes pretty good for his first one. “Here’s to you,” he says as he raises the beaker. “I’ve enjoyed being here and sharing my music.” He closes out with 'That’s What Friends Are For', which is grand, and lets the crowd take over on another run at ‘Raindrops’, as if this crowd was going to let him have it any other.
At the song’s end the master steps to the lip of the stage to absorb the applause that his contribution to human happiness has earned him. It’s a debt we can never hope to repay.