“We live long, we Armenians,” Charles Aznavour once said, “I’m going to reach 100, and I’ll be working until I’m 90.” Well he was right about one of them, he was over 90 when he stopped working and that was after 80 years in the business. In a day and age when you can’t imagine any of the pop acts of today being around more that about 20 or so years after their career began, Aznavour has never stopped.
He was born Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian in Paris in May 1924 to Armenian parents. During the Second World War the Aznavour family hid Jewish people in their home from the Nazi-occupied territory in France. His father used to sing in restaurants and when Charles was 10 his father introduced him into his act which he enjoyed so much that he adapted his surname to Aznavour. By the time he was 11 he began performing at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris. He began writing songs which led to a partnership with the French actor Pierre Roche who together wrote for the like of Gilbert Becaud and Maurice Chevalier.
During his long career he wrote more than 1,200 tracks. “The French approach to writing songs is much more serious than in the English-speaking world,” Charles told my colleague Spencer Leigh. “A song is more than just an entertainment. Writing is a serious matter and listening is a serious matter too. Jacques Brel’s songs are about death, George Brassens’ are about death, Leo Ferré’s are about the past and I am about the past too. But my background is not French. My background comes from Oriental poetry mixed with French poetry.”
Aznavour launched his solo career in 1950 where he sang his own songs and, with an ability to sing in more than six languages, it helped raise his profile as it would appeal to a worldwide audience.
He had two UK hit singles, the first, The Old Fashioned Way (Les Plaisers Demodes) reached number 50 in 1973 but the follow-up, She, went to number one and was co-written by Herbert Kretzmer. London Weekend Television were filming a drama series, The Seven Faces of Woman, and they asked Herbert for a suitable theme song. He told Spencer, “What they needed was a song to link the seven plays and the producer thought I might write something for Marlene Dietrich as she represented the ageless woman. I didn’t like that idea much as if you’re going to write about a woman’s mystique, it would be better if it were not sung by a woman. If she sang about her own mystery, the song would be too calculated and knowing. I said, ‘It should be a song about a woman as seen by a man, and what better man than Charles Aznavour, who sings about love and romance? I brought him into the project and it turned out terribly well.”
During the eighties and nineties he continued to tour the world and collaborate with many singers including Dusty Springfield, Elton John, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey.
In 1988 the tragic Armenian earthquake struck and Charles set up his own charity, Aznavour for Armenia to raise money for the victims. He wrote the song Pour toi Arménie which he recorded with a number of French musicians and it topped the chart in France for 18 weeks. Following the devastation a statue of Aznavour was erected in the city of Gyumri where the most lives were lost.
In 1998, he was named Entertainer of the Century by CNN and in 2017 was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1986 he became a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.
In 2018 he was touring again including a stint in the UK, but during some shows in Japan he strained his back and broke his arm which forced him to cancel the remainder of the tour.
Charles, who was married three times and had six children, died at one of his homes in the south east of France. Only recently he said in the Hollywood Reporter, “I sing about the ordinary things of life. My ideas are everyone’s ideas. My problems are theirs so the audience accepts me. I am not a handsome, talented man. My voice is froggy and everything about me is common. They identify with me.”
Charles Aznavour was the oldest living male singer to have had a UK number one hit, that honour now goes to Tony Bennett who is 92.
Pop stars come and pop stars go. Few stick around, seemingly forever, Cliff Richard and the Rolling Stones are the two immediate ones that spring to mind, and Chas and Dave is another.
The loveable pop/cockney pair began, as a duo, in 1975 with the first single, Old Dog and Me which failed to chart. Their chart career began in 1978 with Strummin’ and then, thanks to a television beer commercial, they hit the big time but Chas Hodges had been around and making music for 20 years by then.
Chas was born in Edmonton, north London, between Christmas and New Year 1943. He was inspired to become a musician after seeing Lonnie Donegan and his mother, who was a pub piano player, encouraged him, “And I said to my mum, ‘I’d love to play the guitar,'” Chas revealed in an interview in 2013.
In the late fifties he began working with Joe Meek as a session player and, like Joe Brown, he often got to back many of the American musicians when they toured the UK and so found himself playing for Bill Haley And his Comets, Mike Berry and The Outlaws alongside Ritchie Blackmore and Jerry Lee Lewis. It was whilst backing the latter that he decided to take up the piano because of how impressed he was with the way Jerry Lee played. In the mid-sixties he did a spell with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers which is where he first worked with their drummer Mick Birt. He was invited by Albert Lee to join his band Heads Hands and Feet and, before long, Chas and Albert met Dave Peacock and formed another band called Black Claw.
At that point Chas and Dave decided to go it alone with their cockney rock ‘n’ roll genre and recorded their self-produced album One Fing ‘n’ Anuvver. Mick Birt, after leaving Cliff Bennett returned to his old plumbing job, but Chas and Dave invited him back to join them as their drummer. They were proud of their north London roots and one track on the album was called Ponders End Allotments Club. DJs John Peel and Charlie Gillett were both championing their music before they became successful.
It was in 1978 when an advertising executive was having a drink in a pub they were playing at saw them perform Gertcha and signed them up make some commercials for Courage Best Bitter with specially adapted lyrics. The follow-up was The Sideboard Song (Got my Beer in The Sideboard Here) which would have been more suitable for the ads and despite its popularity it didn’t even crack the top 50.
Most of their tracks, like the Small Faces in the sixties and Ian Dury and Squeeze in the seventies, were witty ditties about English life. In 1980 they got their first top 10 hit with Rabbit all about the missus who never stopped talking, she apparently had more rabbit than Sainsbury’s which, interestingly, is an item not often seen in said supermarket. The following year was the year of the medley with 25 multi-track medley’s making the chart. Many were assembled by DJs and producers who concentrated on one acts so there were medley’s by the Beach Boys as well as a Beach Boy medley by Gidea Park, Hollies, The Sweet, the aforementioned Bill Haley and Gary Glitter. Then there was a Bee Gees medley by Startrax Club disco, a Caribbean medley by Lobo, a classical one by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and two sixties mixes by Tight Fit. It all kicked off with the Dutch producer Jaap Eggermont who recorded Abba, Beatles and Stevie Wonder medley’s under the moniker Star Sound with the titles being Stars on 45 volumes one, two and three. Chas and Dave decided to jump on the bandwagon but recorded their own medley Stars Over 45 which featured the vaudevillian songs The Laughing Policeman, Any Old Iron, Run Rabbit Run and What A Rotten Song which are, of course, all over 45 (years) old.
In 1982 they had their biggest hit with the reflective ballad Ain’t No Pleasing You which reached number two. In 1985, they recorded the theme to the TV sitcom In Sickness and In Health and the following year snooker promoter Barry Hearn had the idea of getting Chas and Dave to team up with all the snooker players he looked after: Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, Terry Griffiths, Willie Thorne and Tony Meo who, under the name The Matchroom Mob, backed the duo on Snooker Loopy.
I had the great pleasure of working with Chas and Dave a few times in the nineties and early 2000s. One evening we were chatting back stage and I’d brought my copy of Rabbit in to be autographed. They both duly signed it and Chas said, disappointingly, “Is this the only single you’ve got of ours?” I said, “No” to which he replied, “bring the others in tomorrow and we’ll sign them all.” I was thinking he’ll probably be sorry he said that and so when I turned up the next night with about four albums and a batch of singles, he was far more impressed and signed the lot. They were both such lovely people and had time for everyone.
They loved their football and supported Tottenham Hotspur. In 1981 they recorded Ossie’s Dream… (Spurs Are on Their Way to Wembley) with the Tottenham Hotspur F.A. Cup Final Squad but were uncredited. In 1987 they teamed up with them again for the song Hot Shot Tottenham! But this time were given due credit.
The pair continued to tour the UK and never went out of fashion or favour right up until 2009 when, following the death of his wife Sue, Dave announced his retirement. Chas continued but less than a year later they announced a tour for 2011 which they undertook.
In 2013, marking their 50 year friendship they signed a record deal with Warner Music
The duo never had a UK number one but they came close twice; one with Ain’t No Pleasing You and the other was in 1999 when Eminem first arrived on the scene. His first hit was My Name Is which samples Labi Siffre’s I Got The from his 1975 album Remember My Name, Chas and Dave were the session men on the Siffre track. Mark Mason was written some excellent and witty books, one of them being The Importance of Being Trivial featuring many fascinating and well-researched titbits. In the book he said of the Eminem info, “Chas confirmed the story when I checked it during research for my book. The first he heard of his connection with rap royalty was from his son. ‘He came into the room and said, “I can’t believe it – my dad’s on a worldwide hit!”‘ What about royalties? ‘We ain’t had any yet,’ said Chas, ‘but someone’s chasing it up. We’ve signed something, anyway.’
In February 2017 Chas announced on Twitter that he had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and that it was caught early and was having treatment. He gave good news updates along the way and proudly announced that he’d beaten it, but on the morning of 22nd September it was announced on the official Chas and Dave Twitter account that he had suffered organ failure and passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early hours.
I defy anyone to listen to a Chas and Dave song and not end up with a smile on your face.
In 2010, the Queen of Soul was diagnosed with cancer but she was determined to keep going. She became more select about the performances she made with her last being in November 2017 at the Elton John AIDS Foundation in New York. Earlier in the year she said, “I must tell you, I am retiring this year, I feel very enriched and satisfied with respect to where my career came from, and where it is now.”
Aretha Louise Franklin was born in March 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee. When she was two the family relocated to New York and then three years later settle in Detroit, Michigan where, like so many of the black soul singers of that era, she began her career in Church as a gospel singer where her father, C. L. Franklin, was the minister.
In 1960, she began her recording career after she’d signed to Columbia records but she only got a mediocre reception in the states. Between 1961 and 1966 she scored 17 Billboard Hot 100 singles but only one, Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody made the top 40, it was when she signed to Atlantic in 1967 that her career really took off. Her first hit that that label was I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) reached number nine but it was the follow-up, Respect topped the chart and put her firmly on the map. Within a few years she’d earned the moniker Queen of Soul.
She charted 88 Billboard Hot 100 singles and 97 R &B Hit singles. She is the most charted female in US history. In the UK, she had charted 29 hit single including duets with George Benson, Elton John and the Eurythmics. Her only UK number one was the 1987 duet with George Michael, I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me). Because Aretha was scared of flying it was rumoured for many years that the video for that single were recorded in separate countries and was spliced together, but it actual fact George Flew to the States and it was recorded together. More of that story can be read in my Single of the Week from April 2015.
Aretha is an 18-time Grammy winner. She performed Precious Lord at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968 and America My Country Tis Of Thee at Barack Obama’s Inauguration in 2009. In 1987 became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and seven years later inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2005.
After her father was shot in 1979, she tried her hand at acting and is best remembered for playing the part of Mrs Murphy in 1980 film The Blues Brothers alongside other legends Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and James Brown.
She continued recording throughout the nineties and had a top five hit in 1994 with A Deeper Love. Her last UK top 30 hit was A Rose Is Still a Rose in 1998 which was written and produced by Lauryn Hill.
Aretha never wanted to make her illness public and on a couple of occasions had to cancel concerts on doctor’s orders. She made a couple of appearances in 2017 and because she had lost a lot of weight rumours began to circulate about her health. She was disappointed last year about missing a show, in a statement to Rolling Stone magazine her management said, “She is extremely disappointed she cannot perform at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival as she had expected and hoped to.”
In the early seventies Paul McCartney had written Let It Be for her, but she turned it down and the same year Paul Simon wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water for her and she turned that down too. It 1968 she was offered Son-Of-A Preacher Man and declined that as well. It was then offered to Dusty Springfield and upon hearing Dusty’s version she decided to record it. She also recorded Let It Be and Bridge over Troubled Water later in the seventies.
She has influence so many female singers over the years including Mariah Carey, Paula Abdul, Beyonce and Missy Elliott who, on hearing the news of her impending death Tweeted “Must Celebrate the Living Legends while they are here to see it. So many have given us decades of Timeless music.”
Many people would have said many prayers, but Aretha died on 16th August 2018 aged 76, exacly 41 years to the day after The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and on the birthday of the Queen of Pop. Boy, what a day!
So often when an older legend dies, they say, “he/she was the last of the greats,” but this time I think it really is as we say goodbye to the comic hero Ken Dodd.
Ken was born in the Liverpool suburb of Knotty Ash and spent his entire life in the same house. At the age of 14 he left school and he, and his brother, went to work is father’s business where they carried Arley cobbles around fir six years. In his spare time he began developing comedy routines and became testing them out at the local working men’s clubs and came up with the odd moniker of Professor Yaffle Chuckabutty, operatic tenor and sausage knotter, an expression he used right to the end.
His comedy delivery was fast and furious and, like Bob Monkhouse, had a one-line answer for everything. He was famous for his buckteeth, wild hair, tickling stick, the Diddymen and classic nonsense words like tattifilarious and plumptiousness. He even gave the radio and television presenter David Hamilton the nickname Diddy.
He made his professional debut in 1956 when he topped the bill in Blackpool and like many old time entertainers of the day, they often had a musical interlude to their shows and where people like Les Dawson and Bruce Forsyth would play the piano brilliantly, or in Les Dawson’s case badly brilliantly, Ken would singer and he was a classical trained singer with a brilliant voice. He charted 18 UK top 40 hits, the first being Love Is Like a Violin in 1960 which reached number eight. In October 1965 he topped the chart with Tears a song first recorded by Sam Ash in 1919. It went on to be the biggest-selling single of 1965 and the second best-selling single of the sixties after the Beatles’ She Loves You. His 1964 hit Happiness became synonymous with Ken and most night closed his show with that song. That song was written and first recorded by the country singer Bill Anderson who I am interviewing next week for a Single of the Week.
His live shows were legendary for their length, often saying he want to give his audience as much as possible. One of his standard routines included a member of the venue’s staff coming on halfway through and throwing Ken a set of keys saying, “Lock up and switch the lights off when you leave.” When I saw Ken in Lewisham in March 2001, I came away with an aching belly and it was nearly midnight.
He had numerous BBC shows including The Ken Dodd Show and Ken Dodd’s Laughter Show, and, in 1965, had the longest-ever run at the London Palladium at 42 weeks. He also entered the Guinness Book of Records for the longest joke-telling session ever – 1,500 jokes in three-and-a-half hours until it was superseded by Tim Vine.
Ken had never married and had always guarded his private life, but in 1989 he had to endure five weeks at Liverpool Crown Court for tax fraud of which he was eventually acquitted. He told court, “I am not mean, but I am nervous of money, nervous of having it, nervous of not having it,” and explained how money was a measure of success. “It’s important to me only because I have nothing else”. Since the nineties he often joked about the ordeal and regularly opened his shows with the words, “Good evening, my name is Kenneth Arthur Dodd; singer, photographic playboy and failed accountant.”
He was awarded an OBE in 1982 and in 2017 the comic was made a knight by Prince William in honour of his decades-long showbiz career and charity work. In January 2018 he was admitted to hospital with a chest infection and released at the beginning of March. Ken’s publicist, Robert Holmes, said, “Ken asked Anne Jones, his partner of 40 years if she wanted to marry. They got the registrar and were married in the house on Friday.” But Ken died two days later on Mother’s Day at the age of 90. Lady Anne Dodd said, “I’ve lost the most wonderful husband and it’s been a privilege to work and live with him for the past 40 years. The world has lost a life-enhancing and brilliant comedian with an operatically trained voice who just wanted to make people happy.”
Ken Dodd’s philosophy was simple, he once said, “Laughter is the greatest music in the world and audiences come to my shows to escape the cares of life. They don’t want to be embarrassed or insulted. They want to laugh and so do I – which is probably why it works.”