March already – a windy month, traditionally, and one that will, for many of us, call to mind the lines “The winds of March that made my heart a dancer”, from the song I’m about to play for you tonight – These Foolish Things. I wouldn’t say that my heart is exactly a dancer at the moment, but I can feel some of the old flippancy creeping back into my bones with the early morning light.
The lyricist here is Eric Maschwitz. Maschwitz led a varied and in many ways enviable life. He was a near contemporary at Repton School of Christopher Isherwood, Edward Upward and Michael Ramsey (the future Archbishop of Canterbury) ; it has been suggested that Ramsey was the original inspiration for the lyrics, but the majority view is that it was the actress Anna May Wong, whom he had encountered during a brief spell in Hollywood.
Pausing briefly to marry Hermione Gingold, write the screenplay for “Goodbye Mr. Chips” and maintain a relationship with Judy Campbell (the mother of Jane Birkin), for whom he is thought to have written his other biggest hit “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square“, he went on to work for MI5 and the SOE during the war and concluded his career as head of Light Entertainment at both the BBC and the infant ITV. He also wrote for George Formby – though it’s unlikely that Formby inspired any songs in quite the same way as Wong and Campbell.
Almost anyone who is anyone in the world of popular song has had a go at this over the years – Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald – oddly – James Brown, and even the 13 year old Poppies fan Faryl Smith. The first version I ever heard, though, and still, in the way of these things, my favourite is this, by Bryan Ferry from 1974.
Ferry is probably better known to the younger generation as the father of the notorious Shropshire fox-murderer Otis, but I was a great fan of his back in the day. The clip is, I think, from the Lulu Show and I should warn viewers of a nervous disposition that it contains scenes that could never be shown on TV today and would, indeed lead to Ferry being hauled off by the Peelers, thus inadvertently establishing a family tradition. Does he whip his kecks off half way through? Insert the word Motherfucker into the lyrics for emphasis? Both perfectly acceptable these days, of course – but no. You’ll just have to wait and see.
I remember, incidentally, one of my supervisors at University playing this song (on a gramophone rather than a piano unfortunately) to illustrate T.S. Eliot’s notion of the objective correlative. I think you can see what he meant.
There is an interesting piece, by the way, to be written about how so many of the things that we think of as being typical of the seventies were actually revivals of styles from the twenties and thirties …
Well why don’t you write it then, lazybones? – (Reader’s voice). All in good time, dear boy, all in good time.