Daily Mail, October 22, 2010Sixties singer Mary Hopkin on why she's appalled by X Factor judges
For someone who found international fame via a TV talent show, Mary Hopkin has little time for the current crop. In 1968, the sweet-voiced folk singer from Pontardawe, in Wales, was plucked from the relative obscurity of performing in local social clubs when she won Opportunity Knocks six weeks on the trot, before topping the charts with Those Were The Days.‘I hated being a pop singer,’ says Mary, who is now 60 and unrecognisable from the sweet young thing with the curtain of white blonde hair. ‘But I have happy memories of Opportunity Knocks. Everybody from host Hughie Green downwards could not have been nicer. They treated me like a star — encouraging me to be my best.’
It was with Opportunity Knocks’s successor New Faces, which debuted in 1973, that she detected the rot setting in. ‘The judges started making negative comments. I didn’t like that. I don’t think anyone has the right to demoralise anyone else.’So her views on The X Factor will come as less than a surprise.
‘Some contestants who make it to the televised audition stages have been selected to be ridiculed. It sickens me to hear the things Simon Cowell says. ‘Does it make him feel better to tell someone they’ve just made the same sound as when he once sat on his cat? There’s a bitchiness that’s commonplace and it’s totally unnecessary.
‘Anne Robinson does it on her silly quiz show. It’s vicious and sadistic. I don’t think we should encourage public humiliation. The world is nasty enough as it is. There’s something almost gladiatorial about it — and I detest it.’Not once has Mary raised her voice during what has been little short of a rant. But, then, that’s not her style.
She’s back living in her native South Wales after three decades in Henley and is making her kind of music in a studio in Splott, the once run-down area of Cardiff where Shirley Bassey was raised. Spend any time in her company and it’s clear that Mary’s soft-spoken delivery doesn’t reflect the strength of her convictions. Her views were equally defined when she was thrust into the limelight. ‘But I was so shy that my voice couldn’t be heard. Literally.’Even so, she was no pushover. She tells a revealing story about the route that led her to record on the Beatles’ new Apple label.
‘Twiggy had watched me on TV and happened to be seeing Paul McCartney the following day. The next thing I knew, I got a telegram from Peter Brown, who helped establish the Beatles’ record label. ‘Then I got a call, which I assumed was from Peter Brown, asking me to come to London. “That depends,” I said. I couldn’t drop everything. I had my A-levels to sit in a month. I was 18. He laughed: “Oh, it depends, does it? Well, go and ask your mum.”‘She took the phone and I heard her saying: “No. Never. Really?” It turned out I’d been talking to Paul himself. I nearly died of embarrassment.’
In London, Paul took Mary and her mother, Betty, out to lunch at an Angus Steak House. ‘I’d been a Beatles fan since I was 13. I couldn’t make eye contact with him. It was surreal. Mum kept the conversation going. It felt as though I were detached, observing everything from the ceiling.‘In some ways, George had always been my favourite. He was so dark and mysterious. But Paul was the best-looking and I’d thought he was the most approachable. ‘I’ve no idea what I based that on since I’d never met him, but you form an idea about people in the public eye, don’t you?’
After lunch, Paul took Mary and her mother back to Dick James’ office. With Brian Epstein, James was joint owner of Northern Songs, the publisher of the Beatles’ sheet music. Paul picked up his guitar and sang Those Were The Days.‘I thought it was beautiful. But then Paul could have sung from the telephone directory and I’d have thought it was beautiful. His voice was like honey. And to have him singing especially for me . . . When would I wake up from this dream?
‘He explained he’d heard the Ukrainian song in a club and it had stayed with him. But he hadn’t been able to find anyone with the right voice to sing an English version. Until now.‘It was haunting and poignant. I loved it immediately. When I die, I know it’ll be played when they make the announcement.’
The record sold over eight million copies worldwide, at one point shifting 35,000 copies a day in the UK alone, but it didn’t make Mary a fortune. ‘I wish I’d had the sense to record one of my compositions on the B side but I didn’t know better.’ She sailed to the top of the charts, unseating the Beatles’ Hey Jude. Mary Hopkin was hot property.‘I was signed to agents who pushed me down a commercial route. I did panto and cabaret, which I hated. I was a folk singer. It felt alien to me.’
On one occasion, she was appearing in cabaret at the Savoy Hotel in London, singing a slab of schmaltz, A Super Special Ordinary Person Like Me. ‘I prayed I’d be saved from performing by a heart attack.’ When she faced the audience, there in the front row were Paul and his wife, Linda, and Ringo and his wife, Maureen.‘I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. It was so humiliating and I felt Paul would know that. But I had to carry on.’ Her disenchantment with pop stardom climaxed when she sang Knock, Knock, Who’s There? at the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest.
‘It was chosen by BBC producers with no feel for music. There were six songs and Knock Knock was comfortably the worst — a cheesy singalong with an instant hook and no musical merit’ she recalls.
Her proudest achievement is her second album, Earth Song/Ocean Song, now digitally re-mastered and released with her first album, Postcard, in October. She has reason to recall her second album — it was produced by the American Tony Visconti. They fell in love and married when Mary was 21.
Their son, 37-year-old Delaney, who changed his name to Morgan (‘I told his father that Delaney was a name for childhood’), is a record producer and living in London. Daughter Jessica Lee is 34 and releasing her first album, I Am Not.Mary and Tony’s marriage ended, acrimoniously, in 1981. ‘I was too young when we married. The children were just seven and four when we parted and I brought them up alone. But it’s all civilised now.’
Would she like to remarry? ‘No,’ she says and doesn’t miss a beat. ‘I love living alone and my own company. I won’t perform again. I can’t handle the anxiety. But I love writing and recording the music I want to sing.‘This,’ says Mary Hopkin, ‘is the best time of my life.’
Or, to put it another way: ‘These are the days, my friend.’
• Postcard and Earth Song/Ocean Song are re-released on Apple on October 25.
By Richard Barber
The Times and Times Online, June 6, 2009
Mary Hopkin: Those were the days? Not for me
The singer shot to fame in the glitz of the Swinging Sixties. But she is much happier now, she tells Alan Franks
More than 40 years after being discovered on Opportunity Knocks, getting launched by the Beatles’ new label and soaring on her high Welsh voice to the top of the charts in Britain and the US, Mary Hopkin is back. Sort of. If you were too young, or unborn, she was the long-haired blonde girl, barely out of school, who sat on a high stool and sang Those Were the Days to the tune of an old Lithuanian folk song.
It was 1968 and the Fab Four had just started Apple Records. This single was one of their first two releases. The other was their own Hey Jude, which spent several weeks at No 1, and when they were dethroned, it was by their own protégée. The 17-year-old from Pontardawe was as fragrant as a shampoo advert and sang with unforced purity. Here was a shot of commercial innocence into pop’s seedy body, a sort of non-toxic Marianne Faithfull. The only trouble was, she hated the whole business and couldn’t wait to get away.
And so she did, though not entirely, since the man she married was the legendary American rock producer Tony Visconti, who has worked with everyone from David Bowie to Morrissey and Manic Street Preachers. They had two children, both now musicians and producers, but divorced in the early 1980s.
The reason that you are reading about Mary Hopkin again is that she has made a discovery — when a crack appeared in an unsupported panel of her attic. A number of forgotten old tapes came tumbling out, ancient reel-to-reels containing recordings of dozens of unreleased songs, performed by her and produced by Visconti. A selection of these remastered sessions forms her new CD, Now and Then.
She still has an undimmed hatred of anything resembling limelight, but when she does talk it is with hilarious contempt for the world that kidnapped her and made her fortune. She winces as she remembers the horrors of being pushed into cabaret on the back of her chart success. “Oh, I once went on at the Savoy, and I just wanted to run away. Such terror. The choice of songs wasn’t even mine. There was this very camp producer and he’d come up with a song for me called A Super Special Ordinary Person Like Me. I said I wouldn’t do it, but he insisted. And then, when I got on stage, I could see Paul [McCartney], Linda [his wife], Ringo and Maureen [his wife], sitting right there in the front row. I didn’t know they were coming and I thought, ‘Oh, no, this is the end.’ They were sweet, and said it was lovely. But it was cringeing.”
Hopkin takes some getting to. Her website is not encouraging. This, for example, under frequently asked questions: How can I get in touch with Mary? “You can e-mail us but don’t count on having a reply.” I want to ask Mary about her time at Apple. “Sorry, we can’t help with this at all.” Can I have a signed photo? “Afraid not.” When will Mary perform live again? “Mary prefers not to perform live any more.”
She is to be found deep in an industrial estate not far from the centre of Cardiff. Inside a reddish block of a building is the studio where she spends her working days. With her is her 32-year-old daughter, Jessica, who runs Mary Hopkin Music, set up four years ago to release her new material. Jessica’s elder brother, Morgan, has also worked here, although he is now based in Manhattan.
Mary is 59. No more long blonde hair, but still the demure set of the mouth and the modest downturn of the eyes remembered from early LP sleeves. Yet she sounds so sure of her direction, so determined not to be pushed around that you find yourself wondering how she ever let herself get roped in for the Eurovision Song Contest. It was 1970, the year after Lulu had won with Boom Bang-a-Bang. Hopkin came second, behind the Irish entrant Dana, with Knock Knock Who’s There.
“I got pushed towards pop,” she says. “I was on a treadmill. It was showbiz. I was very young. When I got to London, the 18-year-olds seemed very sophisticated, but in fact they were really very immature, with their drugs and their parties. I never got into it. I had some friends, who’d also been signed up to Apple, and they said, ‘We had a great trip on Sunday’, and I said ‘Brighton?’ But of course they didn’t mean that at all. I was very naive, but in some ways a lot more mature. I thought, how childish, they’ve all got dummies in their mouths. All that oral gratification. So silly, I didn’t see the point. I didn’t mean it in a moralistic way. Just, if you’re having a great time, why dumb it?”
It was the model Twiggy who saw Hopkin on Opportunity Knocks and told McCartney that he should take a look at her. So along came a car to take her to London for an audition. He thought she was the business and his instincts were right. He was, as Hopkin says, very commercially minded, and here perhaps was the problem. Listening to these new releases, recorded after her first emergence, in the Seventies and early Eighties, the singing sounds vastly more rounded and reflective, at times a little like the revered Sandy Denny, who died in 1978. With covers of Bert Jansch and Tom Paxton songs, as well as several of her own compositions, Now and Then is the resumption of a folk-based career briefly interrupted by global fame.
“Paul’s aim was to guide me into a more commercial sphere,” she says, “and I rebelled against it. He wanted me to try Que Sera, and I said, ‘But I used to sing that when I was 3.’ I loved it but I didn’t want to record it. But I turned up, Ringo was on drums, and then afterwards I said I really didn’t want that going out as the next single . . . and then Eurovision was the last straw. I was told they would raise the standard of song, but they didn’t.”
Then she met Tony Visconti, whom Apple had hired as a substitute for the producer Mickie Most. “I don’t know what he saw in me. I think I’d just arrived from a riding lesson, red-faced as a beetroot, and there’s this gentle, cool, long-haired American.”
Finding these tapes so many years after they had divorced was odd, Hopkin says. Apart from the songs, there he was, talking to the musicians in the studio. It brought back good memories, which was painful in itself. Visconti remarried and had more children. Jessica and Morgan have remained close to their father. Hopkin is now on good terms with him, but this was not always so. “It was quite acrimonious at the time, and we weren’t in touch for years.”
Has she ever remarried? “No, thank you. Once was enough. I love my solitude and my independence, and I’m so glad to be living back in Wales.”
She remembers the launch party for her first album, Post Card. McCartney had hired the revolving restaurant at the top of the Post Office Tower. Everyone was there. She had Eric Clapton on one side, Ginger Baker, the Cream drummer, on the other. Her parents and sisters had come up from Wales. So had her grandmother, Blodwen. The elderly woman said she’d been talking to a young man who was interested in her life in the Welsh countryside, asking her questions about the cows and the milking. She had no idea who he was, but said he was “a very nice little boy”. It was Jimi Hendrix.”
“Didn't you use to be Mary ’opkins?” they ask her in the street. Since they always get the name wrong, she can say no without lying. Were those the days? For just about everyone else, yes. But not for her. These are the ones, right now.
Here and Now is released by Mary Hopkin Music.
by Alan Franks
Goldmine, November 2007
Those Were The Days, But Mary Hopkin Lives in the Present
It was a voice of purity and clarity, strength and vulnerability, humanity and otherworldliness that somehow, amazingly, found its way onto the stage of popular music in 1968. It was fortunate that the simple beauty of Mary Hopkin’s voice was heard at all among the angry, raucous, and impassioned sounds of the time. It was a voice that rang like a bell, simple and subtle, without gratuitous vocal acrobatics. And just as mysteriously as this haunting voice had arrived, it disappeared from the musical landscape.
“My first year in the music biz was very exciting,” Hopkin says of that thrilling period. “I was meeting people who were my childhood idols – The Beatles, Tom Jones, Cliff Richard, etc. I didn’t take it at all seriously, as I didn’t expect it to last. However, after the first year, when things settled down a little, I realized that I was going in the wrong direction. The following two years or more were spent in fulfilling my commitments, and after that I was determined to take control and called a complete halt.”
Mary Hopkin only wanted to sing. Even at eighteen, when her evocative chart-topping song was everywhere, she knew that she wanted solitude. It was a solitude designed not to fuel her mystique or to wrestle with creative demons away from the limelight a la Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett. On the contrary, Mary Hopkin’s disinterest in public life was simply that. She was and is a normal woman intent on living life on her own terms with her own family and friends. And she still loves music.
Though she has in many ways achieved the simple life she sought, she maintains one extraordinary characteristic: an angelic voice, her understated instrument made of passion and technique in equal parts, only enhanced by her love of using it. This was true even back in the beginning, as she had to be coerced as a teen to pursue an appearance on Opportunity Knocks, the British television talent program in 1968. Her story from that point moves rather quickly: Famous model Twiggy was so moved by her performance on TV that she called her friend Beatle Paul McCartney, who was looking for new talent for the Beatles’ new home grown label, Apple Records. That is how an ordinary Welsh girl received a phone call from the most famous musician on the planet at the time. McCartney signed Hopkin to Apple, wrote a song for her (“Goodbye”), produced her album, and recorded a single for her that would soon knock his own “Hey Jude” right out of the Number One slot on the charts. “Those Were the Days” was an old Ukrainian folk tune with a nostalgic feel set to new lyrics that were themselves about nostalgia. The song was an instant and memorable hit, catapulting the shy young woman to the fame that she so did not long for.
Forty years later, Paul McCartney is still the most famous musician alive, and Mary Hopkin is still content away from the public eye.
Mary long ago retired from live performances, and she grants no interviews—excepting this one only, by email, to discuss her music. Just this year, she has released Valentine, a collection of previously un-issued tracks from the seventies, and two years ago, she issued a live set, Live at the Royal Festival Hall 1972, which is as close as anyone will ever get hearing her perform live.
She has no desire to talk about her personal life or her Beatle memories from a time when she was a key player in the greatest show on earth, for what it was worth. That’s okay, as there is plenty to be said about her body of work.
That Royal Festival Hall performance represents a crucial turning point in what was to become a rather unconventional life in popular music. “After I gave up the music business in 1972, after the Royal Festival Hall concert,” she says, “I occasionally got involved in what I considered ‘one-off’ projects, with no intention of making a full-time commitment. However, the newspapers (apparently short of good stories) would report each project as a ‘comeback’, so it seemed as though I was interested in resuming my career. I have enjoyed these sporadic ventures, as it’s fun to try new things, but my disillusionment with the music business remained and I had no intention of getting involved again.”
Among the many one-off projects were brief periods as lead singer of two bands, Oasis and Sundance, and many songs for film soundtracks, including a noteworthy wordless vocal performance for the cult classic, Blade Runner.
In the late eighties, she recorded an album with limited release, Spirit, consisting of classical pieces that showcased her voice in a more sophisticated setting, that which it had always deserved, as a number of her Apple recordings were more lightweight than her personal tastes.
Among the early Apple recordings, she is most proud of Earth Song, Ocean Song, a tasteful collection of intimate folk arrangements produced by Tony Visconti, who would become her (now ex) husband and father of their two children. “It is one I could play today without embarrassment, and I feel it represents me (or at least a good part of me) perfectly. I still love all the songs, and the whole experience of making the album was wonderful.”
The newly released Valentine collection consists of songs (including three originals) recorded around the same time as (and in the same spirit of) Earth Song, and Hopkin had both creative and practical reasons for sharing them with the world. “There were about thirty hefty 2-inch tapes weighing heavily on my mind, and also on my bedroom ceiling. They had been gathering dust in my loft for many years, and one morning I woke up to an ominous creaking sound, as a huge crack appeared in the ceiling. So, with some prodding from my daughter, we decided to release them from their dusty boxes before the ceiling fell in.”
Another interesting recent project is a vocal contribution to Dolly Parton’s respectable remake of Mary’s timeless hit. “I was really pleased to hear that Dolly was recording ‘Those Were the Days’ and I was happy to do some background vocals for her. Her version is more robust and lively than mine, altogether a different interpretation, which was interesting. I’ve been a Dolly fan since I heard ‘Jolene’ on the radio many years ago. I love her more understated ‘grass roots’ music. We haven’t met, but she sends me lovely messages.”
Her personal fondness for the song with which she is forever associated makes for a providential legacy. “If one has to be eternally linked with any one song, then I’m relieved that it is ‘Those Were the Days’ and not one of my later singles. Although I’m flattered that Paul wrote ‘Goodbye’ especially for me, it was, I believe, a step in the wrong direction for me. I’m so grateful that he chose ‘Those Were the Days’ as my first single. I think ‘Those Were the Days,’ being originally a Ukrainian folk song, has a timeless quality, but ‘Goodbye’ is set firmly in the sixties pop era.”
From a business perspective, though, there are certainly better things to be said of that sixties pop era, as the modern emergence of American Idol styled star-making machinery bears little resemblance to her own Opportunity Knocks beginnings. “I hated the idea of talent shows, but a local agent persuaded me to go along to an audition. When I appeared on the actual show, I was impressed by the great care that the organizers took to present the artists. We had individual orchestral arrangements especially written. We were treated with respect and presented as professionals. There was none of the public humiliation and destructive criticism of the artists that has now become acceptable. I find this quite abhorrent, and so only rarely (whilst channel-flicking) watch in horror while some poor soul is torn to shreds by a panel of egomaniacs we’d never previously heard of, all in the name of entertainment. If a true talent emerges from this awful weeding process, then he/she truly deserves to succeed. Yes, it’s a highly competitive business, but surely there’s still a place for some compassion and dignity.”
Those thoughts represent the very reasons Hopkin is happy to be away from the spotlight. “There’s absolutely nothing I miss about fame and recognition. From the moment I signed my first autograph, I disliked being recognized. I’ve always been very guarded about my privacy, and hated all the celebrity nonsense. I am, of course, very grateful for all the wonderful support that people have given and the creative freedom I now enjoy as a result of the early successes.”
And so Mary Hopkin lives her musical life happily in her own world, writing and recording for fun with both of her adult children. She makes music for her own pleasure in her own universe–no celebrity nonsense needed.
Mary’s cyberspace interviewer was unable to fully restrain himself from asking just one blatantly Beatles question, an irresistible curiosity involving a remarkable film clip that has surfaced on YouTube.com: On a hillside, a young Mary plays a guitar and sings the beautiful song, “Morning of Our Lives,” while a fluffy dog frolics in the grass. Is it possible that this is Paul McCartney’s beloved Martha, the English sheep dog about whom he wrote in “Martha, My Dear” from the Beatles’ White Album? “Yes, it was indeed the lovely Martha in the video,” recalls Hopkin. “I had forgotten this reel existed until [my daughter] found it on YouTube. I was sitting in Paul’s garden on a lovely summer’s day, singing with guitar, while Martha completely upstaged me, rolling about with legs waving in the air – Martha, not me! I can’t remember who was filming – it might have been Paul or Derek Taylor or anyone else.”
The playful dog occupies a more vivid memory for her than the Beatle behind the camera, a memory consistent with her indifference toward celebrity. Why would it matter who shot the film? It’s the beauty of the day and the song and the sheepdog that made the moment special.
And therein lies Mary Hopkin’s world view. It’s as clear as her voice.
Wales on Sunday, April 23, 2000
Folk Icon Mary Hopkin breaks her silence, returning to duet with "The Crocketts".
Welsh rock 'n' roll band have pulled off the impossible - they've persuaded '60s pop icon Mary Hopkin to sing again. The solitary songbird soared to fame in the late '60s when she appeared on talent show Opportunity Knocks. But despite signing to the Beatles record label and rocketing to number one with the Paul McCartney-produced classic "Those Were The Days", Mary became disillusioned with the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. At the age of just 21, the Pontardawe-born pop star turned her back on fame, moved to England and brought up her family. But now the reclusive singer is back, returning to duet with up-and-coming Aberystwyth rockers The Crocketts.
"Owen Cash, the band's drummer, sent me a tape of their music and I loved it," revealed Mary. "Originally, I was going to work on a really gutsy track of theirs and as I always get typecast as a sweet folky singer I would have preferred that one. I actually like to write strong rocky stuff in my studio in Henley. The song that appears on the album is Chicken vs. Macho, a cute little song, which is very sweet and feminine." But even with talk of it being released as a single, publicity-shy Mary is reluctant to be drawn into promoting the song.
"I really love writing and singing but I don't' like performing. In fact I'm thinking of putting some of my music on a website. The Crocketts do not need my help to promote them. They'll make it on their own and do very well," said Mary. "In fact, I'm probably not very good for their image!"
The Crocketts' album "The Great Brain Robbery" has been critically acclaimed and persuading Mary to break her silence is something the band's drummer, Owen, will always treasure. "We were astonished when Mary got back to us because of her reclusive reputation," he said.
"But we felt we had an outside chance because Mary's a friend of the family, her mam lives in the same street as my grandmother and we met her briefly when we recorded our first album in Henley-on-Thames. But because she's so quiet and our music's so loud we thought her involvement was a real long shot - about 75-1!"
Chicken vs. Macho was recorded in former Kinks star Ray Davies' studio Konk, and Owen has fond memories of the session. "Mary came in to sing her part last October," he said. "She was brilliant to work with. We were waiting for her in the studio with a bottle of wine and chocolate and in she strolled with a bag of fish and chips - we thought: This is priceless! She still has an amazing voice and she's lovely too. She was in with us for an afternoon and it took her around two hours to record her part. She's a real professional." And Mary and the boys were exceptionally pleased with the fruits of their collaboration.
"I think the finished song sounds like the theme to the Littlest Hobo!" laughed Owen. The Crocketts also spent time relaxing with Mary. "It was a pleasure talking to her. We spent a while catching up on what was happening in Brynawel road, Pontardawe, and we talked generally about the music industry. We would love to work with her again, in any capacity, but we wouldn't want to inflict on her the same pressures that turned her off the industry in the first place," said Owen.
"Having Mary sing on the track has benefited the song immensely. We just feel privileged that such a legendary singer has graced our album."
by Helen Morgan
Record Collector, April 1996 (No.200)
The 'Lost' Oasis Album: What's the story behind this forgotten masterpiece?
Mary Hopkin was displeased, to say the least: "We had an absolutely ghastly photo session, the guys wearing bow ties and me in an evening dress with my hair dolled up," she told Mark Lewisohn within these very pages in 1988. "My hair is green and my face is orange on that album cover."
The LP/CD in question is "Oasis", the sole, self-titled album by a musical collective which promised much, but instead delivered a sweet, soft-centred assortment of orchestrated cocktail bar songs. It sounded half a world away from the pop music of the time; 1984 was the year of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Wham! and Band Aid. Rumours suggest that Columbia Records turned the album down and Oasis signed instead to WEA.
The company were probably swayed by the singer's involvement; after all, Mary Hopkin was a star. With Top 10 hits like "Those Were The Days", "Goodbye", "Temma Harbour" and "Knock Knock Who's There", she had been far and away the biggest act on the Beatles' Apple label - apart from the band themselves, of course. With her relatively innocent Welsh background, Mary never fully adapted to London's decadent pop scene, a morning glory world of drugs, sex, cigarettes and alcohol. Eventually, the singer fell out with Apple - take me away, she must have thought - and Mary let her career slide away, despite the potential of being married with children to producer Tony Visconti. Mind you, she probably told herself, it's good to be free of all that music biz nonsense.
Mary decided to step out into the limelight again, after a phone call. Hello, she must have thought, I better listen up. "Peter Skellern's manager rang me sometime in 1983," she remembered, "and discussed a project Peter was doing with Julian Lloyd Webber. Would I be the female vocalist? I said yes because Peter writes lovely songs and because I thought Julian would be adding little classical touches here and there." The singer decided to roll with it. "We all agreed that we wanted to do a quality thing, and we signed to a five-year contract, then all the record company nonsense started and I thought, 'Oh God, here we go again'!".
Peter Skellern was a Lancashire-born singer/songwriter who'd served time with a late 60s band March Hare, who evolved into country-pop outfit Harlan County. Then, he struck lucky when his solo single, 1972's "You're A Lady", went supersonic. It was a Top 3 hit, and Skellern was suddenly up in the sky with the rock 'n' roll stars of the glam of era. But he only returned to the charts twice: with 1975's "Hold On To Love" and 1978's tribute to Fred Astaire, "Love Is The Sweetest Thing". Behind the scenes, though, Skellern carved a niche as something of an all-rounder, hosting a 'talk tonight'-style TV chat show and writing musical plays, interspersed with various solo albums.
Oasis were a five-piece: Skellern and Hopkin shared the vocals, the former also contributing keyboards, Andrew Lloyd Webber's brother played cello, while the guitars were handled by Mitch Dalton and Bill Lovelady. Most of the songs were written by Peter Skellern, although Lovelady contributed a couple, and the album finished with a faithful version of Cole Porter's "True Love". The cover said it all, really: a soft focus photo showed the band posing on the deck of a cruise liner in evening wear, champagne and all. The front of the sleeve looked out on a tranquil sea, calm underneath the sky, as if recovering from a recent cloudburst.
Reviews praised Mary's voice - "she's electric", exclaimed one critic - but it was all to no avail. WEA tried to keep the album alive with two singles, "Hold Me" and "I Wonder Why", but Oasis weren't destined to live forever. Like many bands just fade away, Oasis slowly fizzled out. Not that Mary Hopkin looked back in anger: "I would have carried on and tried to sort out that sophisticated image nonsense", she explained, "but for the fact that I became seriously ill and had to bow out of the tour we had planned. I still feel bad about letting everybody down like that but, on the bright side, it brought Oasis to an enforced end." Their demise was just as well, I suppose; it was a terrible name for a band, anyway. Definitely.
by John Reed
Mary Hopkin, "She's A Joan Baez Type, But We'll Soon Alter That"
Mary Hopkin is surprised and flattered to learn that she is something of a mythical figure in America. In the States, general knowledge of Hopkin is pretty much limited to seven singles and three albums she released between 1968 and '72, and even then, you'd be hard–pressed to find too many people who could hum anything other than "Those Were The Days."
Little–heard though they may have been, Mary Hopkin's American releases were on the legendary Apple label, owned, operated — and eventually all but abandoned — by the Beatles. She was discovered, and her career set in motion, by Paul McCartney himself.
And that's enough to put Mary Hopkin in the pop music history books. The fact that most of her Apple records were good, unlike so much of the non–Beatles Apple catalog, only makes her more of a legend.
Add to that her reluctance to do interviews (this is only the second one she's granted since 1988) and the fog of myth descends and settles in.
Hopkin's talking because EMI Records, in its admirable attempt to free the Apple catalog from its musty out–of–print limbo, is issuing Those Were The Days: The Best Of Mary Hopkin in the U.K. on April 3. An American deal with Capitol is reportedly in the works.
Those Were The Days is essentially a re–issue of the 1972 Apple album of the same name, Hopkin's third and final release for the label. It collects all of her singles and most of the B–sides, lots of really, really good tracks that were not included on 1969's Post Card or 1971's Earth Song Ocean Song.
This new–old album has been assembled by Hopkin herself, and in addition to being chronologically sequenced (so that "Goodbye" follows "Those Were The Days," etc.), she's added several tracks that weren't on the original collection, plus one outtake that's never seen the light of day in any form.
She was born May 3, 1950 in Pontardawe, South Wales (coincidentally just a few kilometers north of Swansea, hometown of fellow Apple artists Pete Ham and Mike Gibbons of Badfinger) and with her angelic soprano voice sang folk songs with her mates at school. Accompanying herself on guitar, she'd performed on a couple of regional TV shows.
Mary Hopkin's Cinderella story goes like this: Her Welsh agent, Bert Veale, signed her up to appear on British ITV's Opportunity Knocks talent show, and against her better judgment (Hopkin said the program was "like the Gong Show") she went on, and won. The date was May 4, 1968.
The long–legged and very famous model Twiggy saw Hopkin on that first show (in the weeks to follow, she'd go on to win a record number of times) and told Paul McCartney about it. McCartney happened to be looking for talent for the soon–to–be–launched Apple label, and on Twiggy's recommendation, he tuned in to the next Opportunity Knocks, and immediately had his office find Mary Hopkin.
"I got in touch, and her and her mum came down and we had a little lunch in Oxford Street somewhere," McCartney recalled in a 1987 interview. "Mary was really a sort of folk singer, so I said, "But, for record success, there's this song that's not a mile way from folkie It's got a folkie feel. It could be a big hit, with the right treatment, the right arrangement."
McCartney told the story of how he found "Those Were The Days" in a London nightclub: "There would sometimes be cabaret clubs. I'd go down late, about 11:30, and catch the early show. It was kind of a good thing to do, you know, because around Berkeley Square there was the Blue Angel. I used to go down there quite regular and check out the cabaret."
One night at the Blue Angel—it was probably in 1966—he saw an act called Gene and Francesca. "They were an American act, and I'd never heard of them before," he said. "But they did this little song; they said "Here's a little song of our own that we've worked up.' I always thought "Ooh, that's a good little song. If it hadn't been written, someone would have to write that."
He was knocked out by "Those Were The Days," which Gene (Raskin) had adapted from a traditional Lithuanian folk song.
"I got the office to try and find those people," McCartney said. "He was an architect, I remembered. Because it was almost a hobby for them, this little thing they did on holidays.
"They found them anyway, and said "You know that song wot you writ? Well, "eed (he'd) like to do it,' kind of thing. We got a little tape of them singing it, and I worked it all out with Mary."
Produced by McCartney, "Those Were The Days" was released the same day as the Beatles' "Hey Jude" (in August 1968) and went on to sell eight million singles, even knocking "Hey Jude" out of the number one spot in the U.K.
(McCartney, ever hit–conscious, had Hopkin record her vocals in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish, and "Those Were The Days" became an across–the–board international smash.)
"Those Were The Days" is Hopkin's favorite from her batch of Apple singles (she liked the acoustic songs from Post Card, the album he produced for her, too).
Almost immediately, as McCartney's attention began to wane, she grew disenchanted with the singles she recorded as follow–ups. She was a folk singer, not a pop artist, and despite being voted Britain's Top Female Vocalist in 1969, she was miserable making the endless rounds of TV shows and ribbon–cutting ceremonies her Apple handlers sent her on. She lamented about the "sugar–coated" image that Apple had bestowed upon her, and about the things she was expected to do as an "all–around entertainer."
Worst of all were the summer seasons. "A summer season," Hopkin explains, "is a three–month gig at a summer resort, like a beach resort. In this country, we've got Blackpool and Margate, all over Britain wherever the beaches are. Sometimes it takes place on the pier, or in the local theatres. You perform six to eight times a week for three months.
"And unless you like that sort of thing, it's pretty horrendous. You end up singing the most dreadful material."
And then there were the pantomime shows, usually at Christmas, where fairy tales and sundry "light material" was given the musical treatment. Again, for weeks on end.
The low point, for Hopkin, came with her representation of Great Britain in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest. For this show of shows, she was given the insufferably bland "Knock Knock Who's There" to sing. As she said in this interview, such things did great damage to her confidence, but she was young and naïve at the time and trusted the advice of her manager, Stan Skeffington (who was also her brother–in–law).
"Knock Knock Who's There" was the second of three Hopkin singles produced by Mickie Most, who was brought in after McCartney drifted off (his last single for Hopkin, "Que Sera Sera" featured just him and Ringo Starr on the backing track).
Hopkin and Most didn't get along, though, and her next sessions were produced by Tony Visconti, who'd been at the boards for the Iveys' Maybe Tomorrow album on Apple, and would eventually go on to fame as David Bowie's producer (Hopkin sang harmony on Bowie's Sound And Vision in 1975).
With Visconti, Mary Hopkin was able to make an album (Earth Song Ocean Song) that she felt truly captured the acoustic flavor she'd craved from the start.
But it was too late. The record got no support from the fast–rotting Apple; Hopkin was booked into another hated summer season and was unable to tour to promote the record. Despondent, she let her Apple contract expire (although in truth there was no one left to stop her).
Hopkin and Visconti married in 1971, and he produced a couple of singles for her on his Good Earth label (now divorced, the Viscontis produced two children too).
Throughout the "70's, she continued to perform in pantomime and summer seasons (what else did she know how to do?); in 1980 she formed part of the trio Sundance, and in '84 she made an album (with Julian Lloyd Webber and Peter Skellern) as Oasis. Neither project saw American release.
Mary Hopkin's last recording to date was on George Martin's 1988 all–star production of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood, on which she played the part of Rosie Probert.
Today, Hopkin lives in England. She writes songs with her 21–year old son and talks in vague terms about returning to the music business on her own terms.
As for her Apple period, well, how to be diplomatic? For Mary Hopkin, the memories aren't all bad, but those really weren't the days.
Goldmine: Prior to signing with Apple, you made several records on the Welsh label, Cambrian.
Mary Hopkin: I did a few EPs in the Welsh language, and I think they were particularly enjoyed in the Welsh settlements in America and South America. There was a television program, basically Welsh folk music and contemporary music, and I did a few of those. It was a good experience. And I used to sing for pocket money with the band we'd formed, with three local boys.
We listened to English pop music, mostly. We did actually have a Welsh pop chart, but it was mostly folk music at that time. These days, they've gone on to do covers of a lot of the current American and English pop charts. I think they sound horrendous. In fact, I listen to the stuff I did then, covers of English songs, and they sound awful.
Goldmine: What did you want to be in those days? Did you have designs on a folk singing career?
Mary Hopkin: Joan Baez and Bert Jansch were the first guitar–playing folk singers I ever really listened to; I was introduced to them by a friend of my father's, who was a keen folk enthusiast. I learned to play guitar from Joan Baez records and things, but left to my own devices, I think, I'd have developed into a singer/songwriter. My development was rather halted halfway, when I was thrown tin at the deep end of the music business.
Goldmine: The old story is that Howard Hughes was a great fan of your Welsh–language records.
Mary Hopkin: I was rather amused by that. You could picture him as a recluse, sitting with his Kleenex on his lap, listening to his little Welsh girl. Very strange. Very odd.
Goldmine: Your "big break" came on the ITV talent program Opportunity Knocks. What was that like?
Mary Hopkin: It was all terribly, terribly embarrassing at the time. It wasn't something I want to be a party to. But I was sort of (talked) into doing it by the agent who was finding us work while I was still at school. Without my knowledge, he put my name down for this show. I was mortified when I heard he had done it. You can't condemn that kind of show, because they can do a lot for people, and certainly it would've taken me a lot longer, if at all, to get into the music business, but the whole thing is terribly embarrassing. I did the audition, because my agent said it would be good experience to attend an audition.
Goldmine: Do you remember what you sang on the show?
Mary Hopkin: The first thing I did was "Turn Turn Turn," the Pete Seeger song. I just went on and did the Joan Baez songs I had learned up to that point. They're a bit show business for my liking, those light entertainment shows. It smacks of cabaret and summer seasons.
Goldmine: I presume this is where Twiggy comes into the picture.
Mary Hopkin: Hmm, yes. She was watching it, one of the many who do watch that sort of program. I'm not one of them. But I am grateful to Twiggy; she's lovely and she certainly gave me a momentous start in the music business. I did the show on the day after my 18th birthday; I was still supposed to be studying for my final exams at school, my university entrance exams. Twiggy saw the show, and I think the next day saw Paul McCartney. He was telling her all about the new Apple label. And she said she'd seen this girl on Opportunity Knocks, and he should check me out.
So I received a telegram, two days after the show, which I ignored for a few days. It said, "Ring Peter Brown at Apple Records" and I had never heard of either of them. I was a great Beatles fan, and I'd heard of the Apple Boutique, but nothing else. We didn't know Apple Records was on the way.
I left it on the shelf for three days, and then my mother said it would be polite to ring back. So I did, and I was put on to whom I thought was Peter Brown. And this chap had a distinct Liverpool accent.
I started wondering at that point, making the connection with Apple but he asked me if I'd come to London and sing for him. I said, well, that depends and he realized I was being very cautious, so he asked my mother to come to the phone. So my mother came to the phone, and he said, "Oh, this is Paul McCartney. Would you like to bring your daughter to London to sing for me?"
That was it really. I was whisked off there the next day and sang for him; we demoed at the little Dick James Demo Studios. I sang a few songs for him; then I was called back about two or three weeks later, and he sang a little song for me, sort of hummed it, and said, "I've had this song lying around for years. It's called "Those Were The Days.'" And he said, "Let's go in and do it."
Goldmine: "Those Were The Days" sold eight million singles and bumped "Hey Jude" from number one in England. Was there a game plan for your career, for following up its huge success?
Mary Hopkin: It was a bit haphazard, really. I think everyone was taken by surprise by the success of "Those Were The Days." I don't think anyone expected that to happen so quickly, you know. It went straight to the top of the charts, and it was number one in 13 different countries at one time, so I was whisked around the world and spent the next year promoting it.
Goldmine: Did you have the impression that Paul wanted "a girl singer" on Apple, and was trying to groom you, to fit you into the mold?
Mary Hopkin: I'm not sure what he wanted. It was definitely an experiment. I felt as though it (Post Card) was an experiment to see what I was capable of, and that was not very much at that time. I didn't take it that seriously at that time, I thought, "This is all right." I didn't realize I'd spend the next 20 years trying to live it down.
Goldmine: On Post Card, you cut those big, show–stopping songs, like "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Someone To Watch Over Me." Was Paul pushing those on you?
Mary Hopkin: Not really. Paul and I talked things over. I didn't know what I was capable of anyway, and I thought, "He must know better than I do." I mean, I didn't really question it. There were songs I was obviously much more comfortable with, like the Donovan songs. I was completely at eased with those, and those would've led directly into Earth song Ocean Song, where I did choose the songs.
Goldmine: On that first album, you sang Donovan's acoustic ballad "Lord Of The Reedy River."
Mary Hopkin: I loved that. The three of us just sat there, it was all done live, and I sang direct from Donovan's lyric book, where he had just printed the words out. It was lovely, and that's the way I would've liked to work. I don't think there were any of their songs on Post Card, but as soon as I met Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, we clicked. We were obviously on the same wavelength.
Goldmine: Did Paul score all those big orchestral arrangements on Post Card?
Mary Hopkin: Paul was always involved. He would go sit with George Martin and they would work it out. Sometimes it would come from George, and sometimes Paul would sing a little riff and say "this feel" or "that feel." I can't remember who did exactly what now. But Paul was very much involved.
Goldmine: What did sudden success do to you?
Mary Hopkin: It didn't change me very much, I don't think. I was pretty naïve about a lot of things; having grown up in Welsh valleys, you're the quite protected and sheltered from the Big Bad World. I was experiencing a lot of new things, but probably because of my solid Welsh upbringing I rejected a lot of the things I didn't want to associate with in the music business.
I remember one quote from Paul in the press. He said, "She's a Joan Baez type, but we'll soon alter that." That didn't go down well with me; even though I thought Joan Baez was wonderful, I didn't want to be too influenced by her. Like all young people, you listen to artists when you're 12 or 13, and you learn their songs, but that doesn't meant you end up being like them. You want to develop your own songs.
Goldmine: The Beatles were having serious problems by 1969. Did you feel that Paul was paying less attention to your career?
Mary Hopkin: Of course. A year went by before he wrote "Goodbye." And that was after I'd said, "Look, how about another single?" But I understood. Obviously his priority was the Beatles, that's natural. He said he wrote "Goodbye" in about 10 minutes. I'm not sure how true that is! It probably is.
Goldmine: The two of you played acoustic guitar together on "Goodbye" right?
Mary Hopkin: Yes, we did. And Paul put a thigh–slap on there—on his own thigh, I might add! It's a good song for its kind, but whether it was suited to me, I don't know. It was easy for me to do those songs. They were fun little pop songs. So it was very easy for me to say, "Oh. Okay. Yes." But as soon as I realized what was happening, I started putting the reins on, and putting my foot down about what material I was going to do.
I trusted Paul's judgment, anyway. I would never condemn him for what he did; because he did what he felt was right for me. And I really enjoyed working with him.
Goldmine: Were you aware of the chaos at Apple, and did it affect you?
Mary Hopkin: I was aware that it was disorganized; I think everyone involved in Apple would agree on that. I think they were just finding their feet; it was early days for them, and a lot of them were new to it anyway. [Beatles publicist] Derek Taylor mentioned in an interview over here that my management setup was pretty dreadful. I had no one to represent me at the time. Eventually, my brother–in–law took over as manager, but there was no one at Apple.
Every time I did a television show, I always had an escort, a sort of acting manager. There were a couple of people, Terry Doran and Alistair Taylor. My sister didn't manage me, which you sometimes read in the press—she was sort of pushed into the position of chaperon–come–spokesman, because I had no one else to represent me.
Goldmine: Did you feel that they were overly concerned with your image?
Mary Hopkin: I don't remember any formal discussions about it. Coming straight from school, I suppose I looked very innocent and little girl–ish. What I didn't think was necessary was extra sugar–coating on the top of that. I felt they were exaggerating the image. If I'd be sitting in a bar with a drink, a glass of wine or something, and a photographer turned up, it would be whisked out of my hand and replaced with a Coke or a lemonade or something, by whoever was with me from Apple at the time.
I thought that was rather silly, because it must've been embarrassing to Apple to have someone like me on the label, anyway. I thought, why exaggerate this image when it's sickly enough as it is.
Goldmine: Tell us about "Que Sera Sera," the last single Paul produced for you.
Mary Hopkin: At the time, it was just one of Paul's fun ideas. It was one sunny afternoon, we were sitting in Paul's garden, and he said, "Do you like this song?" I said, "Well, I used to sing it when I was three!" And he said, "My dad likes it, let's go and do it." And so Ringo came along; it was all done in an afternoon. I was sort of swept along with Paul's enthusiasm, really.
By the time I was halfway through the backing vocals, I said, "This is awful." I really thought it was dreadful and I didn't want it released.
Goldmine: Mickie Most came in and produced the next single, "Temma Harbour."
Mary Hopkin: Had it been done by another artist who'd established themselves in a different vein, had I been an established singer/songwriter, for example, you can then do very twee little songs and get away with it. Like Sting did that "Happiness" song. Someone like that, because he's established, he can sing a twee song and everybody gets the joke.
But when Mary Hopkin did something like that, the general public wouldn't understand. Now I write very tongue–in–cheek, bitchy little songs. That's what happened with the sugary image that was presented. It made it all very ghastly; songs like "Temma Harbour," anything sugary, are really very nauseating to me.
Goldmine: Why Mickie Most?
Mary Hopkin: The reason I worked with Mickie was that obviously Paul and I agreed that it wasn't going to work out, because he hadn't the time, and I had to get more material out. We came up with Mickie Most, and I thought, "Oh, that might be good," because he'd produced Donovan, who was very sensitive and does beautiful music.
Unfortunately, Mickie took a different approach with me. And that's when the rot set in.
The crunch was when Mickie visited me at my final summer season. We'd been going over some songs to record, and he said, "Choose the keys, and I'll go away and record them. When you've got a chance, you come down and do the vocals." I said no way; I have to be there. I want to discuss the arrangements. I don't want to be a session singer, just come in at the end and stick a vocal on top, thank you very much.
Goldmine: There is a perception that after the Beatles broke up, no one at the label paid any attention to the other Apple artists.
Mary Hopkin: I didn't mind that, because I left Apple, by choice, after Earth Song Ocean Song. I was so demoralized by that time, because I'd finally done the album I wanted to, and Apple was encouraging about that, but I was then tied up in doing these horrendous summer shows, which preventing me from promoting that album. So it sort of fizzled out without a trace, because I wasn't there to promote it. I remember reading a lovely write–up in Rolling Stone. But by that time it was too late. I'd been pushed more and more into the show business side.
It's very easily done, because when you're surrounded by people who've been in the business for years, handled around to different agents, you say yes, the first time, because you don't know what it's all about. It's hard to explain, but it's easy to be manipulated when you're 18, 19, and people say, "Ah, but you only have to do this one, and then you'll be free to do the kind of material you want." They have their ways of persuading you.
Goldmine: Was it the best of times or the worst of times?
Mary Hopkin: I was so young at the time, I didn't take it seriously. I didn't realize immediately that it might harm me psychologically. I'm not sure how it's harmed me as far as the public is concerned.
Goldmine: You represented England in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest, and you've said it was a real low point for you.
Mary Hopkin: I did lose my confidence. I really don't want to sound too upset about it all, but at the same time it was unpleasant. I'd say.
The music quality is appealing. The only decent thing that came out of it was ABBA, that kind of music. It was another embarrassing experience, an experience to crown them all really. I wish it had never happened. I was promised that that quality of songs for the competition would be improved, that they would be decent songs.
Goldmine: And what happened?
Mary Hopkin: Well, they were dreadful. I was conned, basically. Not by the BBC, but just by people around me, who said it was very important that I do this. The song was "Knock Knock Who's There." I was devastated when I heard that, because by that time I was committed to doing it.
That's the problem, you see, you weren't told exactly what was going on. So by the time you'd committed yourself, professionally, you couldn't back out. It would be unprofessional.
Goldmine: Aside from a few scattered singles and group recordings, you haven't appeared much on record shelves since the Apple days. What are you doing now?
Mary Hopkin: I'm writing songs now, working either on my own or with other writers, in various styles. The songs that are important to me are the ones I'm writing with my son, Morgan, who's living in New York. He's 21, and he's writing some amazing music. He sends me backing tracks and I write the melody and lyrics. And so far the response has been really good. We're really enjoying it. We're very much in tune. He writes what I hear, what I can't put down, because as a musician he's excellent. I'm fine with vocals, and basic guitar and piano, but I wouldn't be able to put down a whole backing track as well as he does.
Goldmine: Are you considering re–entering the music business?
Mary Hopkin: Although I'm not consciously looking for a record deal—I've had some unpleasant experiences in the past—I'm not interested unless I have full control over what I do. But my idea would be to have them released and do videos, and that's it.
Goldmine: So, how do you feel about the Those Were The Days album being released on CD?
Mary Hopkin: I'm not unhappy it's coming out. Fortunately, I can sort of remove myself emotionally from it. I'm delighted that people who enjoyed the tracks then will get to hear them again. It's always lovely. That's why I don't want to condemn them, really because if it gives people pleasure, it's good. As a singer, it sort of demoralized me, but we shouldn't harp on that, should we? I've moved on.
Goldmine: Do people still recognize you, stop you on the street and say, "Mary Hopkin! "Those Were The Days'"!?
Mary Hopkin: I'm afraid so, yes. I've never liked that side of it. I've always really liked the music side when I'm in control of the music. Basically, I'm not a performer. I've never been comfortable onstage, really. I am a singer and now, hopefully, a songwriter. I love that. I feel as if I'm finally expressing myself in the way I want to.
So the Apple days were like being in kindergarten, really, just falling over a lot and the whole world witnessing all my spelling mistakes.
Song By Song
Those Were The Days: The Best Of Mary Hopkin was compiled in 1972, and in its new greatly expanded form, by Hopkin herself. After our interview was completed, she was asked to comment on each of the album's 17 tracks:
"Those Were The Days" : Good quality. I'm proud of that. It was a delight to do, especially since Pavarotti and his pals sang it.
"Goodbye" : Jolly little song. I think slightly in the wrong direction, but it was fun at the time. I think it was good of Paul to write it for me.
"Temma Harbour" : No. No. I did say no to this at the time. It was one of those long drawn–out arguments, really. I lost. Another artist, with some credibility, could've done that really well.
"Knock Knock Who's There" : That wasn't Mickie's fault, even though he produced it. That was from the other side of things, nothing to do with Apple. It was just a lot of other people wanting me to do the Eurovision Song Contest. It was the accepted thing, if you were a popular singer then, that you would represent the country that year, you know.
"Think About Your Children" : I lost a lot of confidence because of the material I was doing. And I suppose I've only myself to blame anyway, but all I can say is that I was very young at the time, and however much I disagreed, there were about 15 people who would oppose me. It was very hard to stand up to all these experienced businessmen.
"Que Sera Sera" : As far as I remember, it's just Paul and Ringo. I don't think he added anything else. It was all finished in that one afternoon.
"Lontano Dagli Occhi" : That was another song contest, in Italy. Again, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I had never been to Italy, and I thought, "Good, I'll go to Italy."
"Sparrow" : "Sparrow" was lovely, because that's when my friendship with [songwriters] Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle started. And we've been friends ever since, which is about the most wonderful thing that's come out of my time with Apple. It was a little somber, on reflection, but at the time I was happy with it.
"Heritage" : I think that's one of the ones where I just sat in the studio with Benny and Graham on acoustic guitars. I loved everything they were involved with.
"Fields Of St. Etienne" : That's one of my all–time favorites. Beautiful song. Apparently, the first time it was released on an album, it was a different arrangement. It might've been the chap who did "Those Were The Days," Richard something. Paul produced the other version, which was a bit over the top. And having been told that they were re–releasing it, I begged them to find the version I did with Benny and Graham. Which I think this is.
"Jefferson" : The country "Ya–hoo" song. Pleasant, fun, yes, not their best song. But it was fun working with them; we were great friends by then.
"Let My Name Be Sorrow" : I think my friend Ralph McTell found this—a French writer, I think. I loved it; it's all a bit melodramatic, looking back, the way I sang it and the way it was arranged.
They were a bit over the top. Vocally, my voice hadn't matured enough to cope with any of these really. Many of the heavier ones.
I can't blame Paul for thinking I should sing light, jolly little songs, really. But there could've been a happy compromise—I could've sung some more of the contemporary folk things.
"Kew Gardens" : Oh, that's a delightful little song. That's a twee song, but it's very sweet. It's not one of my all–time favorites, but since Ralph wrote it, it's a very sensitive little song.
"When I Am Old One Day" : I haven't even heard it since then. We recorded it, but I think we had enough tracks for the album, and that was one of the ones that got left out in the end.
"Silver Birch And Weeping Willow" : Quite honestly, I didn't want to include my absolute favorites on this album, because they didn't fit in with it as a collection of songs. So I chose the lighter songs, really. "Silver Birch" is another gentle, sweet song of Ralph's.
"Water Paper and Clay" : I liked it very much.
"Streets Of London" : I wasn't ever happy with my vocal on that. It's a beautiful song, but only Ralph can sing it really. We have this argument, Ralph and I: He thinks I didn't do it justice. It's in this collection because I do love the Earth Song Ocean Song album. It had such a beautiful atmosphere there. It has all the best musicians—Ralph, Danny (Thompson) and Dave (Cousins, of the Strawbs) and Tony produced it very well and wrote lovely string arrangements. It was all very sensitive, and that's the way I wanted to work.
By: Bill DeYoung
Record Collector, August 1988 (No.108)
Mark Lewisohn talks to Apple's biggest-selling artist apart from The Beatles: Mary Hopkin!
Mark Lewisohn talks to Apple's biggest-selling artist apart from The Beatles, about her signing to the label, her links with Paul McCartney, her views on the way she was marketed by Apple, and her subsequent career.
Mary Hopkin was by far Apple's greatest success at the time. The chart figures speak for themselves: Apple's top three British singles were all by Mary, and she had four of the label's top ten. Apart from "Phil Spector's Christmas Album", Mary's "Postcard" was the only Apple LP to enter the British charts. In America, she had the biggest Apple single, plus the biggest Apple album.
This all happened a long time ago but Mary, let's not forget, was only in her teens at the time; consequently, at the age of only 38, she is far from passing her peak today, and she continues to pursue a singing career that - happily as far as she's concerned - is far removed from her old Apple material.
Born in Glamorgan on May 3, 1950, Mary's professional career took off with one almighty leap at the age of 18 when Paul McCartney took her under his wing, found her first song "Those Were The Days", produced it, and oversaw her launch as one of the first crop of Apple artists. Just a few weeks later, Mary was at No. 1 in the charts virtually all over the world. In common with so many, Mary Hopkin has long suffered from an image that scarcely befits the real person. Being an 18-year-old, sweet, naive-looking Welsh schoolgirl, she was portrayed by Apple with a halo of innocence, being recommended songs which the real Mary, with healthy strong opinions and tastes leaning towards Joan Baez in one direction and solid rock music in the other, found totally inappropriate.
Sadly, Mary was a minor, her career was guided by the wrong people and she was too much in awe of what was happening to have any real say. It was only in late 1971, her career already looking to be in decline after too many twee songs and a banal Eurovision Song Contest tune, that Mary got her way. Her final Apple album, "Earth Song/Ocean Song", showed the direction she would have wished to follow all along.
Since she parted company with Apple in March 1972, Mary has continued to make music, though without the success of the Apple years. But she did return to the British singles chart in 1976 with "If You Love Me", produced by then-husband Tony Visconti for his Good Earth label; in 1980 she formed part of a trio called Sundance who recorded for Bronze; and in April 1984 she teamed up with Peter Skellern, Julian Lloyd Webber, Bill Lovelady and Mitch Dalton to form Oasis, the result being one WEA LP/CD and a return to the higher echelons of the album chart.
Mary's fine Welsh tones have also been featured in numerous guest appearances which range across her favoured musical spectrum, from the folk of Tom Paxton and Bert Jansch to the rock of Thin Lizzy, Hazel O'Connor and David Bowie. Mary's next vinyl appearance will be in the million-pound EMI recording of "Under Milk Wood", a major production by George Martin which enlists the talents of many top performers. I recently had the pleasure of a rare interview with Mary, a warm, funny and engaging young woman whose first child, 15-year-old son Morgan, to put matters into perspective, has just written, performed and produced his debut single!
Record Collector: How did your Apple career begin?
Mary Hopkin: I was a 17-year-old schoolgirl working at weekends with a group of local boys in a folk/rock band, and after about six months the group split up, so I carried on solo. Then my agent, to my absolute horror, put my name down for an audition for "Opportunity Knocks", a good show for hopefuls in the music business but not really the sort of thing I wanted to do. But he persuaded me to go along for experience, so I went and sang a couple of songs; and the next thing I heard was that I'd been chosen for one of the programmes.
Rather reluctantly I made my appearance which, amazingly enough, Twiggy watched. She met with Paul McCartney that following weekend and when Paul was chatting to her about the new record label they were forming, Twiggy mentioned me. About two days later I got a telegram saying, "Ring Peter Brown at Apple Records". It sat on the shelf for three days until my mother insisted I ring him.
I was a great Beatles fan so I'd heard all about the Apple boutique, but I didn't make any connection between the Beatles and this Peter Brown telegram. So I rang up and was put through to this guy with a Liverpool accent, who invited me to come up to London and sign a contract. Being a cautious young Welsh girl, I thought, "That's a bit sudden!", and became a bit evasive, so this guy said, "Well, go and ask your Mum then!" I dragged my mother to the telephone and she proceeded to practically drop the thing because he said, "Oh, this is Paul McCartney, by the way"! I remember racing down the road to tell all my friends who I'd been talking to. The next day they sent a car for us and off I went with my Mum to the big city.
RC (Record Collector): Did you audition for Paul?
MH (Mary Hopkin): Yes, we went to the Dick James Music studio. Paul was in the control room and I did a couple of demos for him - Joan Baez and Donovan songs - broke a guitar string and muttered some swear words into the mike. We had lunch - he took us to the Angus Steak House which we were really impressed by - and I sailed through the day in a haze, painfully shy and totally in awe of Paul. I went back home and about two days later somebody rang and said, "Yes, we 'd like to sign you". So I made another trip to London and Paul said, "I've got a song that might suit you. I found it years ago and gave it to Donovan and it didn't work out, I gave it to the Moody Blues, they loved it but it didn't happen, and I've been looking for the right sound for it." Then he strummed this song called "Those Were The Days". I loved it immediately, but I must say that I'd probably have liked anything he would have played me at the time! A lot of people think Paul wrote the song, but he didn't. Anyway, we recorded it a couple of weeks later, and five weeks after the release, in September 1968, I was No. 1.
RC: Hadn't you won "Opportunity Knocks" for a record number of times?
MH: Eventually, but all the Apple thing happened after the first show.
RC: And you had already made recordings for the Cambrian label, hadn't you?
MH: Yes, Cambrian was based in my little village of Pontardawe. It was a tiny company but they exported to Welsh communities in Canada and the U.S.A. Cambrian used to do EP's, four songs each, all in the Welsh language, and I used to do traditional songs and translations of awful English songs. The translations themselves were excellent, my chemistry teacher used to do them for me.
RC: Were you aware that in Eastern Europe "Those Were The Days" was considered to be a traditional folk song? It was popular in the 1920s in Lithuania as "Long Journeys."
MH: Yes, it was a traditional Russian melody, but Gene Raskin - an American architect - re-wrote the modern version.
RC: Apple seemed intent on making you an international star because you recorded quite a few foreign language songs.
MH: Yes, loads. I did French, German, Spanish and Italian versions of "Those Were The Days", Japanese and Welsh versions of others, I don't know why. Neil Aspinall's wife helped me on the French recording - it was totally different, not a literal translation.
RC: How did you learn "Those Were The Days"? Did Paul give you a demo?
MH: I just picked it up. He didn't demo it, but he did demo "Goodbye" for me, which he wrote and then produced. And when we recorded it we played the guitar part together, plus Paul added a thigh slap all through the song and played ukulele.
RC: You were very much Paul's protégé at that time. Can you remember what reaction this got from the other Beatles?
MH: Well, they were very busy with other people. George was with Jackie Lomax, Paul and Peter Ash were also looking after James Taylor. John was very busy with Yoko, although he was very sweet and encouraging to me. He probably wasn't into my music, though! I only worked with Paul, and really only saw the others at meetings, parties or press events.
RC: What was it like at Apple then?
MH: A madhouse! It was, as Richard DiLello wrote, the longest cocktail party. I felt very much on the outside of it all, being very unsophisticated and barely out of school, and being thrown in at the deep end. It was full of mad people - though mostly well-meaning - and I think I became a bit of an embarrassment to them. Certainly their approach to me was very odd, so different from the way they dealt with all their other artists. It was bad enough that I was straight from school, totally green, a little dolly bird, but then they proceeded to exaggerate all that.
They took great pains over creating a ghastly sugary image for me. Sure, a lot of it was already there because of my age, but I would have grown out of it in time. But they seemed to latch onto that and then I became an embarrassment to them, because I wasn't hip. I still can't understand why they sugar-coated me. I remember going to bars, sitting there with a glass of wine, and if a photographer turned up it'd be whisked out of my hand and I'd be given a Pepsi instead. I was offered a part in "Hair" which would have been great to do, and Apple turned it down.
My father was very, very over-protective and, on reflection, he was probably responsible for much of this - I'll never find out how much. He wrote certain things into my contract: "Mary must never appear naked in a photograph"; "Mary must record a track in Welsh on every album"; that sort of thing! I suppose he could have been the cause of it all, scaring Apple into giving me this clean-cut, nauseating image. I think Apple should have stood up to him, because that image has done me a lot of harm, even to this day.
RC: Who put you forward for the Eurovision Song Contest?
MH: (Immense groan) I'm not quite sure, but it could have been my agent. I hated it, it was like "Opportunity Knocks" again. I said, "No way, it's absolute rubbish, I won't do it. How am I ever going to progress, musically, and have any credibility if I do this?" Eventually, apart from a great deal of emotional blackmail, the only way they got me to do it was to promise to pick some quality songs - but they weren't. I got the usual rubbish. "Knock, Knock, Who's There" was one of the most appalling songs of all time. I apologise if I'm upsetting anyone, but really it was quite awful. I haven't watched a Eurovision Song Contest since.
RC: After Paul produced your version of "Que Sera Sera", which was his last tangible assistance, you were teamed up with a new producer.
MH: Yes, but the rot had already set in. Quite understandably, Paul was busy with Beatles projects and had less and less time for me. His interest was waning and Apple had to find somebody else to produce me. Unfortunately the came up with Mickie Most, and I went along with it because he'd produced Donovan. But it turned out that his approach to recording was much like Stock/Aitken/Waterman today: churn them out, and use the singers as session singers.
He came to visit me - I was doing some dreadful summer show on a pier somewhere - and he came to ask me what key I would like to sing in, then he'd record the whole thing without me and add my voice at the end. There was no way I would put up with that
treatment, so he thought me extremely difficult, quite different to his other female singers who were more used to work that way. We did a couple of singles which I hated, "Temma Harbour" and "Think About Your Children".
RC: "Think About Your Children" is a good song.
MH: Yes, Hot Chocolate wrote that but I shouldn't have sung it. It wasn't Mickie's fault, it was mine. I didn't go into it with the right attitude. My confidence had taken a knock by the direction I was going in. After "Goodbye", I'd hit a slide. That was a nice song but it set a trend for me which I couldn't stand, you know - bubbly, sing-along pop tunes. So I'd lost faith in myself by the time of "Think About Your Children", and then the Eurovision thing crowned it all.
RC: What did you think of the "Post Card" album, which Paul produced?
MH: There are moments on it that were wonderful, but the rest, again, I'm a bit embarrassed about. Paul wanted me to try a few different things, songs which were his all-time favourites or numbers which his Dad liked, but I was far too young to know how to deal with half of those songs. It all sounds a little silly now, a little Welsh voice trying to sing "Someone To Watch Over Me". But the Donovan tracks I loved. Don, Paul and I just sat around on three chairs and I sang while they played acoustic guitars. It was magical, so lovely, such an intimate setting.
RC: Was "Earth Song/Ocean Song" much more the style you wanted to follow?
MH: Oh yes. That was definitely going in the right direction, but by the time I recorded that I was so demoralised, with the singles getting worse and worse, that I'd lost confidence and didn't know what to do next. I felt I had to stop everything and get myself out of the rut. I was still being pushed into dreadful summer shows and pantomimes, yet I'd actually started out as a contemporary folk singer, doing songs by Joan Baez and Judy Collins. "Earth Song/Ocean Song" was a great album to make, with Ralph McTell, Danny Thompson and Dave Cousins - lovely people. The album had a wonderful write-up in "Rolling Stone" which made it all worthwhile to me, but everything at Apple was fizzling out, my contract expired and we left it at that. Then, having left Apple and married Tony, I fell pregnant with our first child and left the business for a while, just quietly writing songs and raising our family for a few years.
RC: From what you've been saying, I shouldn't think you object to the fact that, because of Apple's problems, your records haven't been available for about 15 years.
MH: No, I'm quite happy about that! I wouldn't mind the "Earth Song/Ocean Song" album being available, the "Those Were The Days" and "Goodbye" singles, plus a couple of B-sides written by Gallagher and Lyle, but that's it.
RC: You married Tony Visconti in 1971. Did you work with the people he was producing?
MH: I did backing vocals on David Bowie's "Sound And Vision". I was out in France when they were recording "Low" and Brian Eno was there doing all the basic tracks for David to write songs around. Brian asked me to do some backing vocals with him, just a little riff. He promised me it'd be way back in the mix with tons of echo, but when David heard it he boosted it right up and it's very prominent, much to our embarrassment because it was such a corny little riff! I didn't do anything with T. Rex, but obviously we got to know Marc very well.
RC: You did something on Regal Zonophone in 1972 and singles on Good Earth in 1976.
MH: Yes, but they're best forgotten. They were very half-hearted attempts, absolutely dreadful. And the press, as they still do, saw each one as a 'comeback'. Every time I open my mouth to sing a few notes, it's "Mary Hopkin makes a comeback"!
I didn't really do anything seriously until 1980 when I got together with Mike Hurst, from the Springfields, and Michael de Alberquerque from ELO. We did some good demos, in sort of Eagles vein, nice harmonies; but again we had a record company, Bronze this time, trying to manufacture an image. The name Sundance was chosen, which was when I could see the corn starting again, and then they wanted us to do support on a Shirley Bassey tour. I immediately turned that down and was sacked on the spot! No way was I going to go back to that sort of thing, or do summer seasons and cabaret. I'd been pushed into doing all that junk for years. We did do support on a Doctor Hook tour, though, which was great fun.
RC: And did the same thing happen with Oasis?
MH: Yes. Peter Skellern's manager rang me sometime in 1983 and discussed a project Peter was doing with Julian Lloyd Webber. Would I be the female vocalist? I said yes because Peter writes lovely songs and because I thought Julian would be adding little classical touches here and there. We all agreed that we wanted to do a quality thing, and we signed to a five-year contract, then all the record company nonsense started and I thought, "Oh God, here we go again!".
We had an absolutely ghastly photo session, the guys wearing bow ties and me in an evening dress with my hair dolled up. My hair is green and my face is orange on that album cover. Still, I would have carried on and tried to sort out that sophisticated image nonsense, but for the fact that I became seriously ill and had to bow out of the tour we had planned. I still feel bad about letting everybody down like that but, on the bright side, it brought Oasis to an enforced end.
RC: What are those versions of "Those Were The Days" and "Goodbye" one can get on new various artists albums? They're not the Apple versions, are they?
MH: No, I re-recorded them with Tony in the mid-1970s - can't think why! They were done for a one-off fee, which was pretty stupid, and they show up everywhere now. I don't like my vocals on them.
RC: Were the Apple artists like a family?
MH: Not really. I only met Pete Ham (of Badfinger) once. He was a lovely man, from Swansea. I went to the premiere of "Yellow Submarine" with James Taylor, which was a little strange because we were worlds apart. I was so shy that I barely uttered a word and James was totally spaced out. A fine pair, turning up in a huge limousine!
James is great, I admire his voice so much, and he still does lovely things with Peter Asher. I'll always regret turning down "You've Got A Friend". Peter sent me a tape, giving me the first opportunity of recording it, and I turned it down. I could have kicked myself. And I also turned down Elton John's "Your Song". I had a demo of that but turned it down because I thought one line was too corny. "How wonderful life is when you're in the world". After what I'd been doing with Mickie Most I just couldn't face lyrics like that. Of course, when Elton did it, it sounded marvellous, not corny at all. That's how much I'd lost confidence in my own capabilities by the time of Mickie Most: I'd turn down anything remotely 'sweet'.
RC: Was your career affected by the sweeping changes at Apple during the Allen Klein era?
MH: I wasn't directly affected by it, but I was very aware of the hostility towards Klein. There was a bad atmosphere and nobody was very happy. But I wasn't that interested in the business side, I was more into the music and the fact that my career was going in entirely the wrong direction. I can't really complain about Apple, though: they were very good to me but they just overdid the sugar coating.
by Mark Lewisohn
Record Mirror & Disc, February 21, 1976
Mary had a little jam...and now she's got a single!
Mary Hopkin has at least one good reason for being glad to be back at work "It gives me an excuse to get a maid. I'm not a very good housewife; Tony's never got any clean clothes to wear and we have arguments about it most mornings."
Tony is Tony Visconti, the producer whose clients include Marc Bolan and David Bowie. Mary, if the name isn't ringing any bells, is the lady who had her biggest hit with 'Those Were The Days' eight years ago. She is also Mrs. Tony Visconti.
During the past three years Mary's released no records in her own right. She's spent most of her time looking after Tony and their son, Delaney, filling in spare moments doing mostly uncredited back-up vocals on other people's LPs. "I've done something on most of the albums Tony's produced."
For David Bowie "I only did one line on his new album. You'd never notice me," for Ralph McTell, for Tom Paxton (she got a credit for that), "Even for Sparks," she adds.
On February 27, she has a new single of her own out. It's called 'If You Love Me' and it's an old Edith Piaf song. It was originally called 'Hymn D'Amour' in French, and gave Piaf one of her greatest hits.
The atmosphere of Mary's version immediately reminds me of 'Those Were The Days'. "Yes," she says, "But a lot of people said that on 'Those Were The Days' I sounded like Piaf. "It's very convenient," she continues, "that the film on Piaf's life is released this week. We didn't time the record specially to coincide though, it just happened that way."
On the B-side of Mary's single is one of her own compositions called 'Tell Me Now.'
Apart from the single there's an album completed. "It's called 'With You Or Without You' and it 's got some folky things on it and some more commercial kinds of things. "It was completed some time ago," she explains , "but the record company wanted to have a single out first, which is only reasonable, so now we may go back and change some of the tracks." Some of the songs will be her own: "But I've got very few actually finished. I tend to write very moody songs and the inspiration is only sporadic."
At present, TV appearances are being lined up for Mary to promote her single, but she's not intending to have as busy a career this time around as she did in the old days. "I don't think I'd want to tour or anything like that," she says. "Anyway with my son to look after it wouldn't really be possible. In the old days I don't ever think, I actually looked forward to doing appearances. I didn't exactly dread them, but I think I did lack confidence."
She's clearly rather a shy, reserved person and doesn't much care for all the hurly-burly of music business at large. "I've always liked singing though."
Through her husband, she's learned a little about production and engineering records. "But generally I have an idea and leave the experts to make it works for me. I mean, Tony's so good that there's no point in my trying."
Finally, the conversation turns to domestic matters. The Viscontis have recently moved to a home near the Thames at one of its most beautiful reaches. "It's much nicer than Hammersmith where we were before," she says, but then adds with a smile of self reproach, "I doubt if I'm ever going to get it organised though."
by Ray Fox-Cumming