By Tony Stafford
I backed a 100,000,000-1 winner the other night. Not that it made me any money – what’s new? It was my daughter’s birthday and I was driving up to give her card and gift in the early rush hour. My listening options were limited – Adrian (Absurd) Durham is on Talksport at that time; Radio Four news were rehashing the election yet again and Classic FM made little appeal after a few days’ over-patronage.
Radio 2, for years in a former life the station of choice, still offers a couple of short-term car-bound options, and Simon Mayo is just about the best (or least-ghastly). On Tuesday he welcomed the veteran singer Art Garfunkel to talk about his forthcoming tour, but more specifically recall an early appearance on the show a few years ago at a time when he admitted he’d lost his voice.
Art, so long the partner of Paul Simon before their much-reported split, talked how he’d gradually re-found his vocal range, going through a process of booking empty theatres to sing at, duetting with his iPod to top singers like, as he recalled James Taylor, Don and Phil Everly among many others.
Always ready to sing along, even on the radio to someone, some near-geriatric with an obviously aging voice, rabbiting on, I began with an Everlys classic, “I bless the day I found you, I want to stay around you, and so I beg you, let it be me.” It sounded pretty good to me, and I almost lost track in self-admiration as Art told Simon he used to wait for an empty elevator in which to test the vocal progress, or simply on the street back home in Manhattan.
“So”, eventually Simon said, “if we were following you down the sidewalk in New York, what might we be hearing?” Art began, “I bless the day I found you, I want to stay around you, and so I beg you, let it be me.”
I almost crashed the car – not really, but you have to try to emphasise the magnitude of the mathematical unlikelihood of such a chance double. Yet Simon Mayo never even alluded to the fact of my great prescience. Just did a Michael Parkinson, a distracted “Oh really” as he consulted his order of questions for the next one.
Before going into the final arrival at my “winning” prediction, or hunch, I need to bring those unaware of the fact that this song was actually written by the French singer/songwriter Gilbert Becaud in 1955. Don and Phil were among the first to sing the English version in 1960. Four years later Betty Everett and Jerry Butler made just as big an impact, so much so that even when I’m singing the two harmonic lines of the Everlys, I slip in during the penultimate verse, “because of your sweet love, Betty, what would life be?”
Wikepedia, that’s right I’ve had another look, lists 65 individual recorded versions of the song, with new ones even as recently as last year. It’s a great song, but I’m sure most of you haven’t heard it.
Then again, I was once a bit of a song nut. In the days when my 39-year-old son played football for Broxbourne Saints Under-9’s, the parents took time off from screaming on the touchline – “Big kick Paul”, “Simon, get up, it’s only pain, son” – to organise parties where identifying the song’s intro was often the main event apart from beer and other liquid refreshment.
The main venue was at Simon’s parents’ – so many Simons! – and it seemed to me that if I didn’t get all of them right the quickest, then I probably wasn’t listening because I was still bragging about the last one.
I knew hundreds, nay thousands of songs, and probably still do. Say 10,000, is that fair? How many, then, must Art Garfunkel know? He’s been in the business for almost 60 years, all those songs he’s sung, like “Bridge over Troubled Water” with Paul Simon, and on his own, “Bright Eyes”.
I was almost distracted again as Mayo played him out with it and I couldn’t help thinking that the clear-as-a-bell tenor voice that made that such a wonderful performance, was as far removed in quality and clarity from Art’s “Let It Be Me” as it could be. In fact, I know I’m biased, but it would have been a close match with the one Simon Mayo hadn’t heard a few minutes before.
Art’s not had to learn thousands of horse names – 10,000 different Flat racers alone every year for half a century – just songs. So let’s say he’s had time to hear and learn at least five times as many as me, to be charitable. That means I’ve under-stated the enormity of my intuition. 10,000 x 50,000 is 500 million to one! What’s especially annoying is that the whole episode is entirely true. That’s why I’ve decided to write this tosh rather than talk about my other equally new specialist subject.
No, it’s not 28 shots, no goals Arsenal. Not a nice first handicap run by Dutch Art at Haydock on Friday, nor even the intention to have a few quid on Seamour at Haydock today, until Pricewise ruined the price and my sense of unique discovery.
No, suddenly I’m a music expert and like horse form experts, you always need a little help. My wife, who is Russian and talented enough to have made a singing disc with professional technical help when back in Moscow, told me as they lined up for the Eurovision 2015 semi-final in the week, that Polina Gararina would win it with A Million Voices.
“She’s one of the best singers in Russia and began her career with “Star Acadamia”, their version of Pop Idol” she told me. “She will win as long as all the other nearby countries do not vote against Russia.” Nice price 100-30.
Maybe next time round at the election, as long as Polina has won – the result will be in by the time these words are in print – maybe Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP will ask her advice. What with her knowledge and my intuition, we’ve got it all covered. Happy racing!
Bugger that Pricewise – they tipped Polina too!