‘Those Roy Orbison concerts at the ABC – can you remember them,” asked number two son.
“But that’s 55 years ago,” he said, in a tone that suggested I might be losing my marbles.
“I also remember Frankie Laine’s first Sunday concert at the Opera House in August, 1952.”
Silence. Who on earth was Frankie Laine?
We’re in true Memory Lane territory, recalling shows of nearly 70 years ago.
There may be a few readers who remember Frankie (1913-2007) entered from “the wrong side” of the stage.
Frankie’s spot began with an empty stage and the pit orchestra playing just the first bar of Sunny Side of the Street.
All eyes were focussed on the tabs on the right of the stage. Pause – and Frankie emerged into the expanding pool of light on the left.
“Grab your coat and get your hat…”
There was a ripple from the audience, which Frankie sang through into the second line of the song.
Not something you forget, even after 68 years!
The Gazette’s review said a packed house, standing three deep at the back, greeted the opening number with wails and whistles. Frankie included his other jukebox hits Jealousy, Jezebel, Rock of Gibraltar and High Noon.
Sunny Side of the Street was the title song of a 1951 Hollywood film starring Frankie.
The song was a popular play in juke boxes in 1952, but the British pop chart wasn’t launched until November that year.
Frankie returned to the Opera House for two Sunday nights in 1953 and two in 1954, two shows per night.
By 1953 “Frankie fever” was in full swing due to his huge hit with the ballad I Believe, which topped the New Musical Express chart for 18 weeks. He followed it with two more number ones – Hey Joe! and Answer Me.
The review of the August, 1952, show acclaimed him as “First of the red hot Poppas” (well he was 39!) and gave an image of Frankie in front of the mike with legs apart, sometimes with eyes closed, “using expressive hands and fists to underline the feeling of suppressed passion.”
Readers of my generation may now be musing about other American hit-makers at the Opera House. Three were in the top places in the first weeks of the new chart (it began as the Top 12) in November, 1952.
They were the first chart-topper Al Martino with Here In My Heart, Guy Mitchell with Feet Up, and Nat King Cole with Somewhere Along the Way. All would eventually make their way to the Opera House.
But one British artist had three records in that first chart! Vera Lynn scored with Forget Me Not, The Homing Waltz and Auf Wiedersehn.
Dame Vera had been the star of the 1951 Opera House summer show.
Tune in next week, pop pickers, to hear about 20 American pop stars who headed the Opera House summer Sunday concerts in the early 1950s.