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Saturday, 21 August 2010

"You weren't there, man..."

It's hard to convince people that Cilla Black was one of the great voices of the 60s. Hell, it's hard to convince anyone that Cilla is a great voice full stop. For her contempory generation they have a few isolated hits to cling onto and for another generation we have the faded image of the warbling presenter of Surprise Surprise and Blind Date. Neither are much to go on. But let me tell you, I think there's something that could change your mind.

The story goes that when her manager suggested she record Bacharach's Alfie as the theme tune to the film she joked "I'll do it if Burt comes over and records it in person". And he did. Footage exists of the session in the cavernous Abbey Road studios with Burt at the piano and a full recording orhestra. And Cilla knocks it out of the park. She absolutely owns it. That running first line and the lilting finish set the scene and from then on she's right inside the music and the voice is like a steam drill and weighs a ton. Seeing it instantly changed my mind about Cilla because I could see the commitment. I was transfixed.

I've just returned home from guiding a whale watching trip and much the same effect was and is evident. People who haven't been close to whales and dolphins in the wild sort of know somehow that they're amazing animals and are normally willing to accept why other people love them. But to see them is a different matter. To see them means that you become utterly convinced and completely transfixed. They become, as it were, true believers in something that was before a matter of faith.

Some people who had never seen these animals had their head in their hands, shaking their head in a sort of bizarre disbelief. Was that leviathan truely rising to the surface to share a space with them? A brief moment of elation that stays in the blood like an antibiotic, its effects being felt long after the injection of the encounter. It is a moment of complete connection which is mainlined: a hundred-channel experience.

The estimable Henry Beston said:

"We patronise the animals for having taken form so far below ourselves and therein we err, and greatly err. In a world older and more complex than our own they move finished and complete, living by voices we will never hear, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained. They are not brethren, they are not underlings. They are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time."