#1081: My Friend the Sea by Petula Clark
Born November 15, with “a voice as sweet as chapel bells,” Petula Clark first broke into the limelight during World War II when as a child she entertained the troops, both on radio and in concert. She is said to have performed in over 200 shows for the forces all over England before the age of nine and by war’s end, Petula Clark–the British “Shirley Temple” who had come to represent childhood itself–was so popular in England she was asked to sing at a national victory celebration at Trafalgar Square. In 1944, Petula made her first movie and has since appeared in over 30 British and American films.
Throughout the forties and fifties Petula was a regular guest on a vast number of radio shows and became something of a television “pioneer” in England, first appearing on experimental TV in the forties and later as host of several of her own television series during the very early years of British programming, with Pet’s Parlour being her longest running and most popular. Although she sang regularly in concert, on radio and TV all through the forties, it wasn’t until 1949 that she recorded her first song “Music, Music, Music” and that pretty much sums up her very prolific recording career. Her first hits on the British Singles chart was “The Little Shoemaker” in 1954. To date, she has sold well in excess of 68 million records.
In 1957, she was invited to sing at the famed Olympia theatre in France. After one song the French crowd went wild, and an entirely new career was launched. Asked to record in French, Petula declined at first but was quickly persuaded to do so by Frenchman Claude Wolff with whom she fell madly in love. She recorded “Prends Mon Couer” (“Now and Then There’s A Fool Such As I”) in 1959 which became her second Top Ten hit in France, and her first in French. Petula and Claude were married in June 1961. By the early sixties, Petula found herself reinvented as a French chanteuse, even rivaling the legendary Edith Piaf during Piaf’s own lifetime. Between 1958 and 1977 Clark charted 17 songs into the Top 10 on the French singles chart, including four #1 singles.
In answer to the rock-and-roll craze Petula in the early Sixties recorded “Sailor“, “Romeo” and “My Friend The Sea”. These singles put her back in the Top Ten again in England. The latter was a Top 20 hit in Vancouver.
With her #7 hit single in the UK, Petula Clark invites the oceans and seas to scout out the one she adores. The seas are invited to summon the tide and the fish to join in the search for the one who loves her. During and after World War II there were many men who were sailors as part of the naval fleet of their respective countries. Etymologically, the name “sailor” preserves the memory of the time when ships were commonly powered by sails, but it applies to the personnel of all vessels, whatever their mode of propulsion, and includes military (naval) and security (coast guard) maritime personnel and members of the merchant marine, as well as recreational sailors. One’s service aboard ships typically extends for months at a time, followed by protracted shore leave. However, some sailors secure jobs on ships they like and stay aboard for years. The narrator of the song “My Friend The Sea” is in love with a sailor who has sailed far away. She requests the sea to send her love, who sailed far away, back home to her. Internationally, aside from Vancouver, the song was a hit in Sydney, Australia.
Between 1962 and the first part of 1964 Clark had five Top Ten hits in France sung in French, German or Italian. Urged by her friends in Britain to record something in English, Petula allowed Tony Hatch to visit her in Paris where he presented his new song, “Downtown”. The song climbed to #1 in the USA, launching Petula’s American career and earning her a Grammy in 1964. It was also #1 in Vancouver. Clark quickly followed with “I Know A Place” which went to #2 in Vancouver and #3 in the USA and earned her a second Grammy in 1965. Numerous top 40 hits followed, including another #1 hit for her in Vancouver called “My Love”. In Vancouver she had sixteen Top 30 hits between 1962 and 1968, including eleven Top Ten. Internationally, Petula Clark has charted in the top 40 with 159 recordings!
In the sixties, she starred in two Hollywood musicals, Finian’s Rainbow and Goodbye Mr. Chips, opposite the Fred Astaire and, in the latter, Peter O’Toole. In all, Clark has appeared in 29 films since her debut in the 1944 British comedy Medal for the General.
In the nineties Petula made her Broadway debut, starring opposite David and Shaun Cassidy in the highly successful production of Blood Brothers followed by a well-received American tour of the same production. In 1998 Petula returned to England, where she was presented with a prestigious Order of the British Empire (CBE) by her Majesty the Queen of England, in honor of Clark’s career. On October 28, 2000, Petula presented a new one-woman show — a concert highlighting her life and career— to tremendous acclaim. The show made its debut at the St. Denis Theatre in Montreal. In 2017, Petula Clark had a North American tour and released her latest album, Living For Today. She is 85 years of age.
February 15, 2017
Petula Clark biography, Petula Clark.net
Petula Clark, “Prends Mon Couer,” 1959
Busola Evans, Petula Clark: At 80, the singer recalls learning Welsh so she could talk to her grandparents and the difficulties of being a child star whose father was also her manager, Guardian, September 6, 2013
Neil McCormick, Petula Clark interview: ‘I’ve had a strange life’, Telegraph, London, UK, February 13, 2013
Jordan Rungtah, Petula Clark Keeps on Living for Today with New Album and U.S. Tour, People Magazine, November 22, 2017
Petula Clark: Still “Living for Today”, CBS, December 24, 2017
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.