British singer Petula Clark has been making music since she first sang for the BBC back in World War II. Her ’60s hits, included among them “Downtown” and “I Know A Place,” are still considered stone-cold classics. She just released her latest album, Living For Today, and it shows that at the age of 85, she’s still in possession of an amazing voice and presence. In addition to original compositions by the singer, such as the powerful “Never Let Go” and “From Now On,” Living For Today also features covers of Peggy Lee’s iconic “Fever” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” It’s a wonderful recording, and we were lucky enough to ask Clark some questions about it via email, in the midst of the singer’s first-ever headlining tour of the United States, which wrapped up Tuesday, Dec. 26, at BB King’s in New York City.
Modern Vinyl: The new album is very modern in sound. Was that an outgrowth of the recording session as it happened, or the intent when you went in to record?
Petula Clark: We never go in to the studio with the idea of making a “new sound.” The songs lead the way. Neither John nor I wanted the tracks to sound forced in any way.
MV: Many of the songs on “Living For Today” were written by both you and producer John Owen Williams. When did you become involved with him creatively?
PC: Tony Hatch in the past had always encouraged me to write, and now John has been keen for us to write together. His tiny (and perfect) studio is a great environment for this kind of creativity.
MV: From “Crazy” and “Love Me Tender” on “Lost In You” to “Blackbird” and “Fever” on the latest, your choice of cover songs in recent years have been rather inspired. Are these songs you listen to on your own, or ones which are brought to you?
PC: Of course, there are so many “covers” to choose from. John had to gently, but forcefully shove me into “Crazy,” and I’m glad he did!
MV: What’s the process of bringing new life to such a standard as “Fever” or such an iconic bit of perfection like “Blackbird”?
PC: I was also reluctant to do “Fever,” as I had been a fan of Peggy Lee since I was a kid. There is always a risk of sounding as if your trying to imitate the original. I think we avoided this.
MV: You’ve not made many films since 1969’s “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” Do you ever think about returning to acting, or is music involving enough?
PC: Music has always been the most important thing for me, even if acting has taken over at times. The truth is, I enjoy it all — writing, acting, singing — it’s all part of my life, and always has been!
MV: Why did it take until now for you to headline a tour of the United States?
PC: Back in the ’60s, I was too busy with my European career and, my family life, etc., to embark on a U.S. tour, and since then, there just hasn’t been a window. This tour is sandwiched between a French Canadian CD in Montreal, and a Canadian tour in the Spring!
MV: For this tour, what’s the setlist like? I would imagine that that this being your first headling tour of America, there are lots of tough decisions to be made between songs from the new album and all your classics.
PC: It’s not easy to choose from all those great songs — plus the new ones that I love so much. We just have to hope that [the] audience enjoys our choice!
MV: What’s it been like, both in terms of audience response and just for you personally?
PC: American audiences are so generous. We seem to have a great relationship, which goes back a long way. Needless to say, I’m having a lot of fun with the crew, the band, and best of all — those moments on stage! That’s why I’m doing this!
Petula Clark’s Living For Today is available now on compact disc and digital.