Het is vandaag al twintig jaar geleden dat de Engelse componist en society figuur Lionel Bart is overleden aan leverkanker (foto Allan Warren via Wikipedia).
He wrote Tommy Steele’s hit “Rock with the Caveman”, which became the first British pop song to break into the American Top 40, and was the sole creator of the internationally acclaimed musical “Oliver!” (1960). The original stage production, which starred Ron Moody and Georgia Brown, contained such song hits as “As Long As He Needs Me” and “Consider Yourself”; it is also notable for featuring Australian satirist Barry Humphries in his first major stage role as Mr Sowerberry, and future rock stars Steve Marriott (later the lead singer of the Small Faces and Humble Pie), Davy Jones (pre-Monkees), and Phil Collins (of Genesis fame) as The Artful Dodger.
The music for Oliver! was transcribed by Eric Rogers, who wrote and composed 21 scores for the Carry On-films. Bart hummed the melodies and Rogers wrote the notes on his behalf as Bart could not read or write music. Aangezien Charles Chaplin die op dezelfde manier te werk ging op die wijze “the whistler of Hollywood” werd genoemd, zouden we Lionel Bart als “the hummer of the West End” kunnen bestempelen.
With “Oliver!” and his work alongside revolutionary theatre director Joan Littlewood at Theatre Royal, Stratford East, he played an instrumental role in the 1960s birth of the British musical theatre scene after an era when American musicals had dominated the West End. Best known for creating the book, music and lyrics for “Oliver!”, he was described by Andrew Lloyd Webber as “the father of the modern British musical”. In 1963 he won the Tony Award for Best Original Score for “Oliver!”, and the 1968 film version of the musical won a total of 6 Academy Awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Bart’s next two musicals, “Blitz!” (1962) (from which came the song “Far Away”, a hit for Shirley Bassey) and “Maggie May” (*) had successful and respectable West End runs (“Blitz!”, at the time London’s most expensive musical ever, had a run of 568 performances), but “Twang!!” (1965), a musical based on the Robin Hood legend, was a flop and “La Strada” (1969), which opened on Broadway after the removal of most of Bart’s songs, closed after only one performance. By this time Bart was taking LSD and other drugs and was drinking heavily, and this may have affected both his work and his business judgement.
His other notable compositions include the theme song to the James Bond film “From Russia with Love” (sung by Matt Monro), and the hit songs “Living Doll” (**) by Cliff Richard, “Far Away” by Shirley Bassey, “Do You Mind?” (recorded by both Anthony Newley and Andy Williams), “Big Time” (a 1961 cover by Jack Jones of his “Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be” show tune), “Easy Going Me” by Adam Faith, “Always You And Me” by Russ Conway, and several songs recorded by Tommy Steele (“Handful of Songs”, “Butterfingers” and “Little White Bull”).
By the mid 1960s he was as well known for his outlandish lifestyle, his celebrity friends, his excesses, and his parties as he was for his work. Het is eigenlijk vooral hiervoor dat ik hem in herinnering wil brengen, omdat het in zijn (chique) woning is dat Rod Stewart voor het eerst in aanraking kwam met “partouzes”. Stewart was daar trouwens op uitnodiging van Long John Baldry, die met Bart wellicht een verhouding had. (Wikipedia & Autobiography of Rod Stewart)
Ronny De Schepper
(*) Uit 1964. Had dus niks te maken met het latere succesnummer van Rod Stewart (1971), zij het dat de NAAM “Maggie May” wellicht wel teruggaat op deze musical.
(**) Aangezien Bart dus de componist is van “Oliver!” zou men kunnen zeggen dat “Living Doll” een portret is van Dora Spenlow. Wie “David Copperfield” heeft gelezen, zal wel begrijpen wat ik bedoel.