Monday, January 9, 2023

It's Never Too Late To Change Your Mind: Tammy Jones: "Let Me Try Again"

If hauntology is to mean anything, then it must involve something from the present coming back to haunt the past, and it therefore incidentally follows that some unlikely pop records of old are bestowed with a new and unexpected significance. This record peaked at number two in the NME chart week ending 24 May 1975, twelve days before the United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum. Those of us able to vote at the time obviously did not include the eleven-year-old me, but certainly included my parents, both of whom voted "Yes," as did some 67.23% of British voters, many of whom were young and unburdened by the alleged legacies of heritage and war (I note that Windsor Davies and Don Estelle's "Whispering Grass" was vaulting from 26 to 11 in the same NME chart, on its way to the top).


Listening to this interpretation of what was originally a French song in 2023, amidst the wrecked dreams and blasted economy of what used to be Britain, is nearly, if accidentally, unbearable in its poignant promise - and I do not discount the competing but not necessarily contradictory "Let us go alone" mantra emanating from the Wales and Scotland throughout the spring of 1975.


Tammy Jones was born Helen Wyn Jones in Bangor in March 1944 and rose to prominence after winning a season of Hughie Green's Opportunity Knocks television talent contest. Although the publicity spoke about an ordinary Welsh housewife who just happened to have one heck of a voice, Jones was actually quite a well-known name on the cabaret circuit who had undergone formal voice training at the Guildhall School, had been recording (albeit mainly in Welsh) since the late sixties, and had already appeared on stage and television many times before OK, including at least one Royal Variety Performance.

The song "Let Me Try Again" had originally been called "Laisse-moi Le Temps" ("Give Me More Time") and had been recorded by many French artists, including two of its co-writers, Romauld and Caravelli (the third co-writer was the lyricist Michel Jourdan). In 1973, Frank Sinatra, bored by early retirement, was looking to make a comeback, and as with his previous farewell song "My Way," Paul Anka was asked to write an English lyric to the tune; this he did with the help of Sammy Cahn - so there was a real, concerted effort to bring Sinatra back.

While the parent album OI' Blue Eyes Is Back is not at all bad - it is for the most part a wistful, reflective and slightly melancholy study ("There Used To Be A Ballpark," "Nobody Wins," an interesting alternate emotional take on "Send In The Clowns") - Sinatra's "Let Me Try Again" is a little too self-satisfied and in places a shade too bossy ("Just forgive me," he demands twice, like a subdued Joe Pesci); the British public I think spotted that flaw and didn't make the single a hit.

Whereas Tammy Jones sings the song like she means it. Being Welsh, there is an obvious Shirley Bassey influence at work (although intriguingly I do not think Dame Shirley herself has ever recorded the song) but Jones goes at the emotions of the song as though she'd been waiting her entire life to sing it, to articulate them.

The crucial emotional difference here is that, instead of Sinatra's "Just forgive me," Jones offers "Please forgive me" (and, in the second chorus, a rhetorical "Oh, please forgive me"). As the key goes up for the final chorus, Jones' voice rides it smoothly (whereas Sinatra does his best to avoid or minimise the pitch shift) and by the time the song and record end, her larynx and teeth cling onto that final syllable of "again" as though she has been shaken to her core and will not let go of the song, her plea, our hope.

But in 2023 one hears such expressions as "Think of all we had before," "I was such a fool to doubt you/To try to go it all alone" and especially "Now all I do is just exist" and "Pride is such a foolish mask**," and this record sounds like the rational Britain - you know, the one in which we all actually live, not the one the government and media want to think we're inhabiting - pleading to Europe to give them another chance, with no further "Non!"s, crying out for a future. It is almost intolerably emotional and makes me think of how much promise appeared in my view of 1975, what I was taught by my parents and teachers then, and how all of it has now been wrecked and destroyed. If the Manic Street Preachers ever come across this piece, I'm certain they'd agree with its outlook.*

*A curious but logical counterpart for Welsh music of 1975 - not simply "Rhondda Grey" by Max Boyce, but also "Leaving It Up To You" by John Cale, who fed that anger directly into another important record of later that year - and the boy looked at Tammy (who returned to Wales after a long spell in New Zealand, and will celebrate her 79th birthday two months hence) and handed her a branch of cold flame.

**T.J. actually sings "But love is such a foolish mask" which is an obvious mistake, but I think it was charming that the producer (Robin Blanchflower) let it stand, since it's a sign of humanity. You wouldn't get that in today's fearsomely airbrushed world.