London, May 2018
Or should that be Mr. Sinatra? Or maybe Uncle Frank? Because at one point in my life I genuinely thought you were my actual Uncle…
I’m getting ahead of myself.
My story, our story, begins in the distant 1960s. One of my most formative memories is from when I was 4 or 5 years of age (I have thought about this a lot and, having researched the period, I’m fairly certain that it was 1966). Our family lived on a new estate in south Liverpool. It feels like it was a happy, sunny, idyllic time.
I remember the occasion quite vividly. Mum and Dad had taken delivery of a brand new stereogram and it was the cause of much excitement in the house. The thing looked like a traditional sideboard except that it had two front compartments each with a sliding door. On the left was the radio with it’s tuning dials and exotic place names that I studied for hours – Luxembourg, Helsinki, Warsaw, third, light… The right hand side contained the first record player I had ever seen, complete with turntable, magnetic arm and numbers 16, 33, 45 and 78.
In celebration of this shiny modernity, my Father had procured its inaugural LP. Thus, the first music to be played was revealed, with almost regal ceremony, to be the record that I came to know as Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! Dad handled the disc like it was a precious artefact, gingerly removing it from the inner sleeve, carefully placing it on the spindle and moving the magnetic arm over to hold it in place. Like a magic trick the record dropped and the needle found the vinyl.
Then the music started. Your voice rang clear as anything from the built-in speakers. The bounding optimism of side one, track one; You Make Me Feel So Young, You Make Me Feel Like Spring Has Sprung. And so began an association that continues to this day.
13 Years previously my Mother had seen you perform at The Liverpool Empire on your British tour of 1953. Not wanting to be left out, Dad also claimed attendance – often disputed by Mum with maybe a little bit of competitiveness. There’s many Liverpudlians of a certain age who claim to have been at that gig.
Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! was played incessantly in our house. I would watch fascinated as the rainbow-edged Capitol label revolved on the turntable. I grew to know the songs and became obsessed with the cover – the amber painted background image of you, the jaunty angle of the typography, the couple embracing in the foreground; “Who’s that?” I asked Dad, pointing at your picture. “That’s your Uncle Frank” was his laughing reply. “But who’s that?” I asked again, referring to the happy twosome, “That’ll be Frank Sinatra Junior” he explained. This didn’t make any sense to me at all.
In time, more of your records appeared in the house. Dad surprised Mum with a copy of Frank Sinatra sings The Select Cole Porter. On seeing the cover picture, I remember being confused as to why you had a safety pin in your shirt collar. It’s still one of my favourites and ultimately led me to investigate Cole Porter’s lyrics in depth some years later – to me he’s probably the finest lyricist ever.
As a family we would gather round to watch your films when they appeared on television. This is when I discovered that you were more than a singer – even at such a young age I think I sensed that you were a charismatic actor.
My older brother (Who’d always preferred the movie Sinatra) brought your magnificent live album Sinatra at The Sands home one day. The glossy cover with its vibrant lettering and concert photos of yourself and Count Basie reflected the sparkling music within. My Father ended up lending it to my Aunty Ivy. Mother was livid and it became the source of many a row as it was never seen (or heard) again until I bought her the CD version many years later.
Your retrospective album A Man and His Music was also played a lot. Again, I found the sleeve fascinating. A scrapbook showing pictures of you from different stages of your career, including the early years where I felt you were almost unrecognisable from the person I’d recently come to learn about. This album features you singing The Oldest Established… with Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. I love this so much. It makes me wonder how you really got along with Marlon Brando when you were filming Guys and Dolls. It always seemed to me like he was hopelessly miscast and yet he got to sing Luck be A Lady. You must have been livid.
Our stereogram served us with distinction well into the 1970s. Time passed and I went through school discovering artists from my own generation whilst always aware of you becoming the global icon. As I grew into a young man and throughout my clubbing years, I rekindled my love of your music and began to recognize and understand your swagger and style which, suited and booted, I would hopelessly try to emulate in the nightclubs of Liverpool.
I enjoyed unearthing Sinatra albums that I’d never previously heard, learning about your approach to singing whilst appreciating even more how you interpreted songs and performed them with equal measures of sensitivity and panache. The 1980s led me to London and to Art School listening to you on my Sony Walkman. You were still busy, not making too many records but still as popular as ever and playing to thousands all over the world.
Post college, newly wed, and some way into my working life, I began to wonder if I would ever get to see you in concert – a concept that seemed unthinkable at the time. The opportunity arose in the Autumn of 1991. A colleague sent me a newspaper advert promoting your world tour. Without thinking twice about spending money I didn’t really have, I called the ticket line and managed to purchase two. It was happening.
On October 9th Mum and I flew from Liverpool to Dublin for the concert. We were concerned about what sort of view we would have of the show as our tickets were for row Z. We needn’t have worried. The seating system at the vast Point Theatre ran from row A to row Z, then AA to ZZ then AAA to ZZZ. You get the idea. It turned out our row Z was actually row 26. The seats were perfect.
It still feels like a dream. A performance I’ll never forget. We were close enough to see those famous blue eyes shining in the spotlight. The 32 piece orchestra sounded magnificent with you front of stage dominating the arena with years of experience and stagecraft making everything seem effortless. Mum was lucky enough to see you at both ends of your career. It’s something we still talk about to this day.
That same year I bought a state-of-the-art CD player for our new London apartment. Upon delivery, the very first shiny disc to be slid into the tray was, of course, Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! Do all men turn into their Father?
The 90s rolled along and I became an actual real Father. Reports filtered out that you weren’t in the best of health. We bought the Duets albums, which were fine but you weren’t quite at your best and we sensed that, this time, the end really was quite near.
You left us on May 14 1998. They turned the Empire State Building blue in your honour. People said you were the voice of the century. It was the dawn of the digital age and it seems that while music formats change your genius will always endure. My own children are now grown up and they appreciate you too.
Dad had a stroke in 2005. While he was in hospital I held his hand and asked him what his favourite song of yours was. It turned out to be Birth of The Blues. He passed away a few days later. We played it at his funeral. I never found out why he chose that song and now I regret not asking him. He gave me your music and I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.
I sit writing this on a beautiful early summer day in 2018. I’m now at the age that you were when I first heard you sing. I recently started ballroom dancing lessons and we often dance to your music. This year I purchased a turntable and have been buying Sinatra vinyl again. The cyclical nature of life never ceases to amaze me. My plan is to continue to enjoy myself well into my later years – just as you did.
Finally, in closing, I’d just like to simply say thank you Frank. Thank you for the attitude, the swagger and style, the films and, most of all, for the wonderful music.