BBC4's superb documentary about Glen Campbell reminded me of the singing career I never had

Fizzing with anecdotes and full of good humour, this show - still available on iPlayer - showed a singer at the height of his powers and left our writer feeling nostalgic

Share
Related Topics

I have always thought it was one of nature's cruel jokes. I cannot believe that there is anyone who enjoys singing more than I do, and yet I have been cursed with a prodigious inability to sing. Tone deaf, I believe, is the technical term

That doesn't stop me trying, however, and I have discovered that the art of pub singing is less about reaching the notes, more about remembering the words. And thankfully I have a good memory. I have even been committed to vinyl: a few years ago, a friend and I found ourselves in Jools Holland's studio in south London, headphones on, recording a track for a charity album.

Lightning in a bottle

My observation at the time was that this was in aid of the hard of hearing - to make them glad of their affliction. Anyway, this was all brought back to me at the weekend when I watched a superb BBC4 documentary on the life of Glen Campbell. The song we recorded was “Witchita Lineman”, an evocative mixture of the elegiac and the prosaic, Jimmy Webb's homage to the man who drives the highways of Kansas to fix the telegraph wires, and sung with piercing clarity by Campbell. “And I need you more than want you / And I want you for all time”, may just be the best lyrical couplet ever written in popular music.

In the documentary, made by BBC Wales, Webb tells how, following the success of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” Campbell rang him up to ask him for a song “about a town”. When the master songwriter said that he didn't feel like writing another song about a town, Campbell said: “Well, give me something geographical, then”. Webb, inspired by seeing a worker at the top of a telegraph pole and imagining he was up there talking to his girlfriend, spent an afternoon writing the song and then sent Campbell the unfinished draft of “Witchita Lineman”.

However, Campbell couldn't wait for the final version. Instead, he went straight to the studio and recorded it as it was, which explains why the song doesn't quite end, more just peters out. The programme was full of great stories like this, and some wonderful quotes. One interviewee, explaining how country music and its practitioners are lacking in pretension, said that “if you don't like hugging fat women, don't go into country music”, while Micky Dolenz, the former Monkee, said that the combination of Webb and Campbell was like “capturing lightning in a bottle”.

Heartbreaking

I saw Campbell, now an Alzheimer's sufferer, on what he called his farewell tour in 2011. He had the words to the songs on boards at the front of stage, and would occasionally repeat his stories, excusing himself with a heartbreakingly charming “I forget things these days”.

But the voice was still pretty good, notwithstanding the ravages of age, and a punishing period when he fell victim to drink and drugs. I was so grateful to fall upon this documentary - it's available on iPlayer, and I urge you to look it up - even if it did make me tragically wistful for a time long gone, and for a singing career that never quite reached the high notes (mine, not Glen's).

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her