Charles Spencer

Fresh ears

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We were on holiday last week for half- term and, as so often when I have time off, I started to fret. What on earth was I going to write about in ‘Olden but golden’? Mrs Spencer gets very cross about this sort of thing. ‘If that’s all you’ve got to worry about, you can count yourself lucky,’ she said, before starting to grumble herself about her forthcoming ballet teacher’s exam.

But my problem was a real one —though, to be fair, so was hers. The fact is that for the past month, instead of unearthing new delights, I’ve been continually indulging my obsession for classic Blue Note jazz, which I wrote about last month. Ace guitarist Grant Green, organist supreme Jimmy Smith, the sublimely tuneful keyboard player and composer Horace Silver and the great drummer and bandleader Art Blakey have been my constant companions. Indeed I was actually listening to the tremendous Hip Hammond and Soulful Grooves compilation, one of the four Blue Note double CDs I recommended in the last column (you have bought them, haven’t you?) when our car broke down on the way to Dorset as the midnight hour approached.

Actually, it was worse than that. It had broken down irreparably. When the AA man arrived an hour later, he said the engine sounded like ‘a bag of nails’, it was probably the oil pump that had given up the ghost and a replacement engine would almost certainly be required. We finally reached our holiday home at 2.45 a.m. in a breakdown lorry with the poor old VW Passat hoisted on to the back. Andy, from the local garage, shook his head mournfully later that morning. The engine would cost more than the car was worth, he said. He might be able to pick up a few quid for scrap. So perhaps worrying about ‘Olden but golden’ was merely a tactic to prevent myself fretting about the car.

Anyway, after scratching my head for a bit, I came up with what I thought was a bright idea. What if I didn’t write about music, as such, but about favourite sounds? Nicki and my 13-year-old son Edward looked at me aghast.

‘What sort of sounds?’ asked Ed, very slowly, as if addressing a madman.

‘You know the sort of thing,’ I said. ‘The sound the fire makes when it starts roaring up the chimney, the noise of wind and rain outside at night when you’re tucked up nice and warm in bed, the coo of wood pigeons, the hoot of the owl, waves breaking on Chesil Beach.’ Even as I spoke, I realised that all this sounded pretty yucky.

‘That’s the sort of thing I had to write about in the third year at prep school,’ said Ed, contemptuously.

‘And you know how cross Liz the arts editor was when you wrote that ridiculous column about pets,’ added my wife, determined to put the boot in. Back to the drawing board.

And then I belatedly realised I actually did have something to write about. Back in June I was lucky enough to go to Las Vegas for the Daily Telegraph to review the £75-million Cirque du Soleil show, Love. It’s a beautifully designed, thrillingly acrobatic evocation of the Beatles and the swinging Sixties, staged in a custom-built theatre at the Mirage Casino. But the chief glory is the music and it’s now coming out on CD.

For those of us who grew up with the Beatles, the big problem is that we’ve worn the records out. We know every lyric, every note, and there’s nothing left to take us by surprise. We don’t need to play the Beatles any more because they are stored in our brains as if on an iPod.

The Beatles’ now octogenarian producer George Martin and his son Giles have obviously realised the same thing. Their thrilling soundtrack to the show, using extracts from more than 100 Beatles songs, offers the band thrillingly remixed and restored to freshness. The opening chord of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, which seems to capture the precise moment when the Sixties started to swing, sounds joyously, before seguing into the terrifying orchestral crescendo of ‘A Day in the Life’, which then moves through frenzied percussion into the rocking ‘Get Back’.

The mystical Indian drone of Harrison’s ‘Within You, Without You’ is accompanied by the drum track of Lennon’s spacy ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, and throughout this extraordinary score invention never flags. The two Martins have achieved the apparently impossible, allowing us to hear the Beatles with fresh ears. It’s like being granted a ticket back to the lost domain of childhood.

As the horribly compelling McCartney divorce case rages bitterly on, how good it is to be allowed to rediscover the glory of the Beatles in their prime. Love is released on Monday, 20 November. It is indispensable to anyone who loves pop music, and as you play it for the first time I have little doubt that you will find yourself unexpectedly ambushed by tears.

Charles Spencer is theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph.