❉ This freshly-remastered show highlights one of the great female folk voices of the ’70s at the height of her powers.
Apparently, this concert was intended, for a while, to be Mary Hopkin’s swansong in music, a last glorious hurrah before turning her back on live performance for good. In the end, that wasn’t the case and though she sang live a lot less after this show, Hopkin has continued recording for the past fifty years.
And thank God for that, because this show highlights one of the great – if often unfairly overlooked – female folk voices of the last sixties and early seventies at the height of her powers.
The set opens with the traditional folk song Once I had a Sweetheart, which so far as I know she never recorded in the studio, but she which she absolute nails here, easily matching the better known Pentangle and Joan Baez versions. It’s a gorgeous opener, showcasing her voice from the start, ably assisted by a great backing band (including Danny Thompson and her then husband Tony Visconti) who know that everyone is here to listen to the singing and so keep their playing understated and with plenty of room for the vocals to flourish.
After band introductions (and the way she nervously describes them as the ‘people surrounding me here on stage’ perhaps gives some clue as to why she stepped away from the limelight), Hopkin sings Ocean Song from her album of similar name (surely due a fresh re-issue on cd, incidentally). Even so early on in the set, it’s a showstopper, a melancholy song which, shorn of the strings of the album version, seems even more precious and fragile. Towards the end of the show she provides a neat symmetry with an equally beautiful rendition of Earth Song.
The short set’s genuinely packed with highlights. The Gallagher and Lyle penned Sparrow is lovely, the Welsh ballad Aderyn Pur is, to me (but not presumably to proudly Welsh We Are Cult main man James), incomprehensible lyrically, but beautifully sung, and she does full justice to one my own favourite traditional folk ballads, Silver Dagger (another song which didn’t appear on any of her studio albums). She actually cuts a verse from Those Were the Days, which gives you some idea of how many times she must have sung it at that time, the poor woman!
For long term Hopkin fans, one of the delights of the set is the amount of material she plays which was not otherwise available – as well as the songs already mentioned, she chooses her covers wisely, with wonderful versions of Joni’s Both Sides Now and Cat Stevens’ Morning Has Broken and a slightly ramshackle but charming unrehearsed duet of The Beatles If I Fell with Visconti.
In truth, there really isn’t a bad performance on here, and it’d be great if this were the start of a run of new Hopkin live shows on cd. For some reason, she’s never received quite the same degree of critical acclaim as some of her contemporaries, far less the adulation accorded to the likes of Sandy Denny. And when you listen to this set, you’ll realise just how unfair that is.
❉ ‘Mary Hopkin: Live at The Royal Festival Hall 1972 – Remastered’ (Mary Hopkin Music MHM001, May 2021) is available on CD from www.maryhopkin.com. The CDs are in cardboard gatefold sleeves, with new liner notes that include reminiscences from Mary, Tony, Brian, Ralph and Danny.
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas