I may be somewhat biased in reviewing this collection, as it was me who conceived, compiled and annotated it. That doesn't stop me giving an honest review though, and I honestly think that this is any essential purchase for any fan of Petula Clark, or anyone who likes the music of the era.
Pet started singing aged 10 in 1942, yet it wasn't until 1949 that a record company put her on disc. That's where it all started, long before Downtown and that malarky. The bulk of material here has been re-issued before. So why do it again? For the simple reason that in the past, the sound quality was appalling on around half of it. When Polygon, the label that originally issued most of this material, were bought by Pye and became Pye Nixa, they demolished a whole load of master tapes. Historical artifacts gone forever. Then in the 90s, 78rpm copies were found, poorly engineered and released by RPM. Those who didn't much care for the music would be put off trying to re-assess upon repeated listening. And those who really did enjoy it, couldn't really enjoy it.
Hence this project. Mint - or excellent condition 78s were sought after, to be engineered by experts in remastering. The best possible job was done on each track. Many of the 78s were poor pressings, so sound does have limitations - but all the tracks are very listenable, and most sound pristine. Pet's voice and the orchestra have never sounded this clear.
So here we get every 78 issued by Petula before she joined Pye Nixa. The previous issues of this material only included Polygon tracks. Now we get the three that preceded the Polygon era: two 78s from EMI Columbia, and one side from British Decca. And it's not just British singles - Australian and Danish-only releases are included. There's also three Rank Film Music promo-only recordings, though these are just taken from the films they featured in. As a bonus, there's a newly discovered take of 'A Boy in Love' (a beautiful torch ballad).
All presented in chronological order by original release, we get to chart Pet's rising vocal talents. On the first few tracks she still sounds a bit like a little girl; by the time we get to 'Fascinating Rhythm' near the end, she can deliver a knock-out performance.
Unlike other singers of the era, and possibly due to the label she was on, Pet didn't just stick to one type of material. Back then, it was either ballads or novelties. She does both these - there are beautiful songs such as 'Tell Me Truly' and 'That's How a Love Song Is Born'. If you like novelties, you'll be more than satisfied. Starting with 'Where Did My Snowman Go', Pet was children's choice. 'Christopher Robin', 'Poppa Piccolino', 'The Little Shoemaker' (her breakthrough hit), 'Little Johnny Rainbow' and others were in constant rotation on Uncle Mac's Children's Favourites radio show. Pet's sweet and innocent vocal style was ideally suited to such numbers, and they'll be enjoyed by anybody who's more than a little young at heart.
Pet is ever changing here. She's Irish on 'Clancy Lowered the Boom'; ragtime on 'Temptation Rag'; calypso on 'Tuna Puna Trinidad'; jazzy on 'It Had to Be You', and like a female Noel Coward on 'The Card'. I could go on. She sings anything and everything, and in every style going. For sheer rarity value - and the horror of Our Pet being a gin drinker - 'Who Spilt the Coffee on the Carpet' really demands your attention. But I wouldn't be lying if I said that nothing here doesn't demand your attention.
The sleevenotes give you a track-by-track commentary, as well as a whole load of technical information: titles EXACTLY as they were on the records, catalogue numbers, matrix numbers, release and recording dates (precise or approximate), and accompaniments. For the first time you can find out just which tracks feature future 'Avengers' theme composer Laurie Johnson! The backings, incidentally, are all first class, especially those of light music legend Frank Chacksfield.
I would have liked more pictures in the booklet, but at the end of the day I'm just glad to have these rarities in great sound. It really makes one yearn for the innocence of those bygone days...