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King of the swingers

Memories of the night Ol’ Blue Eyes flew 15,000 Glaswegians to the moon.

Twenty years ago, one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the Glasgow City of Culture calendar took place: a concert by the man who was arguably the greatest singer of the 20th century – Frank Sinatra.

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From the beginning of Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture, a visit by Ol’ Blue Eyes had been dangled tantalisingly before Glaswegians. And when it finally happened, on July 10, 1990, it proved to be a night to remember.

Scots jazz singer Carol Kidd and her London-based trio had been asked to be the support band after Sinatra’s “people” came to a concert and asked for all her CDs to be sent to the man himself. Kidd and her pianist, fellow Glaswegian David Newton, were in Ibrox throughout the day.

“We turned up quite early,” says Newton, “and watched the stand in the middle of the stadium being built, and saw these amazing sound guys sorting out what was the best sound I’ve ever heard. I mean, when the band started playing, it was like listening to a record.”

Kidd was also already there when Sinatra “breezed in” wearing a baseball cap and the famous bomber jacket with “The Guv” written on the back. “His soundcheck was four words of a song – Come Fly With Me. Then he walked off.”

Newton nods: “It sounded immaculate, so he said: ‘I’m outta here’. And off he went.”

Kidd played five numbers which, as Newton remembers, “went down a storm”. The atmosphere was charged. “A lot of people in the audience hadn’t heard him in such a long time and, of course, he had been the soundtrack to their lives. You could feel the excitement building.”

Neither Kidd nor Newton was aware at this point that the atmosphere was also charged because of trouble brewing. Outside the stadium, hundreds of fans clutching the most expensive tickets couldn’t get in; and inside – in certain areas – confusion reigned over where people were to sit. The stooshie over seating arrangements, which had been changed after people had bought tickets, would rumble on for days.

On a high as she came off, Kidd saw Sinatra arriving at the marquee beside the stage in a golf buggy. “He came upstairs into the marquee where he had his Jack Daniels and his cigarette. We shook hands very, very briefly while somebody fixed his tie. He was totally gorgeous,” she says categorically. “Drop-dead gorgeous. Even at 74 – because it’s in the eyes. And it was in his eyes. Plus he was in performance mode. At the soundcheck he’d been breezy and laidback, but by this point he was switched on and ready to go.”

When Sinatra walked out on to that Ibrox stage – at 8.10pm on July 10, 1990, 37 years after his previous visit to Glasgow – the audience went mad. Edinburgh-based singer and jazz promoter Todd Gordon says: “I had never experienced anything like the roar of that audience. It went right through your body.”

For 83 minutes – David Belcher, reviewing for The Herald, timed it – Sinatra held the audience in the palm of his hand with hit after hit, starting with Come Fly With Me. “When it came to My Way – forget it!” says Kidd. “He didn’t have to sing. He just stood there and the audience sang it back to him.” Belcher wrote: “His voice was amazing, for a man of 34, let alone 74.”

“Nevertheless,” says journalist Allan Brown, “for me, the music was the least of that evening. Something else entirely has stayed in my mind. There were maybe more than 15,000 of us there, yet the angle of the stand and the proximity of the stage created an atmosphere that was strangely intimate. You had the sense that, were you to rise from your seat and wave, you could easily attract Sinatra’s attention. And many did. The flavour of that night was one I have never experienced since: a blend of high devotion and downright gallusness, like a bingo night in the Sistine Chapel.”

There was a massive outpouring of affection – and emotion – from the generally geriatric audience. Newton noticed folk clutching bottles of whisky which they were clearly hoping to pass down to the stage, while Jeanette Belcher remembers the poignant sight of the two old ladies next to her “sobbing quietly and without any great drama” through the first few songs.

Gordon had taken his mother along to Ibrox that July night. “On the way through from Edinburgh I began to have severe apprehensions about taking her because she kept saying, ‘He was at his best in the 1950s’. I thought: ‘Oh God, she thinks he’s past it.’

“However, within about two numbers my mum, along with most of the rest of the stadium, was up on her feet between songs. There was something quite magical about the night.” Sinatra himself was visibly moved by the warmth of the audience. So much so that he not only treated Glasgow to a rare encore; he also promised he’d be back.

From the wings, Kidd and Newton watched most of the show, tears streaming down their faces as Sinatra gingerly stepped down from the stage to shake hands with the disabled concert-goers stationed at the front of the audience. The Herald’s Jack Webster wrote: “The sight of Frank Sinatra strolling along the Ibrox track with a radio-mike in his hands and singing Strangers In The Night will remain one of my richest and most abiding memories.”

Then came what David Newton calls “The Moment” – when Sinatra, back up on stage, poured himself a cup of tea and sat on the stool next to a table. Newton recalls: “The spotlight came down, the place went dark and all you could see was a man in a tux. He lit a cigarette – the whole place applauded – sipped his tea and began to sing Angel Eyes. And he turned a football stadium into a small nightclub. I don’t know if anyone else on the planet could have done that. It was remarkable.”

Todd Gordon Sings Sinatra – It Might As Well Be Swing!, Assembly @ Princes Street Gardens, August 1, 8pm.

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