• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Head over heels with Flack's face

THERE'S no space in my life for musical absolutism.

Favourite albums, the top 10 concerts, the best this or greatest that - whenever I'm asked for such details my mind invariably goes blank. There's enough brilliance out there to blow your mind on an endless loop. But there's one song I can't see beyond when it comes to nailing the zenith of all human lives: the first flush of new and true love.

You probably know it - there have been countless versions over the years by performers ranging, curiously, from Bob Monkhouse to Elvis - but the interpretation that best articulates the truths at the core of the song is by Roberta Flack, a singer who in her prime possessed the most controlled, tonally impeccable and euphonious voice on the planet.

The song, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, was written in 1957 by the folk singer Ewan MacColl, a man variously regarded as a genius, a liar and a hypocrite. A man's man, then. Spool forward a dozen years and, by the time Flack's version was committed to wax on her debut album, First Take, the song had been stretched like pizza dough, being half the speed of MacColl's original recording and twice as long.

It wasn't until 1971, though, when Clint Eastwood boldly employed all five minutes and 22 seconds of it to accompany a love scene in his first directorial outing, Play Misty For Me, that Flack's miraculous performance reached an international audience, garnering her both a US No1 and a Grammy following its release as a single in 1972.

So far, so Paul Gambaccini. But what of my own perspective? Why does Flack's rendition leave me weak with melancholy? I can't even recall the specifics of discovering the song, other than that I was at a low, low ebb. I suspect my heart was broken, but as is the way in such circumstances the weeks and months merged hazily and little leaps out bearing a sharp outline.

The subject of the song - the hallucinatory ecstasy of love in its purest state - renders it one I treat with the greatest respect, playing it infrequently lest the spell loses its power. Just as love unfurls and evolves, so does the effect of MacColl's fragile poetry delivered with voluptuous grace by Flack.

Besides all this serious business, I've kept the tatty cover of the sheet music on the fridge door for more than 10 years: a totem, a blazon, a talisman? Perhaps all, perhaps none of these - the singer beams out from beneath the world's greatest-ever afro. Beauty and truth: what more can you ask for in a song?

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

245159