The Beautiful Changes ... Plus

Booklet Note by Pete Atkin for the 1999 See For Miles reissue

There have been many singers who have turned out to be able to act quite well, and many actors who have turned out to be able to sing quite well, but nearly all of them have tended to remain primarily either one or the other. There aren't many who can be said both to act and sing with equal, independent conviction. But Julie Covington can.

It's hard to think of many who could compete with her having received a London Theatre Critics' Award for Most Promising New Actress, a BAFTA nomination for Best TV Actress, and the award for Best Actress on the Edinburgh Fringe, within a very few years of also receiving a Capital Radio Music award for Best Female Singer, a Brit Award for Outstanding New British Female recording Artist, and a TV Times Award for Most Exciting Female Singer on TV, and of being voted Top Female Singer in an NME Poll.

Equally, there aren't many chart-topping singers who have also appeared successfully as Lady Macbeth and Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, not to mention in a whole string of plays by the likes of David Hare, Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepard, Caryl Churchill, Howard Brenton, Howard Barker, Stephen Poliakoff, many of which roles she created, many of them at the National or Royal Court Theatres. She was also the original Janet in The Rocky Horror Show, for instance, and the original Viv in Tom And Viv. And all of this without my even mentioning what she is perhaps most famous for.

It was never going to take a major genius of the theatre to twig what an asset she'd be in just about any musical, and accordingly one of her earliest professional jobs was in the first London production of Godspell at the Roundhouse in 1971, where she was understandably given perhaps the best song in the show, Day By Day.

And then in 1976 she played Dee in Howard Schuman's Rock Follies for Thames TV, the highly original (and prescient) musical drama series about a girl group's adventures in the music business, which spun off into actual chart success - life imitating art.

But perhaps even more than Rock Follies, it was Evita that made Julie really famous. With so much theatrical success since then, it's easy to forget that in 1976 Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice still considered themselves to be primarily in the record business. Jesus Christ Superstar had been a concept double album first if not, eventually, foremost, and the same was true of Evita. Indeed, for a long time Evita looked even less potentially stageable than its predecessor, and it was probably the sheer impact of Julie singing Don't Cry For Me, Argentina - at first glance arguably not the most obvious number one single - which as much as anything prompted extra imaginative effort to be put into adapting it.

In spite of the score's distinguished subsequent history, there are some of us for whom Julie's original version remains supreme, in its combination of her hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-raising vocal with the since-unequalled depth and sheen of the original symphony orchestra backing.

It's a sublime-to-the-ridiculous jump for me to recall that the first time I met Julie and heard her sing was in my college room in 1966 when she responded to an ad on her college noticeboard and came to audition for a Rag Day revue which some friends and I were organising. I can't remember now if it was Bye Bye Blackbird or When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin' Along that she sang for us off the top of her head, but, easy as it would be to apply hindsight to our reaction, I am certain it was entirely obvious to us all that we had struck unreasonably lucky.

The group of us went on to join the Cambridge Footlights where we met, among many others, Clive James, with whom I eventually began to write songs, unquestionably inspired by the possibility of Julie's singing some of them. By the time we graduated we'd written enough to fill a couple of privately-pressed demo LPs which Clive and I then hawked around various music publishers. Having Julie singing our songs was not exactly a disadvantage, and at Essex Music David Platz and Don Paul picked up on this and took Julie and one of the songs to EMI Records.

The resulting single of The Magic Wasn't There in January 1970 was our first commercial release - Julie's, and Clive's and mine. Hearing Julie in the context of a full, professional arrangement (I could never get enough of Nick Harrison's surging, choppy strings in the instrumental bit in the middle) was intensely exciting. The result seemed to Clive and me to be instantly and immensely commercial. I seem to remember it did indeed get quite a lot of airplay, but I guess Rolf Harris's Two Little Boys got more.

But even though it wasn't a hit, The Magic Wasn't There had made enough of an impact for EMI to want Julie to make an album, and she paid us the huge compliment of choosing many of our songs for it. Unfortunately, none of them turned out to be the kind of commercial single that would help sell the album, and as a result The Beautiful Changes has for many years been almost impossible to find.

If Julie hadn't almost immediately gone on to such notable successes, I might have felt guilty that our songs had blighted her prospects, but listening to the album again after 28 years (good grief!) I'm reassured that after all it's the sheer immediacy and richness of Julie's singing which still comes shining through most strongly.

I'm thrilled that these recordings are available again, both for selfish reasons and because I think Julie's singing simply deserves to be heard. As well as musical ability, it requires a kind of acting skill to sing any song effectively, and the multiple talent that Julie brought so generously to all of these songs - not just Clive's and mine - was more than any songwriter has any right to hope for, let alone expect.

Pete Atkin
January 1999

[See also Pete's note for the 2012 Cherry Tree CD reissue]

Webmaster's note, 15th February 2012 :

At Julie's request I have removed the background image from this page, also her 'Julie' logo and the redirected link to the Julie Covington pages
which once formed a separate part of this site, originally approved by Julie. These pages were deleted, also at her request, back in May 1999.

An independent and unofficial fan page exists elsewhere on the Internet, and may be found by Google-searching The Julie Covington Website.

Pete Atkin

back to Pete Atkin Discography