Take a quick glance over any performer’s website and you’ll find that they are the “most exciting”, “most talented” and generally “the most remarkable” talent that ever walked this earth. Every click of the mouse reveals yet another page of reviews and testimonials bursting with superlatives. Mine certainly does. No sooner has anyone in earshot uttered three words of faint praise about me, it’s on the website for all to see. The Internet’s capacity knows no bounds – safely containing the egos and self-obsessed musings of every singer, actor, dancer, after dinner speaker and comedian on the planet. Including me.
Having complete editorial control over your own website is rather like how the dictator of a small country must feel. The power to silence dissenting voices and quash unfavorable reviews, with a knife so sharp Goebbels would be proud, is irresistible. Though not always accurate, it is comforting to present the world with a one-sided, rose-tinted view of your own career.
There was a time when I made an effort to include every single one of my reviews on my website, good or bad, until I got a rather cutting one from The Stage’s very charming Mark Shenton (who has made stellar contributions to Cabaret Secrets), who after seeing me at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, described me as “the bland leading the band”. Bill Stephens of Cabaret Hotline more generously said the same concert was, "impeccably sung by Gary Williams, who, in the best tradition of those BBC radio broadcasts, happily allowed the songs to shine." Guess which one I was rushing to put on my site?
All this leads me nicely on to two reviews published a while back, one by Albert Killman of ‘The Robert Farnon Society’ who generously said, “There are many so-called ‘tribute’ singers who just seem to go through the motions. Gary, however, shows how it could be and should be done”, and just as I was smugly adding that to my website, Rob Lester offered an alternative opinion in his review for New York’s ‘Cabaret Scenes’. Here are some choice extracts:
“At last! Just what the world has been waiting for: a Frank Sinatra tribute album for people who kinda don’t like Frank Sinatra. “
“This automatic-pilot flight, despite the talents involved, sounds… well, karaoke-ish.”
“With the old Sinatra record-ings so voluminously and easily available, this seems like the caffeine-free Diet Coke version.”
Ouch! As I vowed never to mention it’s existence to a living soul, I realised I did actually rather agree with him. Why bother buying an album of someone singing Sinatra’s songs, when for £1.99 you can buy the original and the best? Indeed, recording this Sinatra tribute album was not the most artistically creative process to work on, with the songs, arrangements and orchestrations all being very standard, and though I certainly try to sing in my own style, I am reminded of Janet Leigh’s quote: “After Sinatra, if you sounded like him you were imitating, but if you didn't, you sounded like you were doing it wrong.”
Trying to imitate Sinatra is an accusation any male singer of the Great American Songbook will be familiar with, and in my experience it’s one that’s hard to avoid. After one show Jack Massarik of The London Evening Standard said:
“Music to Watch Girls By also got the ring-a-ding-ding treatment from Williams, for whom an OBE must mean the 01? Blue Eyes slot in a Rat-Pack tribute show. Indeed, with so many Frankophiles around, the time has surely come for Las Vegas to host an annual convention for them, Elvis style. A Sinatrathon.”
I was in no way trying to sound like Sinatra. In fact, the version of Music to Watch Girls By he mentions was a bossa nova recorded by Matt Monro. He just saw a guy wearing a tuxedo singing with a big band and looked no further.
This is precisely why I had waited so long before recording a Sinatra tribute album. I wanted to get the balance right between the familiarity of the songs, the authenticity of the orchestral sound and hopefully induce a modicum of originality by way of my voice. I made a point of not recording the over done (and still much requested) anthems like New York, Strangers In The Night, My Way and Mack The Knife and tried instead to feature some of the often overlooked gems like Moonlight Serenade and The Girl from Ipanema in Portuguese. So in the interests of free speech and the right for even dissenting voices to be heard, click here to read Mr Lester’s full review.
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Cabaret Secrets (c) 2013