Sunday 15th March, 1998, I enjoyed one of my defining
musical moments when I attended an Evening with Jimmy
Webb at Cambridge Corn Exchange.
evening had a kind of surreal feeling thanks to the fact
that only about 150 turned up. I found this difficult to
come to terms with. Here was arguably the greatest
living songwriter, playing in the heart of England and
just 150 people there to listen to the genius of his
the evening, however, I gathered the distinct impression
that the artist himself is happy playing small, more
intimate venues and this certainly came over in the
wonderful rapport he had with what was a small but very
have never looked upon Jimmy as a performing artist -
believing his voice to be two tremulous and too thin to
carry off his songs. How wrong I was. His
interpretations of his own songs was masterful and his
piano playing stunning.
is rarely that I focus 100 per cent on an artist, all
too often there are distractions. Not with this concert.
During the songs you could hear a pin drop - such was
the spell that this man wove. And at the end I was left
with the feeling that we had only heard such a minimal
part of this great man's output. So many great songs
were left out, that it was all too easy to want so much
more. Above all it made me realise the stunning output
of songs from this man's pen over so many years.
all I will remember the concert for his own versions of
MacArthur Park and The Moon's A Harsh Mistress - both
were better than any version I have ever heard even
eclipsing Richard Harris' "Park" and Judy
was a wonderful night - far exceeding my expectations.
the risk of being pretentious I have elected Jimmy Webb
into my own Music Hall Of Fame which is designed to give
my reflections on those artists who, over the years have
musically meant the most to me and had the biggest
effect on my life. Jimmy Webb will join the following
initial list of inductees: Harry Chapin, Barclay James
Harvest, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, The Beach
Boys, David Bowie, Phil Ochs and Pink Floyd.
each inductee I hope to build up my particular memories
of their music and what is has meant to me. I will also
include links to what I think are worthwhile sites on
Webb is one of the few artists who has his own web site
which can be contacted at Jimmy
will find plenty of news and views on this site and I
have actually e-mailed him personally on a couple of
occasions and received replies which suggests that he
really cares about his fans.
my own site I am attempting to log Jimmy's songs - a
vast job as there have been so many versions of some of
his classics. I would like to hear from anyone who can
add to my list. Have a look at it at Jimmy
memories of Jimmy Webb's music go back to my teenage
years, although it must be said that I'm only six years
younger than the man.
have to take you back to a bungalow where I lived with
my parents just outside Norwich. I remember taping
MacArthur Park on a reel to reel machine and listening
to it virtually every day, particularly when helping
with the washing up!
some reason that song still embodies the sunshine of
springtime for me particularly with those opening words:
"Spring was never waiting for us girl, it ran one
step ahead as we followed in the dance." That apart
much of the lyrics were incomprehensible - much like
some of my earlier poetry.
however, added to the power of MacArthur Park. So many
people have tried to define it over the years. I prefer
to just enjoy its mystic feeling. Here was a song that
destroyed the three minute single mould. The fact that
it got played on national Radio One spoke volumes for
simply loved it to bits and, as you will see if you look
at my all time top 100 tracks on this site you will see
that the Richard Harris version has only been eclipsed
by one other song.
are a number of songs which helped develop my love of
music and MacArthur Park is right up there at the top.
can't remember at the time whether I was aware of Jimmy
having written the song, possibly that came later. At
that time I was probably more interested in the voice of
Richard Harris. There is more about Richard Harris as a
singer at the following link Richard
was shortly before I left home to attend journalism
college at Harlow in Essex. I well remember buying a
number of Richard Harris albums around that time
including "Love Songs", "A Tramp
Shining", "The Yard Went On Forever" and
"My Boy." I loved each and everyone of them
and suddenly became aware that most of the tracks were
written by Jimmy Webb. So I transferred my allegiance to
the songwriter as the instrument of providing Harris
with such wonderful songs.
Tramp Shining" and "The Yard Went on
Forever" have now been released on CD as the Jimmy
Webb Sessions. The songs are still wonderfully poignant
and just as important to me.
writes difficult songs with many key changes and this is
so evident on "A Tramp Shining". The quirky
side of his writing is evident again on the title track
of "The Yard Went on Forever." But by this
time Jimmy was showing that he could write simple songs
that stayed in the mind. One of these from "The
Yard" album was the wistful "That's the Way It
college most people laughed at my love of Richard Harris
apart from one soulmate who enjoyed his music. Gradually
as we talked our emphasis moved away from the Irish
singer to the "guy who had written the songs."
think it was this point that fostered my love of finding
out about the writers of songs as well as the artists.
Suddenly I realised that here was a man who could
provide heart-rending melodies. What came out on disc by
various artists was the sum of his many parts.
what slightly annoyed me at the Cambridge concert. If
Glenn Campbell or Art Garfunkel or any of the other
artists who have recorded Webb classics appeared they
would have sold the venue out almost immediately. Here
we were in the presence of the genius who provided their
material and the place was barely one-quarter full.
guy I sat next to looked around him: "Some people
have no taste" he said. My reply was simple:
"The ones in here have very good taste, the ones
outside don't." He simply smiled and nodded.
I digress. The college experience of the Webb works
spilled over into my working life where music came a
vital part of my relaxation process. I automatically
bought albums with Jimmy songs on them - even without
hearing them. His name on the credits was good enough
for me and if he produced them so much the better. The
only other producer I would buy without hearing the
product is Van Dyke Parks.
was in this way that I bought an album by The Supremes,
produced by Jimmy and featuring his material. Now I have
never really liked the Supremes, but this album was
excellent particularly for the song "Where Does
love of Jimmy's music has continued over the years
although I must admit that some of his solo albums have
left me a little cold although "Lands End" is
that March night in Cambridge many of those memories
came flooding back. I was left to reflect on the past
but also to look forward to many more golden Jimmy Webb
thanks to articles in the likes of Q magazine and the
New Musical Express, Jimmy is becoming something of a
cult artist and his ability as a songwriter is perfectly
highlighted by the diverse collection of songs written
by him on a new Compilation "And Someone Left the
Cake Out in the Rain." The title is a reference to
one of the many obscure lines from "MacArthur