Days of Pearly Spencer
|"Days of Pearly Spencer"|
|Single by David McWilliams|
|B-side||"Days of Pearly Spencer"|
|Released||6 October 1967|
|David McWilliams singles chronology|
"Days of Pearly Spencer" (or in later releases "The Days of Pearly Spencer") is a 1967 song written and originally performed by the singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland David McWilliams, and included on his second album David McWilliams. It charted in continental Europe in 1967 and in the UK Singles Chart in 1992 after being covered by Marc Almond.
Having his first single, "God and My Country", flop, McWilliams entered a Belfast recording studio to record some demos. Around that time, Mervyn Solomon overheard his tapes, and was impressed enough to telephone his brother Phil Solomon, who agreed. As McWilliams was already signed to CBS, who manufactured Major Minor's recordings, Solomon offered to take McWilliams off their hands. The offer was accepted, and Solomon took McWilliams with him to London to record the song. Originally, the song was a poignant ballad.
The song had, according to Stuart Bailie of Radio Ulster, a "flickering, almost documentary style" in which it took listeners to the more run-down parts of Ballymena where people walked through rubble bare-foot looking old beyond their years. Due to the title of the song, many listeners believed that the song pertained to an individual harrowed by a poor lifestyle and poor-quality alcohol; McWilliams said he had written the song about a homeless man encountered in Ballymena. Some of those close to McWilliams, however, claimed he was writing about two ladies from his hometown.
Recording and release
The recording was produced by Mike Leander who formed a sweeping orchestral arrangement for the song. Leander had previously provided arrangements for such records as "She's Leaving Home" by The Beatles and Marianne Faithfull's "As Tears Go By."
Some of McWilliams' vocals were recorded using a telephone line from a phone box near the studio, generating a low-tech effect, and giving the song a 'strange "phoned-in" chorus'. The record was originally released in October 1967 as the B-side of "Harlem Lady", but "Days of Pearly Spencer" received considerable exposure on Radio Caroline, of which Solomon was an executive, and in adverts in the UK music press. Double-page adverts were taken out in all the major music newspapers and the New Musical Express front page featured it, calling it "the single that will blow your mind" and the accompanying album, David McWilliams, "the album that will change the course of music". Adverts for it were plastered everywhere, and in 2012 Stuart Bailie of Radio Ulster remarked that "there was no getting away from David McWilliams". Advertisements for the song even appeared on double-decker buses, yet McWilliams "was walking around London without the pocket money to get on one of those buses", and one publication put the total cost of promotion at close to £20,000 (equivalent to £330,000 in 2015).
The BBC refused to play the record, however, because of Solomon's involvement in the pirate radio station Radio Caroline, and thus the record failed to chart in the UK. In continental Europe, the song topped the French Singles Chart, number two on the Belgian Singles Chart and number eight on the Dutch Singles Chart. However, the song was rereleased on three separate occasions and remains a staple of "oldies" radio stations.
Richie Unterberger described the song as "[McWilliams'] best song, with a dark edge, swirling violins, and an effective dab of psychedelia in the megaphone-distorted vocals on the song's chorus." In 2002 The Independent called the song "dreamy". In 2012 Stuart Bailie of Radio Ulster called "Harlem Lady", the A-side, a "quality tune" and "Pearly Spencer" a "remarkable record".
Marc Almond cover version
A recording by Marc Almond, with an additional verse written by Almond giving the song a more optimistic tone, reached number 4 in the UK charts in 1992. In a review from the parent album Tenement Symphony, Ned Raggett of Allmusic called it 'the surprise U.K. hit single of the bunch, the gentle and (for Trevor Horn) understated "The Days of Pearly Spencer", another '60s cover given the Almond treatment to good effect'.
Other cover versions
New Zealand band The Avengers scored a No.4 hit in that country in December 1968 with a cover version of the song; in Italy, the song was also covered in 1968 by Caterina Caselli as "Il Volto Della Vita". A Spanish version called "Vuelo blanco de gaviota" was recorded in 1979 by Ana Belén. Successful later versions of the song included a disco version which reached number 1 in Belgium in the 1980s, and a cover version in 1988 by the French psychedelic band The Vietnam Veterans and their album The Days of Pearly Spencer. A version by French singer Rodolfe Burger was used in the 2012 French film "Louise Wimmer".
- "DISK Days of Pearly Spencer PARLOPHONE.jpg (697x684)". Davidmcwilliams.com. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
- "A tribute to Irish singer/songwriter David McWilliams". Davidmcwilliams.com. Retrieved 19 June 2014.
- "David McWilliams – Obituaries, News – The Independent". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
- Stuart Bailie. "Stuart Bailie: The Great Northern Songbook – 3. The Days of Pearly Spencer". BBC. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
- "Harlem Lady"/"Days of Pearly Spencer" at 45cat.com. Retrieved 22 June 2014
- "biography". Davidmcwilliams.com. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
- UK Consumer Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Gregory Clark (2016), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)", MeasuringWorth.com.
- Richie Unterberger, Biography of David McWilliams, Allmusic.com. Retrieved 254 June 2014
- Tenement Symphony (Media notes). Marc Almond. WEA. 4 October 1991.
- "MARC ALMOND | Artist". Official Charts. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
- Ned Raggett (29 October 1991). "Tenement Symphony – Marc Almond". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
- Bruce Sergent, New Zealand Music of the 60's, 70's and a bit of 80's
- The Days of Pearly Spencer (inlay). The Vietnam Veterans. Music Maniac Records. 1988.