The “Friday Free for All” on BBC Radio 6 is an hour long show in which Steve Lamacq plays listeners’ requests, no matter how unusual or diverse they may be. The eclectic nature of the show meant the playlist this evening included Petula Clark’s song. “Downtown.”
“Downtown” was a song with which I grew familiar via the medium of my aunt’s pale blue transistor radio, one of those that had a round tuning dial on its front. It sat on the sideboard in the kitchen and seemed a channel of constant cheer; DJs were always upbeat and the music always happy. Particular songs captured particular moments; family parties were accompanied by a Dansette record player, the records played were by the artists we had heard on the radio.
Petula Clark seemed always present. “Downtown” captured a world of excitement beyond our imagination, it exuded positive feelings and optimism. There is an abiding memory of stealing handfuls of raisins from one of the set of airtight tins, with sketches of London sights on the front, in which my grandmother kept her cookery supplies while the voice of Ms Clark filled the kitchen.
“Downtown” reappeared, years later. Living in Newtownards, Co Down for three years in the late 1980s, the local commercial radio station for Northern Ireland had its studios in the town. In the summer of 1986, stations still closed for the night, and, arriving back in the town at one or two o’clock in the morning after driving from Rosslare on the way home from France, there were the closing moments of Downtown Radio’s late night broadcast. The DJ closed the programme by playing the station’s signature tune and the melancholy mood of that August night was lightened by Petula Clark; for a moment, I was away from a Northern Ireland which was filled with an internecine conflict where the protagonists were political extremists and religious fundamentalists and I was back on the farm and the whole world was filled with excitement and without fear.
My aunt who still listens to her radio in the kitchen was eighty last month and according to the Internet, Petula Clark is eighty-six. Of course, they are both forever young, and Petula Clark is forever singing from my aunt’s transistor radio, forever filling my grandparents’ farmhouse with happiness.
Petula Clark will never be a day older than the young woman whose voice through the years captured some sense of indefinable hope, a voice that still does so.