NICKY'S MIDNIGHT MIXTAPE
Making a CD was about the only thing Nicky Haslam hadn’t done—until now, that is. He’s been an art director, artist, wild boy, hippie, suave consort, courtier, boulevardier, punk, cowboy (literally! “For the clothes, of course”), photographer, gossip columnist and author. He is a decorator, socialite and unofficial spokesman/ambassador for Topman, and now, to no one’s real surprise, he’s made the most extraordinary record, Midnight Matinée. That isn’t code for “bad”—it’s terrific, and extraordinary.
A Haslam sang in Berkeley Square
The whole thing started when musician-singer/songwriter-composer-producer David Ogilvy heard Nicky in one of his more recent incarnations—singing cabaret at a restaurant, Bellamy’s, off Berkeley Square. “That was my first gig—it only came about when an old schoolfriend dared me to do it and then said to me, four months later, ‘You’re on in two weeks’ time.’ So I had to get myself together and learn how to sing. I went to a singing teacher, who said if I came every day for the next six years I could probably learn to sing, so I rather gave up on that.” Another friend, the singer Lee Wiley, whom Haslam greatly admires, told him his voice didn’t matter, that “it’s only the pauses and the breathing that count—that brings the lyrics together.“ So that was what Haslam learned to do: “I’ve got pretty good pitch, but it’s the emotion of a song that really matters.” After Bellamy’s, Haslam got a booking when the Savoy opened its new bar, the Beaufort, and was asked back the following year.
Haslam dates his love for the golden age of American music from the three years he spent as a child bedridden with polio and immobilized in a head-to-toe cast. “I would warble numbers à la Ethel Merman and Marlene Dietrich to astonished bedside visitors,” he says. Somewhat later, in New York, he got to know Cole Porter, who in turn introduced him to the great songwriting legends—Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Frank Loesser and Harold Arlen. He also met such huge stars as Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Louis Armstrong (who Nicky gives a shout-out to on one track of the CD). The list goes on.
Despite all of this, it’s David Ogilvy who Haslam credits as the creative force behind the CD project. He is in fact Lord Ogilvy, and his great-grandfather was the German-American financier Otto Kahn. “Kahn’s four brothers were all conservatoire musicians, which explains David’s classical side,” says Haslam, “and the other is maybe explained by Otto’s renegade son, Roger Wolfe Kahn, who co-wrote the much recorded 1920s hit ‘Crazy Rhythm.’” To start with, Ogilvy had the imagination to take Haslam away from the repertoire of American show tunes he’d been singing at Bellamy’s and the Beaufort and to play against type (as if there was a type). “I went along to the first recording session thinking I was going to sing a bit of tinkly Cole Porter, and David announced that we were going to cover the New Wave band the Motels’ 1979 hit ‘Total Control,’” says Haslam. “I’d never heard of it, but as its range is about three notes, it’s much harder to sing than a Cole Porter tune. It really was a baptism of fire. But David let me be Ethel Merman. I was putty in his hands.”
From Pink Floyd to Cilla Black
Ogilvy reworked many of Haslam’s favourite songs to a modern beat, mixing old with new and dead with living. The album’s unlikely pairings make, as the liner notes say, a “mad melting pot of these tracks.” The melting-pot part is the guests. “David simply sees who goes where,” says Haslam in admiration. Since this is Nicky Haslam, everyone involved is somebody—first to come aboard was Nick Mason, the Pink Floyd drummer, who offered to play percussion on some tracks. Then they got Bob Geldof, who “was incredibly helpful and did sing, but he was so good reading Yeats, Chandler and Joyce that we decided to use that,” says Haslam.
Ogilvy weaves singing and the spoken word, songs with poems. Haslam sings Irving Berlin’s high-spirited duet “You’re Just in Love” (originally written for Merman) with a teasing Cilla Black, “a great old friend”; Friedrich Hollaender’s world-weary song “Illusions” begins and ends with a recording of Marlene Dietrich’s voice (it was written for her to sing in the Billy Wilder movie A Foreign Affair), while the middle is Haslam and Bryan Ferry singing the song with Mason on percussion.
With the comedy actress and TV personality Cleo Rocos, Haslam sings Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind,” after which Geldof reads Yeats’s poem “When you are old and grey and full of sleep”—it’s all part of one track and it works. Then there’s another duet with Helena Bonham-Carter (“a great friend of David’s”) that is so foot-tapping I couldn’t get out of my mind for a week. “We let people have their heads,” says Haslam.
Bing! Bang! Bong!
Into this mix Ogilvy throws some spoken-word pieces by non-singers: Cressida Connolly reads from her father Cyril’s diaries; YBA Tracey Emin reads pieces of her prose (!); the writer Francis Wyndham reads Scott Fitzgerald—“it was something he chose”—in an authoritative voice, as if he were the author. In the coolest thing you’ve ever heard, Rupert Everett reads from Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (tragically, it’s only 1.12 minutes long); and the writer A.N. Wilson is in a Latin mash-up with Haslam and blue-blooded Brazilian Dom Joao, Prince Joao of Orleans-Braganza. But there’s more! Sophia Loren doing “Bing! Bang! Bong,” Chandler, Puccini, James Joyce. It’s magic.
Highlights? “The most fun was Cilla,” says Haslam. “She’s so professional. She arrived with two versions, one like Marilyn Monroe and the other like Ethel Merman. We spliced them together.”