As unfathomable as it might seem, this year sees the timeless and incomparable Ms Marcia Hines celebrate her 40th anniversary as a professional entertainer.
It’s the stuff of Australian music folklore that way back in 1970, a very young Marcia [she was 16 but told everyone she was 18] trekked halfway across the globe from her hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, landing in Sydney to take on a lead role in the local production of the highly-contentious and era-defining stage musical, Hair.
As such, Marcia instantly found herself literally standing naked at the epicentre of both the Australian entertainment industry and the counter-culture revolution. “I was a hippy,” Marcia laughs today. “Still am a hippy in many ways.”
Adding to all the drama and excitement and general madness of the period, Marcia also discovered she was pregnant and, in September of that year, gave birth to her daughter, Deni.
Around the same time, January 1971 to be precise, another era-defining musical event took place. The American songstress Carole King, previously best known as a songwriting prodigy for the benefit of other singers, released a solo record which would go on to become one of the best-loved and highest-selling albums of all time – the brilliant and majestic Tapestry.
Tapestry was an album unlike anything else before it. It’s track-list reads like a virtual greatest hits: “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “You’ve Got a Friend”, “I Feel the Earth Move”, “It’s Too Late”, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”. Understated, beautiful, simple and, in the same moment, an intensely sophisticated musical opus. Carole King’s Tapestry captured the spirit of the time, especially for all the sisters, providing a soundtrack to the burgeoning women’s lib movement.
From the moment of its release, Tapestry meant the world to Marcia Hines. A singer, a single-mum, an entertainer who’d travelled half-a-world away from home for the sake of her art, it was as if Carole King had written each song on Tapestry specifically with Marcia in mind. Of course, there were millions of people across the world, not only in 1971 but in the generations that followed, who felt exactly the same way.
Nonetheless, Tapestry would be a constant companion to Marcia across subsequent years – a personal, private soundtrack for a woman who would dedicate her own life and career to providing music soundtracks for the lives of countless others.
Jump forward some four decades to late-2009. By now, of course, Marcia has been long established and celebrated as Australia’s first lady of song. Dozens of albums and classic hits, hundreds of concert performances, Marcia’s fame in recent years is reinvigorated to a whole new generation via her long-standing role as the much-admired judge – the voice of reason and experience – on Australian Idol.
At exactly the same time, entirely separately from everything going on in Marcia’s life, another Australian music figure had a flash of inspiration.
John O’Donnell, the widely-respected ex-CEO of EMI Australia and the driving creative force behind, amongst many other things, the best-selling Finn brothers’ tribute album She Will Have Her Way, came up with the idea of re-recording his wife’s all-time favourite album. No guessing what that was: Carole King’s Tapestry.
But who could O’Donnell call upon to reinterpret such an iconic work? There was really only one choice – Australia’s greatest interpreter of song. The only problem was that O’Donnell had never had anything to do with Marcia.
Still, with unbeknownst serendipity on his side, O’Donnell pitched his left-field concept to Marcia’s manager, Peter Rix. Rix, who has guided Marcia’s career since 1974, instantly agreed it was a brilliant idea and knew his star would love it.
“Marcia responded – as I pretty much knew she would – incredibly positively,” says Rix. “Because she loves that music, it’s music of her era. So nine months later we began this new journey.”
“It was a happy coincidence that it made so much sense to everybody,” says O’Donnell, who acted as the project’s executive producer. “I knew that Marcia was a great singer and I had a feeling that it might connect with her. A big part of Marcia has always been that woman – a natural, liberated woman.”
O’Donnell called in the prodigious talents of Sydney-based producer David Symes [musical director for Missy Higgins and Sarah Blasko] to oversee all elements of the new recording. Symes in turn pulled together a dream studio band made up of some of the hottest players in the country: Stuart Hunter on piano; Arne Hannah on guitar; Hamish Stuart on drums and Terapai Richmond on drums. Symes himself, who was mentored by the late great Jackie Orszaczky, personally handling bass duties, as well as all the new arrangements of the classic Tapestry song list.
The end result is this sublime new album entitled MARCIA SINGS TAPESTRY (and the songs of Carole King), presented by Universal Music Australia.
Marcia admits that while there was no hesitation in undertaking the project, she did feel a tinge of apprehension about exactly how she would bring something new to these songs she’d been singing to herself for so much of her life.
“I listened to the original album again and thought, ‘Damn, this is going to be hard’,” she says. “I thought I mustn’t make it a karaoke album, and I’ve got to respect Ms King here. I’ve got to respect her but it is the 21st century, so it’s not going to sound like her album sounded in 1971.
“Something I believed my whole career is that if you’re going to sing someone else’s song, you’ve got to do it as if you wrote it for yourself or it was written for you. Keep it real.”
Naturally, there was no need to second-guess herself. MARCIA SINGS TAPESTRY is a complete reinterpretation of the original work. It is Tapestry entirely re-imagined. There is no doubting that Marcia claims these songs as her own. Everyone involved in the recording, Marcia included, truly believe that the diva has never sounded better.
“In the studio [Sydney’s Electric Avenue Studios], we were all gobsmacked by how well Marcia was singing,” says O’Donnell. “There is a real purity about Marcia’s voice and a musicality about everything she did. Maybe she has never been given the time and the material to really show the soulfulness, the range and the subtlety – the nuances in her voice.
“Marcia just nailed it. She was beaming, she was a joy to be around. She was there from start to finish every day. She really put her heart and soul into it and it really came through.”
“I feel it’s the best representation of my voice that I’ve ever heard,” adds Marcia. “This is exactly where I wanted to be right now in 2010. I love singing and these songs really allow me to sing.”
Aside from Tapestry’s 12 songs, delivered in the same order as the original album, reworkings of three earlier Carole King classics – “Up On The Roof”, “Oh No Not My Baby” and “Chains” – were also recorded, hence the album's subheading 'and the songs of Carole King'.
“I remember ‘Chains’ and ‘Up On the Roof’ really well from when I was a child,” says Marcia. “They were doo-wop songs. You know, it was cute boys in my neighbourhood sitting on the stoop – the porch – on summer evenings, trying to sing and impress the chicks.”
Like the rest of us, Marcia can barely believe that it’s been 40 years since she first performed professionally. “I think if you’re counting, you ain’t doing it, you know what I mean?,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve forgotten how many albums I’ve done. Not to sound flippant, but the greatest thing about music, I believe, is that it keeps you young.”
All the more incredible that this far into her stellar career, Marcia has delivered one of her finest performances with the brilliant Marcia Sings Tapestry
Four decades in the making, Marcia sings tapestry is an unparalleled musical experience. It is the great Marcia Hines at her very best with a new classic album for the ages.
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