Video Premiere & Interview | Mandy Bingham: The Days Of Pearly Spencer
On 06 October 2017, David McWilliams’ international hit, ‘The Days of Pearly Spencer’, will be 50 years old. The anniversary is to be marked by McWilliams’ eldest daughter, the singer-songwriter Mandy Bingham, releasing her own personal adaptation of the song in tribute to her father. The premiered video below by Colm Laverty accompanies the release.
David McWilliams was a Belfast born – Ballymena raised singer song-writer whose song ‘Days Of Pearly Spencer’ was released a few months after the summer of love. It was a year in which protest erupted internationally against the Vietnam War. Muhammad Ali’s world heavyweight title was stripped from him for refusing to be inducted into the US Army. Kurt Cobain was born. Patrick Kavanagh was buried. BBC Radio 1 was aired for the very first time.
In October of that same year the UK charts were a mixed bag. The Dubliners ‘Black Velvet Band’ was rubbing shoulders with Jimi Hendrix, Shirley Bassey, Bobbie Gentry, and Stevie Wonder. Nestling among the releases that month was ‘Days of Pearly Spencer’. A lyrically bleak song, unforgiving to the protagonist, it featured climbing violins, a psychedelic telephone/megaphone effect and a vague otherworldliness beneath the pop and the orchestration. The record was produced by Mike Leander who had previously provided arrangements for the likes of The Beatles and Marianne Faithfull.
‘Days of Pearly Spencer’ received massive exposure in major newspapers, the music press, billboards, and on pirate station Radio Caroline. All of this pushed the record across the water to continental Europe where it topped the charts in several countries, selling a million copies globally. But the same level of success was somehow stifled closer to home. New youth station BBC Radio 1 would have little to do with Pearly Spencer, and the song, despite its popularity, didn’t chart in Ireland or the UK.
Mandy Bingham offers an insight into this puzzle. “The little I know about this is that David’s manager, Phil Solomon, was also a director at Radio Caroline and as it was an illegal radio station at the time, BBC Radio 1 boycotted the track. However European radio stations picked up on the song, meaning that it became a huge hit across Europe but not in the UK.”
“Days of Pearly Spencer” has long been considered to be written about a homeless man in Ballymena, although another train of thought suggests that it was really written about two women. “The general consensus of opinion is that the song is about a homeless person from Ballymena,” Mandy confirmed. “I’ve done some digging (I phoned my mum!) and the most I could get out of her was that it was written about two women from Ballymena who were very down on their luck.”
The subject matter of the song would have been fairly typical of David McWilliams, a man who felt strongly about inequality and unfairness, as Mandy explains: “My dad was very anti-establishment and he hated the effect that society could have on vulnerable people. He was always very much for the underdog and he hated injustice, which can be seen in his writing, obviously with “Days Of Pearly Spencer” but also with other songs such as “For God and My Country” his first single released in 1966, and later songs such as ‘Down By The Dockyard’, ‘By The Lights Of Cyrian’, ‘A Young Man’s Dream’ and ‘Poverty Street’”.
So much of what Mandy did with her own version of the song was a family affair, including her husband musician Graham Bingham, and daughter Lola, a classical singer. “I really could just hear what I wanted [Lola] to sing – so after a bit of cajoling I got her to the studio and I just love what she did. However Lola’s input came towards the end of a process which involved contributions from various talents. “The recording of the song was such a special and memorable experience for me. Michael Mormecha started a drum beat and Edelle McMahon came in on the electric guitar. Graham played lap steel and it was all so organic, recorded in one take, live with no overdubs. It was one of those goose bump moments and when the song finished I just broke down in tears, it was a very emotional moment for me.”
“To complete the recording we just added the strings … We received a grant from The Arts Council Of Northern Ireland’s Lottery Fund that enabled us to book The Arco String Quartet for a recording session. This was a really important part of the process as the orchestral arrangements were such an integral part of the original recording.”
Another very key element to the original recording was the telephone/megaphone effect on McWilliams’ voice during the chorus. It’s an effect that appears briefly in Mandy’s adaptation. “I wanted to give a little nod to the original version with the vocal effect we added right at the end,” she explained. “[It’s] easy to do these days with modern technology, but back then it would have been much more basic. David probably sang it through some kind of cone or megaphone. The story goes that he sang it back to the studio from a phone box down the road but my mum says this is nonsense.”
For Mandy, recording a version of the song was a natural response to the anniversary. “I love singing dad’s songs and often include them in my live sets. As the release of my debut album, Bury Me Deep, coincided with the 50th anniversary of The ‘Days Of Pearly Spencer’ I thought it would be great to include my version on the album.”
Bury Me Deep is the follow-up to Mandy’s 2015 debut EP Vol.1. “The title Bury Me Deep came from a period a year or two back when a couple of friends of mine sadly lost their partners, this made me think about how I might feel in that position and I wrote the song around those feelings … [the album is] mostly about experiences and feelings I have in my own life/family and observations on the world around me. Basically just a big tuneful whinge!!”
As the album unfolds, a wider scope of talent appears throughout the tracks. “Graham plays Lap Steel Guitar, acoustic/electric guitar and sings harmonies. He also helps with developing and arranging of songs. We also had some amazing guest musicians on the album, Michael Mormecha, Stevie Scullion (Malojian), Anthony Toner, Roy Fullerton, Laura McFadden (cello), Janet Henry and Edelle McMahon.”
To mark the 50th anniversary of his hit song ‘Days of Pearly Spencer’, Braid Real Music Club are presenting a night of David McWilliams’ music featuring local artists, Mandy Bingham, Bob Speers, The Hideaways, Simon Murphy, Errol Walsh and Joe Rocks.
‘Days Of Pearly Spencer’ will be released as a single from Bury Me Deep on 06 October 2017. The song is available as digital download on Bandcamp, and any proceeds from orders on Bandcamp will be donated to The Simon Community, Northern Ireland, up until the official release date.