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"Melanie Is Set To Sing In A Brand New Key"

By Cahal Milmo

Published: 30 April 2007

Such is the dedication of Melanie to her audiences that she once defied a court injunction to play at a music festival through a sound system powered by a Mister Softee ice cream van.

The cult 1970s singer and queen of "flower power" ballads is unlikely to have her professionalism tested so rigorously when she picks up her acoustic guitar in June for her latest engagement - her first gig in Britain for 30 years.

The 60-year-old musician, whose other accomplishments include running a restaurant and writing a musical on Calamity Jane, is to participate in a pop celebration of the £111m refurbishment of London's South Bank complex. The full line-up for the Meltdown festival, directed by Jarvis Cocker, will be unveiled today.

Best known for her hits with "Ruby Tuesday", "Candles in the Rain" and "Brand New Key", Melanie will play alongside Motörhead and 80s goths The Jesus And Mary Chain in the week-long event, to mark the reopening of the Royal Festival Hall.

For many British fans, it will be a first sighting since her 1970s heyday, when she was a standard bearer for the hippy movement with her soulful tunes and peacenik doctrine. She plays the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 16 June.

Cocker, who is the latest in a succession of pop's senior statesmen to direct Meltdown in its 14-year history - others include John Peel, David Bowie and Morrissey - said the eclectic mix was an attempt to make audiences think.

The former Pulp singer said: "Culture should be a stimulant, not a sedative. Hide beneath the duvet in your plasma-screen, MP3-enabled pad if you like, but we will find you and we will wake you up.

"I am eternally grateful to all the artists who have agreed to contribute to this Meltdown. They are a disparate bunch but they have one thing in common: they will make you think."

Despite largely falling off the music radar in this country, Melanie remains hugely popular elsewhere and regularly plays to large audiences in her native America, Germany, the Netherlands and South Korea. She has sold 80 million records in her career, putting her on a par with Dolly Parton and not far behind Bob Dylan.

She was also the first solo pop artist to play the Metropolitan Opera House, the Sydney Opera House and the general assembly of the United Nations, receiving a standing ovation from the ranks of diplomats.

The artist, whose full name is Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk, gained renown for her ardent adherence to the peace and love values of the late 1960s and early 1970s. She played at Woodstock, the Isle of Wight Festival in 1971 and serenaded the dawn at the Glastonbury Fayre in the second year of what became the Glastonbury Festival.

Such was her dedication that in the summer of 1970 she decided to play before 30,000 people at the Power Ridge Festival in Connecticut, which was "cancelled" after a judge granted an injunction following complaints that drugs were so widely available that someone had doctored the water supply with LSD.

Melanie, who was booked before the injunction, smuggled herself into the venue in a television van while organisers approached the crew of an ice-cream van to provide the amplification because all power had been cut.

"The Mister Softee people [had] the only electricity of any kind that had gotten in. So they hooked up a makeshift sound system to a Mr Softee generator. One microphone," she recalled.

Although she is playing the Queen Elizabeth II Hall next door, Melanie should have no such problems with the acoustics in the new Festival Hall, once notorious for the sound-deadening linings of the auditorium which perturbed generations of performers. Meltdown, which was cancelled last year to allow for the 18-month refurbishment, will be the venue's first contemporary music event since reopening.

The £91m refurbishment, together with a £20m make-over of the surrounding Southbank facilities, has concentrated on tweaking the acoustic performance for maximum effect.

Its success will be tested when Motörhead play the hall, opened in 1951 with a 3,000-seat capacity, at the same time as Melanie's appearance next door.
- The Independent by Cahal Milmo Published: 30 April 2007


Born To Be - 1968
Affectionately Melanie (UK) - 1969
Melanie (US) - 1969
Candles In The Rain - 1970
Leftover Wine - 1970
Live At Carnegie Hall -1970
R.P.M. (Soundtrack) - 1970
All The Right Noises (Soundtrack) - 1971
The Good Book - 1971
Gather Me -1971
Garden In The City - 1972
The Four Sides Of Melanie - 1972
Stoneground Words - 1972
In Concert - Live At Montreaux - 1973
The Very Best Of Melanie - 1973
Melanie At Carnegie Hall - 1973
Please Love Me - 1973
Madrugada - 1974
As I See Now - 1974
Sunset And Other Beginnings - 1975
Melanie In Concert - 1976
Photograph (Double Exposure) - 1976
Phonogenic - 1978
Ballroom Streets - 1978
Arabesque - 1982
Seventh Wave - 1983
Am I Real Or What - 1985
Melanie - 1987
Cowabonga - 1988
Precious Cargo - 1991
Silence Is King - 1993
Silver Anniversary - 1993
Freedom Knows My Name - 1993
Brand New Key - 1995
Old Bitch Warrior - 1995
Unchained Melanie - 1996
Greatest Hits - Live and New - 1996
Lowcountry - 1997
On Air - 1997
Antlers - 1997
Beautiful People - 1999
Ruby Tuesday - 1999
Ring The Living Bell - 1999
These Nights - 2001
Victim Of The Moon - 2002
Moments From My Life - 2002
Crazy Love - 2002
Paled By Dimmer Light - 2004
Olga's Birthday Party - 2005
Beautiful Hits - 2007



It's almost time …

For three years Melanie, who became the voice of an era in one magical instant onstage at Woodstock, has been putting the pieces in order.

Pieces of a career, scattered by the winds of experience and assembled again by the force of love into Paled By Dimmer Light, the most personal and brilliant of her many personal and brilliant albums.

Recorded in collaboration with Beau Jarred Schekeryk, Melanie's son and a guitarist/producer with a formidable future of his own, and scheduled for mid-April release, Paled By Dimmer Light takes root in the history she has already made but rises through the light of modern times toward something universal and enduring.

In the irony and compassion of "Smile," the wrenching emotion of "Extraordinary," the biting humor of "I Tried to Die Young," the rushing romanticism of "Elements," the unexpected insights derived from her interpretation of the album's one cover song (consider it a "surprise track"), and the stunning, unforgettable voice that brings each of these new songs to life, Paled By Dimmer Light is something greater than a comeback effort -- after all, Melanie never really left (see below).

No, this album is a kind of rebirth -- an ignition of the creative energies with which she had first conquered the musical world. As its mid-April release nears, so does the return of an artist who has already had a unique impact on music -- who, in fact, was a prototype for the singer/songwriter concept that we've come to assume was always with us. With tour dates being booked, Melanie is poised to enlighten new generations about what it means to sing with both passion and eloquence, to write at once with intelligence and emotion, and to inspire through song.

Others learned this from Melanie that night at Woodstock, where as a New York kid barely known outside of the coffeehouse circuit in Greenwich Village, she sang her song "Beautiful People" and inspired the first panorama of candles and cigarette lighters ever raised at a concert event. That, in turn, moved the young singer to write "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain"), which sold more than one million copies in 1970 and prompted Billboard, Cashbox, Melody Maker, Record World, and Bravo to anoint her as female vocalist of the year. Her single "Brand New Key," an infectious romp about freedom and roller skates, topped the charts in 1971.

And so her story began. With guitar in hand and a talent that combined amazing vocal equipment, disarming humor, and a vibrant engagement with life, she was booked as the first solo pop/rock artist ever to appear at Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House, the Sydney Opera House, and in the General Assembly of the United Nations, where delegates greeted her performances with standing ovations. The top television hosts of the time -- Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett -- battled to book her. (After her stunning performance on his show, Sullivan goggled that he had not seen such a "dedicated and responsive audience since Elvis Presley.")

Accolades rolled in, from critics ("Melanie's cult has long been famous, but it's a cult that's responding to something genuine and powerful -- which is maybe another way of saying that this writer counts himself as part of the cult too," wrote John Rockwell in The New York Times) as well as peers ("Melanie," insisted jazz piano virtuoso Roger Kellaway, "is extraordinary to the point that she could be sitting in front of us in this room and sing something like 'Momma Momma' right to us, and it would just go right through your entire being.")

In the years that followed Melanie continued to record, continued to tour. UNICEF made her its spokesperson; Jimi Hendrix's father introduced her to the multitude assembled for the twentieth anniversary of Woodstock. Her records continued to sell -- more than eighty million to date. She's had her songs covered by singers as diverse as Cher, Dolly Parton, and Macy Gray. She's raised a family, won an Emmy, opened a restaurant, written a musical about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane …

She has, in short, lived a rare life. But all of it was just a prelude to what's about to come.

"It took me twenty years to do this album," she says today. "For the first time, I'm not afraid to voice exactly what I feel. I used to feel that I didn't want to say too much, but now I can say anything. Beau's ideas helped me understand this: They're so amazing, so off-the-wall, and yet there's something ancient about them. Honestly, he didn't come up with one thing that I didn't totally love."

For more than three years Melanie and Beau worked together. She wrote; the songs came faster than they ever had, each one opening a door to some new imperative. He created arrangements, came up with melodies of his own that dovetailed with what she had written, recorded the results. Just when they had enough for an album release, more songs poured forth, and they started again from scratch, building