Frank Sinatra: In Concert At The Royal Festival Hall was a 50-minute TV special filmed in colour by the BBC, capturing Ol’ Blue Eyes performing onstage in London, one of his favourite cities.
The performance had taken place on Tuesday, 16 November 1970 – just 26 days shy of Sinatra’s 55th birthday. It was the second and final concert of a two-night charity event called Night Of Nights, which also featured London-born US comedian Bob Hope.
Before The Chairman took to the stage, he was introduced to the audience by Princess Grace Of Monaco. Sinatra had first known and worked with her before she was royalty, when she was Hollywood actress Grace Kelly (she starred opposite Sinatra in the 1956 movie High Society). At Sinatra’s invitation, Princess Grace had stepped in as a last-minute replacement for Noël Coward, who was originally hired as the night’s compère but had been taken ill (Sinatra visited him in hospital during his time in London).
After a glowing introduction by Princess Grace, who described the Hoboken-born singer as “generous and warm-hearted”, a beaming Sinatra took to the stage and quipped, “What a press agent!” Backed by a good number of first-call British musicians), he then eased into a vibrant version of the swinger ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’, with a palpable joie de vivre. Suave and tuxedo-clad, Sinatra was on top form, whether he was serving up some of his old favourites (‘The Lady Is A Tramp’) or newer, contemporary, material (George Harrison’s ‘Something’).
Among the Frank Sinatra: In Concert At The Royal Festival Hall highlights is ‘Pennies From Heaven’, the second tune in Sinatra’s set. An immortal ode to joy, written by composer Arthur Johnston with lyricist Johnny Burke, the song was a hit first for crooner Bing Crosby, when it appeared as the title tune to the 1936 musical comedy of the same name. The song very quickly became a jazz standard recorded by, among others, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Stan Getz. Sinatra first recorded the song on his 1956 LP Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! and later, in 1962, recorded it again, this time in tandem with the Count Basie band on his 1962 Reprise LP Sinatra-Basie: An Historic Musical First, which was the first of three musical encounters with the aristocratic jazz man (the other two were It Might As Well Be Swing and Sinatra At The Sands).
“Cole Porter by way of Nelson Riddle,” is how Sinatra introduced both the writer and arranger of ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, one of the singer’s most popular numbers. He first recorded it in 1946, but arguably the definitive rendition was recorded ten years later for his classic Capitol album, Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! Sinatra later waxed it in the studio again for Sinatra’s Sinatra in 1963, and, three years later, featured it on his first live LP, Sinatra At The Sands. Along with ‘My Way’, ‘Theme From New York, New York’ and ‘One For My Baby’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’ is regarded as one of Sinatra’s signature songs.
Sinatra closed the Royal Festival Hall concert with ‘My Way’, a show-stopping anthem he recorded in the studio only two years earlier, on 30 December 1968, but which quickly became a key part of his repertoire. Thereafter, it was often used as the curtain-closer of his live shows.
By the time that Frank Sinatra: In Concert At The Royal Festival Hall had aired on television, on 4 February 1971, his appearance at the prestigious London venue the previous November had already helped to raise over £100,000 for the United World Colleges Fund. The concert was also a significant reminder that Frank Sinatra was still very much in his prime. His London performance – dynamic, masterful and at times transcendent – proved that beyond any shadow of a doubt.