Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Beatle People: Mary Hopkin

Mary Hopkin (born 3 May 1950, Pontardawe, Wales) is a Welsh folk singer. She is best known as one of the first musicians to sign to The Beatles' Apple label, and for her 1968 single "Those Were the Days", which was a top-ten hit in both the UK and the U.S.

Early singing career

Hopkin was born in to a Welsh speaking family, and began her musical career as a folk singer with a local group called the Selby Set and Mary. She released an EP of Welsh language songs for a local record label called Cambrian, which was based in her home town, before signing to The Beatles' Apple Records. The model Twiggy saw her winning the British ITV television talent show, Opportunity Knocks, and recommended her to Paul McCartney. She became one of the first artists to record on the Beatles' Apple record label.

Her debut single, "Those Were the Days", produced by Paul McCartney, was released in the UK on 30 August 1968 (catalogue number APPLE 2). Despite competition from a well-established star, Sandie Shaw, who released her version of the same song as a single that same year, Hopkin's version became a number one hit in the UK Singles Chart, and reached #2 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. On 2 October 1968 Hopkin appeared at St Paul's Cathedral, London for the 'Pop Experience' where she sang "Morning Of My Life", "Turn Turn Turn" and "Plaisir D'amour."

In December 1968 the NME music magazine reported that Hopkin was 'sympathetically considering' a lead acting role in Stanley Baker's forthcoming film, Where's Jack?. Ultimately she instead sang the title song.

On 21 February 1969 her debut album, Postcard, also produced by McCartney, was released. It included covers of three songs from Donovan, who also played on the album, and one song each from George Martin and Harry Nilsson. It reached number three on the UK Albums Chart, although it proved to be her solitary success story in that particular chart. In the United States Postcard reached #28 on the Billboard albums chart.

The next single was "Goodbye," written by Paul McCartney (but credited to Lennon/McCartney), released on 28 March 1969 (APPLE 10); it reached #2 in the UK Singles Chart. It was kept off the top of the charts by the Beatles' single "Get Back". "Goodbye" has never been officially released by the Beatles, although a demo version can be found on some of the Beatles' bootlegs.

She represented the United Kingdom in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest singing "Knock Knock, Who's There?". Author and historian John Kennedy O'Connor notes in The Eurovision Song Contest — The Official History that she gave a very comfortable performance and sang in a crystal clear voice, but despite being the pre-contest favourite, Hopkin came second to "All Kinds of Everything", performed by Irish singer Dana.

"Knock Knock, Who's There?" was released as a single on 23 March 1970, reaching #2 again in the UK. Her second album, Earth Song, Ocean Song, was released by Apple on 1 October 1971. The record was produced by her husband Tony Visconti and included cover versions of songs written by Cat Stevens, Gallagher and Lyle, and Ralph McTell.

After the hit singles

After marrying Visconti in 1971, Hopkin withdrew from the pop music scene to have a family. Although reportedly unhappy with show business, Hopkin did not stop recording. She travelled to Australia with Visconti in January 1972 and performed at a large outdoor rock festival in South Australia, as well as giving concerts in several major cities. With the help of Visconti, 1972 saw the release of the Christmas song "Mary Had a Baby" / "Cherry Tree Carol" on Regal Zonophone Records, which was re-released in 1973. Later that year, the single "Summertime Summertime" / "Sweet And Low" was released on Bell Records under the name of Hobby Horse.

Although no other singles or albums came out in her name until 1976, she sang on numerous recordings that her husband Visconti produced, such as those featuring Tom Paxton, Ralph McTell, David Bowie (Low), Bert Jansch, The Radiators From Space, Thin Lizzy, Carmen, Sarstedt Brothers, Osibisa, Sparks, Hazel O'Connor and Elaine Paige.

On all of these recordings (and also on her husband's own album Inventory) she is credited as Mary Visconti. During this time, she also appeared on various TV shows such as Cilla Black's and various radio programmes.

Return to recording

In 1976, she returned to recording under her own name, and released the single "If You Love Me (I Won't Care)" (originally recorded by Édith Piaf), which reached #32 in the UK chart. The B-side, "Tell Me Now", was an original composition by Hopkin. Her next single was "Wrap Me In Your Arms", with the B-side again written by Hopkin ("Just A Dreamer"). These singles came out on Visconti's Good Earth Records label. Several songs recorded for an album at the time have now been released under Hopkin's own label, Mary Hopkin Music.

Two members of Steeleye Span (Bob Johnson and Pete Knight) chose Hopkin to play "Princess Lirazel" on their concept album The King of Elfland's Daughter. She also appeared at the Cambridge Folk Festival with Bert Jansch. 1976 also saw the birth of her second child. Before the 1970s ended, Decca released a compilation album of Hopkin's Cambrian recordings, The Welsh World of Mary Hopkin.


Hopkin's first project in the 1980s was a well-reviewed stint playing the Virgin Mary in Rock Nativity at the Hexagon Theatre in Reading, Berkshire. After this, Mike Hurst (record producer and formerly of The Springfields) asked her to sing lead in a new group named Sundance that he had formed with Mike de Albuquerque of ELO. Their only single, "What's Love", allowed them to tour the UK with Dr. Hook, but Hopkin quickly left the group, dissatisfied with the gigs. In 2002, Hurst released recordings from this time on the Angel Air label.

Hopkin and Visconti divorced in 1981. The following year she provided melismatic vocals on "Rachael's Song" for the Vangelis soundtrack of Blade Runner. Around 1984, Peter Skellern asked her to join him and Julian Lloyd Webber in a band called Oasis. Their album Oasis was released on WEA along with two singles. A tour of the UK was planned but was brought to an abrupt end because Hopkin became ill. The group disbanded shortly afterwards.

During the 1980s Hopkin appeared in several charity shows, including an appearance at the London Palladium with Ralph McTell. In 1988, she took part in George Martin's production of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood. She played the character Rosie Probert and notably performed a piece called "Love Duet" with Freddie Jones as Captain Cat. The making of the record was filmed and made into a special edition of The South Bank Show, where Hopkin and Jones were shown rehearsing and recording "Love Duet". In 1992, the cast reunited for a performance of the play as a tribute to Thomas in the presence of Prince Charles for The Prince's Trust.

Hopkin recorded an album called Spirit in 1989. This was released on the Trax label and is a collection of light classical songs and featured the single "Ave Maria". The record was produced by Benny Gallagher of Gallagher and Lyle, who had contributed songs to her during her days at Apple Records.

1990s to present

Early in 1990, she was asked to sing with The Chieftains at the London Palladium in a charity show, and later joined them on a tour of the UK.

She continued to do projects of her choosing, working with people like Julian Colbeck, she wrote the lyrics and performed a song on his CD Back to Bach. Also, there was Marc Cerrone's The Collector, a stage play/opera, for which she performed two tracks on the CD and video. She worked again with her old guitarist Brian Willoughby and Dave Cousins (of Strawbs) on their CD The Bridge. Hopkin also appeared on a Beatles' tribute album by RAM Pietsch.

Around 1996, the Welsh label Sain bought Cambrian's back catalogue and released all Hopkin's Welsh recordings on a CD called The Early Years, which removed the overdubbed drums found in the Decca recordings.

In 1999, she was again invited to join The Chieftains on their UK tour, and later that year performed a few concerts in Scotland with Benny Gallagher and Jim Diamond. More recently there have been three TV documentaries about her, one each for HTV, BBC Television and S4C.

She made a guest appearance on The Crocketts' album The Great Brain Robbery, sang the theme song for Billy Connolly's BBC TV series The World Tour, and re-recorded "Those Were The Days" with Robin Williams rapping. She also appeared in the Sarah Sugarman film Very Annie Mary and duetted with Dolly Parton on her 2005 album, Those Were the Days, which went to #48 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart (#9 U.S. Country) and number 35 in the UK.

In September 2005 she released a retrospective album on her own label, Mary Hopkin Music, entitled Live at the Royal Festival Hall. It was followed in December 2006 by a Christmas recording, "Snowed Under", released as an mp3 download on the Welsh online store, Disaudio.

In 2007 to celebrate her 57th birthday, she released an album called Valentine, on her new eponymous label. It included 12 previously unheard tracks dating from 1972 to 1980, three of which were written by Hopkin. In 2008, a new album, Recollections, was released on her own label. It included eleven tracks that were originally recorded between 1970 and 1986, alongside a CD of three Christmas songs, which included "Mary Had a Baby" and "Cherry Tree Carol" (these tracks were first released on Regal Zonophone in 1972) and "Snowed Under", which was released in 2006 as a download only.


Chart singles
  • "Those Were The Days" (1968)
  • "Goodbye" (1969)
  • "Temma Harbour" (1970)
  • "Knock Knock, Who's There?" (1970)
  • "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" (1970)
  • "Think About Your Children" (1970)
  • "Let My Name Be Sorrow" (1971)
  • "Water, Paper & Clay" (1972)
  • "If You Love Me (I Won't Care)" (1976)

1 comment:

Alexis said...

I love mary hopkin -- I think she's so adorable. and "goodbye" is one of my favorite songs, though i think i might like the bootlegged one with paul singing just a little more :)