Last year I was unable to catch Richard Shelton’s homage to the late, great, Francis Albert Sinatra (1915-1998) so it was very pleasing to see the Sinatra: Raw show offered as a one-off stream in archive recording form last night.
This fifty-minute version is a kind of greatest hits package of a Sinatra sensing his growing irrelevance. It is 1970 and he is doing an intimate show for an audience studded with celebrities in Palm Springs.
Events both professional and personal from love affairs, feuds, legal battles and press invasions are woven into renditions of the Sinatra songbook which, if not note perfect, are close enough to make Shelton melt away and the Chairman of the Board come back to life in his whisky-drinking, tough-talking persona.
From tunes such as A Very Good Year and One for My Baby through to the ubiquitous anthem of My Way (by way of That’s Life and I’m a Fool to Want You), Shelton effortlessly interprets the standards and hang-ups of this complex artist.
We hear about the Rat Pack, about the tempestuous and selfish Ava Gardner (wife two, of four), of movie typecasting,of mafia connections). A bottle of Jack Daniel’s may make a useful prop to hide behind, but this is Sinatra stripped back to the soft centre under a cover of steel.
This recording may have been a little rough and raw – and the show continues to develop, grow and evolve as it moves to new venues and embraces new audiences – but it is a character piece which pays tribute to the legend of this patriotic Democrat who gave back to the entertainment world as much as they gave him.
This Sinatra is both a hopeless romantic and a peevish grudge-holder (aching for Ava even after the failure of his May-December marriage to Mia Farrow, cutting Rat Packer Peter Lawford out of his life following a fall-out with JFK).
He is also a peerless interpreter of the songs of others, moving seamlessly from the Tommy Dorsey band to a Columbia record contract and MGM stardom, to character parts and his own label. We hear about his fight to life as a baby, and his weakness for pretty women on the road. The movements and mannerisms are uncanny, the mouth and finger movements spot on.
Sinatra: Raw was made available on 27 August by Seabright Productions.