Dickie Valentine and Tom Jones have been friends — and neighbours — a long time.
They lived three doors apart in Shepperton, Middlesex: identical houses, architect-designed, open-plan jobs, all glass, sunshine and light, before Tom moved on, a fortnight ago, to a house at Sunbury-on-Thames (which, incidentally, once belonged to Dickie).
But on this lazy, hazy summer afternoon I’ve caught them on a neighbourly rendezvous, sharing ice-cold lager at Dickie’s place. A rare afternoon. It’s not often their engagements on stage, television or in cabaret allow them to get together.
And when they do they talk … about television, stage and The Dickie Valentine Show, which starts on Friday and which stars the pair of them.
“Television,” says Tom, “is still the most nerve-racking business of all for a performer. You know, I squirm in my seat just watching singers I know performing on television; I know how worked up they are.
“You’re inhuman if that huge, unseen audience out there doesn’t affect you. On a live show, you know when an audience is with you. Or against you. On TV, you’re never sure.”
“Right,” says Dickie. “And you can be the biggest stage attraction in the country and go virtually unrecognised unless you get exposure on television. It’s the greatest challenge an artist can have; that’s why I like to have confidence in the guest stars on my show. And why I asked for Tom.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do yet. But we know we get on together. That we can adapt. We’re mates.”
Mates, yes. Yet they are of different eras.
Dickie: smooth, immaculate balladeer of the big-band age, one of the first British singers girls screamed at and over in the Fifties. Quiet, deep, introspective, yet not insular.
Tom: expressive, explosive, rhythm and blues orientated artist, right in the big-time of the Sixties.
Different worlds. Last time I met Tom, it was among the summer season jet-setters of Juan-les-Pins, on the Riviera. My last rendezvous with Dickie was here at his home.
And how do these worlds differ? How have standards, music, fans, records and television changed?
Dickie: “I think my day was a lot friendlier. Fans were better natured. The kids who tore their hair over me, did the same for Dennis Lotis, David Whitfield, Frankie Vaughan. Now the fans tear each other’s hair out. That’s not sour grapes, Dave. There’s a lot to be said for the current crop of kids. They just seem to be a bit more violent. It’s just the way things have developed.”
Tom: “Aye, there is a lot of bad feeling between rival fan units. I’ve been a tearaway in my time, mind, but I find it a bit distasteful now. Puts you off doing concerts.”
So how has music changed?
Tom: “Oh, the scene now is vast, tremendously comprehensive. Pop stars get so much exposure on television and radio. I mean, when I was a kid in South Wales, you never saw a big pop name.
“I would have hitch-hiked for miles in the rain to see someone like Dickie. And pop television and radio programmes were once-a-week things; now you only have to switch on to have it all day.”
So who had it easier? To make a hit?
Dickie: “Much easier in my day. You only had to sell 15,000 records to make the charts. Today, that amount is hardly enough to go around all the disc jockeys and radio stations.”
Tom: “Yes. it must be tougher now. When I was a big fan, a singer adopted a style. Sold hit after hit in exactly that style. Now you find one style and hit the jackpot. Try it again and have a rip-roaring flop. There’s so much more pop these days. It covers enormous amounts of ground and style. And it’s beyond analysis what makes a hit.”
Dickie is still a big band man. He has a genuine love for his era; they will always be good old days. His record library is packed with good things by Billy May, Stan Kenton, Count Basic, and his old “guv’nor,” Ted Heath.
Tom is faithful still to his teenage idols — Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Elvis Presley.
The two play their favourites alternately, listen, comment, make points and occasionally argue. Just a couple of professionals, on a rare day off, ready to listen to the other man’s view, ready to compromise.