One of Britain’s most beloved entertainers, with global career sales estimated at 135 million by her label, Shirley Bassey hardly needs to make albums anymore.
But on November 9 in the United Kingdom, Geffen/Universal will release “The Performance,” produced by James Bond soundtrack master David Arnold and featuring songs custom-written for her by Take That’s Gary Barlow, the Pet Shop Boys, Rufus Wainwright, KT Tunstall and others.
Bassey’s manager, album executive producer Paul Carey, suggested the project after the “incredible” reaction to Bassey’s 2007 Glastonbury Festival performance. In July 2008, he met with the 72-year-old singer to explain the concept of “a true Bassey album: classic-sounding yet contemporary.”
Carey took the idea to Geffen U.K. president Colin Barlow and, with Arnold onboard, the album took shape. A U.S. release is under discussion.
Billboard: You’ve had compilations and remix albums, but this is your first all-new record in more than 20 years. Is that because the material wasn’t right for you before?
Shirley Bassey: Well, not only that. I’d really retired, to tell you the truth, and was just coming out for special occasions. These writers have brought me back. Only that could have done it, and it was a challenge, because you wouldn’t have thought they were my songs. I took them on holiday with me, and I would say, “I can’t do this, they’re too difficult.” But I was listening to the way the writers were singing them, and trying to sing in their key, which never helps. It wasn’t until I actually went into the studio, with a piano, and put my voice on, that I started to get excited. I could hear myself. I’m always up for a challenge, and it paid off.
Billboard: How was the experience of working with David Arnold?
Bassey: He’s very gentle. He lets you find your own way. And I love him for allowing my music director, Mike Dixon, to be in the studio, because Mike knows me. He knows the notes I would want to hold. If I hit a note and I like it, I want to stay on it — you can’t get me off, but Mike was able to do that.
Billboard: What are your expectations for the album?
Bassey: We would all love to have No. 1s — oh, my gosh, yes. It would be great, great, great.
Billboard: Will you tour after your Electric Proms performance October 23 at the London Roundhouse?
Bassey: No. It’s very tiring, it takes so much out of you, especially now in the September of my years. You wake up and the whole day is concentrated on the performance, so you have no life. You do your performance, get on your bus and go off through the night to the next town, and that’s what it’s like until the tour finishes. Then you’re in bed for two or three days. I loved it, but I doubt I’d do it again. I say “doubt,” because you should never say “never.”
Billboard: Why do you think you still draw big crowds and have a loyal fan base after all these years?
Bassey: My down-to-earthness, I think. But if I knew what makes success, I’d bottle it. That’s the magic of this business — you don’t know why you’re successful. Those critics who say it’s an all-gay audience … not at all. There’s mums and dads, and their children bring their children, so it’s a family audience.
Billboard: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Bassey: I love all of them. But the Pet Shop Boys’ song (“The Performance of My Life”) got right into my head and made me sob, and not many songs do that. You can get too carried away with a song, especially onstage, but you can’t be crying during every one. When I heard that, after doing all the other songs, it was just too much for me. I don’t need to write a book. The record is my autobiography.