Songwriters lure Bassey back for "The Performance"

Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:05pm EDT
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By Paul Sexton

LONDON (Billboard) - 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.   Continued...