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Peter Sarstedt - 1941-2017

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 8 / 2 / 2017

Peter Sarstedt - 1941-2017


Nick Dent-Robinson recalls meeting and interviewing Peter Sarstedt who died in January and his 1969 only huge hit 'Where Do You Go To My Lovely'

Peter Sarstedt's death in January made me reflect on the scale of his achievement with his only huge hit, 'Peter Sarstedt. Few songs are able to capture their time in history so they still have people enraptured almost fifty years later! Although Sarstedt achieved other top ten hits subsequently - his 'Frozen Orange Juice' sold half a million copies - it was his first massive hit which defined Sarstedt's career. When I interviewed him over twenty years ago, Sarstedt was a little rueful as he reflected that the world felt they knew him through the lyrics of 'Where Do You Go To My Lovely'. He laughed as he explained that too many people never quite got that he was being ironic, gently mocking the imaginary subject of his song. “I knew so many people like her,” he recalled. “But the song wasn't based on anyone in particular. Not Sophia Loren as many have suggested, nor Nina Van Pallandt of singing duo Nina and Frederik...I never met either of them. And not really my then girlfriend and later my ex-wife Anita Atke who was a Danish medical student back then - though Anita sometimes liked to suggest the song was about her. The mundane truth is the song was just a bit of musical fiction and somehow the addition of an accordion by the producer helped convince people it was 'real' - but it wasn't." “I scrawled out the words when I was busking in Copenhagen in 1966...it was just a stream of images and famous names, a generic concoction that came out of all the European girls I'd known. Remember, there was a whole new breed of young women celebrities back then...female folk singers, film stars, fashion models. It was all fresh and very novel. And the name of the girl, Marie-Claire, well that just came from the ultra-fashionable French women's magazine of that name. Simple as that. I did get a kick out of it though when the top French singing star Sacha Distel contacted me to say he was thrilled to be named in my song! He was a gentleman." “Back then it was fashionable to be casual, pretending you had no money and I knew a lot of wealthy girls that would play that game. To an extent I was doing it myself...I was busking because I liked it. But I'd already been in the music business for a while. I had played in the band supporting my elder brother who, as Eden Kane, was a successful pop star in the early 1960s. Remember his big number one hit, 'Well, I Ask You?' And I worked with my other brother, Robin Sarstedt who was in the music business, too.” Peter Sarstedt had been born in India to British parents who had made a comfortable living working there during the days of Empire. The family finally returned to England in the early 1950s. Peter followed his older brother into the music business at an early age - though he wasn't wise enough to be able to make much money from 'Where Do You Go To My Lovely'. “I was never a millionaire,” he explained. “EMI made the millions from my song. They owned the rights which later passed to Sony/ATV Publishing. And they decide when and where my song can be used. They guard it jealously. The song has featured in a few films - like 'The Darjeeling Limited' in 2007. But I never made a fortune from it so I never caught up with Marie-Claire and her jet-set friends. I have enjoyed a gentle country lifestyle, though - so no complaints. I've also continued to perform the song live which I have always enjoyed doing.” He was too modest when we met to say much about it but it is worth recording here that 'Where Do You Go To My Lovely' did win Peter Sarstedt an Ivor Novello Award for the best song of 1969 which he shared with David Bowie (for 'Space Oddity'). Above all, Peter Sarstedt was very philosophical about the fact his career peaked early with some people unkindly speaking of him as someone who never quite lived up to expectations and who missed opportunities. “That really is rather silly,” he said with a smile. “I have known so many brilliant writers and musicians, all truly deserving. But most of them never ever had a single hit, never mind one of this magnitude that years later still evokes fond memories of an amazing decade. I'm very content to settle for that. Who wouldn't be?”

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