Flower Power and Black Velvet – Richard Harris and Jimmy Webb in London’s swinging sixties

“You could literally walk into a restaurant like Annabels and see John Berry, Sammy Davis, a couple of the Beatles, Michael Caine and more, all sitting in the same room watching each other”

Jimmy Webb returns to Richard Harris’ hometown for a once-off concert for this weekend’s film festival and shares his memories of his old friend with Limerick Post Newspaper.

richard_harris-mac_arthur_park_s_4THE name Jimmy Webb may not ring bells immediately, but the composer/musician/producer created some of music’s most evocative and enduring songs since the 1960s.

Oklahoma born Jimmy Webb jacked in his college course  to pursue songwriting full time in LA. His song ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ was a hit for Glen Campbell as was ‘Up, Up And Away’ for 5th Dimension.

Jimmy Webb, influenced by Brian Wilson and Phil Spector, composed with expansive arrangements and elaborate and visual lyrics.

Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ sold over a million copies and is considered Webb’s finest song, still widely covered today, REM, Villagers and Gavin Glass to name a few.

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Webb met actor Richard at a charity concert in LA and immediately hit it off. Harris taught him Irish songs. Webb promised to write music for the Limerick actor someday.

A telegram from Harris to the composer in 1967 simply said ‘Dear Jimmy Webb. Come to London. Make Record. Love Richard.’

Webb and Harris went onto make two albums together. ‘MacArthur Park’ was a top five hit in the UK. No.2 in the US and a Number One in Australia and Canada.

‘MacArthur Park’ is both celebrated for breaking with conventions of the three minute pop record and reviled for its quirky and questionable lyrics.

“Someone left the cake out in the rain

I don’t think that I can take it

‘Cause it took so long to bake it

And I’ll never have that recipe again

Oh no!”

Webb’s compositions provided Richard Harris with his place in music history and during his time together with Richard in London and Ireland Jimmy Webb credits Harris with everything from teaching him how to drink a Black Velvet (Guinness and Cider mixed!) to introducing the country boy to London in the swinging ’60s, riding around the city from party to party in the actor’s Rolls  Royce.

Jimmy Webb reminisced with Limerick Post this week ahead of his concert for the Richard Harris International Film Festival.

What was it about Richard Harris’ performances that sustained your musical partnership over two albums?

“Richard brought his sense of Shakespearian drama to our records and the symphony orchestra setting created a very identifiable unusual sound. I wish we could have done more albums together.”

What were your impressions of the west of Ireland when you visited here with Richard as a tour guide?

“My first impression was see the west of Ireland and then die. To me it’s undeniably one of the most scenic and moving vistas of land and ocean on the planet. The unending war between the sea and the land has carved the coastline into shapes sometimes resembling megalithic monuments.

“I specifically  recall an ‘amphitheatre’ at Kilkee where Richard told me he practiced his Shakespeare. It’s a rugged yet inexplicably tender landscape. The two elements combined to create a terrain redolent with spiritual overtones.”

Was spending time in London in the swinging ’60s as much fun as the stories?

“London in 1968 was the centre of pop culture and the sense of unfettered mores along with the challenge that our generation presented to the authorities.

“It was a heady mix for a 19 year old kid. You could literally walk into a restaurant like Annabels and see John Berry, Sammy Davis, a couple of the Beatles, Michael Caine and more, all sitting in the same room watching each other.”

Looking forward to your Limerick performance at Lime Tree Theatre on Saturday?

“It’s going to be great to revisit the scenes of Richard’s childhood and hopefully to see some of the buildings and streets that I have read so much about in the many biographies.

“He loved Limerick and being a Limerick man and I can’t imagine how pleased he would be to be honoured with his own film festival.”

An Evening with Jimmy Webb – in Richard Harris’ hometown happens this Saturday October 29 at Lime Tree Theatre.

Special guests for the night is Hermitage Green. 8pm sharp and tickets are €25.