London – July, 2016 – Just a few days ago I was part of a 50,000 person crowd in London’s Hyde Park for a unique and special event. Carole King, the legendary singer and song writer performed the whole of her exceptional ‘Tapestry’ album live to an audience of devoted fans.
When Carole first released ‘Tapestry’ in 1971 she literally changed people’s lives. Before the concert began in London there were short pre-recorded messages of thanks from Tom Hanks, Elton John and James Taylor explaining what the ‘Tapestry’ album meant to them. This set the tone. For the first time since 1989 Carole King was performing in London and she was performing ‘Tapestry’ from start to finish. It felt like being a part of history.
The ‘Tapestry’ album and its perfectly crafted songs created an honest, sometime painful and certainly emotional sound track to life. To real life with its highs and lows, moments of happiness and moments of great sadness. Songs like ‘You’ve got a friend’ remain deeply embedded in the psyche of my generation. Frequently performed by Carole’s long time friend James Taylor. Early in her concert Carole mentioned James and told us that he was performing at Fenway Park (Boston) the same day that she was here in Hyde Park. Such connection to her ‘friend’ even now after decades came across as sincere and moving.
I first heard about Carole King in about 1976. I was going out with a young guy called Peter. He was taking me out sailing one sunny afternoon. Before we left the house, his father, Bill, said to me, ‘Janet you’ve got to listen to Carole King’. I’d never heard of Carole King. In those days it was all David Bowie and Bryan Ferry (Roxy Music) for me. I regarded myself as a cool kid. I certainly wasn’t going to take any musical recommendations from my ‘not even’ boyfriend’s dad! It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I heard Paul Gambaccini on the radio talking about Carole King and how, in his opinion ‘Tapestry’ was one of the finest albums ever made. My ears pricked up and I thought about Bill, who had sadly died the year before. I went straight home, downloaded the album and listened from start to finish. The songs are just beautiful, elegantly shaped, poignant. As fresh and wonderful now as I’m sure they were forty years ago.
When I’d stopped crying I wrote a letter to Bill’s widow Sheila, telling her the Carole King story and how sorry I was that I’d ignored that wonderful suggestion all those years ago. I’m playing the ‘Tapestry’ album now as I write. Songs like ‘So Far Away’ and ‘You’ve got a Friend’ or ‘(You make me feel like) A Natural Woman’ are so meaningful and emotional. They are songs that people related to, songs that the listener understood and said to themselves, ‘that’s me, that’s my story, she is singing about me’…….
Back in London at the concert – In the crowd, right next to me, a beautiful blond woman stood and wept through the entire performance. She’d travelled thousands of miles to see Carole King live. She had been a fan for decades and this was the first time she had seen her hero on stage. She explained that her elder sister visited London in the 1970s and brought back a song book ‘Carole King, Tapestry’ as a gift for her younger sibling. After forty years she and her sister were finally seeing this ‘amazing songwriter and performer’ on stage. What a magical night. I’m sure there were so many other stories in the crowd. Many of the spectators had stood patiently for hours, despite their advancing years.
Carole also played a fabulous medley of songs she co-wrote with Gerry Goffin (her husband at one time) including: ‘Chains’ which was recorded by The Beatles for their first album. ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’ and ‘Something tells me I’m into Something Good’. A duet between Carole King and her daughter Louise Goffin predictably brought the house down with ‘Where you Lead’.
The backdrops to the show included the brick wall of The Cavern Club, Liverpool as a nod to The Beatles recording of ‘Chains’ and a spectacular London skyline as a thank you to the British and European fans gathered in Hyde Park. There was even a dance along with ‘The Loco-motion’. Just when I thought there was nowhere else to go the cast of ‘Beautiful’ the West End Musical appeared on stage with Carole. ‘Beautiful’ tells the story of Carole King, her song writing and her songs. It has been and continues to be a huge success on London’s West End. A spirited performance of ‘I feel the Earth move under my feet’ followed. What an amazing show – a unique and emotional event. There is no doubt we’d all been in the presence of true greatness.
Postscript: One of my favourite writers Robert Macfarlane often comments that he is ‘in awe of talent’ and I’m the same. Fifty years after the release of ‘Tapestry’ this lyrical, poignant and truly brilliant musical journey is still influencing and inspiring listeners. If you do nothing else today download Tapestry and give it a listen. It is poetic, romantic brilliance and for me it sums up perfectly the emotions and sentiments of the human condition. Carole King you are a talent and a genius – thank you!
Tapestry (1971) – Carole King’s exceptional album. Tracks are as follows:
- I Feel the Earth Move
- So Far Away – changed everything………………..
- It’s Too Late
- Home Again
- Beautiful – now the title of the hit West End Musical
- Way Over Yonder
- You’ve Got a Friend
- Where You Lead – duet with daughter Louise Goffin
- Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
- Smackwater Jack
- (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman – huge hit for Aretha Franklin
This sums up the impact this exceptional musician has had on people over the years.
With thanks to Birgitta Forsman for her story and for the photo of the Carole King, Tapestry Songbook. Purchased in London in the 1970s. Thank you.
- Written: July, 2016
- Updated: January, 2021