Gloria Hunniford – BBC Radio 2

Gloria: Hello and a very good afternoon to you, now today is Neil Diamond. Before you meet the man one of the hits he wrote for “The Monkees.”

Plays: “I’m A Believer”

Gloria: Oh yes that’s “I’m A Believer”,”The Monkees” and one of the hits written for them by Neil Diamond, who’s our very special guest on the program today. I know I’d be guaranteed a few extra Neil Diamond fans this afternoon because there’s a tremendous air of excitement over his concert tour, which starts at Birmingham on Thursday this week and ends up in the Wembley Arena on the 22nd. I shall be there in the front row. Princess Diana ‘s actually rated as a huge fan and she’s going on to Wembley on the 15th. Now since he started to record in the 60’s its been a constant stream of hit songs, but if you analyze it he doesn’t really give all that many interviews. I’ve certainly never had the opportunity of interviewing him before and when he passed through London on his way to Europe for some concerts over there he only did two interviews, one for the telly, it was for ?? and one for Radio two so we’re very pleased that he’s going to be our guest today, and musically I’ve decided to start like this.

Plays “Sweet Caroline”

Gloria: The year was 1969 in the States, 1971 in the United Kingdom a huge hit for Neil Diamond and “Sweet Caroline”. I have to put my cards absolutely on the table straight away I make no excuses for playing early Neil Diamond because I’ve been a fan since the 60’s, and I have to say it’s really really good to have the opportunity to talk to you on the program. So welcome back to London

Neil: Well thank you very much, it’s wonderful to be here

Gloria: So how do you regard the early
Neil Diamond tracks? How do you look back on that material?

Neil: Well I think they’ve held up surprisingly well. We still do a number of them in the concerts, and I still enjoy doing them, so I never expected when they were written and recorded originally that they would be around for this long, but they have held up and they’re still fun to do.

Gloria: ‘Cause we were just saying before the program started that they appealed to a huge section of the audience then, even though they were never chart material but going out to a very wide audience and you still do that today.

Neil: Well yes although many of the earlier songs I think my audience at that time was mostly teenagers and youngsters and that made up the bulk of my audience. I think, as I got older, the audience got older and maybe the songs matured a little bit and the audience matured as well.

Gloria: You’re on record as saying that you really liked “Frank Sinatra’s” version
of “Sweet Caroline”?

Neil: I love it, yeah it’s wonderful he did a big band version of “Sweet Caroline” and it’s one of my favorites. First of all he’s one of the greatest interpretive popular singers of our time, so when he puts his stamp on something it’s special and to have “Frank Sinatra” record one of your songs is kind of a honour.

Plays “Sweet Caroline”

Gloria: Well that was “Frank Sinatra’s” version of “Sweet Caroline” and in the studio with me today of course is Neil Diamond, who wrote the song originally and had the first hit with it. But here you are in for this sell out collection of concerts both in Birmingham and in London.

Neil: Yes.

Gloria: And almost by royal command.

Neil: Well by popular command, for sure. It’s very exciting you know you never do know when you put the show on sale to the public if anyone will show up, if they remember you…

Gloria: Laughs

Neil: … and it’s very exciting to know that the shows have done so well.

Gloria: So Princess Diana will be going along to Wembley one on the 15th of

Neil: Yes, I’m very excited about that. We met before once in Birmingham we did a show for the Prince’s Trust and Princess Diana was there with Prince Charles, and we met again at the White House in Washington. It was a beautiful I guess dinner, thrown for the Prince and the Princess by President Reagan and his wife and they invited a hundred notables from the States, and my wife and I were lucky enough to be among them.

Gloria: So what sort of things does she say about your music?

Neil: Does the Princess say about my music? I don’t know she hasn’t told me anything…

Gloria: Laughs

Neil: … but, she keeps coming back so I assume she’s not offended by any of it.

Gloria: So how did that come around this trip? I mean that she is going to one of the concerts, was that a personal invitation from you or did someone suggest it?

Neil: Well we extended an invitation always, and she was nice enough to accept it.

Gloria: Well she’s clearly a fan as well.

Neil: Well, that’s nice to think right?

Gloria: And it’s going to be a really busy tour for you isn’t it, because it’s virtually every night?

Neil: Well we do have a couple of days off, to break it up a little bit so it wont be as difficult as it seems.

Gloria: What do you do on your day off?

Neil: Sleep…

Gloria: Laughs, yeah I imagine you do.

Neil: … catch up on the rest, maybe take a walk through Hyde Park, have dinner with some friends, maybe catch a show if we’re lucky enough to get tickets and generally relax, not use my voice to much and enjoy the sights.

Gloria: Do you have to look after your voice a lot, I mean special things that you do to…?

Neil: Not too many special things. I do like to keep it lubricated while I’m on stage, I like a sip of water in between songs, I try not to use it too much on the days that I’m performing, I try to get plenty of rest, plenty of sleep I think that’s the most important thing

Gloria: Well we must of course talk about the album and at this stage I really want to play the single that’s come off the album, a song called “This Time” written by yourself so maybe you’d like to introduce just the mood of the piece.

Neil: Well it was actually written by myself with a very talented Canadian composer named “David Foster”, and also a talented arranger named “Jeremy Lovic” and originally the string introduction to the song was just a thing that we’d recorded because we had 10 or 15 minutes left to go in a session that we were doing and “Jeremy” had written an orchestration for a string piece that he had written and he asked if we could record it. We had a large string section there, and we did record it and it was beautiful and I took it home and wrote the words and the melody to it, and they liked it very much so we completed the song. We wrote the other verses and the bridge, and made a complete song out of it as opposed to just the string introduction, and so one of the strange things about it is that I come in singing almost immediately with the strings because there was no introduction. It was never planned to be a song or a recording, but the melody starts almost immediately with the string part that “Jeremy” wrote.

Play: “This Time”

Gloria: Well that’s the brand new single from Neil Diamond, who’s my guest on the program today and he’s had to beat his way through all the fans at the front door just to make it as far as the studio. Now we will get an opportunity to talk about the album itself in more detail later on. But I thought at this point, Neil we might just talk about your early life because it was very much born Brooklyn New York.

Neil: Yes. I was born in Brooklyn like millions…

Gloria: Laughs, yes.

Neil: … of other people in New York. It’s a nice place to hail from because basically Brooklyn is a lower working class borough of New York city, it’s also kind of a neighborhood more so than Manhattan which is very much hustle and bustle and business. Brooklyn was a very protected area and as you grow up you venture forth to the other boroughs to Manhattan and The Bronx and Staten Island, and as I became a teenager I’d had girlfriends in different boroughs and made those long treks…

Gloria: Laughs

Neil:… up The Bronx, hours on the subways but it started in Brooklyn, which was a very homey and very comfortable place to grow up.

Gloria: And you come from a Polish-Russian ancestry so what kind of influences did that have on your life?

Neil: Well I think very many influences. My grandparents spoke to me only in Yiddish, which is a form of Jewish phonacular and so I spoke two languages when I grew up.

Gloria: Do you think you absorbed a lot of their culture as well?

Neil: Well not very much really, aside from the language they’d left Russia when they were children. My father’s parents left Poland when they were young children, so I don’t think they remember too much of their own country as they were very much American and…

Gloria: And what did your father do for a living?

Neil: My father was a shopkeeper and had a number of shops around Brooklyn as I was growing up and I worked in them from the time that I was a little boy; swept floors and wrapped packages and all did of those things.

Gloria: And all that hard work didn’t do you any harm did it?

Neil: Didn’t do me any harm at all no…

Gloria: Laughs

Neil: … I was very close to my dad and he liked music and he always had the radio on, so I was exposed to music from the time I was a little child.

Gloria: But always singing it or did you want to play it or what?

Neil: Well I used to sing along, but I never thought that it would become my profession, I just enjoyed singing and listening to the popular songs of the day.

Gloria: So when did you start playing guitar?

Neil: I guess I was about 14 or 15 years old, I got a guitar and a promise of some guitar lessons if I was diligent and serious about it, and the guitar cost ten dollars and I paid it off at a dollar a week and it turned out to be a very good investment.

Gloria: And it would seem that there were quite a lot of people around you and who were making music as it turns out anyway. People like “Barbra Streisand”, “Carole King”, “Neil Sedaka” all really went to schools that you were at?

Neil: Yes there was a large group of teenagers from Brooklyn who were maybe not athletically inclined or scholastically inclined but had a little bit of musical talent, and I did go to a high school for one year where “Neil Sedaka” went to the same school, he sang in the same chorus although he’s a little older than me and graduated before me. “Barbra” and I sang together in the chorus of another high school I attended in Brooklyn for two years, and although we didn’t know each other then we were very surprised years later to talk about our backgrounds and realize that we had sung in the same choir and that she was totally in love with the conductor…

Gloria: Laughs

Neil: … and the boys were all scared to death of him ’cause he was a little bit of a tyrant, but a very handsome and dashing Italian man, so it was kind of a musical sub culture in Brooklyn and it was accepted.

Gloria: Well I think it’s lovely that you did go on to record with Barbra Streisand and of course one of the legendry songs that became a #1 hit in the States and a #2 in this country is “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”. Now in this case you teamed up with Alan and Marilyn Bergman to write it?

Neil: Yes. That was a very nice experience, they’re very talented writers and we sat down and basically wrote the lyric from top to bottom without the music, which I had never done before. To me, usually the music suggests the lyric and the mood and the tone of what the lyric should be about, but this was a little different we wrote the lyric. It was actually written for a television show in the States, and when we finished the lyric I went off and wrote a melody that I liked and it was one minute long, the song. We only wrote the first verse of it, that’s all they wanted for the TV show and then for some reason or other it never did get on the TV show, and I felt that it was good enough to complete the song and to write the second verse, which we did and I recorded it, and once “Barbra” heard it she liked it very much and she recorded a version of her own, coincidently in the very same key that I recorded mine and with the same arrangement and using the same arranger, and disk jockeys began to piece the two versions together; they were in the same key and so we stared to get cassette tapes from all over the country with this…

Gloria: Laughs

Neil: … duet that the disk jockeys had made up and we both heard it and, thought we should do it the right way you know, and so we went into the studio with just one piano and the two of us and recorded the song.

Plays “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”

Gloria: Well that was just an enormous hit in 1970, and it was the combination of “Barbra Streisand” and Neil Diamond with “You Don’t Bring M Flowers”, and Neil Diamond is my guest in the studio today. I remember actually doing an interview with Alan and Marilyn Bergman and they said that when they write songs, for example for “Barbra Streisand” that she sings them exactly the way they heard it in their head, the way they wanted it performed. Did you get that feeling as well?

Neil: Well she’s quite extraordinary, I think she did it even better than I expected it, you know she’s a very creative lady and she adds her own personality to the music, so I was very pleased with her recording of it and even more pleased that we were able to do it together.

Gloria: Well at this stage I want to move on to “The Jazz Singer” and to your acting debut…

Neil: Yes.

Gloria: … now how did you regard that when you were asked to do it? Was it something that you’d wanted to attempt?

Neil: Well at that point I felt that I was a little bit itchy to try something new and different, and I told my agent that I felt that it was time for me to try and do a film and he came to me a few months later with a list, and the list had a number of titles; twenty titles of books and films and stories that had been done before or that were current and he said “Pick one that you like and we’ll try to do it.”, and I noticed “The Jazz Singer” on the list and I immediately was attracted to the idea and I said “Let’s try to do this one.”, and he was able to put it together and we received financing from “Lord Delfont”, here who came to Toronto to see the show and immediately gave his ok for the film, which doesn’t happen anymore and we actually went in and made the movie.

Gloria: Had you met “Sir Laurence Olivier” before?

Neil: No, we had never met before and as a matter of fact I didn’t meet Mr. Olivier until the night before we started our first scene together. I stopped by his hotel just to extend my greetings and to say hello to him and meet him before we actually started filming, and he was very gracious and I asked him a couple of very basic questions like “Am I supposed to memorize this entire script?”…

Gloria: Laughs

Neil: … for the film and he said no no no just the scene that you’re doing that day, and he was very kind, and so the next day I was on the set with Laurence Olivier.

Gloria: So because of his reputation were you intimidated by him when you made the set?

Neil: Oh I was scared to death, but fortunately I had bumped into another very well known actor “Dustin Hoffman” a number of weeks before, and I told him that I was frightened to death about working with Lord Olivier, and he said to try to make it work as part of the character, and which I did because in a sense this character was under the thumbs of his father and a little bit intimidated by his father so it was easy for me to play scared I was scared…

Gloria: Laughs

Neil: … and I played it.

Gloria: And was he familiar with your material? I mean had he heard your records and knew exactly the kind of material you’d been singing?

Neil: I’m not sure that he was, he may of been we never discussed that, we were… as soon as we got to the set we were very much into the filming and trying to play the scene as well as possible.

Gloria: Well what affect did having that movie make on you as a person?

Neil: Well it had… it was interesting first of all I had never done anything like that before. I had to learn; first of all I had to memorize things again since I hadn’t done since I was a little boy in school. It was quite an experience also in regard to punching a time clock, you arrive on the set at eight o’clock in the morning and you leave at six. I hadn’t done that in a long time also because although I’ve worked continually since I was a youngster, I’d never had that kind of a job where I had to punch in and punch out, so that was interesting and I didn’t like that at all for the first few weeks and then after awhile I began to kind of enjoy it because I realized that when I was finished I was basically finished, so that was a new and interesting experience for me and also I think just the experience of acting and of working with a great actor; maybe the greatest helped me as a performer on stage because it told me that there were other ways of portraying a song, and I was able to I think grow a bit as a performer through the experience that I had working on “The Jazz Singer”.

Gloria: Has the movie though just made you want to do more and more acting?

Neil: Well it’s made me very careful because I realize how much work is involved in doing a film, how much time and effort and care really is involved, and I felt when I finished “The Jazz Singer” that I wouldn’t do another one unless I really felt fully that it was something that I wanted very very much to do.

Gloria: Well were going to have the combination of just a couple of the songs from film there’s so much good material in the movie itself but in this case it’s “Hello Again” and “Love On The Rocks”.

Play: “Hello Again” and “Love On The Rocks”

Gloria: Well in my mind of course I can see Neil Diamond perform every single note of “Love On The Rocks”. I have the video at home and many a wet Sunday I plug it into the machine and off we go, so I really did enjoy the movie and Neil Diamond my guest in the studio. Over all how much of the material for that film did you write?

Neil: Well I was involved in pretty much all the material. I co-wrote a number of the songs some of which with Gilbert Becaud, some of which with Alan Lindgren, who’s my orchestrator and synthesize player in the band, but I was involved pretty much in all of the music.

Gloria: And this is a film for example that you would often you know plug into the machine and watch it over again?

Neil: No honestly I have not seen the film in maybe ten years.

Gloria: Really?

Neil: I saw it once or twice when it came out and, it made me very self-conscious you know.

Gloria: Did you hate watching it?

Neil: I hated watching myself, it’s one of the things that I love so much about performing on stage and doing concerts is that you don’t really get a chance to look back and watch yourself; the moment happens and when it’s over it’s over so you don’t really have to become self-conscious about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

Gloria: But would you have been as self-conscious if you were watching a concert for example as opposed to a film?

Neil: Yes, yes

Gloria: So it’s just your performance in total you watch?

Neil: Well I would be very self-conscious about seeing myself.

Gloria: Well a lot of concerts lined up so at least they’re all live but we’ve got the new album as well to talk about. We did actually make it album of the week earlier on this year.

Neil: Oh thank you.

Gloria: But we’ve chosen a “Tracy Chapman” track, and it just brings me to the point of you covering other people’s records…

Neil: Yes

Gloria: … ’cause she had done quite well with this one.

Neil: Well, I haven’t done that in a number of years but this was an album that I’d heard I think probably before it became popular, and I listened through to it and fell in love with this song, and felt that I wanted to record it and it’s always more fun for me to record someone else’s material…

Gloria: Now why is that?

Neil: Well I’m not exactly sure but I think it has to do with not questioning yourself about this lyric or that line which you tend to do if you’re the writer; there is the song someone else wrote that you love it it’s beautiful you think you can sing it go to it it’s as simple as that.

Gloria: But the concept for this album seems to be very much loneness and hurt and all that, I could be wrong of course

Neil: Well if it is then maybe that’s just part of what I am it certainly wasn’t intentional, that’s part of the person and I think it comes out in the music.

Gloria: What was the criteria for the overall choice of what went on this album?

Neil: Just the best songs that we could find in that period of time. The best ones that I could write, the best ones that we could find and to record them as well as possible.

Gloria: But obviously love and romance is featured very strongly in your songs?

Neil: Yes it’s one of my favorite subjects.

Gloria: And has that basically always been the case?

Neil: Well I think that’s always been part of my repertoire, that and to a certain degree personal introspection, and there’s always hope in my music. I always like to think there’s something hopeful even in the saddest of the sad songs, I like to top it off with something that I think it gives us hope for tomorrow, it gives the character in the song some kind of hope.

Gloria: Well here’s that cover version in this case of “Tracy Chapman’s” “Baby Can I hold You”.

Plays: “Baby Can I hold You”

Gloria: The album is called “The Best Years Of Our Lives” and it was our album of week earlier on you may remember that some months back, Neil Diamond of course being the performer and Neil Diamond my guest in the studio today, but that was a “Tracy Chapman” song “Baby Can I hold You”. I was wondering though Neil; how you feel your own music has developed over the years as a writer?

Neil: Well I think it’s probably more difficult for me to look back on the music and examine it it’s kind of like examining your own psyche in a way. I do know that I try to reflect my own personal growth, what ever that may be large or small over the years, my own feelings that have changed. I think the music has probably become a little more sophisticated than it was at the beginning.

Gloria: Is there a system when you’re doing lyrics and music on working or in some cases can it be you know… does it matter which way around sometimes the words sometimes the music?

Neil: Usually for me it’s the music I will start with working on the piano or the guitar and come up with something that I particularly like or feel has potential, and that usually would suggest a lyric idea to me; either in mood or if not specific story the tone of it the mood the attitude the approach, so the music will tell me what words are to be written and what words feel right, and you play with it and you work with it and you try it and try it again until you find something that you like if you find something that you like.

Gloria: Are you a fairly fast worker or sometimes can it take weeks and months to get it right?

Neil: Well I think I’m pretty fast to start the thing and very slow to complete it…

Gloria: Laughs

Neil: … all the final details the little lines the little words that I want changed or perfected, the ideas that I’m not completely happy with the way that they’re said, the words that were used to express them, these are finally locked down at the very tail end of this process and usually that’s just before I go in and record them and sometimes changes are made in the recording process as well.

Gloria: And current events really affect in a way you would write, for example I know that your father very sadly died a couple of years back but would you find that would add a new depth or a new meaning to some of the material you would write?

Neil: Well I think so I know that after my dad passed away I was writing songs that were very down very unlike me. As a matter of fact I did an entire album which was refused by CBS because they felt that it was much too down, and I guess I agreed with them you know so it will be a keepsake for myself, but I would say that there was an effect on my music certainly at the beginning certainly soon after he passed away.

Gloria: Mmm it’s interesting isn’t it that events will have that much of an effect you know in what you actually write and the whole mood ’cause that comes out of the songs?

Neil: Well you know…

Gloria: ??

Neil: Well yes I am a person, you know a human being and I’m susceptible to all the other things that everybody else is. My feelings and the things that I learn tend to come out in the music.

Gloria: But then there are other writers of course who just write to formula anyway, they could sit down and give them a title and they would just write a song.

Neil: Well that’s possible although I would say they that if they had a loved one pass away it might change their…

Gloria: Function?

Neil: …writing for a little bit anyway.

Gloria: Well it always is fascinating to find out how different writers work, whether it is kind of to commercial side or to formula or in your case the singer-songwriter, so is it a different case altogether?

Neil: Well I suppose so, I mean I’ve never be able really to pin down an exact approach to writing. There’s no particular time that I’m enthused about writing, but when it happens I make sure to catch it whenever it happens in the back of a car in the back of a bus you know on the back of the plane. When I feel something or have an instrument handy I will sit down and try to write something.

Gloria: Now you’re documented as saying that “America” is one of the songs you like best of all. You like performing it and in a away it’s become almost like a national anthem in America, hasn’t it?

Neil: A little bit, yes it really has. It was one of those songs that just came almost full blown, the lyric and the melody came very quickly, of course recording the song and the production involved took much more time than the actual writing of the song, but it came as a pretty fully developed idea and I appreciate that. I don’t particularly like the angst and agony that you have to go through to do a good song.

Gloria: And I would imagine a great song to sing on stage.

Neil: It’s a wonderful song to sing on stage it’s very up and yes it’s one of my special favorites.

Gloria: Well I’m delighted you’re able to join us today and I thank you very much. We look forward to the concerts, and it’s been a big pleasure to have you on the program.

Neil: Well it’s been my pleasure, thank you very much for asking me.

Plays “America”

Gloria: Neil Diamond and “America” that’s like my fix until I actually see him in concert. I don’t suppose there are any tickets left anyway, but just for the record he’s of course going to be in Birmingham as from this week as from Thursday giving a number of.. 1 2 3 4 he’s giving there and then he comes to the Wembley Arena as from the 14th of November and goes right through until the 22nd with only one night off I think, Princess Diana going to one of those on the 15th so for all of you clutching your tickets I hope you have just a wonderful time. “America” just happens to be the first song that he sings on the video which I’m going to give away in a little competition, and so we have the video, we also his new album you can have it on album or cd so you only have to answer a very simple question. Now “Lulu” had a hit with a Neil Diamond song I’d like to know what it was called? And we’ll draw out the prize next Tuesday; it’s the first correct card of course out of a hat so I’ll just repeat the question again. Now “LuLu” had a hit with a Neil Diamond song I’d like to know what it was called? And for that you will get his “Greatest Hits Live”, you’ll be lucky to get it because I’m holding it at the moment and I might just take it home myself to have a little look and also the brand new album so get your answers on a postcard to the Gloria Hunniford program BBC 2 Radio Broadcasting House London W1A 4WW. Look forward to getting your cards, by the way his poor voice did you notice it? He was pretty tired, he’d done all those concerts in Dublin and I think after that he went over to Europe for one day, so he at one point thought that he might not be able to keep going but he did and I’m very pleased indeed he was on the program. Now to take us up to the news here’s another Neil Diamond track, this time recorded by “Cliff Richards”.

Play “Just Another Guy”

Gloria: “Just Another Guy” who happened to be “Cliff Richards”, a Neil Diamond song in fact and a few people to mention a connection with Neil Diamond. I had Ray our house foreman here, (laughs) tell me that his wife is totally mad about Neil Diamond, so happy anniversary to June Frankland she’s in Eastbournes and husband Ray of course they’ve been married for 37 years. I don’t think he minds the competition from Neil Diamond, also Ann Thompson who’s in Lisburn, a total Neil Diamond freak, she’s already been to Dublin to see the concerts and I think she’d really like to see the one in Wembley as well so to all of you going I just hope you have a splendid time. I’m also hoping by the way to get his shirt off his back, cause when he was in the studio he did say that he would let me have one of those spangly outfits and if I get it I’m going to auction it off for children in need, so stay with us on the program.


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