Cancer campaigner Dame Deborah James funeral was held on Wednesday 20 July in Barnes. The private church service included readings, poems and live music: cellist Charlie Watt played music by Gabriel Fauré and Natalie Rushdie, a family friend, sang “Tell Me It’s Not True” from the musical “Blood Brothers”.
“Blood Brothers” is a 1980s musical that has a passionate following, as Kirsty discovered in her days as a theatre publicity officer at a historic touring theatre in Hampshire. No sooner did the tickets go on sale than there was a rush for the front rows by a dedicated band of fans who (literally) followed the touring production around the country. They knew every line, every note, every moment.
The musical, by Liverpudlian Willy Russell, is the story of twin brothers separated at birth, who grow up poles apart socially and then fall in love with the same girl. It’s a mix of dark comedy and serious themes including crime, poverty and social immobility. After opening in Liverpool to muted success, the musical had a short run in the West End in 1983. However, it was the subsequent tour that really built its loyal fan base, who helped it return to London to become the third longest-running musical production in West End history.
“Tell me it’s not true” is the big number sung by the twins’ birth mother, Mrs Johnstone, and was a hit for singer Barbara Dickson. The opening lyrics are particularly apt for the disbelief that many may have felt at Dame Deborah’s death:
“Tell me it’s not true,
Say it’s just a story,
Something on the news.
Tell me it’s not true,
Though it’s here before me,
Say it’s just a dream,
Say it’s just a scene,
From an old movie of years ago.”
At SFF, we sing songs from musicals at funerals, usually as a special request of the family. These include “Bring him home” from ‘Les Miserables’, a passionate plea by a parent for their child to return home safely, “Love changes everything” from ‘Aspects of Love’, the title of the songs says it all really; and the reflective “Wishing you were somehow here again” from ‘Phantom of the Opera’, sung by a young woman missing her father with the poignant final line “Help me say goodbye”.
Many numbers from musical are positive and look forward to better times, such as “Somewhere” from ‘West Side Story’, “Some enchanted evening” from ‘South Pacific’, and the lesser-known “We’ll gather lilacs” from Ivor Novello’s ‘Perchance to Dream’.
One particular favourite of Toni’s is “I’ll walk with God” from “The Student Prince”, a stunning song largely forgotten these day, but a wonderful positive affirmation of faith.