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Post Card

Mary Hopkin's Post Card is indeed a snapshot in time. It is a beautiful memento of 1968, when a virtuous Welsh teenager with a pure natural singing voice came to the attention of the most famous new record label around, which catapulted her to instant success and fame throughout the world.

Together they created this treasury of popular song: part folk, part contemporary pop, part old-time showbusiness. It is a portrait of both a fledgling media enterprise proving its commercial credentials and an ever-so-slightly awestruck singer, rather young for her 18 years, finding her musical feet.

Apple Records had been set up by The Beatles that year to nurture talent, to give artists a chance, and to offer a viable alternative to record company orthodoxy that by then was epitomised by beknighted bureaucracy and fusty convention. By February 1969, when Post Card was issued, Apple Records had already delivered on its manifesto promise: its first quartet of albums had defied expectation and, with John & Yoko’s Two Virgins among the releases, it had set out its stall in a rather unconventional manner.

Post Card was Apple LP No. 5. Alongside his production of ‘Those Were The Days’ it was Paul McCartney’s major contribution to the Apple Records catalogue, and it was his baby from start to finish. He chose the singer and the songs, the arranger and the artwork. The original back cover text was in his handwriting and the cover photo was taken by Linda Eastman, the future Mrs. McCartney.

‘Those Were The Days’ had been Mary Hopkin’s debut Apple single, and had succeeded on a surprising scale, crashing into the charts around the world and selling millions. Paul had mused upon this epic Russian melody for several years, after seeing folk duo Gene & Francesca raise the roof with it in a London nightclub. The lyric, the nostalgia, the mood, had all stayed with him, and he’d looked for a suitable artist to help him realize the song’s potential. When the model Twiggy recommended Mary Hopkin, a runaway TV talent show success, Paul finally found the voice he’d been looking for.

With its low-meets-high spirits and its rousing finale, ‘Those Were The Days’ was of a different hue to most of Mary’s other Apple recordings, and it wasn’t included on the original Post Card LP (it is added here as the opening track). Mary was first and foremost a folk singer, gentle of disposition and self-taught via the guitar-playing and singing of Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. She preferred her music unadorned. However, she was happy to follow Paul’s lead, and the result is very listenable record, and one that Apple found easier to market than its first four. It paid dividends too, climbing to No. 3 in the UK.

The arrangements on ‘Those Were The Days’ and Post Card were by Richard Hewson, a friend of Apple’s Head of A&R Peter Asher, and a jazz musician at heart. Backing on the album is by the Mike Cotton Band and it is all held together by Paul McCartney the producer, his first such solo credit. It’s something of a fairytale record that captures the innocence of Mary’s youth and flights of Paul’s imagination. There was even a song about a prince. Says Mary today: “It was a wonderful experience working with Paul. He was a patient and sensitive producer.”

Mary remembers that the show tunes and hits from yesteryear that make up half the collection were favourites of Paul’s father, Jim McCartney. They call to mind the valve-warming radio days of the BBC’s old Light Programme, Ringo Starr’s Sentimental Journey album that Apple would soon release, and the comfy familiarity that Paul evoked in Beatles songs such as ‘Honey Pie’, ‘When I’m Sixty Four’ and ‘Your Mother Should Know’. Indeed, Paul once sang ‘The Honeymoon Song’, track six on Post Card, on a Pop Go The Beatles Light Programme broadcast back in the days of Beatlemania.

Hits from the Fifties included ‘Young Love’, a No. 1 for Hollywood heart-throb Tab Hunter, and ‘Inchworm’ from the Danny Kaye film Hans Christian Andersen. Classics from Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, plus ‘Love Is The Sweetest Thing’ and ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’ all hailed from decades earlier.

Mary’s reservation about some of these selections is no secret but when asked, it’s not Paul’s choice of material, nor the quality of the songs that concerns her. Rather, it’s a perception of herself as a performer. “I would describe it as if I was in kindergarten,” she explains. “With the whole world watching while you take your baby steps. This was Post Card: me in the studio, trying out new things. Paul was quite right to encourage me, but I don’t think my vocals were suited to some of the songs, which I felt were a bit too sophisticated for me… 'Someone To Watch Over Me' … 'Lullaby Of The Leaves'…. I didn’t feel up to the challenge.”

Mary was happier with three songs brought to the proceedings by Donovan. “That side of the experience was absolutely right,” she enthuses. “Working with Paul; and then Donovan came along with 'Lord Of The Reedy River', 'Happiness Runs' and 'Voyage Of The Moon'. I sang these straight from his beautiful book of handwritten lyrics.” Mary recalls the sessions at Abbey Road: “I thought Donovan was like a little elf, this magical person. They sat either side of me, him and Paul, playing their acoustic guitars. I was on a stool in between, sitting there like a tiny mouse, singing this beautiful music.”

‘Lord Of The Reedy River’ is a tranquil ballad, based on the classical myth of Leda and the Swan, which Paul selected to be the first track on the original Post Card vinyl. It was a bold opener and far from obvious: a slow burner on which Mary exudes an alluring, dusky grace. ‘Voyage Of The Moon’ is just as accomplished, as Mary takes delicate steps over the twin guitars of McCartney and Leitch. ‘Happiness Runs (Pebble And The Man)’ is an uptempo pearl of wisdom, one that Apple selected for its Wall’s EP, a curious promotional record issued in cahoots with the manufacturers of ice cream.

'Y Blodyn Gwyn' is in Mary’s native Welsh (‘The White Flower’) and is another gem. “I love that song,” she says. “It's a traditional tune that we did at school. I used to sing it with a friend, but I take both parts here.” Also of note is ‘Prince En Avignon’, a mournful chanson about a would-be monarch without a castle, by Jean-Pierre Bourtayre, who wrote for French singers such as Françoise Hardy and Jacques Dutronc.

Harry Nilsson’s records were on everyone’s turntables at Apple, from press officer Derek Taylor to all four Beatles, and Apple would have signed him if it wasn’t for his existing RCA contract. Mary refers to Harry as “my hero”. Paul requested something just for Mary, and Harry sent ‘The Puppy Song’. Paul double-tracked Mary’s vocals and her version proved popular at Apple, and almost became her second UK single, eventually losing out to a new song of Paul’s, also especially written. This was ‘Goodbye’, an upbeat sure-fire hit featuring Paul slapping his thighs for percussion. (‘Goodbye’ is included here as a bonus track.)

The most enigmatic selection on Post Card is ‘The Game’. It is an evocative work, with deceptively simple words and music, both written by George Martin. He recalled the song for his book Playback but disclosed little: “I'd written a tune, and when I played it to Paul he said he liked it and wanted to use it for Mary. I then went away and concocted a lyric — which was rather rare for me — and she recorded it as 'The Game'. I played piano on the track too.” Mary adds: “George arranged it as well. He is lovely, it's a beautiful song, and it was a privilege to work with him.”

Post Card was released to great expectation and helped consolidate Mary’s outstanding success. She had been singing in public since the age of three, making music in Wales to some local acclaim. Now, thanks to the blockbuster that was ‘Those Were The Days’, she’d become a sensation, not just in the media, but even within the offices of her own record label. " 'Do you know she has sold 35,000 copies every day this week?’,” paraphrases Mary, citing the incredulity of Apple’s staff as the single took off. “That doesn't happen now, does it?,” she muses. “That was quite staggering for me. I could hardly imagine that many people.”

‘Those Were The Days’ did indeed have massive appeal and it became a truly global hit, with a commercial reach that is genuinely astounding. With huge sales streaming in from Australia to Argentina, Israel to India, Uruguay to Yugoslavia, Mary’s popularity knew no bounds. This isn’t just a platitude, it is a fact. As Mary remembers…

"A doctor came up to me in Wales a few years ago. He said, 'Excuse me, I have to tell you a story. I was in the jungle on an expedition. There was a tiny tribe of people, and the chief had fallen ill. So I was taken to the chief's hut, and I walked in — and the first thing I saw was a huge poster of you in that straw hat hanging up there’.”

“He was talking about the Apple poster,” says Mary. “That first publicity picture for ‘Those Were The Days’. This tiny tribe in the Amazonian jungle! I found that most bizarre."

The bonus tracks on this digital remaster include Mary’s second UK Top 5 hit, ‘Goodbye’ and its B-side ‘Sparrow’; plus ‘Turn Turn Turn’ (the B-side of ‘Those Were The Days’). These two acoustic ballads showcase the musical approach that was closest to Mary’s heart.
‘Fields Of St. Etienne’ was intended as Mary’s third UK single, scheduled for September 1969. It was written, as was ‘Sparrow’, by Mary’s friends and Apple Publishing songwriters Gallagher & Lyle. Mary later re-recorded the track with Paul McCartney in a much simpler form. The recording included here is previously unissued. The arrangement is by Richard Hewson and the production by Geoff Emerick. Although Mary loved the song, she felt at the time that this version was not in keeping with her own musical vision and she asked Apple to cancel its release.