Singer-songwriter Peter Sarstedt dies at 75

Singer-songwriter Peter Sarstedt's famous folk-pop ballad "Where Do You Go To My Lovely?" catapulted him to stardom in 1969. Photo / YouTube
Singer-songwriter Peter Sarstedt's famous folk-pop ballad "Where Do You Go To My Lovely?" catapulted him to stardom in 1969. Photo / YouTube

Singer-songwriter Peter Sarstedt, who has died at 75 at the weekend, enjoyed international success with his folk-pop ballad Where Do You Go To My Lovely? about a poor girl turned socialite.

Composed in the style of a waltz, the song tells the story of Marie-Claire, who has joined the ranks of the Mediterranean "jet set" after a lifetime of hardship.

The European flavour was accentuated by the welter of cultural references in the lyrics - "You talk like Marlene Dietrich / And you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire" - and by the opening and closing flourish on the accordion.

Within six weeks of its release, Where Do You Go To My Lovely? reached the top of the charts in 14 countries.

It remained at No 1 in Britain for four weeks, winning Sarstedt the Ivor Novello award for the best song composition of 1969 - an accolade he shared with David Bowie, for Space Oddity.

Several critics speculated as to the identity of "Marie-Claire".

Parallels were drawn with the life of the actress Sophia Loren, who had also grown up in poverty "on the back streets of Naples".

However, Sarstedt denied any connection, claiming that the song had been written for a girl he had met in Vienna and with whom he had been "madly in love", until "she tragically died in a hotel fire".

Later on he changed his story, crediting his first wife, the Danish-born Anita Atke, as the true inspiration.

Peter Sarstedt was born on December 10 1941 in New Delhi, where his father Albert worked as an accountant in the tea trade.

His early years were spent in the foothills of Mount Everest with mother Coral, older brother Richard and two teenage sisters from his father's previous marriage; another brother, Clive, was born in 1944.

The Sarstedts moved to Calcutta in 1947 and then to south London in March 1954.

By the time the move was completed Albert Sarstedt had died and the family had a new youngest child, Lorraine.

Peter attended Heath Clark School in Croydon, where, finding that singing helped his stammer, he and Richard founded a skiffle group, the Fabulous Five.

They performed together at various local clubs and coffee bars until Richard secured a contract with the management team Philip Waddilove and Michael Barclay, changing his stage name to Eden Kane.

By this time Peter had begun to develop his musical style independently of his brothers.

His first two self-penned singles, I Must Go On and I Am a Cathedral, failed to make their mark, but his distinctive blend of folk and pop finally found acclaim with Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?, which entered the charts on February 8 1969. (An earlier version including the line "your body is firm and inviting" was recut at the request of Sarstedt's record label United Artists.)

He enjoyed a lesser hit that same year with Frozen Orange Juice, which made it to No 10 in the UK charts.

Between 1967 and 1987 Sarstedt turned out new singles at a steady rate, though none matched the success of his ode to Marie-Claire.

While Take Off Your Clothes ("Let me see what it is that you're hiding / And don't look so shocked") was judged too explicit for radio in 1969, Beirut, from his 1979 album PS, became a hit.

The Last Of the Breed, which featured on his 1997 album England's Lane, imagined Marie-Claire 20 years on, "a major player in the world of haute couture ... Looking stunning in John Galliano."

Sarstedt continued touring and producing albums until 2010, when he was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy.

In later years there had been a resurgence of interest in his signature hit after it featured on the soundtrack of the 2007 Wes Anderson films Hotel Chevalier and The Darjeeling Limited.

Peter Sarstedt was twice married and had a son and a daughter, who survive him.

Peter Sarstedt, born December 10 1941, died January 8 2017.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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