“What do you mean you’ve never heard of James Last?” I said to an elderly German lady of my acquaintance. I added “But you must know him! He’s been popular in England for almost as long as you’ve lived here.”
I had to accept her words. She’d never heard of him so I shared the following potted biography. James Last was born Hans Last on the 17th April 1929 in Bremen, North West Germany. He started his musical career as a jazz bassist but became internationally known as a composer and leader of his James Last Orchestra. His trademark “happy music” made his albums bestsellers in Germany and the UK. It is said he sold approximately 200 million albums worldwide in his lifetime.
My German friend is a connoisseur of classical music. I suspect this is the reason why she’s never heard of him. I was brought up on his classical-light albums because my Mam and her sister my Aunty Maureeen adored his accessible sound. He turned classical music into pop in the 1960s and 1970s. The Blue Danube was turned into a pop song.
When I was a super cool indie music fan in my teens I laughed at James Last’s music. I replayed his version of Winchester Cathedral over and over and hooted with laughter at the kazoo-led section of the tune. What nonsense I thought and played Hatful of Hollow by The Smiths for the umpteenth time
I forgot about James Last and his orchestra in my late teens and went off to university. My first job on graduating was the role of Editorial Assistant for a long-gone magazine called Rock CD.
We were based in London’s Docklands. My job description allowed for a range of tasks including fetching coffee and lunch for the Editor and making up letters for the letters page.
I also looked after our chaotic picture library. In one of my many attempts to tidy it up I found this photograph. It’s a shot of James Last and his orchestra onstage. Perhaps they are rehearsing or it might be mid-gig. Who knows but the sight of James in his John Lennonesque white suit made me homesick for Aunty Maureen’s record collection. I think that is what compelled me to rehouse the image in my personal collection of weird and wonderful postcards and found photographs.
And that’s where it has stayed until now.
James died in Florida on 9th June 2015. He was 86. According to Wikipedia James undertook his final tour months before his death. His final UK performance was his 90th at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Apparently the only performer to perform more than James is Eric Clapton.
James was never high brow but he was phenominally successful. Why not allow yourself the chance to enjoy his finest hour? It’s kazoo-tastic