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Listening to the remastered edition of Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds (1978) was a blast from the past in more than one way — among the voices there (which included David Essex and Justin Hayward when both were regular inhabitants of the pop/rock charts, and the late Phil Lynott, was Julie Covington. Even hearing her intoning the name "Nathaniel" in her dramatic sequences recalled the clear, clean strains of her work in the television series Rock Follies, and her hit version of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina", 25 years earlier. And it was a reminder that, at one time, Covington was the queen of the musical/dramatic concept album, easily scaling the pop charts with her singles, and the first choice when music producers needed a female singer who could act. She was born in London in 1947, and although she did do a little acting in school (in works such as Giradoux's Elektra), she had no strong inclination toward a career as a performer — rather, Covington intended to become an educator, attending the teachers' training college at Cambridge University, where she joined the Footlights, a student theatrical troupe. It was there that she first started to act and sing, to material authored by Peter Atkin and Clive James. In 1967, Covington made her first recording, a privately issued LP entitled While the Music Lasts in collaboration with Atkin, featuring Atkin's and James' repertoire; she also appeared on The David Frost Show with Atkin in the summer/fall season. She performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1967 and 1968, doing Shakespeare and singing jazz. It was her performance in the Brecht/Weill Mahagonny, at the 1968 festival, that brought her to the attention of producers, agents, and the public, earning her the first Fringe Best Actress award ever given. She appeared in a pilot episode for the BBC series Twice a Fortnight, with Terry Jones and Michael Palin. In December of that same year, she made her first appearances in North America, playing Peaseblossom in A Midsummer Night's Dream on the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company's tour.
In 1969, Covington built up her music credits, doing cabaret with Peter Atkin (and with him cutting The Party's Moving On, a second private recording of Atkin's and James' songs), and also substituting for Jon Hendricks at a club date. In 1970, she recorded her debut single, "The Magic Wasn't There" b/w "Tonight Your Love Is Over" and a year later came Covington's first commercially released album, The Beautiful Changes — again comprised of Atkin's and James' songs — for EMI.
Covington made her professional stage debut in 1972 in the original London production of Godspell, which she followed with an appearance on the cast album, which yielded the hit British single "Day by Day". She followed Godspell with an extended engagement on the BBC, reading children's stories. Making a leap across the pop culture chasm, Covington showed up in the original 1973 Royal's Court stage version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, creating the role of Janet — that same year she portrayed Charmian in Tony Richardson's stage production of Antony and Cleopatra, and she subsequently worked with director Sam Wanamaker at the Globe Theatre. She was Spirit of the Rainbow in Peter Hall's The Tempest (1974) and Dotty in Tom Stoppard's Jumpers (1976).
Covington had sung backing vocals on David Essex's Rock On, but she really didn't break through to mass audiences as a star performer until 1976. That was the year she won the London Theatre Critics' award as Most Promising New Actress, and was also cast as Dee in Howard Schuman's and Andy Mackay's Thames Television series Rock Follies, co-starring with Rula Lenska. The series, which was picked up by American television, was a huge hit around the world and yielded an internationally released album; it was all sufficiently popular to yield a sequel series, Rock Follies of 1977. Covington also showed up in The Mermaid Frolics, a 1977 benefit performance (and the film resulting from it) for Amnesty International that was the predecessor to the various Secret Policemen's Balls of the years that followed. That same year, as Rock Follies was capturing the attention of television viewers — and getting her nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts as Best Actress — Covington was selected to do the role of Eva Peron on the original studio album of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita, and the single of her rendition of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" topped the U.K. charts. She followed it up in 1977 with the hit single "Only Women Bleed," a cover of the Alice Cooper song.
Around this time, Covington also sang and acted on Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds, and got involved in various folk-related projects, cutting sides with the Albion Band (which later turned up on the Ashley Hutchings The Guvnor album series. In 1978, she cut her second solo album, Julie Covington, for the Virgin Records label with producer Joe Boyd, and provided backing vocals on First Light by Richard & Linda Thompson, the Kate & Anna McGarrigle album Pronto Monto, and Rise Up Like the Sun by Ashley Hutchings. Covington saw no more chart successes, and apart from working on a production of Guys and Dolls that yielded a cast album, abandoned recording in favor of theatrical and television work after 1978. Her appearance in the award-winning period drama Ascendancy (1983) gave Covington her sole major film credit to date, and The War of the Worlds CD kept her name alive in the early digital era. In 1999 and 2000, See for Miles and Virgin Records reissued both of her solo albums and the two Rock Follies albums.
1950 in England