Sandie Shaw was one of the UK’s most successful singers of the 1960s, enjoying three number one hits in Britain. She also re-recorded much of her material in French and her accented delivery charmed record buyers. In particular, her 1967 Eurovision song contest winner, Puppet on a string (or Un tout petit pantin, as it became), proved a hit.
She was born Sandra Goodrich in Dagenham, Essex, east of London, on 26 February 1947.
After leaving school she worked at the nearby Ford factory and did some part-time modelling. However, as a result of finishing second in a talent contest, she got to appear at a charity concert in London at which singer Adam Faith was singing. He spotted her potential and introduced to his manager, Eve Taylor.
Within a fortnight, the singer had a contract – and a stage name – with the Pye record label.
Sandie’s second UK single, (There’s) always something there to remind me – written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David – topped the UK charts for three weeks in October 1964. Having seen the success enjoyed by label mate Petula Clark in particular in France, bosses at Pye were keen to push Sandie in a similar direction. Many of her songs would be released in mainland Europe in their original English versions, but Sandie was also encouraged to re-record a number in French, German, Italian and Spanish.
Home-grown star Eddie Mitchell beat Sandie to the punch by scoring the French hit version of her UK chart topper, retitled Toujours un coin qui me rappelle.
At home, Sandie’s follow up, Girl don’t come, proved a perfect vehicle for the singer and gave her a top three hit at the end of the year. Re-recorded as Mais tu l’aimes, the song, it was decided, would be the centrepiece of her debut French-language release.
Four-track EPs were more popular in France at the time than singles, and her first EP consisted of translated versions of material already issued in Britain.
Released in 1965, it also included Ne crois pas (a take on Don’t you know), Il a de la peine (As long as you’re happy baby) and, belatedly, Toujours un coin qui me rappelle. (Interestingly, Sandie sings the chorus as “Toujours ce coin qui me rappelle”.)
As the coolest of the Brit girl singers, Sandie’s trademark barefoot performances endeared her to the public on both sides of the Channel.
The calypso-styled Long live love, written by Sandie’s chief songwriter, Chris Andrews, gave the singer a second UK number one. The song was duly translated – becoming Pourvu que ça dure – for release on her follow up French-language EP. The disc also included Rien n’empêchera l’amour (I'll stop at nothing, another UK hit) and versions of a couple of album tracks, Parler d’amour (Talk about love) and Tous les jours (Gotta see my baby everyday).
The record’s success led to an invitation to open for star Richard Anthony during his run of concerts at the prestigious Paris Olympia. Sandie would also go on to tour France with Johnny Hallyday.
In Britain, Message understood, gave Sandie another top-ten hit in the autumn of 1965, and as Tu l’as bien compris it became the lead track of her third French EP. La vallée des larmes, a take on Down dismal ways, from the Me album, was the other highlight of the release.
An album – Sandie Shaw chante en français – also hit the record shops.
1966 proved a difficult year for the singer, both at home and in France. Some poor choices of singles saw her career falter.
In France, in particular, the decision to bill C’est toi qui le dis (originally Oh no he don’t) as the lead track of her first release of the year proved ill advised. Long est le chemin de ma maison (Long walk home) and Quoi qu’il advienne (If ever you need me), both included on the EP, saw Sandie give much stronger vocal performances.
However, she bounced back with her next EP, which featured great songs such as Demain
(Tomorrow), Tu rêves un peu (I don’t need that kind of lovin’), Ça glisse (Hurting you) and Stop! Je peux t’aimer (Stop before you start).
Similarly, Je ne marche pas, her final French-language EP of the year, was a quality release. The lead track, originally Keep in touch, was charming, while Rien n’est fini, a version of her exquisite Italian recording Guardo te che te ne vai, also included on the disc, found Sandie at her vocal best.
With her career in Britain in the doldrums, the chance to represent the UK at the 1967 Eurovision song contest proved an offer she couldn’t refuse – although she would have preferred to. She recognised that she needed the exposure and was guaranteed another hit. All five entries for the UK selection were great songs that showcased Sandie’s vocal strengths. The public picked the Bill Martin and Phil Coulter composition Puppet on a string to go on to the final in Vienna. Sandie, however, was disappointed, as the song was the least representative of her material.
Nevertheless, she gave it her all at the contest and scored a runaway win, beating, amongst others, Vicky’s entry for Luxembourg, L’amour est bleu, which became a worldwide hit for Paul Mauriat and his Orchestra, and Noëlle Cordier’s French entry, Il doit faire beau là-bas.
Sandie enjoyed her third UK number one – a record for a female singer at that time – with her winning song and a huge hit throughout the rest of Europe. In France, the song became Un tout petit pantin. Unsurprisingly, given the high quality of the material, the French release also included versions of two other songs from the UK final, Prends la vie du bon côté (Tell the boys) and J’ai rêvé de lui (Had a dream last night). The final track on the EP, Tout est changé, a version of I don’t think you want me anymore, is sublime.
An LP, entitled Chansons, comprising many of her hits to date was rush-released in France. In Britain, Pye cashed in on Sandie’s internationality by issuing an EP entitled Sandie Shaw in French, which included versions of four of her earlier British hits.
Critics have claimed that Eurovision ruined Sandie’s career. Arguably, however, it is a lack of decent material in its wake that is to blame. She returned to Martin and Coulter for a follow up to their Eurovision winner. Unfortunately, the best they could offer was the decidedly limp Tonight in Tokyo, which didn’t fare well at home and wasn’t considered strong enough to merit recording in French.
Chris Andrews was brought back for subsequent releases, Une anglaise aime un français (originally You've not changed) and Aujourd’hui (Today).
Back at home, she issued the LP Love me, please love me, the title track of which was her take on Michel Polnareff’s massive French hit of the same name. (The pair would perform the song together on French television.) The album also included a version of Jacques Brel’s Ne me quitte pas, sung in French. (A further French recording would appear on her British LP The Sandie Shaw supplement, issued later that year, in the form of Aranjuez mon amour.)
From then on, Sandie proved more popular in mainland Europe than in Britain. This, she later commented, helped spare her from having to perform end-of-the-pier summer shows at home.
Her version of Those were the days, Le temps des fleurs, for instance, sold respectably, despite competition from Dalida and Mary Hopkin, while her English-language version bombed in Britain.
As if to underline her European credentials, she cut Monsieur Dupont, a take on an 18-month-old piece of Schlager nonsense by German singer Manuela. Its French theme was appreciated, and it returned the singer to the French top 20 in the spring of 1969.
Dieu seul sait, a translation of Heaven knows I’m missing him now, proved her final French release of the decade. The EP also included a version of the Cilla Black hit Surround yourself with sorrow, retitled Un ombre sur mon coeur. (Under the tutelage of Claude François, Liliane Saint Pierre would also cut a version of the song.)
After just one more French-language single, La fatalita (a translation of her 1970 San Remo song festival entry, Che effetto mi fai), Sandie’s recording career in France ground to a halt.
She went through a lean period in the 1970s, but returned to the UK charts in the 1980s, thanks initially to a collaboration with the Smiths, and enjoyed further mid-sized hits.
She now runs her own show business psychiatric practice.