I recently came across Jackie Trent’s obscure recording, “When Summertime is Over.” It took me back to the summer of 1965, after I’d forced the authorities and my parents to free me from boarding school, where I’d been unhappy and homesick. I’d twice run away and deliberately failed a crucial exam. (I tell the story in “Excerpts from my Childhood Memoir” here.) My drastic actions got me what I wanted, to return home and to resume day-schooling, but at the cost of such shame that for decades afterwards, I avoided all mention of the school and even the name of the city where it is located.
Ahead of me was the start of a new year at a new school on the other side of Sheffield, where we’d moved from London only the year before. I hardly had any local friends. Those I had didn’t feel dependable. Children that age, eleven, tend not to be.
How did I spend that summer of ignominy? I recall riding my maroon Raleigh along hilly suburban streets down to the park and, in another direction, a wood. I assembled model warplanes and naval ships from polystyrene kits. I read the comic book Victor. I followed that summer’s cricket and, with my parents and brother in the evening, watched comedy shows and films. It was probably when I discovered Sherlock Holmes, all of whose stories and novels I’d devour.
As the title, “When Summertime is Over,” suggests, the song is elegiac, with the singer speculating she may never see her lover again. In terms of style and message, it was essentially a remake of Trent’s May, 1965 number one UK hit, “Where Are You Now, My Love,” which never made it here in the United States. “When Summertime is Over” was released that July, but reached only number 39 in the UK. Trent is credited with writing both songs along with Tony Hatch, who also arranged the performances on both recordings. Actually, I believe Trent was responsible only for the lyrics, not the tune and definitely not the arrangement.
Hatch wrote and arranged Petula Clark’s “Downtown” (1964), which gives some idea of his distinctive sound. The verses in this latter song admit sorrow: “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely,” but the choruses and ending are exuberant: “Don’t wait a minute, for Downtown everything’s waiting for you.” “When Summertime Is Over” begins somberly and only gets dramatically more sad as Trent ends, “When Summertime is over, will we remember when we fell in love.”
Popular songs stay with us if we hear them during impressionable times in our lives. Yet I didn’t hear “When Summertime Is Over” in 1965. Moreover, the lyrics have no connection to my summer that year. On top of that, Trent’s enunciation is, for me, posh.
Even so, her recording touches me. On hearing it now, my distaste yields to pleasure at what is for me a new record from an intimately familiar era of music. I’d overlooked how poignantly Trent expresses emotion without overdoing it. It comes through even though the track sounds dated. Back then, we didn’t hear the low techiness of pop songs; such was the state of recording. But strangely, the murkiness of the orchestra and background singers contributes to the song’s aura. Through its poor quality, the recording says this was all long ago, safely in the past. What remains is beautiful.
It’s now obvious to me that in sending me to boarding school, the adults failed to appreciate the depressive effect on me of earlier long hospitalizations for orthopedic and ophthalmological surgeries, a recognition that helped reconcile me to my childhood. Indeed, with the objectivity of passing time, I now admire that boy who succeeded in evading the police and railway inspectors as he stole aboard trains on a day-long journey almost all the way back home, to be stopped and questioned only as he left the last station. Then again, I was lucky not to be pigeonholed as a budding juvenile delinquent.
Today, more than ever, America is about being upbeat. It’s obligatory on everyone from corporate employees to school kids to say, no matter what the subject, “I’m so excited.” No time or place for sadness. And yet depression is a common ailment. Maybe it would be less so if we allowed ourselves a little less obligatory excitement and a little more occasional sadness.
We don’t shake free of the past. A long life is about the fullness of time: the ways we’ve changed inside and society has changed around us.
My recent compulsive listening to “When Summertime is Over” reminds me that my 1965 sadness is still part of me. I wouldn’t want to relive that summer. Not at all. But recalling it feels different. I have a companion at my side in Jackie Trent’s lament for the end of summer love. It’s balanced against my knowledge from the fullness of time that, to quote from Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game“ (1966), “the seasons, they go round and round.”