“Another Suitcase In Another Hall” — Barbara Dixon / Samantha Barks
When you write song lyrics, you leave behind you…in most cases…any hope of fame. Fortune is still possible, but the likelihood of you being recognised in the street is almost zero. Not that this is necessarily a terrible thing…
You’d spot Elton John doing his shopping in Sainsbury’s in a heartbeat. But Bernie Taupin could sit next to just about anyone in the entire world on a bus and they would have no idea that he wrote the lyrics for some of the most popular songs of the 20th century.
This difference between performers and lyric writers struck me the other day when I heard someone on the radio talk at length about “their favourite Andrew Lloyd Webber song” and how much the words of this particular song meant to them.
I must admit I found myself taken over by the spirit of Victor Meldrew for a few moments and started shouting at the radio… “he didn’t write those words, Tim Rice did, you fool!”.
It made no difference of course…apparently, they can’t hear me back at the BBC when I shout at the radio…
Andrew Lloyd Webber does, of course, know how to write a nice tune…you’ll get no dispute from me about that. But lyrics?…I don’t think so.
Thankfully for Andrew Lloyd Webber, he teamed up with Tim Rice to make sure the lyrics for his shows were as good as the music he wrote for them.
Tim Rice is one of our finest living lyricists and he’s someone who brings a real sensitivity to his observations.
I once heard an interviewer comment on how well Tim Rice writes songs for women to sing and seems to understand the emotions involved from a woman’s perspective better than most men do.
If you’re a woman reading this, you’ll know if it’s true or not…far be it for me to comment one way or the other. But I can certainly see the interviewer’s point.
That wasn’t something I’d consciously thought about before, and the interviewer’s question made me realise that the sensitivity he brings to lyric writing was exactly what I enjoyed so much in Tim Rice’s work, although I couldn’t have spontaneously told you that before hearing the interview.
A splendid example of Tim Rice’s lyric writing skill is a song he wrote for Evita, “Another Suitcase In Another Hall”, which is my favourite Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber song.
“Another Suitcase In Another Hall” comes into the story at the point where Eva Peron throws Juan Peron’s mistress out of the flat where she’d been hosting visits from Peron. Eva Peron turns her rival out on the streets with nothing….and without a second thought.
It’s a pivotal moment, showing Eva Peron’s power over her husband and her determination to eliminate anyone who might influence Juan Peron or usurp her own position at the centre of the Peron movement.
It’s also an illustration of Eva Peron’s ruthlessness, as that’s the path she’d allegedly followed to the top herself.
“Another Suitcase In Another Hall”, however, is not sung by or about Eva Peron.
Rather it’s the perspective of the young woman who has just been ejected from her apartment and has gone, over the course of a couple of minutes, from sleeping with the President and enjoying a comfortable lifestyle, to being turfed out on the streets with nothing.
Tim Rice captures the emotions of someone in that situation very movingly…
I don’t expect my love affairs to last for long
Never fool myself that my dreams will come true
Being used to trouble I anticipate it
But all the same I hate it, wouldn’t you?
She goes on to wonder what will become of her, reflecting that she’s been in this situation before. She got by then…hopefully she’ll do the same again this time…and the next…and the next…
The wonderful thing about Tim Rice’s lyrics is that, whether or not you’ve ever been the mistress of a President, you can identify with every word he wrote if you’ve ever had to start anything…career, family, romantic relationship…once more from Ground Zero after your carefully-laid plans have blown up in your face.
Outside novels and Hollywood films, living a life in which you constantly have to re-start your life from Ground Zero is not nearly as much fun as you might think…
Call in three months’ time and I’ll be fine, I know
Well maybe not that fine, but I’ll survive anyhow
I won’t recall the names and places of each sad occasion
But that’s no consolation, here and now
I don’t think there’s a better set of lyrics for expressing the sense of resilience that someone builds up in the face of successive tragedies. You’ve got to get over it…put the experience behind you as quickly as possible…and move on, or you’ll be consumed by your grief, disappointment and sense of helplessness.
Tim Rice’s lyrics for “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” have a wonderful flow and they convey the emotions of someone in that situation effortlessly, without being too self-pitying.
In many ways, the observational “matter of fact” tone of the story actually makes the whole story even more heartbreaking …imagine how poor your experience of life must have been that you’ve had to develop a way of picking yourself back up again after being cast aside so many times before.
We might expect the singer to be in tears and unable to go on with life. That would be a perfectly normal reaction to heartbreak.
The fact that this happens so often she has had to cultivate a hard “outer shell” to protect herself against what she sees as the near-inevitability of exactly the same thing happening in every romantic relationship she will ever has makes “Another Suitcase, Another Hall” so much sadder than just someone wailing about a single unfortunate episode.
That’s the mastery of Tim Rice and the power of his lyrics.
There are some well-known performances of today’s song. I remember Barbara Dickson having a big hit with it. Madonna, who played the role of Eva Peron in the film version of Evita in the mid-90s, also sang a very nice version of it.
However, I recently heard a beautiful version of today’s song which was performed by a singer, songwriter and actress called Samantha Barks.
I must admit to not recognising her name, but she appeared in one of those TV talent shows a few years ago when Andrew Lloyd Webber was trying to find a new lead actress for one of his West End musicals.
She didn’t win that competition, but has since released her own work and has performed in the West End and on Broadway, so at least she derived some benefit from the process, which is always good to see.
Samantha Barks does a fantastic job of both the technical performance of the song and conveying the intense…if coolly-observed…emotions which Tim Rice’s insightful lyrics explore.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and, very importantly, lyrics by Tim Rice (take note, future callers to BBC radio shows!) …here’s Samantha Barks with “Another Suitcase, Another Hall”…
If you watch the video right to the end, you can see how much Andrew Lloyd Webber himself enjoys her performance as well…
(As Samantha Banks’ version isn’t on Spotify, the link will take you instead to the Barbara Dixon version that was a hit back in the 1970s…also a really nice version of the song…)
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/1mnq01tiJiXTHgK0M1Cmol