“You’ll Never Walk Alone” — Captain Tom Moore, Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir
It’s not often a 100 year-old war veteran tops the UK pop charts with a 75 year-old song, but that’s what happened this week.
I say “not often”. I actually mean “it’s never happened before”.
Before Tom Moore, or Captain Tom as he’s become known, the previous record-holder was another Tom . Back in 2009 Tom Jones, a comparative lightweight at 68 years and nine months, topped the charts to beat the record Louis Armstrong had set in 1968 when he took “What A Wonderful World” to the top spot at the age of 66.
Army veteran Captain Tom has appeared in the media around the world as he closed in on his target of walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday to raise money for the UK’s front-line healthcare workers.
What started as a bit of a family joke snowballed into a national phenomenon.
So far, Captain Tom has raised over £30 million for the brave souls of our National Health Service who put their own lives on the line to care for the desperately sick patients battling the terrible virus that’s sweeping around the world.
Many people who would like to adopt Captain Tom. In all his media interviews, he come across as a modest, caring, gentle grandfather straight out of Central Casting.
While we’ve all been desperate for some good news, Captain Tom’s walk around his garden, with the aid of his walking frame, has united the country in a way very few things have in recent years.
Old and young, black and white, left and right…we’ve all taken Captain Tom to our hearts.
Whoever came up with the idea of pairing Captain Tom with Michael Ball and a choir made up of healthcare workers to sing a highly emotional song like “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as he closed in on the 100th lap of his garden was a marketing genius.
And there was no small amount of technical genius in this too as all the performers had to dial in their vocals from their respective homes.
Thankfully, it was done in time for Captain Tom’s 100th birthday and this latest version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is pretty decent. I think we all accept that Captain Tom isn’t a professional singer, but Michael Ball is and this is probably the best I’ve heard him sing for years. The NHS choir does a fabulous job too.
Although we might not have expected “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to top the UK pop charts in 2020, in fairness I don’t think many people would have expected it to top the charts in 1963 either. But it did.
Although Captain Tom was a 43 year-old whippersnapper back then, he wasn’t involved in that performance. Back then it was Merseybeat pioneers Gerry And The Pacemakers who chalked up a Number One single.
I’ve always thought it was an odd choice of song for Gerry and the Pacemakers, or in fact any pop group in the early 1960s. It was the sort of song your parents might have listened to, not exactly the most promising material to be to be working with if you wanted to reach Number One in the pop charts during the early 60s.
But apparently Gerry Marsden, the lead singer of Gerry And The Pacemakers, was taken to see the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, in which “You’ll Never Walk Alone” features, as a kid and always liked the song.
Gerry And The Pacemakers’ UK Number One version is here…
You’ll notice a lot of football-related imagery in that video. That’s because, at least until Captain Tom came along, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was probably most famous for being sung by fans of Liverpool FC at all their home matches.
Proud Liverpool FC supporters first made the song a feature of their match-day singalongs when the version by fellow Liverpudlians Gerry And The Pacemakers topped the charts in 1963. They’ve been singing it ever since.
Captain Tom’s version isn’t even the first time “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has been recorded to raise money for a good cause.
It also topped the UK charts in 1985 as a charity single to raise money for the victims of a fire at Bradford City’s football ground, in which 56 people died.
All the action at the top of the charts has undoubtedly cemented “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in the UK’s collective cultural consciousness. But Carousel, the musical from which it’s taken, is much less well known.
Although modestly popular, and undoubtedly a fine work in its own right, Carousel has been somewhat overshadowed by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s many other blockbuster musicals over the years, including Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I, and, of course, The Sound of Music, all which enjoy much greater success and public recognition.
Most people would probably recognise a lot more songs from any of those other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals than they would from Carousel. But if you’re looking for encouragement in times of adversity, there are fewer better songs than “You’ll Never Walk Alone”…
When you walk through the storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark
Another curious feature of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is that it’s become a song which is perfectly acceptable for gruff, rough-and-ready “men’s men” to sing in public and get very teary-eyed and emotional about.
Which is an interesting re-purposing of a song originally sung by a woman to another woman in Carousel…
But that’s the great thing about music. A song can be whatever you want it to be, no matter what the original composer’s intention was.
A song can capture an emotion at a moment in time better than just about anything else.
And there’s no doubt that for years to come most Brits will associate “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with watching a slightly stooped 100 year-old man slowly hobbling across the finishing line of his 100-lap garden marathon as an honour guard from his old regiment snapped the snappiest of salutes in unison to celebrate his achievement.
And, more than just about anybody else, Captain Tom himself knew this was just a bit of theatre to raise much-needed funds for front-line healthcare workers in the midst of a pandemic. He was happy to go along with the media circus because he was fighting for a cause he believed in, just like his military service on behalf of us all in the jungles of Burma during World War Two.
Captain Tom symbolises a very traditional type of Britishness…the quiet good humour in the face of adversity, the determination to carry on regardless, the modesty of someone who would probably rather nobody made a fuss of them while they were “just doing their job”.
This week, Captain Tom’s version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has united the country in a way no other song has united the country since Vera Lynn sang “The White Cliffs Of Dover” back in darkest days of the Second World War, probably.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” was the perfect choice of song, showing both solidarity for front-line healthcare workers and acknowledging the emotional challenges of the patients they care for, isolated from friends and family at a time they’re desperately so ill and need the support of their loved ones the most.
The performance is magical. Of course, it helps that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, two of the finest songwriters who ever lived, crafted the music and lyrics with a degree of mastery that few other songwriters could hope to achieve themselves.
But it’s beautifully sung by Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir. And the emotions get turned up to 11 thanks to the participation of Captain Tom.
Although the lyrics to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” are fairly simple, their enduring appeal lies in the way they describe very powerful emotions so simply, without histrionics or embellishment.
If you read them, they almost come across a bit “matter-of-fact”. But that’s where Richard Rodgers shows his expertise to the full, pairing a soaring score to a beautiful sentiment, so simply and purely expressed.
Those elements together make “You’ll Never Walk Alone” a very powerful song. It’s so well written, it fully deserves to have topped the UK charts on three separate occasions in the last 60 years.
Here’s Captain Tom Moore, Michael Ball and the NHS Voices of Care Choir with their chart-topping version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”…and a reminder for us all, as Oscar Hammerstein’s wonderful lyrics put it, that if we keep going through the tough times, and always carry hope in our hearts, we’ll never walk alone…
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/5pdawBUyhdNkWhSoaDZivf