My adopted home town of Cardiff, Wales has produced plenty of famous names in sport (I know – I contributed to a book about it) and the arts, but I doubt any could be considered greater than Ivor Novello.
The awards named after him are regarded among the most prestigious in the music industry, as they are chosen by musicians themselves and recognise excellence in songwriting.
Novello wrote the music for the moving World War 1 classic Keep the Home Fires Burning at the age of just 21, and went on to produce a huge catalogue of songs throughout the first half of the 20th century.
As well as being a composer, he was a playwright, scriptwriter, singer, and actor on stage and screen – he even became a Hollywood star.
There are a hundred reasons why I could select Ivor Novello for the supreme honour of featuring in a Piece of Pink Pie blog post, but I’ll settle for two: a film role and a song.
1. Novello was the prototype Alfred Hitchcock star, paving the way for the likes of Cary Grant, James Stewart and Anthony Perkins. As the star of The Lodger, Novello plays a man wrongly accused of a string of Ripper-style murders.
I’m a huge fan of Hitchcock, and The Lodger is regarded as the film which announced the arrival of Hitchcock the director – it even saw his first on-screen cameo appearance, as well as introducing those familiar themes of the wronged man, sex and murder (and blondes).
2. Novello wrote We’ll Gather Lilacs – a hit song in his 1945 musical Perchance to Dream. It’s not my favourite song by a long way, but it has undeniably stood the test of time and has been recorded by countless artists, including Frank Sinatra – its moving lyric as relevant today as it was at the end of World War 2.
We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again
And walk together down an English lane
Until our hearts have learnt to sing again
When you come home once more.
I guess young couples don’t gather lilacs these days. For one thing, they’d need to be sure that lilacs are not protected by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. But separated lovers yearning to be together is a timeless theme; and maybe the song is even more poignant for those who will not be reunited.
So – Ivor Novello, perhaps Cardiff’s greatest star. He may not be a household name in the city of his birth, but his memory is honoured locally with a statue in Cardiff Bay and a blue plaque on the house where he was born.
And I would venture that his achievements surpass those of even the greatest of this city’s sports stars.
Professional photo of the statue in the snow by Mark Hawkins Photography. Unprofessional photo of blue plaque by me.