March 1969 was often cold and wet. Two days in, Concorde completed its 27-minute maiden flight. 4 March saw Ronnie and Reggie Kray both found guilty of murder (Ronnie of George Cornell, Reggie of Jack ‘the Hat’ McVitie). The next day, they were sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum of 30 years. The notorious twins’ gangland reign of London was over.
On 7 March the Queen opened the Victoria line on the London Underground. Running between Brixton and Walthamstow Central, it was the first entirely new line for 50 years.
One of the worst lifeboat disasters in British history occurred on 17 March when the Longhope from Orkney was lost, killing all eight crew members. Two days later the 385-metre-tall Emley Moor television mast collapsed due to icing.
Ruling the charts from the end of February and for most of March was singer-songwriter Peter Sarstedt, younger brother of Richard, better known as Eden Kane, who had a number 1 in 1961 with Well I Ask You.
Sarstedt was born in Delhi, India in December 1941. One of his younger brothers, Clive (stage name Robin) also enjoyed chart action in 1976. The Sarstedt’s musicality stemmed from their parents, both of whom were classically-trained. Following his father’s death in 1954, the family moved to South London.
The three Sarstedts, all guitarists, became part of a skiffle group called the Fabulous Five. They performed at church halls and coffee bars around Croydon before becoming a beat group known as the Saints, with Richard becoming the singer. Peter switched to bass when Richard became Eden Kane, and played in his backing group until 1965, when Kane moved to Australia.
And so Peter Sarstedt briefly emigrated to Copenhagen, changed his stage name to Peter Lincoln and began writing folk songs. He quickly reverted to his real name, and in 1968 he signed a deal with United Artists.
His first single I Am a Cathedral was a failure, and his label didn’t expect the follow-up to fare any better when presented with Where Do You Go To (My Lovely?). They complained it was too long (the album version is even longer), had only three instruments (one of which was an accordion), and no drums. It’s likely Sarstedt had no intention of this becoming a hit single, to be fair. He was performing in folk clubs, and needed some lengthier material.
How did this waltz-time ballad, filled with references to Gallic culture, make it to number 1 and remain there for a month? I’m scratching my head and can only think it’s exactly those references that did it. Holidays abroad were still a luxury in 1969, and perhaps, like Albatross, the idea of heading off to sunnier climes appealed to a cold, rain-sodden British public. And maybe owners of this record felt smug and sophisticated?
John Peel hated this song, calling it ‘self-satisfied’, ‘terrible’ and ‘hideous’, and he certainly wasn’t the only detractor there’s been. But I can actually enjoy it. I can definitely take his points on board, but I feel it’s so smug, it’s actually enjoyable.
Sarstedt tells the story of Marie-Claire, who grew up in poverty in Naples, and her friend (future lover?), the person singing the song, is basically winding her up about the fact that she can be a beautiful socialite now she’s in her twenties, she can wear expensive jewellery and clothes, she can take expensive holidays, she can have the Aga Khan buy her racehorses, etc, but she can’t escape her past, because he knows how fucked up she is when she’s alone in her bed. Pretty mean-spirited really.
Perhaps she’s left him behind and he feels hard done by, perhaps she fucked him over, perhaps she’s become a horrible, arrogant posh girl… but we’re not told any of this, so the narrator comes across as a pretty nasty piece of work
But like I said, I do enjoy Where Do You Go To (My Lovely?). Me and one of my housemates at university used to listen to a compilation of 60s number 1s, and when this came on, we used to sing little insults at the end of each verse, as though Sartedt’s resentment became a little, let’s say, more basic as his frustration grew, for example: ‘Your clothes are all made by Balmain/And there’s diamonds and pearls in your hair, yes there are/You fucking twat’. Try it! Once you do, there’s no going back, though. Perhaps if John Peel had done similar, he could have learned to appreciate it.
In a 2009 interview with The Daily Express, Sarstedt revealed Marie-Claire was not based on Sophia Loren, which was a popular misconception, but his ex-wife, who had become a dentist in Copenhagen. As writer Mark Steyn brilliantly put it, ‘Peter Sarstedt has spent 40 years singing about wanting to look inside her head. And for most of that time Anita has made a living by looking inside yours.’
Where Do You Go To (My Lovely?) enjoyed success throughout Europe, as well as Australia and Japan, but failed in the US. Sarstedt’s number 1 even shared the Ivor Novello award for best song of 1969 with David Bowie’s Space Oddity. However, apart from the follow-up Frozen Orange Juice and his eponymous debut LP, he had no further chart fame.
During the 70s he teamed up with his brothers again for the 1973 album Worlds Apart Together. He spent much of the 80s on the Solid Silver 60s nostalgia tour. In 1997 he released the album England’s Lane, which featured his brothers one last time, and it also included a sequel to Marie-Claire’s story, The Last of the Breed, which featured a more sympathetic chorus: ‘You keep your secrets inside Marie-Claire/What right have the paparazzi to pry?/No-one’s interested in knowing the truth/But they’ll always believe in a lie’.
There were more albums in the 21st century, including On Song in 2006. The following year, Where Do You Go To (My Lovely?) enjoyed a brief renaissance thanks to it featuring in the Wes Anderson movie The Darjeeling Limited.
2010 saw the singer-songwriter perform for the last time. In 2013 he released his final album, Restless Heart. He was working on the third and final part of his Marie-Claire trilogy when he fell ill that year and was misdiagnosed with dementia. Sarstedt went to live in a retirement home and was diagnosed correctly with progressive supranuclear palsy two years later. He died in 2017, aged 75.
Written by: Peter Sarstedt
Producer: Ray Singer
Weeks at number 1: 4 (26 February-25 March)
Super Furry Animals drummer Dafydd Ieuan – 1 March
Author John Wyndham – 11 March
Bandleader Billy Cotton – 25 March