Sinatra @ Ibrox: A Night to Remember

Twenty years ago, my hometown of Glasgow celebrated being named a European City of Culture. One of the most eagerly anticipated events in the city’s cultural calendar that memorable year was a concert by the man who was arguably the greatest singer of the 20th century – Frank Sinatra. From the beginning of Glasgow’s year as a City of Culture, a visit by Ol’ Blue Eyes had been dangled tantalisingly before Glaswegians. And when it finally happened, on July 10, 1990, it proved to be a night to remember.

Scots jazz singer Carol Kidd and her London-based trio had been asked to be the support band after Sinatra’s “people” came to a concert and asked for all her CDs to be sent to the man himself. Kidd and her pianist, fellow Glaswegian David Newton, were in Ibrox throughout the day.

“We turned up quite early,” says Newton, “and watched the stand in the middle of the stadium being built, and saw these amazing sound guys sorting out what was the best sound I’ve ever heard. I mean, when the band started playing, it was like listening to a record.”

Kidd was also already there when Sinatra “breezed in” wearing a baseball cap and the famous bomber jacket with “The Guv” written on the back. “His soundcheck was four words of a song – Come Fly With Me. Then he walked off.”

Newton nods: “It sounded immaculate, so he said: ‘I’m outta here’. And off he went.”

Kidd played five numbers which, as Newton remembers, “went down a storm”. The atmosphere was charged. “A lot of people in the audience hadn’t heard him in such a long time and, of course, he had been the soundtrack to their lives. You could feel the excitement building.”

Neither Kidd nor Newton was aware at this point that the atmosphere was also charged because of trouble brewing. Outside the stadium, hundreds of fans clutching the most expensive tickets couldn’t get in; and inside – in certain areas – confusion reigned over where people were to sit. The stooshie over seating arrangements, which had been changed after people had bought tickets, would rumble on for days.

On a high as she came off, Kidd saw Sinatra arriving at the marquee beside the stage in a golf buggy. “He came upstairs into the marquee where he had his Jack Daniels and his cigarette. We shook hands very, very briefly while somebody fixed his tie. He was totally gorgeous,” she says categorically. “Drop-dead gorgeous. Even at 74 – because it’s in the eyes. And it was in his eyes. Plus he was in performance mode. At the soundcheck he’d been breezy and laidback, but by this point he was switched on and ready to go.”

When Sinatra walked out on to that Ibrox stage – at 8.10pm on July 10, 1990, 37 years after his previous visit to Glasgow – the audience went mad. Edinburgh-based singer and jazz promoter Todd Gordon says: “I had never experienced anything like the roar of that audience. It went right through your body.”

For 83 minutes – David Belcher, reviewing for The Herald, timed it – Sinatra held the audience in the palm of his hand with hit after hit, starting with Come Fly With Me. “When it came to My Way – forget it!” says Kidd. “He didn’t have to sing. He just stood there and the audience sang it back to him.” Belcher wrote: “His voice was amazing, for a man of 34, let alone 74.”

“Nevertheless,” says journalist Allan Brown, “for me, the music was the least of that evening. Something else entirely has stayed in my mind. There were maybe more than 15,000 of us there, yet the angle of the stand and the proximity of the stage created an atmosphere that was strangely intimate. You had the sense that, were you to rise from your seat and wave, you could easily attract Sinatra’s attention. And many did. The flavour of that night was one I have never experienced since: a blend of high devotion and downright gallusness, like a bingo night in the Sistine Chapel.”

There was a massive outpouring of affection – and emotion – from the generally geriatric audience. Newton noticed folk clutching bottles of whisky which they were clearly hoping to pass down to the stage, while Jeanette Belcher remembers the poignant sight of the two old ladies next to her “sobbing quietly and without any great drama” through the first few songs.

Gordon had taken his mother along to Ibrox that July night. “On the way through from Edinburgh I began to have severe apprehensions about taking her because she kept saying, ‘He was at his best in the 1950s’. I thought: ‘Oh God, she thinks he’s past it.’

“However, within about two numbers my mum, along with most of the rest of the stadium, was up on her feet between songs. There was something quite magical about the night.” Sinatra himself was visibly moved by the warmth of the audience. So much so that he not only treated Glasgow to a rare encore; he also promised he’d be back.

From the wings, Kidd and Newton watched most of the show, tears streaming down their faces as Sinatra gingerly stepped down from the stage to shake hands with the disabled concert-goers stationed at the front of the audience. The Herald’s Jack Webster wrote: “The sight of Frank Sinatra strolling along the Ibrox track with a radio-mike in his hands and singing Strangers In The Night will remain one of my richest and most abiding memories.”

Then came what David Newton calls “The Moment” – when Sinatra, back up on stage, poured himself a cup of tea and sat on the stool next to a table. Newton recalls: “The spotlight came down, the place went dark and all you could see was a man in a tux. He lit a cigarette – the whole place applauded – sipped his tea and began to sing Angel Eyes. And he turned a football stadium into a small nightclub. I don’t know if anyone else on the planet could have done that. It was remarkable.”

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6 responses to “Sinatra @ Ibrox: A Night to Remember

  1. Alan

    Thanks for the report.
    For the life of me I’ll never work out why I chose not to attend this concert.

  2. Alison,
    This piece brings back so many happy memories. I was there that night as well. My dad was a big Sinatra fan but sadly passed away on Christmas Eve 1986. I got my love for Sintra listening to my dad’s old records and especially “The Main Event – Live from Madison Square Gardens” I played that record until the groove was worn down. I loved all the songs, the Riddle arrangements, Don Costa, but the one that touched me the most was “Angel Eyes” The simplest of arrangements but it got me every time I heard it and made me want to be a singer.

    I was fortunate enough to see Sinatra twice, firstly in Dublin with Sammy Davis and Liza Minelli. A marvellous concert but it paled into insignificance compared to that Summer night at Ibrox.
    I went with my sister Pat and we sat at the back of the Govan stand at Ibrox. Not the best seats, but they were in the Stadium and that’s all that mattered to us. We had Arnold Brown bizarrely opening the show. A strange choice but I knew of him and found him funny. Then Carol Kidd did her stuff and was excellent as always.
    Then the main man came on. Sadly I can’t remember what the first number was or indeed what the set list was as it was all a bit of a blur. All I know was that I sat transfixed for the duration of the concert in awe of the mans’ talent. If I’m honest I had been a little disappointed in Dublin, Sinatra wasn’t at his best and I thought Sammy Davis stole the show that night. At Ibrox however this was Sinatra as good as he had been for a long time. The crowd lapped up every note and, as you said, Sinatra seemed genuinely moved by the response he got.
    To see him go down trackside was special and I seem to remember him getting an ovation for sitting at the edge of the stage which he commented on.
    The highlight for me though was when the first piano chords for Angel Eyes started up. I was gone. Tears streaming down my face. A 23 year old sitting in Ibrox blubbing like a big wean, but I didn’t care.
    That night was the start for me musically and inspired me to go on and become a singer. I’ve had the privilege of singing a lot of these arrangements with some great big bands in my time and continue to enjoy doing this. Sadly my Dad never got to see me sing his kinda music but hopefully he would be happy the way his record collection and Mr. Sinatra inspired me tha warm July evening.

  3. Ian Eyre

    I remember Mack the Knife as one of several highlights.

    To emphasise the cold he sang “Love was just a glance away a new warm pair of pants away”.

    After opening with Come Fly With Me he complained of getting too old for this – as if. Then he sang ” You Make Me Feel So Young”.

    I also remember the encore – rare for Sinatra – Where Or When.

    Sadly he never did return to Glasgow.

  4. James Riley

    I was one of the catering managers on duty i was 2 ft from Mr Sinatra when Mr souness gave him a bottle of Jack Daniels superb night i could right a book

  5. Ronnie Semley

    Happy memories of a great night. I was quite young (24) when I went to this concert with my then girlfriend, now wife. The tickets weren’t cheap as I recall – £75 each – but it was worth it to say ‘I saw and heard Sinatra live’. Sure, he was well past his best, but Sinatra past his best was still many times better than most singers. I remember the ticket fiasco only too well, but didn’t let it spoil an otherwise brilliant night. The weather was great that evening and Sinatra held the audience spellbound for the entire time he was on stage. One or two women threw knickers in his direction which he found amusing and many more shouted their love and admiration for the legend in the way that only Glaswegians can!

  6. tony eagle

    I, too was there that night … still the best concert i have ever been to and ever will. I was born and raised on Francis Albert and knew all the songs ( what sort of teenager knew every word to every song on songs for only the lonely ?) . I got the tickets as a surprise for my dad , lifetime devotee but never seen him before . We took our seats and after a while we saw frank appear from out the tunnel and make a gesture to get the crowd to move inwards to the empty seats stage front/centre , we managed to bag seats about 3 rows from the front , bang in the middle. All the champagne swiggers lost their seats and who cares .. should have got sat earlier. Frank was in brilliant form for the whole night , voice was strong and not a word out of place .. when he came down the steps and shook hands i was inches away from him . My disposable camera didnt flash so the only photos i have show only the silver of his hair . Then straight into “strangers in the night” right infront of us . He was overwhelmed by the response and whooping of the crowd and seemed genuinly touched ( i read an interview with his security that said he was moved to tears afterwards) . Angel eyes was amazing and much better than doing only the lonely as the saloon section.
    When i talk about this night with anyone i get hairs up on my neck , and disbelief that i have seen him live. We went to see him at the albert hall 2 years later and he had lost the sharpness of that summer in glasgow , though he did a word perfect soliloqy . I was 20 years old , and 23 years later my daughter has got ‘ol blue eyes on her ipod .

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