I was born on 6 September 1940 in war-torn Britain, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire: ‘A Potteries Girl.’
So.....in early September I will turn 21 yrs and a bit...
Dad was a coal miner and Mum was a home-maker in the good old-fashioned way. Their love of music obviously rubbed off on me: first prize in a National poetry competition, aged 9; winning the Carrol Levis and His Discoveries talent show (today’s X-Factor) age 11. I frustrated my school music teacher to hell and turned semi-professional/schoolgirl singer in 1951, still age 11.
Up North I was known as the VERA LYNN OF THE POTTERIES, earning good money every weekend, singing to packed audiences in the British Legion and Working Men’s Clubs and with all the local Big Bands.
In that short time, schoolgirl YVONNE BURGESS grew into JACKIE TRENT.
In 1955 I abandoned school, packed a single suitcase and, clutching my precious music case, I caught the train to London: alone; no agent, no contacts and no work.
I soon found work; my new employers even took me into their home, treating me as a daughter. Some of the London underworld became my fans and watched over my safety; the KRAYS would sometimes escort me to the clubs and theatres where I worked, showering me with teddy bears (when I was so desperate for cash, but too polite to say.)
MY ONE REGRET OF THE 50’S....?
I had second thoughts about appearing NUDE at the famous WINDMILL Theatre in Soho, London; that was a standard condition of contract for every female performer. But Dad was due to visit, I had had a strict up-bringing at home and...well... maybe I just chickened out?
‘I’m sorry, Mr VAN DAMM, I just can’t do it now.’ And a damned good job went down the pan.....
1956 – AGE 16. Old enough to work abroad. Well, I wanted ADVENTURE and TRAVEL.
An official from the Home Office vetted my parents and our home before I was granted a foreign work permit!!
There were High Jinks and Low Times, tramping across France, Spain and Morocco, with 8 of us and our gear jammed in an old VW Transporter van – even the double-bass. ‘There’s no way it’s going on the roof,’ said it’s owner.
I sang for British troops in Aden, Cyprus, Kenya, Malta; in fact the whole of the Middle East, working for CSE.
I sang my heart out for American troops in Germany, North Africa, Spain, France and Turkey with USAFE.
I LOST my HEART to one young GI: ELVIS. (really!) NOEL COWARD invited me to tea. And I CRIED my HEART out as a young ELLA FITZGERALD sang, ‘specially for me.
’57 to ’61 saw me working all over Europe, the Middle East, South Africa and Europe with an unplanned spell working in Cyrus (that’s a loooong story). In the early ‘60’s I settled on London as my base.
My first recording contract was with a small label - Oriole Records, and my producer was John Schroeder. My first record was ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, which sounded great, but was very unlike me; more like HELEN SHAPIRO, who was very in-vogue at the time. I did like the song, though.
Next major event was meeting TONY HATCH, whom I immediately disliked: a successful producer and writer who was full of ‘you know what.’ My audition piece for him was ‘Colouring Book’. Isn’t it amazing that the lyrics I wrote over many years in collaboration with TONY, were always full of colour.
We made the transition from co-writers–to-lovers and finally to marriage in 1967; a bit of a rocky road along the way. When I look back on our wedding day, it was more like ‘The Sound of Music’; more like a film production than a wedding ceremony; not the most romantic time for any couple.
On honeymoon in Rome, with EDWARD G ROBINSON staying in the next suite at our hotel: ‘Get your hair done girl, you’ve got a photo session in front of the Fountains of Trevi’ (to throw coins over my shoulder). It signifies that you’ll come back; which we never did.