The Infinite Jukebox: Mary Hopkin’s ‘Temma Harbour’


Looking back, it seemed clear that the biggest mistake Mary Hopkin made with her short commercial career was to agree to be the UK’s representative in the 1970 Eurovision Song Contest. Though she brought a sweet and honest voice to the chosen song, ‘Knock Knock Who’s There?’, and came second only to Ireland’s Dana with the equally sweet and innocent (and superior) ‘All Kinds of Everything’, it was a last hurrah for the young Welsh woman discovered through Opportunity Knocks and mentored by Paul McCartney.
Hopkin was never totally comfortable being positioned as a pop chanteuse, neither with McCartney nor his successor, the commercial producer Mickie Most, trying to direct her music. She came from a folk-singing background and family and, after her Eurovision song, and a final, low-charting top 20 hit, she simply disappeared from the business, and has chosen her own musical path and projects ever since.
I heard ‘Those were the Days’ when it was a hit, and often, but then it was so ubiquitous, there were creatures beyond the orbit of Saturn’s outermost moons who could have hummed it note perfect, but I don’t know if I ever heard the similarly-McCartney-penned follow-up, ‘Goodbye’. For my first sustained exposure to Hopkin’s singing, I came to ‘Temma Harbour’.
It’s the forgotten one, the single between the McCartney songs and Eurovision, forever overlooked. To me, it’s first and foremost a part of that period of the first, undirected enthusiasm, my baptism in music, and of more significance than any of her other singles could be, but it’s also more than that. There’s a freshness, a spirit to the song, a sense of the place about which Hopkin sings.
The song was written by drummer and singer Robert Wilson, who took the name of Phil Kinorra as part of Brian Auger and The Trinity, the line-up that recorded ‘This Wheel’s on Fire’ with Julie Driscoll, and was recorded by him under the name Philamore Lincoln. Hopkin’s version isn’t a million miles different but Hopkin’s voice is far better suited to the faraway mood of the song, and she can really sing, which Lincoln, with respect, couldn’t match, half-growling his original.
Most’s arrangement is lighter and fresher, opening up the song with well-judged strings, first creating a swirl that introduces the melody after Hopkin’s delicate but almost negligible acoustic guitar intro, creating the space for Hopkin’s voice to celebrate a kind of restrained ecstacy out of the world.
For Temma Harbour is both a place (that always struck me as being some remote Australian cove, because it is, it’s in Tasmania) and a state of mind. There’s a strand of an earthy paradise, a place beyond the world, free from its demands. In a giant lemon tree, she sings, alone my friend and me, we both climb down and cross the sands until we reach the sea.
And the waves grow higher, higher as we sway and dance, and the mood elevates and creates a headiness more than wine, for the way Mary feels makes her want to take a chance. What chance that may be is locked in our individual hearts, in whatever worldliness we want to bring to this place, but as we contemplate our thoughts we are taken to the heart of things, Mary celebrating Temma Harbour, climbing coconut trees, catching fish, lighting fires, drinking wine, and gently, tentatively testing out the companion who shares this place with her. If you say you like me, and I like you…
For this may be a real, real place but Mary is testing whether the friend who is beside her can be the other half of that idyll, if the fantasy of Temma Harbour, of treehouses and blue sea spray can be extended into a real life in which two are on a wavelength. That’s the chance she’s singing of taking, not the one you were thinking about, not the, shall we be polite and say ‘hedonistic’ option you were imagining.
It’s the combination of Hopkin’s voice and Most’s airy arrangement, keeping the musicians distant from her voice, like the distant guitars that on the wind begin to play. Hopkin carries the melody in her lovely, pure voice – by God that girl could sing! – and Most sets a gentle rhythm upon which he builds a counter-rhythm of melodic bongoes, a flute solo over the last chorus and coda, and those hovering strings, swirling like the breeze that brings the guitars from afar.
All goes to bringing Temma Harbour to us for the course of the song, just as Martha and The Muffins took us to lonely, wind-swept, isolated, sunset Echo Beach. Can Mary really bring another into this dream vision she carries within her? With a voice like hers, you want her to be happy as much as she does, just so she may sound like this.

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