Valerie Mountain was an English pop/rock singer of the early to mid-'60s who made it all the way from her native Bristol to the Royal Albert Hall in London -- not bad for a vocalist who only ever cut two singles, and one of those in association with a motion picture that was more of a cult success than a huge hit, even in England. But the woman had pipes that allowed her to sing like nobody's business, and were enough to stick in the memory of this writer for 40 years and counting. Valerie Mountain was born in Bristol in 1942 and grew up in Weston-super-Mare, a resort town on the channel, about 18 miles from the city. She aspired to a performing career while in her teens, and by 1960 had joined the Cliff Adams Singers, and appeared at the Big Show in Blackpool. She kept her day job with the Port of Bristol Authority, however, and fate took a hand -- several hands -- in 1961. The Rev. Ernest Marvin, the minister of St. James Presbyterian Church, Lockleaze, in Bristol's northern suburbs, had written a play entitled A Man Dies, which was a retelling of the story of Jesus in modern terms, aimed at young audiences and utilizing a rock & roll score. And Valerie Mountain ended up in the original production, doing 16 songs, and working alongside other local talent including Ricky Forde and his backing band the Strangers. A single was released that year by EMI's Columbia label, of "Go It Alone" b/w "Gentle Christ," from the score, and a cast album was also forthcoming, featuring her and Forde. Mountain appeared in five subsequent productions of the first rock "Passion Play," all of this the better part of a decade prior to Jesus Christ Superstar. She also appeared in a broadcast of the work on the British ABC network, and on the EMI-Columbia cast album. With her close-cropped dark hair she looked almost two decades early for the minimalist new wave and punk images of the late '70s and early '80s -- and that appearance, coupled with her powerful singing voice, gave her a memorable presence on-stage, Mountain was in the cast that performed A Man Dies at the Royal Albert Hall in early 1964.
Amid and in between the activity surrounding A Man Dies, Bristol was chosen for the location of a feature film being made by Anglo-Amalgamated Pictures promoting a community outreach program sponsored by the Duke of Edinburgh, aimed at delinquent (and potentially delinquent) teenagers. The result was Some People (1962), a juvenile delinquency drama starring Kenneth More, David Hemmings, Ray Brooks, and Angela Douglas, which included a title theme written by Ron Grainer and sung by Valerie Mountain, backed by the Bristol-based band the Eagles. Mountain's deep, powerful voice -- which dubbed the contribution of Angela Douglas -- contained a quality that was alternately lusty and mournful. "I just sing rather low, like a coloured [sic] singer," she explained to writer John Coe in the Bristol Evening Post, in an interview in early 1964, refusing to categorize her style or range.
Though her version of the title song, released on the Pye Records label, brushed the British charts (and there were two covers, by Carol Deene and ex-ShadowJet Harris), neither the movie nor the record were enough to get Mountain another regular recording contract. Following her marriage in 1964, she apparently never pursued a pop/rock career after that, choosing instead to raise two daughters. Thanks to the following built up by A Man Dies, she has retained a fandom across the decades. According to reports in 2008, she has long resided in the United States, and is an expert in the field of ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging. ~ Bruce Eder