It began with a small piece in an October 2013 issue of The New Yorker. It was in the ‘Talk of the Town’ section and it was a short profile of songwriter Jimmy Webb, in which it was revealed that the author of such classic bits of Americana as ‘Galveston’ and ‘Wichita Lineman’ was a Concorde fanatic. Webb collects Concorde memorabilia. Fascinating. But why? And is this a common affliction?
I hit Google and came up with a whole bunch of other people who shared Webb’s obsession (if not his talents). I fired off some emails and met my first ‘Corde-head’ – Webb’s term for Concorde fanatics. Simon Jones of Fulham, London, also collects Concorde items but unlike Webb, who goes for straightforward memorabilia, Jones only buys bits of the actual aircraft, like wheels, mechanical bits and bobs, even a whole nose cone, which, apparently, is the Holy Grail of Concordania. He’s interested in the inner workings of Concorde. It transpires he also has an end goal, which is nothing less than to kickstart the whole supersonic airliner programme.
At this point I became too busy to contact the other names on my list so I handed off to Peter Watts, a fine journalist who contributes regularly to Ink titles, as well as The Times, Independent, Observer, Independent On Sunday and Uncut. Peter went on to interview a Chicago-based design consultant and author of a book on the ‘lifestyle of Concorde’, a collector of Air France-only Concorde items, a dealer in Concorde collectibles, a spokesperson for a proposed Concorde museum and Jimmy Webb.
The finished piece appears in the just published Spring 2015 issue of PrivatAir magazine. You can read it online but here is Peter’s interview with Jimmy Webb:
Jimmy Webb, the man who wrote ‘Wichita Lineman’, ‘Galveston’ and ‘Macarthur Park’, chuckles as he recalls the first item of Concorde memorabilia that came into his hands. ‘I have to be honest, the first thing was a salt and pepper shaker that I stole in the Seventies. I loved it so much, I quelled my guilty conscience. It was like Gollum’s ring, “My precious”.’ He pauses. ‘A conscience is only useful up to a point.’
Webb, who lives in upstate New York, now owns thousands of items of memorabilia, including several editions of Concorde china, silk scarves worn by stewardesses, a model that once appeared in the window at Harrods, napkin rings, photographs, eggcups and cockpit instruments including a control yoke, artificial horizon and machine showing the centre of gravity. He pines for the dial that measured radiation (‘they had to descend if there were solar flares’) but does have champagne glasses (‘they are quite rare, it must have been something people liked to tuck into their purse’) and has made a ‘very trendy’ desk out of aluminium meal service containers.
His love runs deep. Webb flies gliders – ‘the purest form of flying’ – and enthuses about Concorde’s combination of technology and beauty. ‘It’s where technology meets art,’ he says. ‘Concorde ranks very near the top of not only human technological achievement but artistic expression as well. It looks like Picasso drew it, and it wasn’t just one technological breakthrough it was a score of them.’ He wishes that at least one Concorde was still flying. ‘It would be a great symbol for Britain, to have one show up around the world.’
Webb recalls playing lawn bowls (‘I am the only overseas lifetime member of Barnes Bowling Club’) and everybody stopping to stare as the ‘white angel’ flew over. He travelled by Concorde many times but was never tempted to start a McCartney-style singsong because ‘it was too hard to tear myself away from the window’. Of the flight itself, ‘it was awe-inspiring,’ he says. ‘You had to change your underwear because it sounded like catastrophe when they opened up those big engines. It would vibrate through your body and you had a sensation of all this power strapped to your ass.’ Elton John (‘he took Concorde like we take taxis’) is another musical Concorde fan, Webb reveals, and while Webb has never written a song about the plane he may do so yet. ‘I can’t think of a good reason not to,’ he says.
The still-life images were taken by San Francisco-based photographer Michael Winokur and are of items in the collection of Nathan Shedroff, also of San Francisco, who owns a full Concorde service (cutlery, crockery, napkins etc) for 16 and has used them in special seven-course Concorde dinners he has hosted for friends. The images previously ran in Colors magazine. (Posted by AndrewH)