International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting 


            Barry Mason Interview Part2

            At this moment, it appears that it is  just over here that you're 
            not in the limelight?
            I never give anybody any songs for England - they don't seem to like 
            middle of the road songs very much. It's a strange market over here. 
            I don't know if I'm crazy, but I think there is an MOR market. If 
            someone like Barry Manilow does the right album, it sells a bomb 
            here. Neil Diamond used to do albums and sell here. Michael Bolton 
            is MOR, really, and he sells millions. 

            I think there's a huge MOR market here but people seem to be afraid 
            of it; record companies just don't go for it. They seem to be 
            embarrassed that anyone over 25 buys records! Yet the biggest 
            demographic of all is the Elvis Presley generation - 50-year-olds. I 
            saw this marvellous thing on telly the other night, about a guy 
            who's head of a very respected research company. He was talking 
            about the new TV franchises and about the advertisers and the 
            markets they're going to cater to, and he was saying that anybody 
            who ignores the over-50's market does so at their peril.

            An artist you've been strongly associated with, Tom Jones, surely 
            proved something with his big hit song from the show "Matador". What 
            was that if it wasn't MOR?
            That was great, the "Matador" album, but since then, he seems to be 
            looking for something else. With all due respect, I think he should 
            just be looking for great songs, great ballads. If you do a great 
            ballad, no matter what people think, everybody buys it. I mean, "The 
            Power Of Love" (Jennifer Rush) was the biggest record of the year - 
            everybody bought it. And the second biggest record of the same year 
            was "I Know Him So Well" (Paige/Dickson). Both songs very big MOR 

            Let's go back. How did you get into songwriting?
            I met this boy called Tommy Bruce and I spent my last few pounds 
            making a demo of him singing an old Fats Waller song, "Ain't 
            Misbehavin'" - and he had a hit (No.3, UK, 1960). Suddenly, I was 
            his manager, not knowing anything about the business. 

            But the important thing was, I was in the business - and when people 
            ask me what to do to become a songwriter, I always say, "Try and get 
            into the business in any capacity, then you're a step nearer to it". 

            So Tommy had this one hit, didn't have any more, and I lay in bed 
            one night thinking, "I'm sure I can think of a song for Tommy". And 
            I thought of this little song called "You're My Little Girl", 
            luckily remembered it the next day, put it on the tape recorder, got 
            it written out by one of Tommy's band, and it was cut as a B-side. 
            I'd written my first song! Then I began to write with various 
            backing groups. 

            The first person I wrote with was Peter Lee Stirling, who later 
            became Daniel Boone (two UK hits, early 70's), and was originally 
            Peter Green, and he was with a group called The Beachcombers, who 
            became The Bruisers, who backed Tommy Bruce! And my first chart 
            thing ever was a thing called "Blue Girl" for The Bruisers, which I 
            wrote with Peter (No.31, UK, 1963), and my first significant hit was 
            "Don't Turn Around", also written with Peter, which The Merseybeats 
            did (No.13, UK, 1964). And then my first international hit was "Here 
            It Comes Again" for The Fortunes - I was writing with Les Reed by 

            You were introduced to Les Reed by a music publisher - Stuart Reid. 
            Did you hit it off straight away?
            Certainly, as far as writing went - socially we weren't that close. 
            But there's something happens when he plays that piano. It's almost 
            like a faith healer touching somebody. They say a faith healer 
            touches you and you feel the heat. When Les plays the piano, I feel 
            the heat. He can play "Chopsticks" and make it sound like a symphony.

            You used to get together on Sundays, I think
            Yes, at Les's little house in Woking (Surrey). He had the sweetest 
            wife, June, who made us endless cups of tea - which is just what a 
            writer needs. He wants to be fussed over and looked after! Les's 
            company published most of our early material and it was called Donna 
            Music, after his little daughter. And he had a little picture of 
            this three-year-old girl on all the sheet music, like a little logo.

            How long before you had that first hit with Les?
            Before we had a hit? Oh, three or four years, I would think.

            You were getting things recorded before that?
            Odd things, yes.

            Who did the demos?
            Les did most of them and they were ridiculously simple by today's 
            standards. Les would do a piano track and put a voice on it, maybe 
            double-track the chorus, maybe do some harmonies on it. If he felt 
            ambitious, he'd put the piano on twice - once just playing rhythm, 
            then a second layer, more floral.

            If Les was the publisher, what would happen next?
            Well Les had a deal with Francis, Day & Hunter (since bought by 
            EMI), so technically, they were the promoters, but we fixed the 
            records, really, because we had a relationship with people like 
            Gordon Mills (who managed Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck). Les 
            knew Gordon from his old days in the John Barry Seven and I knew him 
            as a poker-playing friend - he was part of our gang. 

            I always remember Gordon coming to one poker game and saying, "I've 
            found this singer in Wales and I'm going to manage him". I said, 
            "Shut up and deal, Gordon!" Well, it was Tom Jones. Gordon took me 
            to see him in some grotty little hall somewhere and I said, "He's 
            too good to be commercial. His voice is too good". Because he was 
            right against the grain at the time. Bobby Vee was a big star then, 
            with this pretty voice, very delicate and very smooth - and here was 
            rough, tough Tom!

            What can you recall about your 'breakthrough' song, "Here It Comes 
            It was a piece of luck, as a lot of things are. Usually, Les and I 
            would work together, build the song from scratch, but this time, Les 
            had done the tune separately. The Fortunes had just had a big hit 
            with "You've Got Your Troubles", a fabulous Cook & Greenaway song, 
            and Les had done the arrangement, so we were in the pole position to 
            present them with their next song.

            Your song had a similar feel to "You've Got Your Troubles"
            Of course - it was tailor-made for them. They'd done this little bit 
            of counterpoint singing in "Troubles", so we put a bit of that in 
            our song ... it was just tailor-made.

            What was your feeling when the song happened?
            I thought, "I've cracked it, wonderful, I'm rich!" And then the 
            following year (1966), Les and I wrote and wrote and wrote and 
            didn't have any hits. We had stuff coming out every week, or it 
            seemed like it; but for maybe 18 months, we didn't have any hits. 
            Then we had a slew of them.

            Yes - in 1967 you had a rather famous Sunday afternoon where you 
            wrote three big hits and ended your barren spell: "Everybody Knows" 
            (The Dave Clark Five), "The Last Waltz" (Engelbert Humperdinck) and 
            "I'm Coming Home" (Tom Jones).
            Yes, we did have one magical afternoon. What I remember particularly 
            is that we were writing "Everybody Knows" and we couldn't find a 
            middle eight. As it turned out, there wasn't one; the song was 
            finished and we didn't know it. It was the most utterly simple song. 
            So we're struggling over that, and it's getting dark in Woking, and 
            we have another cup of tea, and Les starts telling a story about 
            how, when he was young, he always knew when the village dance was 
            over, because he could hear the compere in the distance saying, 
            "Take your partners for the last waltz". And he knew his Mum and Dad 
            would be home soon. 

            There was a long pause and I said to Les, "Has there ever been a 
            song called 'The Last Waltz'?" And 20 minutes later, words and music 
            were finished.

            Did you think, because it flowed so quickly, that it had to be a hit?
            No. I'm always surprised that anything's a hit. I'm a born 
            pessimist. I've had songs I've been so excited about and nothing's 
            happened. A song called "So It Goes", from "American Heroes", is the 
            best song I've ever written and nothing's happened to it yet. What I 
            remember about "The Last Waltz" is making the demo and people 
            laughing at us. It was 1967, everybody was into flower power and 
            smoking dope and tripping out - and we were doing a waltz!

            One source quotes over 500 covers of "The Last Waltz"
            I've heard it in every language there is. One record came back in 
            Japanese and it said on the back: "Written by Earry Mason". Instead 
            of a 'B', they'd put an 'E'. But hearing it sung in Japanese, 
            Swahili ... it's really strange.

            Was that your biggest song in terms of covers?
            Either that or "Delilah".

            That, too, is said to have over 500 versions.
            Well it's possible, because you could have five or six different 
            versions in one country - like France. Les and I often had different 
            versions of the same song in the Top 50 somewhere. I once had 26 per 
            cent of the German Top 50!

            "Delilah" was about jealousy. Are you often inspired by a theme?
            Normally, it would be a line, especially a title line, that would be 
            the inspiration for me. For "Delilah", I was inspired by "Jezebel", 
            the old Frankie Laine hit (pre-UK chart). I used to love "story 
            songs" when I was a kid. I did a thing called "Drive Safely Darlin"'

            Tony Christie?
            Yes. Which was a story with a sad ending: "A stranger stood there in 
            the rain and I knew without a glance/He said, there's been an 
            accident - she didn't stand a chance/Drive safely darlin". Tony 
            Macaulay always says that if the song had had a happy ending, it 
            would have been a much bigger hit. (No.35, UK, 1976).

            How come you were suddenly writing something called "Les Bicyclettes 
            De Belsize"?
            Absolutely weird, that was. They asked us to do the score for a film 
            with that title - a beautiful, arty film, no dialogue, about a boy 
            on a bike, who falls in love with this girl on a poster. So Les and 
            I do four or five songs, and the day comes to present them to the 
            moguls, and they say, "Great. Wonderful songs, boys - but where's 
            the title song?" So I said, "With all due respect, you just can't 
            write a song called "Les Bicyclettes De Belsize. It's not possible". 
            And they said, "We must have a title song. We're in the studio 
            tomorrow. Please!" 

            So Les and I walk back up Charing Cross Road (London), quite 
            depressed, go into Francis, Day & Hunter, find an office with a 
            piano, get two strong cups of tea - our drugs! - and that afternoon, 
            we wrote it. And ironically, it was the only song in the movie that 
            meant anything. The others were lovely songs but none of them sold, 
            while "Bicyclettes" is now a standard. So that was a lucky break. We 
            were forced to write it.

            Isn't Sinatra supposed to have recorded - but not released - one of 
            the others -"Julie"?
            Well I don't know if he ever actually cut it, but I think he was 
            going to. Then Simon Dee (English DJ/presenter) did a cover version 
            of it and they say that stopped Sinatra doing it!

            Another big Engelbert song for you was "A Man Without Love". Was 
            that written with Les?
            No, that was a big Italian hit and Gordon Mills said, "Do a lyric 
            for Engelbert and make it romantic". Then Gordon brought me another 
            one from Italy and said, "Do a lyric for Tom and make it sexy". And 
            that became "Love Me Tonight".

            Your partnership with Les Reed broke up around the end of the 
            sixties and you bounced straight into Tony Macaulay... 
            That's right and we did "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" for 
            Edison Lighthouse.

            I read that that was written at a party.
            There are lots of stories about that song! You find this happens - 
            you don't mean it to, but you forget what happened and you make up 
            your own stories! As I remember, it was written on the end of my 
            girlfriend's bed when she was ill!

            You didn't have so many hits with Tony.
            No. If we're talking about collaborators, we must mention Roger 
            Greenaway, because I had several very big hits with Roger. For The 
            Drifters we wrote "There Goes My First Love" and "Can I Take You 
            Home Little Girl?", and we also wrote a No. 1 country song for Tom 
            Jones called "Say You'll Stay Until Tomorrow", which was a very 
            under-rated song. It was number one in the number one country chart 
            and even writers in New York can't get into that! So for somebody 
            from Wigan!.... I was quite proud of that. I remember I cut some 
            country sides in Nashville with The Jordanaires (Elvis's legendary 
            back-up singers) and this producer said, "You can't write country 
            music! You have to live here for 20 years to know what it's all 
            about!" And straight after that, I had a country number one with Joe 

            Part 3