International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting
Barry Mason Interview Part 1
||The impression is often
given that during the sixties, the professional songwriter was made
redundant - that the self-contained band (the ultimate example being The
Beatles) and the singer-songwriter (the ultimate example being Bob Dylan)
took complete control of the charts. But it isn't true. The swinging
decade was also a marvellous time for people like Mitch Murray, Peter
Callander, Tony Hatch, Chris Andrews, Les Reed, Geoff Stephens, Don Black,
John Barry, Roger Cook, Roger Greenaway, Hal Shaper and Tony Macaulay - all
essentially non-performing, "backroom" songsmiths. And there was Barry
Born in Wigan and brought up in Blackpool, Barry Mason was always a
dreamer. As a child, he loved songs and singers and show business,
and would stand on the busy Blackpool sea-front thinking how
wonderful it would be to be a singer or an actor.
With school and national service over, he headed for the dreamer's
ultimate destination, Hollywood, where he spent three years without
making any real headway.
Back here, it was initially the same story. He was understudy to
Albert Finney at the Royal Court Theatre, he managed to wangle a
very brief appearance in the Finney movie "Saturday Night and Sunday
Morning", singing the big Adam Faith hit, "What Do You Want?", and
he had a short-lived spell in pop management.
It was via management that he stumbled into songwriting and after a
couple of minor hits came a stream of very, very big ones. The
dreamer had found his niche.
In the sixties, with Les Reed, he wrote "Here It Comes Again" (No.4
UK, No. 27 US), "I'm Coming Home" (2 UK), "Everybody Knows" (2 UK),
"The Last Waltz" (1 UK, 25 US), "I Pretend" (1 UK), "Delilah" (2 UK,
15 US), "Kiss Me Goodbye" (50 UK, 15 US), "Les Bicyclettes de
Belsize" (5 UK, 31 US), "Winter World Of Love" (7 UK, 16 US), and
"Love Is All" (12 UK, 19 US), and "Love Me Tonight" (9 UK, 13 US).
In the seventies, he found new hit partners. With Tony Macaulay, he
wrote "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" (1 UK, 5 US). With Roger
Green-away, he wrote "There Goes My First Love" (3 UK), "Can I Take
You Home Little Girl" (10 UK), "You Just Might See Me Cry" (2 UK),
and "Say You'll Stay Until Tomorrow" (40 UK, 15 US). With Lakis
Vlavianos, he wrote "When Forever Has Gone" (2 UK).
It will not surprise you to learn that his songs have sold an
estimated 50 million records.
You have a very illustrious track record, which I would naturally
like to talk about later on. But what are you working on at the
I've always got several projects I'm working on. I've got a couple
of shows in various stages of development; I've bought the
publishing to The Tics; which is a children's series on BBC Radio 5
- we hope to make that into an animated film; and I've just started
my own one-man show, where I go out with just a piano player and
sing bits of my hits, sing some new songs, but mainly chat, talk
about the story behind the songs, about my life: it goes down very
How many times have you done the one-man show?
I've done about a dozen, I suppose. I did a little tour and I've
done a few for charity.
What size audience do you play to?
About 400 or 500. I'm also working on some songs in the studio at
the moment. I'm going to do an album for Europe. Some new songs and
some I've had in the drawer for a long time - not obviously
commercial ones, but ones I've always liked.
Didn't you do an album once before, for Magnet Records, in the
That's right. I was glad to do it but it wasn't quite right. I was
trying to sell myself too much as a singer, I think, and I'm not a
singer at all, really - not as such.
I just love to interpret songs, to feel the lyric. I think I've got
the answer to the way I want to do it now. I'm a middle-aged man, so
I'm not looking for stardom; I'm looking for satisfaction. Just a
little album that might do well in Europe.
Were the new songs written alone?
No. Almost everything I write, ninety-nine per cent, is with
somebody and I find that great fun. You meet about this time in the
morning (10 a.m.), usually, have a cup of tea, chat, and then...
Ease yourself into it?
Absolutely right. One will say, "What have you got?" and one of us
will produce an idea. I'm good at getting verbal ideas. I might be
watching television and an old movie might be on, and they'll come
out with a line that might be a bit corny in the movie, but I'll
think, "Well that's a great idea for a song". And I'll make a note
of it. Or I'll remember a bit of a tune I've got in my head.
You are mainly a lyricist, though, aren't you?
Yes, but I like to contribute to the melody if I can. I have written
a few melodies in my time. The theme for "Midweek Sports Special"
(TV) - that's mine. Anyway, once we've agreed on an idea, we'll work
on it and in a day, the back of the song will be broken, although
the lyric may not be finished.
Who are your current collaborators?
My main collaborator is a guy called Henry Marsh - he used to be in
Sailor (successful mid-seventies band) - and we've been working for
a couple of years now. We've done this musical for America called
"Malibu", about a surfing band, we're working on this album I'm
doing for myself, and we're both representing a singer-songwriter
called Stephen Kane. We've signed his publishing and we're going to
produce his records.
You have your own publishing company, obviously.
Yes, Barry Mason Music.
Do you have an administration deal?
No, I do my own. I have a girl to help me and I put my own stuff in
it, mainly, but I've now got Stephen Kane in it.
Didn't you used to have a company called Marksmen Music?
That was with Mark McCormack (high powered American agent). His
company, IMG (International Management Group), used to handle my
financial affairs and we formed a publishing company together for a
while. Mark was the producer of a show called "American Heroes",
which I wrote with Don Gould and an American guy called Michael
Johnson, and which is the best thing I've ever been involved with -
and there's a story there.
Mark heard the demos for the show and said, "I want to put it on".
And he found us this big American millionaire named John to back it.
And John came to England, came to the studio, heard the songs and
said, "Yes, I'll finance it - no problem". So he flies us to
America, where we do a workshop, knocking the show into shape and
re-writing every night.
And the work-shop is directed by Tom O'Horgan, who did "Jesus Christ
Superstar" and "Hair" in America, and it costs $250,000. And we're
in the hotel one night, all set to open on Broadway, and we're
watching the news, and we suddenly see our backer with three members
of the FBI and a suitcase full of cocaine! It was John DeLorean, the
car man who got £32 million off of the British government! So we
almost had the first British musical to be financed by the British
Was there an album released?
The album was another story. WEA paid us a fortune for it - it was
their number one project - and a week before it was due to be
released, WEA got done for chart rigging! So nobody would touch
their product. They couldn't sell a record!
Isn't that the trouble with musicals? You spend so much time on them
and they may never get staged.
Right, which is exactly why, last year, I decided to tackle a show
from that end of the problem - in other words, work out something
that would be very easy to put on and then figure out what to write.
So I started with the idea of no cast, no music, no set - and tried
to get as near to that as I could! And I came up with a one-woman
show called "Beryl", about this girl called Beryl Marsden, a singer
in Liverpool who's never really made it but has never stopped trying.
A real person?
Yes. She's an unsung hero to me. She's had the most amazing,
horrific life, terrible things happened to her in childhood, but
she's still out there, smiling.
No relation to Gerry (Marsden, of Pacemakers fame)?
No, but a contemporary of The Beatles and friends with them all.
She's in her middle forties now, but a lovely looking woman and a
wonderful singer. So we're trying to get that on in Liverpool at the
Playhouse or the Everyman next year.
What, for you, is the big attraction of musical theatre?
Well I've written so many pop songs and you hear them on record, you
hear them in lifts, you hear people singing them, and that's
wonderful, very satisfying. But it must be so much more satisfying
to be in a theatre, to see, say, a boy and a girl fall in love, to
suffer with them, then finally to see them sing a goodbye song as
they part. That must be the ultimate emotional experience. And
that's the sort of thing I want to do.
Have you had a show staged yet?
Yes. I did one called "Miranda", about a mermaid, an old story,
which ran at the Charter Theatre in Preston for ten days, and was
packed out, went very well. But I was in the middle of the "American
Heroes" thing at the time and I couldn't devote much attention to
it, so I just presumed that critics and producers and would-be
backers would go and look at it. But nobody did.
So it never went any further?
No, but if I did it now, I'd know better. I'd know you have to get a
limousine and take two or three of these lazy buggers up there, fly
them by helicopter or whatever, to see it. You can't rely on them
just to go.
If we could turn to records now - what recent covers have you had?
I get a lot of stuff in America and the continent. Barbra Streisand
did "Why Let It Go" on her album which came out at the beginning of
last year ("Till I Loved You"). Then I had half the David Hasselhoff
album ("Looking For Freedom"), all new material - he's a huge
superstar in Europe and America (due to starring roles in the TV
shows "Knight Rider" and "Baywatch")
Did that sell?
Huge, massive. Three million. Then I wrote most of Engelbert's album
the Christmas before last, which did over a million in Germany and
Austria alone - all new material. Then he (Humperdinck) had a "Best
Of...." - I'm always getting those - which had about five of mine on.
Who did you write the Streisand song with?
Alan Hawkshaw. Then I had a thing called "G.I. Joe", which I wrote
with Simon Climie (of Climie-Fisher), done by a girl named Katja, a
Dutch girl who's quite big on the continent. And another called
"Don't Stay For The Sake Of The Children", which I wrote with Ed
Welch, a Dutch release with Julie Forsyth, Bruce Forsyth's daughter,
and Dominic Grant (who used to be in Guys 'N' Dolls) quite a lot of