International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting • Bill Martin Interview

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Bill Martin


Introduction by Jim Liddane
Born William Wylie MacPherson in Govan, Glasgow, Bill Martin is a songwriter and music publisher who once said that he decided to become a writer on hearing Bobby Darin's 1959 hit 'Dream Lover'!

Although as a youngtser, he had studied at the Royal Academy Of Music, his first taste of fame was as a professional footballer with Scottish club Partick Thistle, before moving in 1960 to South Africa to play for Johannesburg Rangers. While there, he started penning songs, and two years later, returned to the UK, determined to become a full-time songwriter. He worked for a while in Denmark Street before emerging with his first published song, 'Kiss Me Now' recorded by Tommy Quickly. The following year, he went into partnership with songwriter Tommy Scott, and had releases by The Bachelors, Twinkle and Van Morrison.

In 1965, he teamed up with Phil Coulter, and over the next ten years scored hits with Ken Dodd, Geno Washington ('Hi Hi Hazel'), Los Bravos, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, The Troggs, Mireille Mathieu, Dick Emery ('You're Awful But I Like You'), Tony Blackburn, Billy Connolly, Cilla Black ('Surround Yourself With Sorrow'), The Foundations, The Dubliners ('Scorn Not His Simplicity'), Cliff Richard ('Congratilations' which has been covered more than sixty times), Sandie Shaw ('Puppet On A String' which was covered by more than 70 recording scts), and Elvis Presley ('My Boy').

He has achieved four UK Number Ones - 'Puppet On A String' (Sandie Shaw), which also won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967, 'Congratulations' (Cliff Richard), 'Back Home' (The 1970 England World Cup Squad) and 'Forever And Ever' (Slik). He has also penned million-selling songs for the Bay City Rollers ('Saturday Night', 'Shang-A-Lang', 'Remember', and 'Summerlove Sensation'), as well as for Kenny ('The Bump' and 'Fancy Pants'), and has even penned a number of American country hits for acts such as Waylon Jennings and Bill Anderson, including the Number 1 country classic 'Thanks'.

With Phil Coulter, he founded Martin-Coulter Music, and signed such songwriters as Van Morrison, Billy Connolly, Christy Moore, Dónal Lunny, Eric Bogle, Sky, Midge Ure and B. A. Robertson. He later bought out Phil, and eventually sold the company to EMI Music.

In 1983, he wrote and produced the hit West End musical 'Jukebox', which was the precursor of the many 'jukebox' musicals to follow and has also built up a huge property portfolio in both the UK and Portugal (including John Lennon’s former home 'Kenwood' at St George's Hill in Weybridge, Surrey).

He is a founder-member of SODS (the Society Of Distinguished Songwriters), whose members include Don Black, Mike Batt, Gary Barlow, Sir Tim Rice, Tony Hatch, Justin Hayward, Barry Mason and Mitch Murray, and is both a three-time Ivor Novello Award winner and a three-time ASCAP Award winner. In addition, he is a Freeman Of The City Of London and indeed also a Freeman Of The City Of Glasgow!

Debbie Rial interviewed Bill Martin for the International Songwriters Association's publication "Songwriter Magazine".

What instruments do you write songs on?
Piano - but I was a drummer in the Boys Brigade!

What inspired you to write songs in the first place?
My father's piano-playing and singing of Al Jolson songs.

Have you ever been or had ambitions to be a performer?
No, but I was on Top Of The Pops once with a song I wrote titled "Its So Nice" for a group called Soft Pedalling. The song flopped, I think it was because my mike was not switched on - well that’s my excuse!

It must have been special when you managed to combine both your love of music and your love of football when you wrote ‘Easy Easy’, the Scotland World Cup Anthem in 1974 and also before that when in 1970 you wrote the No 1 single ‘Back Home’ sung by the England World Cup Squad. Did you get any ’flack’ being a Scottish songwriter writing for the England team at the time?
Yes, but from the Scottish team! They were upset especially when I asked them to sing "Back Home" on their LP! Incidentally, "Back home" was the first football song to get to Number 1.

On your website, your Scottish pride clearly shines though. Do you think your Celtic roots reflect in your songs?
No - maybe "Shang-A-Lang"! (said with tongue firmly in cheek).

Your songs are always up-beat. Are you generally an upbeat kind of guy?
Yes.

As a founder member of SODS, is there any other member of that group that you would particularly like to write with?
Well I have written with Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook, Les Reed and Stock and Aitkin - but I would also like to write with Gary Barlow or Guy Chambers.

How did Elvis Presley's cover of your song ‘My Boy’ come about?
I made an album all about a divorce with Richard Harris. After the release of the Harris album, Richard told me Elvis was singing the song in his act so I wrote about a hundred letters to him and eventually he recorded it!

Cliff Richard recently released a 50th anniversary album which included ‘Congratulations‘ and which came free with the Daily Mail. What do you think about the current trend of major artists giving albums free with newspapers?
Great for the artist and the songwriter as we all get paid, and it gives more promotion to the song and the artist. The music publishers and the record companies really don't care about old songs or artists anyway.

Is there anyone you particularly like on the current music scene?
Killers, Glasvegas, Franz Ferdinand and Amy Winehouse.

You’re still very much thought of as THE Eurovision songwriter. Are you happy with this label?
Why not? Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Elton and Bernie, Don Black, Les Reed, Barry Mason, Roger Greenaway etc., all tried in the 60's!

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was asked to write the UK’s Eurovision entry, in fact a television programme was based around it. Were you approached?
No, it was a Lloyd Webber show and he picked an American songwriter to write the lyric, Dianne Warren. As far as I know, no British songwriters were approached - maybe Andrew spoke to Tim Rice for old times’ sake.

Tell us about your Eurovision experience - did they come to you or did you have to compete with other songwriters?
In the cases of "Puppet" and "Congratulations" (not to mention my English lyric for Serge Gainsbourg in 1965 with Twinkle singing France Gall’s winning song "Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son"), I was up against Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook, Mitch Murray and Peter Callendar, Les Reed, and Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber - the crème de la crème of British songwriters..

As far as I know, only three major songwriting teams never entered the UK Eurovision heats at all - John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and Pete Townsend and Ray Davies. I believe Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and Don Black all entered the Eurovision.

Is there a special formula for a Eurovision song? Do you approach it differently with an international audience in mind?
Yes. "Puppet" was so different from what was on the UK charts at the time, when you remember that it was released the same year as "Whiter Shade Of Pale" and "Sergeant Pepper"!

Do you still follow the contest, and what do you think of our recent entries?
It is mow really a TV visual extravaganza, more interested in costumes and dancing - and the UK entries have been mostly that way. The songs have simply not been good enough which is proved by the results.

The UK hasn’t won since 1997 ("Love Shine A Light" performed by Katrina and The Waves). Where do you think we’re going wrong?
No originality!

You’ve said in previous interviews that "Darlin’" sung by Frankie Miller is the song you are most proud of. As a music publisher, what song do you wish you had written?
Too many! "I've Got You Under My Skin", "I Got You Babe", "You've Got Your Troubles", "Angels" and on and on and on!

As the winner of many worldwide awards for your work, which has pride of place on your mantelpiece?
Apart from my Ivors, it is my Variety Club Silver Heart. Very few songwriters have that!

Since 2006, you’ve been travelling the globe as a celebrity speaker regarding song writing. What’s the question most frequently asked by people?
How do you write a hit song!

What’s next on the musical horizon for you?
Working on a stage musical titled "Robert Burns", my autobiography and my future TV show 'The Stories Behind The Songs'.

Finally, what advice would you give to fellow songwriters?
Keep trying. Never give up. Keep up with current trends but also find out what kind of song you are best at. And above all, try to get involved with an artist - a singer - a band - something.

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