International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting Bruce Welch Interview

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Bruce Welch Interview



Introduction by Jim Liddane
Bruce Welch was born on in Bognor Regis, a seaside town in Sussex, England in 1941. The son of a music-loving family, he showed an early interest in the guitar and as a teenager, formed a skiffle group which included his school friend and fellow guitarist Hank Marvin, which led to them performing in local dance halls and pubs.

In 1958, the four-piece group travelled to London hoping to sign a record deal, but only Bruce and Hank stuck it out, eventually joining singer Cliff Richard's backing band The Drifters (which would in time become The Shadows with the addition of bassist Jet Harris, and drummer Tony Meehan).

Although initially intended only as a backing band for Cliff, The Shadows would go on to become the most successful instrumental group in British pop history, known for their distinctive guitar sound and their disciplined stage routines. In a career spanning forty years, they released 21 studio albums, five live albums, 25 EPs and 67 singles - scoring a string of hits including "Apache," "Kon-Tiki," "Atlantis", "Dance On", "Guitar Tango", "Wonderful Land," and "Foot Tapper."

After the departure of Harris and Meehan, Bruce continued to perform and record with The Shadows and also worked as a producer for Cliff Richard, The Shadows and for other artists including the Tarney Spencer Band, Roger Whittaker, Olivia Newton-John, Charlie Dore and Cilla Black.

An accomplished songwriter, Bruce has written or co-written several hits for The Shadows ("F.B.I", "Foot Tapper", "The Rise And Fall Of Flingel Bunt", "Shindig" and "Theme For Young Lovers"), as well as for Cliff Richard ("The Young Ones", "Bachelor Boy", "I Could Easily Fall In Love With You", "On The Beach", "Please Don't Tease", "I Love You", "Time Drags By", "Don't Talk To Him" and "Summer Holiday"), Olivia Newton-John ( "Please Mr. Please"), and Marvin Welch & Farrar ("Faithful" and "My Home Town").

Bruce has also been involved in several business ventures, including a recording studio, a music publishing company, and a restaurant and in 2004, was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to music.

Jim Birmingham interviewed Bruce for the International Singwriters Association's publication "Songwriter Magazine" .

How old were you when you first realised how much music meant to you?
I wanted to play from the age of 14 when Hank (Marvin) and I were at school together and we heard Lonnie Donegan and Elvis and we just wanted to be part of the new music that was happening, Hank was a banjo player then and we had a group at school called the Railroaders Skiffle Group. Hank was a traditionalist but I was more mainstream, I loved rock-n-roll and skiffle and certainly Lonnie Donegan was a big influence.

How did you develop from a skiffle band into The Drifters, which later became The Shadows?
Hank and I came down to London with the skiffle group for a talent show, came third in the show and decided to stay on, doing odd jobs just to live. The other two lads went back up to Newcastle. We finished up at the famous  "2I's" coffee bar and met up with Cliff and his manager who were looking for a lead guitarist. Hank got the job and said he would only join if I came with him. So in October '58 we were in the band, and what was supposed to be a three-week contract ended up thirty odd years.

What was the first track you played on that had some success?
We played on a track called "Livin' Lovin' Doll" recorded in November '58 which was Cliff's third single, and from there on, we were away. ("Livin' Lovin' Doll" reached No 20 in January 1959).

When did you start to write?
Very early - about 16. We were influenced in our writing by Buddy Holly and a lot of the early doo wop records - Danny and the Juniors,  those sort of people - but very much influenced by Buddy.  His songs stand up today, just well structured, with good melodies. With a decent arrangement they are absolutely timeless .We loved the Everly Brothers and I remember hearing the acoustic guitar intros to "Bye Bye Love"  for the first time -  that was it for me - I just wanted to be a rhythm guitarist. And of course being with Cliff, we had the perfect vehicle for our material, I think he recorded virtually everything Hank and I wrote so we were thrilled!

When you had a new song in those days, how would you present it to Cliff?
We'd just sing it to him with a couple of guitars -  "this is how it goes" sort of thing!

I've always enjoyed your vocal material, performed as Marvin Welch & Farrar and even in the Shadows you would do some vocals. Did you find it a bit confining because people want to put you in a box as that "famous instrumental group".
You have to go back to how we started. We thought we sounded like Don and Phil Everly until we heard the first playback of our recordings and we realised we weren't Don and Phil. Of course our first tracks were vocal tracks - not instrumentals. We had three single vocal flops and were looking for some material to have a hit.

We were on a tour and with us was a songwriter called Jerry Lordan who'd had a hit with a song called "Who Could Be Bluer".  We told him we were at a bit of a cross-roads and he said "I've got an instrumental - can I play it for you?" So he gets out a ukulele and sings the tune of "Apache" which we loved. We took it to Norrie Paramor but he wanted us to record the "Quartermasters Store". We managed to persuade him to record "Apache" but he still wasn't sure so he said "I'll take it home and play it to my daughters and see which one they choose". Anyway they went for "Apache" and it went on to sell a million copies and was Number One for six weeks. So we became established as an instrumental group, but we always did vocals just to break it up. That's where the "Shadows Walk" came from - just to make it a bit more interesting to watch from out front.

At the time you were still Cliff's backing band and here you were having Number Ones of your own. How did that sit with Cliff at the time?
We were his backing group from October '58 to July '68 and Cliff loved it. We were still his group, he was thrilled because he had bought the Stratocaster for Hank so he really had a hand in the sound. What happened then was we would open the show as The Shadows, and then back Cliff for the second half. Suddenly there were two chart toppers on the same bill, making it a mega night.

When did you first get into production?
I first got into production myself when I teamed up with John Farrar. Olivia Newton John was my girlfriend at the time and we brought John over from Australia and hit 1970 at the time when the singer-songwriter era was kicking in with the likes of James Taylor, Carly Simon - those sort of people, and we wanted to be a part of that with Marvin Welch and Farrar. We also started producing Olivia with a Bob Dylan song we'd nicked off the George Harrison album "All Things Must Pass" called "If Not For You". That was a monster hit for her world-wide.

How did you come to produce Cliff and basically rescue him from what was a lean time in terms of chart records?
Peter Gormley who was the Shadows manager, as well as Cliff's, put the word out that anyone who could come up with some decent songs could also have the chance to produce Cliff, and coming off the success with Olivia I put some songs forward and got the job, recording "Miss You Nights" "Devil Woman" and a track called "I Can't Ask For Any More Than You"  all of which found themselves on the album  "I'm Nearly Famous" which was a huge success for Cliff. The last major production we did for Cliff was "We Don't Talk Anymore" which went on to sell something like five million copies.

Are you actively involved in production now?
No I'm not - nowadays I'm actively involved in walking the dog!

But you do still have a publishing company
Yes, I do have a publishing company. We started our own company in 1960, which was unheard of then, so a lot of the songs Cliff recorded and other people of course, we owned, so we've always done very well from the publishing side of things. And the publishing side keeps going, Cliff's stuff is still selling well and of course when the CD came along and all the albums were re-released - it was Xmas all over again!

How important was songwriting to you?
It was always very important. We were on the road so much, in TV studios, film studios, wherever, that  there was always time to kill, and that's how we wrote. Most of the songs came very quickly, I always say "Summer Holiday" took twenty minutes to write and people say to me "Yes - it sounds like it!"

Is there a song you are particularly proud of?
The song I'm proud of which wasn't the biggest hit, was a song, I recorded first. It was the only single I made under my own name and it sold about three copies. I wrote it with John Rostill and it was about the splitting up between Olivia and me.

Do you think it's difficult now for someone who is not a performer but is just a songwriter?
I think it is harder these days as so many acts write their own material and producers have a hand in it, it's almost a factory situation. In the early days you could make a very good living as an independent songwriter but these days it would be harder. Even if you write a good number and get it to an act, the chances are they want a slice of it.

Finally how would you sum up your career?
A charmed life - a combination of  songwriter, producer and artiste.

Copyright International Songwriters Association, Songwriter Magazine and Jim Birmingham. All Rights Reserved.

Postscript

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