International Songwriters Association (ISA) Songs And Songwriting • Mitch Murray Interview

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Mitch Murray Interview

Introduction by Jim Liddane
Mitch Murray was born Lionel Michael Stitcher on January 30, 1940, in Hove, England, In the early 1960s, he rose to prominence as one of Britain's most successful songwriters demonstrating a remarkable ability to capture the spirit of the times with catchy tunes and insightful lyrics. His songs became chart-toppers not only in the UK but also internationally, contributing to the global phenomenon of British pop music.

Murray's earliest and indeed most intriguing success came with the song "How Do You Do It?" which was initially recorded by The Beatles, before being handed instead to rival Liverpool band Gerry and the Pacemakers. Their version went on to top the UK Singles Chart in 1963, marking Murray's first number one hit. Its infectious melody and memorable lyrics propelled it to become a classic of the era.

Following this triumph, Murray continued with a string of hits for various artists including the Gerry and the Pacemaker's follow-up "I Like It", "I'm in Love" for Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, "You Were Made for Me" and "I'm Telling You Now" for Freddie and the Dreamers, "I Knew It All the Time" for The Dave Clark Five, "Even the Bad Times Are Good" for The Tremeloes, "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde" for Georgie Fame, "Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha" (Cliff Richard), "Ragamuffin Man" (Manfred Mann) "Hitchin' a Ride" (Vanity Fare), "Turn On The Sun" (Nana Mouskouri), "Avenues and Alleyways", "Las Vegas" and "I Did What I Did for Maria" for Tony Christie, "Billy Don't Be a Hero" (number one in the UK for Paper Lace with the cover version by Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods reaching number one in the US), and "The Night Chicago Died" (number one in the US also for Paper Lace).

His ability to write songs that resonated with diverse audiences across different musical styles solidified his reputation as a versatile and prolific songwriter and his contributions to the music industry were further recognised with several prestigious awards, including multiple Ivor Novello Awards for Songwriter of the Year.

In addition to his prowess as a songwriter, Mitch became highly regarded as onr of Britain's leading professional humorous speechwriters, with several best-selling books including "Mitch Murray's One-Liners For Weddings", "Mitch Murray's One-Liners For Business" and "Mitch Murray's One-Liners for Speeches on Special Occasions".

Over the years, Mitch Murray's songs have remained as vibrant and relevant as ever, continually finding new audiences through covers and revivals. His legacy as a master tunesmith and architect of some of the most beloved songs of the 20th century endures, has guaranteed his status as an icon of British songwriting.

Nowadays, he lives on the Isle Of Man, which country recently issued a series of postage stamps dedicated to its famous resident, and where Jim Birminghsam interviewed him for the International Songwriters Association.

Was music important to you from an early age, or did you discover it later?
A bit later I was about 22 when it hit home how much it meant to me.

And what sort of thing from the charts were you listening to at the time?
I wasn’t listening to very much chart-wise. In my early days, my teenage days. I loved the music of the thirties. My father had given me lots of records from his collection.

Was it a musical family you came from?
No not at all, most of my family were tone deaf! My father was the only one who could claim to be able to get near a note.

Did you have any formal musical training?
No - I think that would’ve screwed me up!

You were really there at the start of arguably the most important time in popular music in the UK certainly and maybe the world - the early days of the sixties, What were you actually doing at the time your song “How Do You Do It” was offered to the Beatles?
I was just writing songs with an enormous amount of optimism, living at home with my parents. But the fact that I wasn’t listening to very much current music at the time meant that I wrote my own way and if you listen to my stuff, the melodic structures are very much like the thirties. My stuff tended towards the twee rather than towards rock!

There’s always been a lot of humour in your work.
It’s the number one thing in my life, even when I stopped writing songs - I switched over to writing comedy books and books on speech writing.

What did you think of the Beatles version of “How Do You Do It?”
I hated it. They weren’t putting any effort in to it and I thought it was in great danger of ending up as a B side. I felt the song deserved better. Dick James agreed with me and George Martin said they would record it again, but Brian Epstein sold me the on the idea of Gerry & The Pacemakers recording it.

You wrote a book “How To Write A Hit Song” which famously inspired Sting to start writing. Do you think you can teach someone to write songs?
Not unless there is the magic there, but I tell you what you can do, you can teach people how not to write songs, how to avoid silly mistakes with structure and lyrics. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given really early on was - just listen to the radio, see what is happening commercially.

So you were working as a freelance songwriter - did you have any ambitions to be a performer?
Not really. I didn’t have the vocal ability although that didn’t stop me from actually making the odd recording here and there. And usually they were quite odd!

I know you’ve stopped writing now but you spanned quite an era while you were having hits.
Oh yes, it went on for over ten years. The difference was that every time I wrote a song - it was from scratch. A freelance songwriter is only as good as the song itself. It’s not like being in a band where you have fans waiting for your next song even before it is written.

It must be nice that Tony Christie has had a comeback with one of your songs?
Yes. I produced “Amarillo” so I produced the biggest selling single of 2005.

At which point did you think that’s it - I’ve done my bit?
About 1976, the market had changed and the business changed so that you couldn’t get records out unless you were part of a production deal and I just wasn’t interested. I thought, “you know what - I’ve had my best years - time to call it a day.”

You started at a very exciting time for music in this country. What would you say has been the biggest change in the music scene since then?
I think it would be the change in the power balance, from the big record companies and publishers, to the people who make the music. And it’s going more and more in that direction.

Also of course people can make a top sounding track at home now with the technology available.
That’s right but what won’t ever change is the need for a good hit song. You can do all the production you like, but it’s still the song that has to come through.

Finally of all the songs you’ve written - which three are you most proud of?
Well three songs made a huge difference to me. "How Do You Do It" started it all off. Without that, I wouldn’t have had "I Like It" - another Number 1 for Gerry and the Pacemakers. Then I went very cold for a while but came back with "The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde". Finally, I started a record company (Bus Stop Records) with a friend of mine called Peter Callander but not much was happening until we wrote and released "Billy Don’t Be A Hero" which was also a number one in America. They’re the three that meant the most.

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