Barry Blue is a man of many titles. Prolific hitmaker, master producer and one-time pop idol. For decades, his songs and productions have travelled the world and done the talking for him. But now, as he returns to the artist arena with a long-awaited new recording project, he has plenty to say, and we have plenty to learn.
So...do we really know the history of this London-born musician? Yes, he's known for a bespoke catalogue of songs that have been covered or sampled by global stars such as Celine Dion, Diana Ross and Andrea Bocelli through to Missy Elliott, J.Dilla, Redman and Philip Bailey of Earth Wind & Fire. Yes, Blue wrote such pop staples as Dina Carroll's 'Escaping,' Toto Coelo's 'I Eat Cannibals,' Five Star’s ‘All Fall Down,' Brotherhood of Man's European No. 1 ‘Kiss Me Kiss Your Baby’ and many other chart notables. But were they really the start?
Do we know, for instance, that Barry’s first bow in the music business was when his school band the Dark Knights won the coveted ‘Silver Star‘ on the '60s children’s talent show Stubby Kaye’s Silver Star Show? They were thus spotted by a talent scout called Tim Rice (yes, that one), who worked for the legendary Cliff Richard/Shadows producer Norrie Paramor. Together they produced the unheard, rare-as-hen’s-teeth ‘She’s All Around Me,' Barry’s first ever song, written when he was only 13 years old.
Did we ever hear of the time the youthful Barry tracked down the then superstar Gene Pitney outside the London Palladium and insisted he listened to another one of his earliest songs ‘Rainmaker Girl,' which would appear on a single five years later? Maybe you've heard that Barry was the bass player in the band Spice, later to be known as Uriah Heep, or that he worked for the Bee Gees for two years in 1969-70, under whose wings he honed his writing and production skills.
So, Blue's timeline dates way back before his '70s heartthrob days in the vanguard of Glam-Pop, and well before he met fellow aspiring singer-songwriter Lynsey de Paul. Together they formed an early creative partnership, writing many hits including 'Sugar Me' and 'Dancin' (On A Saturday Night),' both of which became huge worldwide successes. The duo became separate fixtures in the charts, on his and her bedroom walls and on stages everywhere.
Although Barry was a very successful recording artist, he now admits that he was more comfortable on the production side of a hit record. No one will forget his work with Heatwave, for whom his brilliant production merged exhilaratingly with a pre-Quincy Jones-era Rod Temperton. It was Blue who put the incongruous harp at the beginning of the anthemic three million seller 'Boogie Nights' to superb effect, and oversaw their exemplary Too Hot To Handle and Central Heating albums in their entirety (who can forget
their classic 'Always and Forever', million-seller ‘The Groove Line’ and UK top ten hit 'Mind Blowing Decisions'?).
Barry’s production and songwriting skills virtually took over the charts throughout the 1970s and '80s and included world-wide hits for Bananarama, Patricia Kaas, Amazulu, Siedah Garrett (writer of ‘Man In The Mirror’ for Michael Jackson), Cheryl Lynn and his alter-ego Cry Cisco!'s ‘Afrodizziact,' recognised as one of the soundtracks to 1989’s Second Summer of Love.
Barry also co-wrote the very first record played at the infamous Studio 54 in New York, ‘Devil’s Gun’ by C J & Co. This seven-minute opus stayed atop the Billboard dance chart for an impressive six weeks in 1977 and has been voted as one of the most influential songs of the disco phenomenon.
Blue's writing and producing career continued into the noughties with such artists as The Saturdays and The Wanted. All in all, it's a body of studio work that has sold some 30 million records worldwide, in a career of more than 45 hits in as many years as a writer, producer and artist. Consider, also, his pre-eminence as a writer for film, television and advertising, in Only Fools and Horses, The Sweeney, The Long Good Friday, The Eyes of Laura Mars through to Breaking Bad, Sex in the City and the Netflix series The Get Down, to name just a few.
Barry is steeped in all areas of the business, from his days as a studio owner in London — his Aosis Studios played host to groundbreaking releases from Depeche Mode, Sinead O’Connor and Bronski Beat among many others — to his campaigning work for the royalty betterment of songwriters and artists, which he continues to this day. Few people have been so immersed for so long in so many different sectors of the business and mastered all of them.
But for all of that stunning, prolonged success, there's been something missing. That's where the new Boy In The Moon EP comes in, previewing an album he's been wanting to make for a very long time, for which the clue is in the title: Songs From The Heart Book.
These, for the first time, are the songs recorded in the way that Barry has always wanted them to be heard. This new EP and album are not a ‘greatest hits’ revisited, nor an exercise in nostalgia, but a chance for him to reclaim the compositions that have meant the most to him. There's no ‘overblown production’ - just a set of songs as natural as a gentle breeze, their tasteful acoustics augmented by elegant piano, acoustic guitar and soaring harmonies.
“These are my legacy songs,” he says with pride but not a trace of arrogance. “They're the ones I now realise no one ever should have sung before me, because they're all too personal. I couldn’t leave them in the past. I needed to drag them kicking and screaming back into the light where they belong.
“Whenever I write anything, it's like writing a life in three minutes, and it usually is about my life,” he goes on. “Of course, I'm thrilled when an artist of the calibre of Celine Dion or Diana Ross records one of my works, but there's always the feeling that I let these songs go. It's not that other artists didn't do them well, but now it's time to get them back.”
The title song of the EP, 'Boy In The Moon,' is what Barry calls his “guardian angel” song. It’s about how there's always a light at the end of the tunnel when darkness descends. Written when his son was born, it's a heartfelt reminder that there's always someone watching over you in times of trouble or despair. As we said, these songs are personal, and Blue considers the lyrics of 'Boy In The Moon' among his best ever.
'Boy In The Moon' was previously a hit in Australia and New Zealand for the ARIA Award-winning Kiwi artist Margaret Urlich. With some symmetry, it was the follow-up to Urlich's version of another celebrated Blue copyright, 'Escaping,' with which she hit No.1 and which at the 1989 New Zealand Music Awards won Single of the Year.
That much-travelled song grazed the UK charts in 1992 for female group Asia Blue, then became a major 1996 hit for the classy English pop-soul vocalist Dina Carroll. Now, Barry has taken 'Escaping' back under his wing in an alluring version for the new EP.
'Boy In The Moon' and 'Escaping' are accompanied in Blue's remarkable return to the recording spotlight by two more pages from his musical diary. 'Delicate Beauty’, coveted by many but kept for himself, is his unabashed ode to his wife; 'Lost For Words' is for his daughter, and brought the house down when he performed it at her wedding.
If the EP exudes an appealingly low-key vibe, it's intentional. “The tunes are very sparsely produced,” says Blue. “I haven't gone to town and made a big production about anything, I've left it to the melodies and the lyrics. The songs were written as poems, stories, vignettes of my life, and they're not the ‘hat’ that people associate with me, which is the record producer or the pop guy.”
This, then, is a new chapter in what was already a unique book, by someone who's been immersed in the music business since he was barely in his teens.
As he comes back to the microphone for the first time in so long, Barry Blue is making a statement and settling some unfinished business. “A lot of my contemporaries have now departed, Rod Temperton and Lynsey de Paul among many others,” he reflects. “I've been thinking, 'This is a mountain I've been wanting to climb for 25 years, I'd better do it whilst I still can.'
When you get to a certain point in your life,” he continues, “you want to look back on what you've done and say, 'That was good, I'm proud of that.' There was always one piece missing, which is that no one's ever heard these songs by me. I’ve never had the chance to take them in, nurture them and do them justice…and now I have.”