Bob Barratt started working at Abbey Road studios in 1960 for Norman Newell as an “office boy” at the age of 22, as Newell found Barratt to be particularly polite during their previous interactions. During the following years he worked with a number of the studios’ most famous personnel, including Norrie Paramor and Tim Rice and with a number of well known artists, including Vince Hill, producing his cover version of the song Edelweiss, Max Boyce and The Wurzels including their 1976 Number One single “Combine Harvester (Brand new key). In 1985 Barratt started Grasmere Records, a label specialising in brass band and organ music.
Bob died of liver cancer on January 30, 2004, aged 67.
By the time I knew Bob, he had left EMI and as well as his own Grasmere MOR label, was taking freelance record producing commissions. I interviewed him in one of his favourite restaurants opposite Olympia and would venture to gently suggest his liver had taken a fair old bashing over the years. He was a large gentleman with a gentle nature
As a schoolboy I was always more interested in who wrote the songs than who sang them. I bought records and also sheet music at one shilling (5p) a time with my pocket money and I got to know the names of the big songwriters of the time – Bob Merrill and Al Hoffman (l to r below)
I studied the structure of the songs as they were in the 1950’s, (they were) in many ways far simpler than they are today. I listened to the chords and the rhythms and in my teens sent my (own) efforts off to the (music) publishers. If you were lucky the publisher would give you a (cash) advance but I had everything rejected at that time. At 18 I went into the army to do my National Service and then my father wanted me to follow in his footsteps and get a steady job. I went into the City as an accountant (but) instead of eating lunch I spent my hour taking the tube to Tottenham Court Road knocking on doors in Denmark Street (then the home of the music publishing business), and as a result got to meet a lot of people. They were very friendly even though I was intruding into their lunchtime. (I remember) in particular (John Godfrey Owen) Paddy Roberts who was a big pop songwriter of the time. He wrote “Lay Down Your Arms ” (a big hit for Anne Shelton), “Pickin’ a Chicken” (Eve Boswell) and “I’m in Love for the Very First Time” (from “An Alligator Named Daisy” and was winner of an Ivor Novello award in 1955) (Paddy) had his own publishing company in Denmark Street and was also at that time Chairman of the Songwriters’ Guild , which in this country was the nearest thing they had to a trade union, but in those days was more like a club. I was a very new member but everyone was allowed to submit a song occasionally to one of the Directors. Paddy liked what I was doing and fixed me a record on HMV – “Early Memory” by Barry Barnett (N.B. I can find no trace of this song having been recorded!).
As a result of that banging on doors in my lunch hour, Paddy Roberts said “Why don’t you come into the business full time – your mind’s obviously more on music than accountancy”
At that time it was a whole lot easier than it is now. You could start at the bottom as an office boy, learn the ropes, talk to talented established people. I started with a dozen of other young people, but as I was older, having done National Service they had an advantage on me. However, I’d done my homework during the summer, memorising as much as I could of the EMI catalogue and all the prices. I started in Castle Street (EMI’s then head office, just off Oxford Street) in Customer Services under a man called George Wilson, taking calls and letters from dealers and members of the public. I’d been doing that for about six weeks when I got promotion into the A&R (Artists and Repertoire) department, which is what I knew I wanted to do. It came about in an unusual way because Norman Newell, one of the established producers at the time, a great lyric writer and something of a boyhood hero on mine, stopped me in the lift one day and said he’d noticed me going about the building and that I seemed very polite – I’d called him ‘Sir’ – and how would I like to go and work for him. This was a dream come true. A&R at that time had different connotations from today – it combined the role of today’s A&R man in finding stars, doing deals and scheduling releases, with today’s record producer. It did the whole lot, took deals, paid arrangers, employed musicians and had the say in the studio.
Norman threw me right in at the deep end – the first day I joined his department we were out on the road to Oxford to see a (musical) revue called Pieces of Eight, starring Kenneth Williams and Sheila Hancock. We were chauffeur driven there and back and I don’t think I had ever been up so late in my life. Still at work at 9.00 next morning. But it gave me confidence in meeting the stars.
To be continued
©David Hughes, 2015