You are in the Special Features section - Don Black who wrote the lyrics for Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun and The World is Not Enough. Don has worked with many of the world’s leading composers - John Barry, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Quincy Jones and Elma Bernstein and has written songs for Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Meat Loaf, Michael Jackson and Lulu.

Don Black

 

 

 

Digger talks to Don Black, the man behind the lyrics to many notable film scores.

 


 


Don Black started his entertainment career as a stand-up comedian, probably one of the hardest ways to make a living. This evolved into management, notably for Matt Monro, arguably the best 'crooner' Britain has ever produced. But it's as a lyricist that Don is best known and has received the most acclaim. His work includes Born Free, for which he won an Academy award and To Sir With Love, both hitting the number one spot in the States; he received a Broadway Tony award for Sunset Boulevard and has written a quintet of James Bond songs - Thunderball, Diamonds are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun and The World is Not Enough. Don has worked with many of the world’s leading composers - John Barry, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Quincy Jones and Elma Bernstein and has written songs for Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Meat Loaf, Michael Jackson and Lulu.

 



Don Black

 

Don kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Digger at www.retrosellers.com ................

 

 

  

  

Don has written the lyrics for some notable movie scores

 


 

I start by asking Don why did he decide on a stage career and how did he make the transformation from stand-up comic to songwriter. "My brother was on the stage as a comedy impressionist. It seemed a fun way to make a living and I enjoyed it for a while but it was difficult earning a crust. I had had some experience in Tin Pan Alley, first as a junior at the New Musical Express and then as a song-plugger at various music publishers. After a couple of years as a professional comedian I decided to get a regular job as a song-plugger again." In those days, Tin Pan Alley was centred around London's Denmark Street and many notable musicians and songwriters could be seen regularly touting their wares to the publishers and agents above the music shops and cafes there.

What does Don see as his biggest achievement? " My biggest achievement as a writer must be my winning an Oscar for my song Born Free. Having said that I am equally as proud of winning two Tony Awards on Broadway for my work on the musical Sunset Boulevard."

Interested in how Don gets the motivation for his craft, I ask him where the inspiration for his songs comes from? "It's impossible to say where inspiration comes from. It is somehow easier when you write a song for a show because there is a situation - a scene, and characters to push you in some kind of direction. With pop songs you have to imagine a self induced scenario. It's trickier." Don has worked with some of the greatest scorers of music that Britain has produced. How would he describe John Barry and Andrew Lloyd Webber? "John Barry and Andrew Lloyd Webber are very different people, and yet, when they are at the piano they are very much the same. Both trying to find the best melody they can. In fact, thinking about it, they are both influenced by a title and, maybe a few opening lines. I never like to supply a completed lyric first. I would much prefer to wander around London with a tune in my head and try to come up with the right words."

I ask Don what he might be doing if he hadn't been a successful lyricist. "If I wasn't a lyricist I'm pretty sure I would have been a manager. I used to manage Matt Monro and many other people when I was working at NEMS. Elton and Bernie once asked me to manage them in the early days. I think I understand an artist's emotions." Matt Monro has had something of a resurgence in popularity recently and is recognised as one of our greats along with contemporary vocal and interpretive talents like Dusty Springfield.

Having been awarded Oscars, OBE's, Gold and Platinum Discs, Tony and Ivor Novello awards, what unrealised ambitions does Don still have? "I would just like to keep doing what I'm doing. If someone wants to name an airport after me that would be nice!" 

What was it about 50s and 60s London that made it such a huge force in the creative arts - fashion, music, photography, art? "The 50's and 60's were great days for fashions changing and  songs being written in a different way. Although the Beatles were amazing I do think they started the dubious trend of everybody believing they could write songs. As a result the singer/songwriter phenomenon has been a mixed bag; very hit and miss. Some terrific talents have come to the fore but some mediocre ones as well."
So looking back on the sixties, what are your fondest memories from those times and what did the sixties teach you? "When I think of the sixties I think of youth and enthusiasm. A time when we believed everything was possible."
 

 

  

  Andrew Lloyd Webber

Matt Monro

    

  

  Bernie Taupin

John Barry

 

Who does Don consider as the leading 'movers and shakers' of the sixties in any fields of the creative arts? And what about today? "The Beatles, Dylan, Presley,...the usual suspects. What I think we are lacking today are truly great entertainers. I miss Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis and Dean Martin and a whole bunch of people who knew how to connect with an audience. It's tough to think of anyone around today who grips you like those guys did - and they did it with humour."

Can Don choose three of his songs that are his favourites? Why these? "When people ask me what are my favourite songs I usually think of the circumstances in which they were written.  I like Tell Me On A Sunday because it was one of the first ballads I wrote with Andrew and I have happy memories. Also, On Days Like These from the film The Italian Job. It gave me the chance to work with Quincy Jones and the irreplaceable Matt Monro. I'm also fond of To Sir With Love - it was such fun working with Lulu on that film."

 

Lulu

 

I always consider lyricists and songwriters as reflectors of emotion who are able to make us feel a particular mood from their words and music. So what makes Don laugh, what makes him angry, what makes him sad and what makes him hopeful? "Thankfully, I do not get angry very often, especially about business. I think it's  very draining to get uptight about the state of the music industry. Every generation has it's heroes, change is inevitable, and that's a good thing. I am hopeful for the future because you can't keep talent down. I would like to make an observation. All the great stars - like Frank, Sammy, Dean, Streisand, etc. had one thing in common - they didn't write their own songs. It would be nice to see some emerging singers who sing other people's songs. I think we would get a lot better quality."
 
What are Don's happiest memories of his association with the late, great Matt Monro? "As far as Matt is concerned I could write a book about him and neither of us has time! Let's just say he was the most remarkable singer this country has ever produced and the most down to earth. He was truly gifted. Although we were together for close to thirty years it's the small details I remember most clearly - the curry dinners, the games of pontoon, his ready laugh. He was one of the great performers of his generation... I could go on and on. I loved the man."

When asked if he can give us any examples of any lyrics Don has banished to the waste bin, Don declines my daft question gracefully.  It was only out of a kind of morbid curiosity that I wanted to see what might not have been considered Grade A material, but we will never know!
 

 

  

 Cole Porter

Sammy Cahn

 

 

Finally I ask Don who are the best songwriters and lyricists of all time in his view? "Lyric writing, when it's done properly, is very difficult. I once compared it with doing your own root-canal work. My favourites are too numerous to mention but here's a few: Johnny Mercer, Larry Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Frank Loesser, Sammy Cahn, Jerry Herman, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, etc. "

To my mind, music, as life itself, is a cyclical thing and trends and fads come and go, but I'm hopeful that there will always be a place for well-crafted, intelligent, emotive and meaningful words to a song.

 


 

I would like to thank the very busy Don for his kind cooperation with this interview.

For further reading and reference:

Don's website, www.donblack.co.uk , has a wealth of information about Don.

Don's listing on the Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0085246/

The Born Free Foundation:  www.bornfree.org.uk

Lulu Website: www.lulu.co.uk

Matt Monro Website: www.mattmonro.com

Andrew Lloyd Webber's website: www.reallyuseful.com

John Barry website: www.johnbarry.org.uk

 

 

 

Don Black interview.

This page layout and content  is the intellectual property of www.retrosellers.com and cannot be reproduced without express permission. 

We are not responsible for the content of external websites.

If we have inadvertently used any image on this web site which is in copyright and for which we, or our retailers on our behalf, do not have permission for use, please contact us so that we can rectify the situation immediately. Images in this article are, to the best of our knowledge, either in the public domain or copyrighted where indicated. 

 


www.retrosellers.com 

Home Page | About | Contact | Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy