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Tony Hatch Interview




Digger talks to record producer and songwriter/arranger Tony Hatch





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Tony Hatch



Tony Hatch is one of Britain's most accomplished and celebrated songwriters and composers, arrangers and producers. Famous for being the man behind Petula Clark's string of successes in the sixties and for being a forerunner to Simon Cowell as a 'shoot from the hip' panellist on the seventies talent show New Faces, Tony has also been responsible for dozens of TV themes, including Crossroads and Neighbours and involved in every aspect of music, from writing to recording to performing.

Tony first got involved in music as a child. He was educated at The London Choir School and was Head Chorister at All Souls, Langham Place. His first job was at the legendary Tin Pan Alley (Denmark Street) in London, followed by work as a producer with Dick Rowe for Top Rank Records.

After national service, he eventually found himself recording American artists like Connie Francis and Pat Boone while writing for various UK artists and bands. Producer for Liverpool band The Searchers, Tony was responsible for their hits such as Needles And Pins, Don't Throw Your Love Away, Someday We're Gonna Love Again, When You Walk In The Room, What Have They Done To The Rain and Sugar & Spice which he also wrote.

It was while at Pye that he formed his first association with Petula Clark, with the recording of Sailor and subsequently was responsible for many of the biggest hits of the sixties including Downtown, Call Me, Joanna, I Know A Place, Where Are You Now (My Love), You're The One, Forget Him and Don't Sleep In The Subway.

His later work included the musical theatre, cabaret and even contemporary opera such as The Card (book written by Billy Liar writers Waterhouse and Hall) and Rock Nativity (co-written with celebrated children's playwright, David Wood) plus TV themes such as Hadleigh, The Champions, Crossroads, Sportsnight, Man Alive, Neighbours and Emmerdale Farm. The soul outfit, Sweet Sensation, a discovery on New Faces, received his attention as producer in the 70s.

He spent some years living in Ireland where he hosted the programmes 'Words And Music' and 'It's A Musical World'. He then moved to Australia, while continuing to be highly active in the UK music scene. He penned the themes for the TV series 'Seagull Island' and 'Airline' and, of course, for the Australian soap Neighbours. He has been associated with the Variety Club serving as president of the Australian branch and as International President. He is highly regarded by his musical peers for his prolific and influential output.
These days he shares his time between Spain and the UK and had further recent success with the new version of Downtown by Emma 'Baby Spice' Bunton. Tony kindly agreed to talk to us at and here is that interview.

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Digger: Were you always destined to have a musical life? 

Tony: I reckon so yes because, like many families in the late thirties (and I was born in 1939) we had a piano in the house.

Digger: The old 'Joanna'.

Tony: The old Joanna. And my father was carted off to fight the war. So there was just my mother and me for five years. And she loved playing the piano herself. He played by ear and she played by reading music and so the influences were very, very strong. And she used to, in the later stages of the war when I would only be about five or six, take me to see shows in London. And so musical theatre was always being thrust upon me and very pleasurably so too.

Digger: You weren't living very far from London then were you?

Tony: No. We were thirteen miles away in Ruislip, Middlesex. 

Digger: What made the sixties such a special time for the creative arts?

Tony: It was very exciting because for so long we'd been following America. Always following, following. We did have our own writers here in the fifties like Paddy Roberts and there were some good songs coming out but nevertheless we were being dominated by the American influence. And I think that about the mid-fifties when Tommy Steele, Cliff and skiffle came along we started to make music. And it wasn't instantly saleable overseas, but by the time the sixties started then the music we were making - they wanted to hear it and they wanted to sell it in America as well.

Digger: We'd cracked it. I think that 'Telstar' got to number one over there didn't it?

Tony: Yeah, but I had a number one even in 1958 with a song called Look For A Star from the film Circus Of Horrors. And I had a number one with The Billy Vaughan Orchestra and  I was still only eighteen.

Digger: How would you describe the British music business today?

Tony: Oh, well it's vastly different. I mean it's just huge. I went to an industry dinner the other evening where Kylie Minogue was honoured. It was to do with the Brits and it's just a huge business and I hardly know anybody in it. The record companies are bigger and there's an infrastructure now that didn't exist. I mean, every little record company in the sixties had in-house PR and in-house record producers. Everything was in-house, even our sleeve designers. So I mean there's a much more independent sourcing now, of course.


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Tony on New Faces


Digger: What do you think of the 'X factor' phenomenon and the craze for reality TV and being famous for fame's sake?

Tony: I think it's great actually. Because I think it's great television. And yes, there are criticisms that it's like throwing the Christians to the lions. But, you know, these people surely know what they're letting themselves in for. It's just the same as New Faces in the seventies. There were only three terrestrial TV channels then and so we would get 16 to 17 million viewers at 7:30 on a Saturday evening. And I would say to these people "You've just been given the greatest opportunity you ever could have had and you've just thrown it away. You're not ready and you're not right."

Digger: I suppose Simon Cowell was learning a few things from you in those days?

Tony: He said that to me  - he said "You started it all and we're all very grateful to you."

What would Tony Hatch in the sixties have made of iPods, computerised music and the Internet?

Tony: It was amazing in the late fifties and sixties. The technological advancements were incredible because when I came into the business there was just about monaural recording and then within a year or so there was the two-track machine. And then four-track, eight-track, sixteen-track all happening within a few years so by 1964 I'm sure we were recording 24-track. In six years they went from hardly any technology at all to great technology. But it all has to move forward and I'm sure we wouldn't have understood iPods and computers. It still amazes me that I still remember rehearsing a recording session with Petula Clark and Peter Knight senior, the wonderful music arranger/conductor. He arrived at the 'routining session', which is what we used to call them, with the first Philips cassette recorder. Before that everything that the artist and arranger agreed had to be written down longhand on a piece of manuscript paper. But here we were with new technology which meant that once you'd decided what the arrangement was going to be you could just record and you took it home and listened to it . And you were able to do your musical arrangement from that. 

Digger: Why did you come up with the names Fred Nightingale and Mark Anthony for some of your compositions and did aliases ever work better for you than your real name?

Tony: Not really, no. (Digger laughs) There were two reasons there, one for each name. When I first started working at Pye records the boss Louis Benjamin said to me "I'm a little bit unhappy about seeing your name on so many records." And I told him that I'd always been a songwriter before I joined Pye. But he said "Nevertheless, I think it would be a good idea to hide your identity a bit and there won't be so many complaints from the music publishers." So I chose Mark Anthony for the first one. Well, of course, it didn't take very long for the New Musical Express to find out exactly who Mark Anthony was, so I quickly dropped that and reverted to my real name. The only reason why Fred Nightingale came up, and Fred has only ever written one song and that's Sugar And Spice for The Searchers. And that's because I was a bit nervous about these four lads from Liverpool and I didn't think they'd like the song and I knew that it was a deliberate follow-up to Sweets For My Sweet. But they say now that they knew all along that it was me. I said I'd found the song from a promising new young writer and they recorded it and, as you know, it didn't make number one but number two in the UK and also was a big hit in America. It also featured in the Robin Williams film Good Morning Vietnam. I've always used the name Tony Hatch and I've never gone back to those names.

Digger: You have been called the British Bacharach. What do you think of this and what are your favourite Bacharach compositions?

Tony: Bacharach was so important to all of us. When a music arranger composes he does not deliberately copy but you hear a shape or a sound or a structure of a song and you think well, you know, you don't always have to have three chords. We can start in minor keys and we can do other things because people are buying it. So that was the biggest influence he had on me. I never copied a Bacharach song but I always felt I want to listen to everything he's doing because it's like looking at a painting and beginning to understand how the creator is thinking.

Digger: Did you hear his recent album 'At This Time', which included his lyrics as well as his music?

Tony: No I didn't hear that. But I have heard, of course, that sometimes Burt Bacharach has been called the American Tony Hatch. (Digger laughs) So it can work both ways.

Digger: Good. I like that. Chalk one up for the UK... How different is it writing a TV theme as a commission compared to writing a song with a 'free hand'?

Tony: Most songs that I wrote had a specific goal. They had a specific artist in mind and a recording session looming and I would write for a specific artist. The big difference with writing for TV is that you're writing for the subject matter. Obviously, with things like Neighbours which range from comedy to high drama, you just need a good theme which is going to act like a call sign to get people around the television so that when they hear that music they know their programme's about to begin. One of my favourite programmes I worked on was Airline and that had a specific theme - those Dakotas in the post-war era. And I wrote that sound for the look of it all. But things like Sportsnight, I think that's just a great sports theme that will do for any sports programme. As it did for about 30 years.

Digger: And it evokes sport, doesn't it? I don't know whether it's horse and cart or why it works?

Tony: It's pacey and sports, apart from bowls and golf, are pretty pacey.

Digger: You wrote the Hadleigh theme as well?

Tony: Yes, I like that one. And although I'm not credited on the screen I wrote Emmerdale too and I think that's very evocative of Yorkshire moors and dry stone walls and rolling green pastures. You can see the sheep with your eyes closed.

Digger: Paul McCartney did a version of your Crossroads theme?

Tony: He did indeed. And for all the wrong reasons. It is part of and built into a song called Lonely Old People and he thought that the only people who watched Crossroads were lonely old people. He should have known better and that the show was watched by people from age ten to ninety. I'm sure he does now. I was very proud of that version and I think they used it for at least a couple of years.

Digger: The Searchers were ahead of their time in terms of folk/rock. How did this early development come about?

Tony: At the outset of the Liverpool invasion everybody was rushing up to Liverpool to see what was there. The Beatles were one thing but when Gerry and The Pacemakers and Billy J Kramer came along every record producer had to find his own Liverpool band. And so one Friday afternoon I drove up to Liverpool. I was with my singing group The Breakaways who did all the backing for Petula Clark and loads of records I made in the fifties and sixties and they took me to a club in Bootle. And there were The Searchers playing Sweets For My Sweet. And I said this has got be a number one single, would you sign-up with us? And the deal was done pretty quickly, we got them down to London and recorded them. But when I listen to them now, it's very uncomplicated. It's got lots of rhythm guitar and nice riffs and a very simple rhythm and their voices are great. You're right, it is folk-rock much more than heavy rock.

Digger: Many of your songs' lyrics are very sophisticated stories. Where did you draw your inspiration for them - can you give us any examples?

Tony: Downtown was written on the occasion of my first visit to New York. I was staying at a hotel on Central Park and I wandered down to Broadway and to Times Square and, naively, I thought I was downtown. Forgetting that in New York especially downtown is a lot further downtown getting on towards Battery Park. I loved the whole atmosphere there and the song came to me very, very quickly. When I came back to London I sat in the recording studio waiting for something to happen as happened a lot in those days. Largely because the technology was still not that advanced and when you made a record you then had to re-patch the desk to mix it down so there was always a good half an hour while I waited for the engineer to do things. And that was when I used to write a lot of my songs, just waiting in the studio for something else to happen. And Don't Sleep In The Subway was also an adult theme and had a strong story to it. People say about Downtown that it's a mini musical, that it's a Broadway show in three minutes. I like that compliment. 

Digger: I can see that. There is a bit of a trans-Atlantic thing going on in those songs, for the reasons you have explained, but it is funny how Petula pronounces things in a very English way.

Tony: Yes, it's incredible that. I was almost worried about it at first. When Joe Smith from Warner Brothers first heard it in my managing director's office shortly after I'd made it I said to him "Don't you think it's a very English record?" and he said "It's perfect. It's just an observation from outside of America and it's just beautiful and just perfect." And I realised then that was her secret and after that she never Americanised anything she did at all. She always sang with that pure English accent and that great voice that she's got as well.



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Burt Bacharach

Paul McCartney

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Petula Clark

The Searchers

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Les Reed

Simon Cowell




Digger: Maybe that's why the French like her too? Because of her English accent.

Tony: Yes. I think that's true.

Digger: Who do you admire most as songwriters and musicians? And what about other producers?

Tony: Well, obviously it's changed so much these days that I hardly know any of the names of the songwriters and the producers. Especially when the whole group writes the song or it's credited to The Spice Girls and you don't know which one did all the work. But going back, of course, George Martin was an incredible producer. And I'm a member of a gang called the Society Of Distinguished Songwriters, the acronym for which is S.O.D. (Digger laughs) And a lot of my contemporaries and friends are in it. Don Black, Les Reed, Barry Mason, Bill Martin, Phil Coulter, Roger Cook. The big hits of the sixties were all written by these guys and I really do admire them. And these days song selection is as much part of a manager's job as much as it is the producer's or the record company's so you have to admire Louis Walsh for picking great songs for his artists. And Simon Cowell's a great song-picker too.

Digger: I asked Sir George Martin about his favourite genre of music, he said there were only two sorts of music, good and bad. What's your take on this?

Tony: I totally agree with him. Although I have to say that I've never really got into punk and some heavy metal gives me a headache. I like some rap but I'd say, like George, that there's good rap and bad rap. 

Digger: Was Petula's enunciation always her own or did you give her guidelines? For example, on The Other Man's Grass she employs an almost story-telling-like quality to her singing, putting different stresses and phrasing on key words to move the story forward, reminiscent of the immaculate phrasing and timing of Matt Monro.

Tony: That's Petula through and through - it's exactly her. And although she's not much older than me yet I always seems to treat her, when writing a song for her, as somebody very adult. And so The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener has a lot of thought in it. A lot of DEEP thought. A lot of philosophy. And she enjoyed singing those kind of songs.

Digger: How many takes would those songs have taken? 

Tony: My usual working style was to rehearse a lot and only do two or three takes. You see, if you start recording too early and you're not ready by the time you get to take thirteen, people start to get frustrated and despairing. Whereas if you rehearse a lot they don't know where they're up to in the rehearsal and by the time you press the button to record everything is so right and ready to come together at the same moment. Two or three takes - three at the most, and usually take two was the one we chose for the master.

Digger: My friend, Bobby Graham, was the session drummer on many of your recordings. As he didn't read music can you recall how you agreed on the drum parts? How did you rate him as a drummer?

Tony: Drummers like Ronnie Verrell and Kenny Clare were readers and would be able to interpret the drum parts I had specifically written. With somebody like Bobby, or Clem Cattini who also wasn't a great reader to start with -  they had a great feel. So once they heard the arrangement that everybody else was able to read - the bass player, the 'keys' and the guitars, they knew exactly what to do with it and they were very flexible. You could ask them for any style that you wanted or any weight. Bobby's a great drummer and I did use him on many sessions but I think I probably used him where I needed more imagination from the whole group.

Digger: Many of your songs are filled with lot's of unusual key changes. I think you've already touched on that. Both 'Don't Sleep In The Subway' and 'You've Got To Be Loved' change keys three or four times. When you sit down to write a tune, is this a quirk that just naturally flows out of you, or do you make a deliberate effort to stretch the boundaries of song structure?

Tony: Sometimes I think it happens too much. I'll get to the end of the second stanza of the first part and I feel that I want to shift into another gear. Downtown doesn't do that too much, but I Couldn't Live Without Your Love has got one section in the middle that's totally in a different key and then resolves back to the tonic key. And also Don't Sleep In The Subway is built on lots of different key changes and they seem to fit so perfectly. I feel they should be natural and fit into the whole arrangement and structure of the song and that's what I've always tried to do. 

Digger: Petula said to me that a lot of your work was overlooked because of the huge success of your recordings with her and she raves about a lot of your other work. Are there any of your songs that weren't big hits that you feel should have been, and on the opposite end, are there any records that were big hits that completely took you by surprise?

Tony: I did a tremendous amount of recording with Petula and wrote a huge amount of songs for her and with her and also there were lyrics with Jackie Trent involved in a lot of those hits. And in a lot of the album material. And that's what she's thinking about. We had some wonderful album songs that really do stand out but they just weren't good enough to be hits or the record company was nervous about them. 


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Tony with Jackie Trent



Digger: And in the sixties it was still taking people a bit of time to get used to the album format.

Tony: Yes. 

Digger: Why do you suppose that Petula's 'Who Am I' and 'Don't Give Up' were such big hits in the States, but failed to chart in the UK? 

Tony: I really don't have an answer for that. I think that when you write a song you're not really thinking about which market it's going to be right for. Certainly, with Don't Sleep In The Subway, with a title like that it was pretty obvious it was aimed at America but everybody in Britain could understand it as well.

Digger: So were you thinking of an American subway and not the British type which is just a pedestrian underpass?

Tony: I was definitely thinking of the subway where down-and-outs hang out until they're chucked out onto the streets. Who Am I is a great song and one of my favourites and I think Don't Give Up is pretty good too, except somebody has noted, and it might have been you actually, that it has got some shadows of Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You with the brass bit in the middle. It was a bit of a 'homage.' 

Digger: Have you any idea how often your songs are being played around the world each year?

Tony: I would say (thinks....) It must run into a million performances a year.

Digger: I hope they're sending you the residuals or royalties or whatever they're called. 

Tony: I hope so too. (Digger laughs)

Digger: Rod Argent tells me that he has had over three million plays of 'Time Of The Season' on American radio alone. That's a great way to supplement one's income in older years, by writing songs that are still being played constantly today.

Tony: It's a lovely feeling I get. It doesn't matter where I am. I could even be in London and I hear one of my songs on the radio and I get a great kick out of it. I know that there are thousands of performances a year of Downtown in America. Especially because the word downtown is so associated with the centre of entertainment in American cities and towns and not just as I envisaged it as being Times Square, which felt like downtown to me. Wherever you go in America they all have their downtown areas - some of them are not very attractive but some have been beautifully developed with malls, restaurants, movie theatres and clubs and that's good business for the town. And they usually adopt Downtown as their song.

Digger: I know an American who tells me that he grew up loving that song and even now when he hears that piano intro it makes him tingle.

Tony: I love it.

Digger: If you were able to have a dinner party with any guests, living or dead, real or fictional, who would you invite and why?

Tony: My dinner party guests would be...

Stephen Fry - A great raconteur and a fountain of useful and trivial knowledge. 

Frank Sinatra - I worked with him on several occasions but never got to know the man inside. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge - I once tried to write a stage musical about him and his relationship with William Wordsworth. It's a fascinating story but the project stalled when we couldn't fathom out what words and music to put into the mouths of these literary giants. A conversation with 'Sam' might solve the problem. 

Oscar Hammerstein II - I wish I could have collaborated with one of the greatest lyricists of all time.. I would also like to ask him just how high is 'an elephant's eye' (Oklahoma). 

Princess Diana - Beautiful to behold but, I fear, not a great conversationalist although she'd bond with my wife Maggie and they could talk 'shoes' all evening. 

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa - Any artiste of her magnitude who uses one of my songs (Don't Sleep In The Subway) at her wedding is worth having at a dinner party so I can thank her personally and get the best advice on what to see in New Zealand. 

Marilyn Monroe - A second 'candle in the wind' with untold secrets. But would she let go?

Digger: What are your current projects?

Tony: I'm working on Downtown, The Musical. The problem we're having is that most people who approach the book look at the song and write Downtown as an extension of those three minutes. But I have a team of writers in Australia who have just had a big success with a musical called Dusty which is obviously about Dusty Springfield and they've taken an entirely different approach and I think that's the one I will be going with, provided they get the book finished.

Digger: And finally Tony, what do you see as your biggest achievements and what would you still like to accomplish?

Tony: Well, I certainly would like to write another stage musical. You see, Downtown would be a compilation of the songs and I really would like to find another book. And I've got a television project in mind as well all about the British bands and the music makers of the twenties through to the sixties, going through the war years, and that's very exciting. And I'm doing a lot of research on that right now. 



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Tony with his wife Maggie and, right, with Frank Sinatra 



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Tony Hatch interview. November 2007.

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