Barry Ryan Interview

Barry Ryan alongside his songwriting brother Paul produced some of the lushest most inventive music of the 1960s and 70s, including European chart topper ‘Eloise’. In a rare interview transcribed from his extensive podcast interview with Jason Barnard, Barry talks about the tracks that shaped his career.

barry ryan

Jason: Firstly. I’ve been trying to track you down for seven years.

Barry: You’re joking.

I did a podcast on music related from where I’m from, Leeds, seven years ago. I got in touch with Jeff Christie, …

Oh yeah. I know Jeff.

Pete Waddington, who was in a band called The Dawnbreakers, and folk artist called Trevor Midgley, also known as Beau. But I just couldn’t find you.

I’m a hard man to track down, Jason. But the thing is I do very, very few shows these days. As you know I’m a photographer and, basically, I don’t really like the public like that much anymore, to be frank with you. I’m quite happy to stay fairly private and low key. So if you’ve tracked me down I’m seriously impressed.

That’s good stuff. Honestly it’s a real honour and privilege to speak to you because I am actually a big fan and my daughter is named after ‘Eloise’, so thank you.

Oh. How lovely. It’s funny I’m doing tele next week in France, in Paris. There’s a big show there twice a year called ‘Anniversaire’. It’s actually a really nice show. A guy called Patrick Sebastian. The last time I was on they had this big discussion about the name Eloise and he was telling me, and I didn’t know this, that when ‘Eloise’ came out in France, apart from the fact that it was number one and number two at a different time, which was very rare. It was number two by a French guy called Claude Francois. He told me that the name Eloise, that year, there were about 20,000 registrations and the next year there were 700,000 registrations…

Gosh.

… which I thought was quite funny.

So there’s lots of Eloises.

There’s a lot of Eloises. I don’t know what the collective term for an Eloise is, but there’s a lot of them.

A handful.

A handful. Definitely. I was thinking of maybe doing a photograph. I’m going to talk to him about it. I’d love to get, I’d love to put a mail around and get a thousand Eloises and do a photograph in the Place de la Concorde called ‘The Thousand Eloises’. Like a conceptional piece. It’d be quite nice. I’m gonna try and organise that.

Tell us about your early days with your brother and I think your mum, Marian, was also a pop singer.

She was. Mum was…. First of all, how are you Jason? We’ve been trying to get in touch with each other for a while. It’s only taken me seven years. You must be losing your touch!

My mum was a singer, actually, in the fifties. She had a TV show called ‘Spot The Tune’. Of course in those days, there were only a couple of stations then. When you were a star then, you really were a star. It’s a whole different kind of thing. Paul and I were brought up in Leeds, you’re right. We went to boarding school there – Fulneck in Pudsey. We were there a couple of years and then we came down to London, didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We had no skills, we weren’t academic, we came from quite a working class background, so the idea of going to university then was just not an option really so they didn’t really know what to do with us, so mum said “why don’t you guys become singers?” We thought, “Sounds a bit mad that, but why not? Better than working for a living.” So we did. And, of course, everyone knew my mother and knew that she was our mother so it was a little bit tough at first.

Barry Ryan; Marion Ryan; Paul Ryan by Keystone Press Agency Ltd

Left to right: Barry Ryan, Marion Ryan, Paul Ryan by Keystone Press Agency Ltd, vintage print, 12 October 1965

We did get a lot of knocks and probably quite rightly Jason, to be honest. We weren’t that talented. We had a bit of talent but not a massive amount. We could sing a bit but we sort of got into it. We had a couple of hits, nothing massive, I think top 10s, and then we did some quite interesting stuff. The music started getting quite good, I thought. We started working with Mike Hurst, Mike Leander and Cat Stevens and there were some quite good songs, quite trippy sixties music, which I really liked. It wasn’t until Paul called it a day that he sort of got the song ‘Eloise’ going that led the way to this.

And it’s interesting because the show reflects the journey that you had, especially including with your brother Paul who was integral to your musical career. ‘Don’t Bring Me Your Heartaches’, is a traditional mid-sixties ballad. Then each step of the way the sound moves on.  The production on 1966’s ‘I Love How You Love Me’ is pretty cool. Interesting use of bagpipes.

Yes. That’s right. He was a guy called Don Ferguson. He was our roadie and he was ex-military guy and a very good pipe player. So we had this idea of using bagpipes on it. He used to march on stage in his full regalia when we used to do it on tour. I remember doing that tour. It was a fantastic tour with the Small Faces, Roy Orbison, The Yardbirds, I think. There was a real mixture of people and he used to come on dressed in all the gear and he’d get terribly nervous. His mouth would dry up. The pipes would pack in halfway through, it was hilarious, the poor sod. It was quite a nice track.

You mentioned Cat Stevens earlier, Barry, so we’ve got ‘Keep It Out Of Sight’ and that’s a real… it’s kind of a bit more… Not only was it written by Cat Stevens but Mike Hurst produced it. It’s got that real kind of Matthew and Son/I Love My Dog feel to it.

It’s a good track. It’s a really nice song. I’ve been very harsh on the stuff Paul and I did together but I kind of reassessed things recently and listened to some of the stuff. They’re  some really nice tracks. There’s a lot of seriously dodgy ones as well. We did try different stuff. What I loved about me and Paul, we did go for it. To say eclectic would be an understatement! There were some really truly horrible things like ‘Hey Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shout’ and ‘Claire’. I mean these awful big swishy horrible songs but we were just kids and were pointed towards the studio, given a little push and got on with it. But every now and then we did something we really liked and that was one of those tracks and it was a really nice production. Funnily enough I saw Yusuf (Cat Stevens was a stage name for Steven Georgiou who changed his name to Yusuf Islam in 1978) a couple of weeks ago. He was on in London and I took my son to see him, my son and step-son, we went down to see him. He was still fabulous on stage. He’s still got a great voice.

You guys knew each other in that scene I understand?

Yeah. Paul shared a flat with him for about a year. In fact he sent me a demo of this fantastic song called ‘Cup Of Tea’ that he and Paul wrote together when they were like 19. It was a good track. It was actually a really good song.

‘Keep It Out Of Sight’ was from 1967 and we leap forward in yet another year. ‘Madrigal’, the b-side to ‘Pictures of Today’ for me, that’s one of the great tracks that you did as a duo Paul and Barry Ryan.

Well ‘Madrigal’ I haven’t really listened to it to be honest with you. ‘Pictures of Today’ I really like. I think it’s a really good track.

Was that your last single as Paul and Barry Ryan in ’68?

I think it was, actually, Jason. That was when Paul sort of downed tools and said that’s it, sod it, I’ve had enough. He hated being on stage. He really didn’t like it at all and I think that’s when he really got the bug for the idea of becoming a songwriter. He went into the studio with Graham Nash – I remember he did a song called ‘Fifi The Flea’, a really nice track. It was a little before that but it got him in the mood to really write songs. He wanted to be in the background.

I think the first song Paul wrote was a song called ‘The Show Is Over, We Are Going Home’ which is a really fantastically Beatley, sort of Sergeant Pepper song. It’s wonderful. He wrote that before ‘Eloise’. ‘Eloise’ was the second song he wrote.

Was ‘Pictures of Today’ one of Paul’s tracks or was that another cover?

No. It was a cover. I don’t really know who wrote it. I think it was Mike Leander. I think Mike produced it. I’ve got a funny feeling he wrote it too. I thought it was a really good song ‘Pictures of Today’ I really liked it but ‘Madrigal’, I’ll give it a listen Jason. I haven’t heard it since I did it.

It’s a cool track. It’s one of the more psychedelic songs you did. It’s on YouTube.

Is it? Oh, I’ll check that out.

 

So, moving on from ‘Pictures of Today’, 1968, again we leap forward a year. You mentioned this before is that Paul did a bit of a Brian Wilson, really. Kind of stepped into the production/writing field and you fronted that. The single that you released, ‘Eloise’, was a bit of a monster of a track. Such great writing from Paul.

Well, he didn’t have any rules to break. That was the lovely thing. He was not academically musical. It was not a craft he learnt. He just sat at a piano, painted the keys different colours so he could remember them and got writing. That’s what I loved about it. He sort of had no rules to break.

I remember, before ‘Eloise’ we went to Richard Harris’ house to one of his mad parties and he played ‘MacArthur Park’ to me and Paul. He’d got a rough mix of it. I always remember Paul listening to it, Jason. I can always remember seeing his face. I could see something on his face and he was thinking “I’ve got to do something like this.” He just loved it. He actually locked himself away and wrote ‘Eloise’. He really did close the door of the room and write it. It took him about three days and he came out and he played it to me and I thought “what’s this? You can’t have a slow bit, a fast bit, five minutes. No-one’s going to play this Paul…” Paul was absolutely right. We tagged it onto the end of a session that Paul and I did with mum actually. We only had the chance to do two takes because it was so long but, when we recorded it, I always remember this because Jimmy Page was on it and Glenn Campbell and John Paul Jones – they were all session guys – and I remember when we finished it the string section that recorded it kept their bows. I’ve never, ever had that before in the studio. It was always looking at their watch and getting out there quick.

And everyone wanted to come up to the mixing desk at IBC, everyone wanted to come up to listen to it. Now, that’s really, really unusual with sort of hired professional musicians. It’s a very unusual thing. People just crowded in there to listen to it and then everyone said after hearing it the first time, ‘You’ve got a really big hit record there, you do know that, don’t you? You know what. We did. It was a very remarkable thing, Jason, but we did know that we’d done something very special.

You did and I’ve heard that it was an influence on Bohemian Rhapsody.

It was. I mean I remember reading Freddie’s memoirs. He was influenced by it. He really, really liked it and also he used it as an argument to release Bohemian Rhapsody because his record company didn’t want to release it but he said “That Barry Ryan had a big five and half minute hit. Why can’t we do it too?” The only thing was in America they butchered ‘Eloise’. They cut the, oh it was terrible, they cut the beginning out. They cut the end out and they cut the middle out. They basically did about four verses. They basically wrecked it, cut it down to about two and half minutes. It sold about eight copies and got into the Top 50. It would have been a big hit in America. I’m absolutely convinced of it but the record company just couldn’t… The idea of releasing a five and a half minute song was kind of comical to them.

So after ‘Eloise’ we’re moving to ‘Love Is Love’. That’s another great single. It’s really got that driving tempo sound.

I like ‘Love Is Love’ a lot. It’s a really, really, really hard song to sing because at the end it just goes bananas. It’s really funny. Thinking of Steve/Yusuf, after ‘Eloise’ came out he wrote a song for me called ‘Wild World’. He said “do you want to release this?” I listened to it and it was a really good catchy simple song but I wanted to stick with Paul. In retrospect it was too close to ‘Eloise’. I really thought it was a fabulous song ‘Love Is Love’ so I was really happy to release it. It did pretty well. It got to number one in quite a few countries actually, but not in England.

barry ryan

The interesting thing about that superb album ‘Barry Ryan Sings Paul Ryan’ is that there were so many songs that could or should have been singles off that. ‘Why Do You Cry My Love’ seems like another song that could have been big.

It’s actually a really good album. I’m very proud of that album. And I listen to it sometimes. I’ve started to listen to it again sometimes and it’s actually a really fabulous album. I don’t care if that sounds big-headed or facetious because it really is and what I loved about Paul is that he really tried new things.

It didn’t always come off and when it did it was fabulous and the best song Paul ever wrote for me was called ‘The Hunt’ which I absolutely loved. Funnily enough I did a show last year in Italy and this guy came up to me. He was a really big record producer in America. I can’t remember his name but he just walked up. I remember it was so nice. He walked up to me and said, “I just want to shake hands with the man who did ‘The Hunt’ ’’ and shook my hands and walked off. I found out later that it was one of his all-time favourite songs. It is a fantastic song – the originality of it. If I sat down for a hundred years I’d never write anything as original or wonderful as that. It’s a great song.

I actually believe that Paul did not have the success he deserved whilst he was alive, Jason, to be honest. I think he was a bit of a… I think he was sort of misunderstood. I think one day he’ll be re-evaluated, I really do believe that.

I absolutely agree. You were mentioning Paul’s originality, and his style of music, lyrics etcetera and another song which is another sort of one-off is ‘My Mama’.

Oh, I love that song. I love that song. It’s a real big, towering kind of mad love song about someone singing to their mother. I absolutely love it. I love the orchestration too. It goes completely over the top at the end.

You were mentioning this before but I did pick it and it’s ‘The Hunt’. It’s such a good track. It starts off with Tally Ho!

It’s mad isn’t it, completely mad song. I’m glad you like that one Jason, I’m really pleased.

There was something about Paul’s song writing that was just prepared to break the mould.

Yes. I agree with you. He really, really did try to use different things all the time and I’m actually really convinced, I really do believe he influenced quite a lot of people with his song writing, ’cause I listen to songs sometimes and they sound a bit like something Paul would have written and I really think that at the time I think a lot of people really did actually listen to what he was doing. I know Roger Daltrey, for instance, loved some of the stuff Paul was doing. He was a really big fan. I do get people saying sometimes your brother wrote these fabulous tracks, these completely mad songs. And like I said, they didn’t always pay off but when they did, he really nailed it.

He did and, moving from ‘The Hunt’, we go into 1970 now, another hit particularly over in Germany we have ‘Magical Spiel’.

I love that one too. I think that’s a great song. There’s a good Top Of The Pops clip on YouTube. I think that’s a fabulous song ‘Magical Spiel’.

You were backed by a few bands in this period. You were backed by The Majority and, in this period, the Candy Choir?

That’s right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They were a good band. They were a really, really good band. I also had my own band at that time called The Verge, a Scottish band. They were a fantastic band.

I want to talk about them in a few tracks.

OK.

Next we have Barry Ryan with ‘Kitsch’. That’s another cool track.

Yep. That’s another big song. Bit mad as well. Great lyrics. Anyone that can write about steak and lovely wine and prawn cocktails in a song…. If you can get that in a song can’t be bad. I thought ‘Kitsch’ was good fun.

That was a top ten in Germany?

Yes it was. It was quite a big hit in Germany.

‘I Think You Know My Name’ was with The Verge.

Oh that was something I wrote with the guitarist from The Verge. I actually quite like that song. It’s got a kind of slightly Zeppelin kind of feel to it.

Yes. It’s got a more rock feel to it. 

Yes they were. They were Scottish guys. Really nice guys. I went up there and we wrote and we put a whole series of tracks together and we played them to Polydor who absolutely hated them and said ‘We’re never going to release this new thing. This is far too progressive and heavy for you and it isn’t exactly what we want from you at all.’

I had total rows with them. Eventually they did release them in dribs and drabs. It was a direction that I wanted to go in musically and I was very happy with that but the record company, as usual, didn’t really want to know.

So they wanted for you to stick in a certain formula?

They did. They did. They thought it was too risky to come out with tracks like this. The thing is when you write, you don’t really have any sort of, I don’t know, it’s just something you do very naturally and those songs came very, very naturally.

I guess it’s also a risk staying with exactly the same sound anyway as the music scene changes?

Of course it is. Of course there has to be a sense of dynamism there. If there isn’t, of course everything becomes a bit stale. You end up copying yourself and shooting the same photograph over and over again. I’ve seen it in photography as well where people just get a style and they stay with it. That’s what I loved about The Beatles and Picasso and great talent, is that you take a risk and keep trying new stuff. Even if you fall flat on your bum, you at least go out there and try it.

It came out on ‘Sanctus, Sanctus Hallelujah’.

That’s correct.

You released ‘The Summer’s Over’ with Paul in the 70s. Do you like that track?

Barry sings “The summer’s…” Yes. It’s pretty. A nice sort of sixties’ feel.

As we move well into the seventies, Paul’s songs had great success with other artists such as Frank Sinatra, even Dana actually.

Yeah. That was actually a very nice song ‘Who Put The Lights Out’. I did a vocal for it. That’s a fabulous song.

The penultimate song I’d like to cover today, Barry, is a song called ‘Brother’. I think was actually written by you.

It was. I wrote that. Someone played that to me recently. I hadn’t heard it for years. It’s actually quite a nice track. I remember Rod Stewart wanted to record it. I said, “Yeah. Go ahead.” But he said “I want people to think I wrote it.” I can’t remember now. He said something like…. Oh yeah. “I want to say that I wrote it” so I told him to sod off! I swear to you that’s the truth. I thought, “well, let me think about that Rod for a minute…. No!” People are weird aren’t they?!? It’s a nice song by the way. It’s got a nice kind of vibe to it.

I understand that was produced by Junior Campbell from The Marmalade? Great song writer.

He was, yeah. He’s a very, very good producer.

I think that was 1977.

Yes, it was. It was just basically before I sort of stopped singing. They were like the last kind of tracks I did.

Did you move into photography soon after or were you always interested in that?

Well I think I just thought I was really, really stale. The hits weren’t coming any more. I was drinking a lot. I was a bit sort of bonkers at the time, I was slightly off the rails and I thought I’d had enough of this and I discovered photography and I just loved it and, being an addictive kind of person, I just put everything into my photography and let the music drift by, which is a bit sad really. I didn’t sing for years until I started doing shows about ten/fifteen years ago. People were ringing me to do concerts and things, tours of Germany. I got back on the road ’cause I actually missed singing like hell and the dosh is always good, of course. Done to a certain level, I really enjoy it. No, I kind of let my music drift away but maybe that’s the way it should be, Jason.

I want to finish up today on another of your tracks. Its a bit more recent. The Lennon-esque ‘Break The Circle’.

I’m just about to record that song properly. Do you like it?

It’s lovely.

It’s a lovely song isn’t it? I like it too. It’s a very simple beautiful song and it’s funny that you should mention that track because I am just about to do it. I’m in Paris next week and we’re going in to record it properly.

I mean it feels like the last 30 years or so that photography has been your first love. Do you still write at all?

I do a little bit. Yeah, I’ve written some bits and bobs. I’m not actually a very good writer to be honest. I find it quite hard to write. I’m not a very original writer. I realise that. I’m much more of an original photographer than I am a writer. But I do love it. I do enjoy writing. I just wish I was a bit better.

Well it shows with ‘Break The Circle’ that you can still produce a superb track.

Well, that’s very kind of you and I really appreciate that. I think the thing is, you do what you do. Every new thing you write is the best thing you’ve ever written. It’s like when you go into a studio. You come out. That’s a number one. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. You’ve got to think like that. It spurs you on. It’s only with the luxury of retrospect that you listen to these things and you re-evaluate and I do that often. I never throw my photographs away because I’ve found boxes of stuff that I did thirty years ago that I would have thrown away at the time.  I look at them now and some of them are actually really nice pictures. So I think it’s good to hang onto stuff and listen to it now and then. Check it all out.

barry ryan

That’s great Barry and thank-you so much for your time today.  I’m sure we will look forward to hearing the fully released version because this is the demo.

Yeah, I’ll send you up a copy. Definitely. I’ll mail you one across.

Thank you. You’re really kind. I do know that your focus is your photography in particular and so on, so I appreciate you taking a little bit of time to predominantly talk about the wonderful music you’ve made.

It’s never been a chore for me to talk about the stuff I’ve done with our kid because some of it I’ve loved and it’s my life, you know, it’s been my life to do that. It’s not a chore. It’s never been hard for me to do that. It’s always been a pleasure.

Thank you. I feel like I’ve squared… finished a bit of a journey that I was on. The podcast that I did on Leeds music really set me off on a journey that I managed to talk to so many wonderful people about the music scene in the sixties and some of the artists from Leeds really set me off on that path and I’m so glad I’ve managed to talk to you after all these years.

I’m delighted to. We got there. As they say, it just takes time sometimes but you get there.

All right. Thank you Barry.

All right mate. Lots of love. God bless.

Copyright © Jason Barnard and Barry Ryan, 2017. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission from the author.

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