A WEE GUY
Multiple Grammy nominee, PRS, and BMI award winner, Scots born, composer-author BA Robertson was educated at Allan Glen’s School Glasgow, and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. He studied piano, harmony, and counterpoint at the RSAM, when still a schoolboy.
His sister was a gifted amateur contralto who sang with The Scottish Junior Singers, and The Edinburgh Festival Chorus. When she gave solo recitals BA would be her accompanist. She arranged his first-ever recording session at Biggar’s Music Store in Glasgow. He was eight years old. Biggar’s had a studio above the store, where they cut direct to lacquer. BA played piano, and sang Silent Night with his sister.
He moved to London, on the encouragement of Georg Kajanus, a former member of Eclection. Georg, and his then wife Christine, became kind of adoptive parents, even fixing him up with Georg’s old driving job, at Panzer’s Deli on Notting Hill Gate.
His professional career began at twenty one when he signed a publishing deal with Steve Morris, son of Broadway music publisher EH ‘Buddy’ Morris. Georg made the demos that secured the deal, and became producer of the first album.
He recorded this album “Wringing Applause”, for Ardent Records in 1973. The tracks were cut at Morgan Studios in London with Robin Black, overdubs, vocals, and mixes, in Memphis, with Terry Manning. It enjoyed critical acclaim, and a nomination in DownBeat as one of the most overlooked albums of the year.
The album was favourably compared to the early efforts of David Ackles, Randy Newman, and Peter Gabriel.
“Closer to George Gershwin than Ritchie Blackmore, an extremely interesting album that is really the score for a rock opera”.
“A fine songwriter, introspective without being self indulgent or clumsy, he manages to bring his debut album off without contrivances, or pomposity”.
“His debut disc is totally impressive, with an exclamation point, and should do much to further the cause for such progressive musical attempts”.
A STUDIO GUY
He released four further albums, “Shadow Of A Thin Man”, for Arista in 1976, “Initial Success” “Bully For You” and “R&BA”, 1980-82, all on Asylum.
He has multiple unreleased albums, including one from 1977, produced with Ray Cooper of Elton John’s Band.
In the five years after 1974, he combined his career as a recording artist in a writing and production partnership with legendary bassist Herbie Flowers. BA wrote and produced with Herbie, and worked with an eclectic crowd, including Lionel Bart, Denis Boyles, Joe Brown, Jim Cregan, Micky Dolenz, Gillian Gregory, Harry Nilsson, Phil Pickett, Annie Ross, Sandie Shaw, and Chris Spedding.
He made his first television appearance with Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, played piano on the B side of “Come Up And See Me Make Me Smile”, gave occasional live performances in support of his recordings. This included opening for Van Der Graaf Generator on their farewell tour of the UK in 1977.
The NME posed the question, “Is this man the Ivor Cutler of punk?” No, he said “I’m the Pam Ayres of the New Wave”.
The band he put together to promote “Shadow Of A Thin Man”, had George Fenton, Tony Hymas, and Frank Ricotti, as sidemen, and featured guitarist Terry Britten. BA formed an ongoing writing partnership with Terry, resulting in his first major cover on Cliff Richard’s “Green Light”.
A FAMOUS GUY
More than twenty worldwide hits follow, including “Carrie” and “Wired for Sound” for Cliff. “Wired For Sound” nominated Ivor Novello Song of the Year. He enjoyed chart success in Europe, with six hit singles of his own. The first, “Bang Bang”, achieved sales over 1 million, the last “Flight 19”, a #1 in Iceland. This track inspired a ground breaking, award winning music video, directed by Brian Grant.
BA was nominated Ivor Novello Songwriter of the Year 1980, UK Male Vocalist at The Brits 1980, JVC Scottish Musician of the Year 1982. He made duets with Maggie Bell, Frida from Abba, and Lulu.
He did two national tours, one to support “Initial Success”, a second, the “In Spite Of Milton Friedman Tour”, recorded for BBC’s “Rock Goes To College”. He featured on radio and television, was a frequent guest broadcaster for the BBC, from 1980 to 1985. Depped for Mike Read on his evening show, and Brian Matthews on “Round Midnight” – guested on “Ask Aspel”, “Friday Night Saturday Morning”, “The Russell Harty Show”, hosted his own series “BA In Music”, with guests Sir Malcolm Arnold, Jack Bruce, Ray Charles, and Buddy Guy. He conducted the last on camera interview with Alex Harvey before Alex death in 1982. This was carried by the BBC as his obituary.
In 1983 BA played the lead in British feature “Living Apart Together”, directed by Charlie Gormley, for which he wrote the score. This was Peter Capaldi’s first film appearance, and Sam Brown’s first professional job. BA appeared at The Lyric Theatre London opposite Elaine Paige, and Finola Hughes in “Abbacadabra” that same year.
“Abbacadabra” was the last pubic performance he made for more than twenty years.
A STUDIO GUY (Take Two)
In the years between his absence from performance, and before he moved to America, he wrote a considerable amount of music for film and television. In 1986 he worked on two Helen Mirren pictures, scoring “Heavenly Pursuits”, her feature with Tom Conti, and “The Other Side of The World” recorded by Chaka Khan. This song gave Helen’s character, her POV, in the Taylor Hackford directed “White Nights”.
He was commissioned to compose the music for The Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, in 1986. He wrote scores, and title songs, for numerous productions, including “The End Of The Line”, and “Maggie”, for BBC Scotland, themes and incidental music for “The Saturday Superstore”, “Swap Shop”, “Wogan”, “The Roux Brothers”, songs for “The Lost Boys”, and music for Channel 4’s 1985 Autumn Schedule.
He wrote and produced a hit single for the “Swap Shop” presenters, styling them as “Brown Sauce”, and let us not forget what Football Punk described as “the greatest World Cup Song ever written”. James Corden proclaimed it the Scottish Tourist Board’s ultimate anthem, “We Have A Dream”, written and produced for the Scottish Squad of 1982, featuring John Gordon Sinclair.
BA also wrote and presented the Scottish BAFTA nominated, “Jock ‘n’ Roll, (Parts 1&2)”. A history of Scots, and the parts they played in contemporary pop music.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, out of the public eye, he continued to write and work in the studio with another diverse crowd, Scottish author William Boyd, Roger Daltrey, Lonnie Donegan, Dave Edmunds, Bernard Edwards, Peter Frampton, Alan Gorrie, John Barlow Jarvis, Maz + Kilgore, Joe Sample, Helena Springs, and Andy Taylor, from Duran Duran. Even Malcolm McLaren came to visit, and seek counsel for his Buffalo Gals experiment.
He met Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford in 1984, and began a second long-term writing partnership. He introduced Paul Carrack to the embryo Mike & The Mechanics. As writer and musician, BA features on six of the studio albums, writing close to half their repertoire, over a twelve-year period from 85 to 97.
This includes the first hit single “Silent Running”, Billboard’s #1 Rock Song of 1986, and the worldwide #1, “The Living Years”. The most celebrated of his lyrics written following his father’s death twelve weeks before the birth of his son.
At the 1990 Grammy Awards, “The Living Years” had four nominations, including Song of the Year. BA was pipped for the statuettes by his good friend Arif Mardin, and “The Wind Beneath My Wings.
In London, at The Ivor Novello Awards, “The Living Years” topped 1991 Grammy winner “Another Day in Paradise” for Best Song.
A HOLLYWOOD GUY
At this point, BA has set up offices at The Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, on the invitation of Michael Eisner, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. He moved his family to California, where he kept a home for ten years. He remained a feature on the lot for over three years, working day to day with Bill Mechanic, Ken Hertz, and Ann Daly.
BA was the instigator, creator, Producer, and Executive Music Producer of Grammy nominated, multi-platinum, music video, “Simply Mad About The Mouse”. Artists include Harry Connick Jnr., LL Cool J., Billy Joel, and Bobby McFerrin. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group were his initial production partner, until The Disney Company assumed his contract, and established him on the lot.
During his time at the studio, he introduced a number of friends, and associates to Disney, including one of his house-guests, Tim Rice. BA organised and chaired the first meeting for Tim with Michael Eisner. This was Tim’s introduction to the studio. At the meeting Madonna was first proposed, by BA, as a potential on screen Evita. Disney took an option on Evita, briefly attaching David Valdez, and Elizabeth Guber to the project, alongside BA.
In the early 1990’s BA Robertson was regarded as, “the most connected Brit in Hollywood”. He was chosen to present the Ivor Novello Awards to Tim, Elton, and Hans Zimmer, in recognition of The Lion King, for without BA, perhaps there would be no Lion King?
While still on the lot at Disney, he took over Richard Griffiths offices, at Sony Music in LA. The plan was for BA to helm a similar project to “Mad About The Mouse” for Sony. CEO Don Ienner, and SVP Rick Chertoff, were BA’s record partners, on the Disney project. For a time he ran two production offices, one in Burbank, the other in Century City. It was also held BA would become EVP of Special Projects for Sony, or for another major, but the evolution to record executive, was a move he resisted.
1991 saw “Silent Running” and “The Living Years”, awarded “MillionAir” status by BMI, for more than one million broadcast performances in the US. “Silent Running” has now reached three million, and ‘The Living Years’ more than five, making that song one of the most performed, in the US, by a UK writer.
From 1993 through 1995, he worked on one-off associations. He put Michael Crawford with Arif Mardin, wrote “With Your Hand on My Heart” for Patti LaBelle and Michael. This Crawford album had a double Grammy nomination and worldwide sales of more than 2 million.
He wrote music for “Baywatch”, the world’s most popular television show and collaborated regularly with Burt Bacharach. Burt and BA were buddies for more than five years, hanging out together at racetracks from Santa Anita, to Royal Ascot.
Burt was racing his most successful horse back then, Soul Of The Matter, which so nearly won the inaugural Gold Cup in Dubai. It was the best of times, being this tight with a composer who was, and still is, your childhood hero.
Burt invited BA to write a Broadway score with him, based on the award winning “Snow White In New York”, by Fiona French, with Gillian Lynne slated to direct. However the underlying right was not properly secured, and the piece never played in public. However he still has more writing credits with Burt than anyone other than Hal, and Carole.
When BA went to work with John Barry, Burt invited Elvis Costello to assume the vacant chair.
BA continued to work with Mike & The Mechanics, had six songs on the “Beggar On A Beach of Gold” project including the title song, and another six on their, multi-platinum CD, “Hits”. He worked as writer and musical associate to Phil Ramone on the stage production “EFX”, at the MGM Grand Las Vegas, starring Michael Crawford, the opening song “Somewhere in Time”, in collaboration with John Barry.
A RECLUSIVE GUY
In 1996, on the recommendation of Paul McGuinness, BA slipped away to Ireland. There he settled into a life, far removed from his time in Tinseltown. He did continue to work sporadically, composing the score for UK independent movie “Bloodlines (Legacy of a Lord)”, directed by Brian Grant. He wrote and produced the title track of the Omagh tribute album, “Across The Bridge Of Hope”, raising more than half a million dollars for the victims of the Omagh bombing. He was the only active non-Irish participant, on the project.
1998 also saw five songs on the sixth Mike & The Mechanics album, including “All The Light I Need”, the eighth single he released with the band. He also worked at times with people like Alex James from Blur, and Jorgen Elofsson. However he was having less contact with show business. He says somewhere along the line, he lost his “showing-off gene”, which he certainly had in abundance as a younger man.
He did get up at the Sugar Club in Dublin on his father’s anniversary, January 4 2001, and sang “The Living Years” in public for the first time. He subsequently played a handful of club dates in Ireland, initially with singer Leslie Dowdall, then as a solo. Ending up as guest of Paul Carrack “In Good Company” at the Royal Albert Hall, May 2001.
In 2004, on the encouragement of Karen Koren, and New York promoter Arnold Engelman, BA made, what looked like, a committed return to live performance. He presented a critically acclaimed one-man at The Gilded Balloon on the Edinburgh Fringe, and returned in 2005 for more.
“The Scottish Springsteen is back”
“The songs speak volumes for his talent. There’s likely to be a stampede across Scotland for tickets”
“His career in songwriting and the friends he knows well enough to hold noses with. Don’t ask, just go”.
He undertook short tours of Scotland, and Ireland.
In 2006, he debuted a one-hour presentation of “Too Close To The Son”, an intimate chamber musical, set on the morning of November 22 1963, viewed through the eyes of Jack Kennedy’s former lover, Danish beauty Inga Arvad. BA played this, as a two-hander, with Norwegian actress Katrine Lunde.
“BA Robertson’s sublime musical, profane, touching and funny”
“The songwriting is world class. A truly fantastic show.”
“His most ambitious project to date. Positively aches with contemporary resonances.”
He expanded the piece, and performed it during 2007 in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bergen, Glasgow, and London.
Then he returned to that bucolic existence in Ireland. He adopted the JD Salinger, post-Catcher ethos – write every day, don’t publish in your lifetime. He spent time in Catalunya, sometimes seen hanging out at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
Now and again, he did make public appearances. A charity version of “We Have A Dream” for BBC Children In Need 2008, and with Karine Polwart, and King Creosote, at The Concert Hall in Glasgow to celebrate a 100 years of Scottish song.
He has suggested this performance of “The Living Years”, in his home town in 2010, with Session A9 and The Gospel Truth Choir, may be his last.
He has accumulated north of a quarter of a million words for the first draft of his biography, which he claimed he would publish in 2019. However you must remember what The List said, “BA does things his own way, and so is not to be trusted”.
2019 was a significant year, forty years since his first hit record, thirty since The Living Years went #1 on Billboard. There were discussion with music publishers, and record companies, who encouraged a celebration of sorts, some kind of new product, but in the end there was nothing.
He was quite heavily involved with Iain McNay and Cherry Red, on re-mastering his old Asylum albums, released on CD for the first time in 2017. With no promotion, all three albums charted on the Indie Charts, Initial Success even making it onto to the album chart in the UK.
He began digitising things on a random basis, with Ger Williams at Trend Studios in Dublin. He was intrigued by what he found, things he hadn’t heard, for more than fifty years, including that first recording session, at Biggar’s Music Store. The perfect way to start a retrospective, an eight year old boy, playing a piece from his Grade 1 piano exam.
He has those hundred silver, gold, platinum, and multi-platinum certifications, though like the tapes, awards and memorabilia, most are in storage. It was only when rifling through some boxes, he discovered demos, and tryouts for Mike & The Mechanics, perhaps these might form part of a retrospective?
He still lives with his wife, designer Karen Manners, they have two adult children.
The website is omniscient about BA Robertson, though he still chooses not to share every scintilla – he says it’s “all in the book”.
The followers of so-called, online information sites, live their lives in a benighted place.
All writers are liars.
© BA Robertson 2020