You might not instantly recognise the name, but you’ll know the songs. Mitch Murray is the man behind much of the sumptuous soundtrack to the Swinging Sixties and early Seventies.
Mitch had smash hits with artistes including Cliff Richard, Georgie Fame and Tony Christie.
He also wrote what was supposed to be the debut single for an unknown group called The Beatles. It was the first thing they ever recorded at Abbey Road studios.
Mitch had smash hits with artistes including Cliff Richard, Georgie Fame and Tony Christie. He is pictured above in 1964
Yet when he heard the fledgling Fab Four’s version of How Do You Do It? he refused to let it be released.
They’d slaughtered it, Mitch says. Even though the legendary producer George Martin wanted the song to launch their career, The Beatles deliberately turned in a third-rate performance.
‘They didn’t want to do it because they planned to record their own compositions. Frankly, I don’t blame them. And that was before they became Lennon and McCartney!’
But The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein rated the song and passed it on to another Liverpool group in his stable, Gerry And The Pacemakers.
How Do You Do It? went straight to No 1, followed by another Murray composition, I Like It.
Now Commander Murray, as he’s known to his songwriting mates, has been rewarded with a singular recognition — a series of commemorative stamps from the Isle of Man Post Office, signed off by Her Maj
John Lennon saw the funny side, telling Mitch that if he kept writing for Gerry Marsden, he’d ‘thump him’.
That early success was the start of a string of Top Ten records, including No 1s on both sides of the Atlantic.
Not bad for a boy born Lionel Michael Stitcher in 1940, who grew up in Golders Green, North London, and after leaving school worked as a travelling salesman for his father’s handbag company.
His heart wasn’t really in handbags. He loved songs from the Thirties and fancied himself as a photographer.
After being hired to take publicity shots of Louis Armstrong, backstage at the Royal Festival Hall, Mitch decided to chance his arm in the music business.
‘I started writing songs for fun, on a five-string ukukele, because I couldn’t play the guitar. I never really learned to play the ukulele properly, either, but I worked out a few chords.’
Exactly a year after he wrote his first tune, he was top of the charts with How Do You Do It?. Hits for Freddie And The Dreamers flowed next, I’m Telling You Now and You Were Made For Me. More gold discs came later, from The Tremeloes to Manfred Mann.
In a career stretching back almost 60 years, Mitch has received prestigious Ivor Novello awards and a CBE for services to the music industry.
Now Commander Murray, as he’s known to his songwriting mates, has been rewarded with a singular recognition — a series of commemorative stamps from the Isle of Man Post Office, signed off by Her Maj.
He moved to the Isle of Man in the Seventies to escape the income tax terror introduced by the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Sunny Jim Callaghan.
At one stage, Chancellor Denis Healey increased the top rate to a punitive — and, frankly, rip- roaring bonkers — 98 per cent, driving creative talent to flee the jurisdiction.
When he heard the fledgling Fab Four’s version of How Do You Do It? he refused to let it be released. They’d slaughtered it, Mitch says
Having fallen in love with the island, Mitch has lived there ever since, dividing his time between the Isle of Man and his extended family in London.
Mitch Murray’s Top Ten covers his life in music, from the early Mersey Beat days to his later work as director of the Performing Right Society, collecting royalties for writers.
The stamps are based on the sheet music for some of Mitch’s greatest hits, capturing the spirit of the Sixties, preserved in aspic. The colour palette is immaculate, faithfully reproduced.
My favourites are the photo of Mitch and Freddie Garrity (and the Dreamers) climbing up a No Entry sign in Tin Pan Alley — London’s Denmark Street, spiritual home of the music biz — and another from the mid-Sixties which make him look like a young Dustin Hoffman.
That picture was taken around the time Mitch recorded a crazy novelty song, Down Came The Rain, which involved him performing live on the ITV show Thank Your Lucky Stars while a stagehand on a ladder chucked a bucket of water over him.
Bizarrely, a dead-straight version of the song has become a standard in Italy.
His other comedy hit was Terry Scott’s (of Terry And June and Crackerjack fame) My Brother, which will be familiar to any schoolboy of my vintage from Uncle Mac’s Children’s Favourites on the BBC’s Light Programme.
Who put a real live toad in the hole?
In 1965, Mitch teamed up with the lyricist and producer Peter Callander. It was to prove a productive partnership. A couple of years later, they went individually to see the Hollywood blockbuster, Bonnie And Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty.
Both came away from the cinema with the same thought: what this movie lacks is a decent song. So they sat down and wrote The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde for Georgie Fame, which went to No 1 in the UK and No 7 on America’s Billboard chart.
Murray and Callander set up their own record label. They produced Tony Christie’s version of the Neil Sedaka song, (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, and wrote the follow-ups Las Vegas, I Did What I Did For Maria and Avenues And Alleyways, which became the theme to the TV show The Protectors, starring Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter.
In a career stretching back almost 60 years, Mitch has received prestigious Ivor Novello awards and a CBE for services to the music industry
Amarillo was, of course, a cult hit all over again decades later, popularised by comedian Peter Kay in Phoenix Nights and re-released in 2005 to raise money for Comic Relief.
The Murray/Callander partnership was also responsible for Top Ten hits by Nottingham group Paper Lace — The Night Chicago Died, and Billy, Don’t Be A Hero.
Among Mitch’s other chart successes was Ragamuffin Man, by Manfred Mann, and Cliff Richard’s Goodbye Sam, Hello
Samantha — which many mistakenly believe to be the first ‘trans’ anthem.
He has also enjoyed parallel careers as an after-dinner speaker and author.
Just as Bert Weedon’s Play In A Day inspired a generation of young guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Mitch Murray’s How To Write A Hit Song is credited with launching the career of one Gordon Sumner, a.k.a. Sting, of The Police.
And he’s still writing music. Using an app which can be downloaded on your mobile phone, you can swipe the stamp collection and hear a new composition celebrating the Isle of Man, and featuring Mitch’s daughters Mazz and Gina, both talented West End stars.
In 1971, Mitch started the Society Of Distinguished Songwriters (SODS), a company of like-minded layabouts, which includes some of our greatest living composers such as Sir Tim Rice, Justin Hayward, Tony Hatch, Graham Gouldman, Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook, Gary Osborne and Mike Batt.
Mitch is known fondly as ‘The Sodfather’. You’ll have gathered by now, he’s a good friend of mine and I’ve had the privilege of being invited to the SODS’ annual bash, which always kicks off with the great Barry Mason singing Delilah, which he wrote with Les Reed for Tom Jones.
Barry Mason and Mitch go back to the beginning. Mitch hired Barry to record the demo of How Do You Do It? along with his regular session band, The Dave Clark Five.
It was Barry who spotted the song’s potential and introduced Mitch to The Beatles producer George Martin and music publisher Dick James.
The rest, as they say…
Last word goes to one of the most distinguished SODS, Oscar-winning Don Black, writer of everything from James Bond themes to West End musicals.
When Don heard Mitch was to feature on a set of commemorative stamps, he was thrilled.
‘I’ve always wanted to lick your back side,’ he said.
I Like It!