Celebrated songwriter to play career-spanning show
As one half of Gallagher and Lyle, the Scottish musical duo of singer-songwriters, Benny is coming to Frome's Cooper Hall as part of his UK tour.
Recognition first came in 1968, when Benny and his partner, Graham Lyle were signed to write for Apple Records' artists.
They were founding members of the band McGuinness Flint and wrote the 1970 UK chart hit When I'm Dead and Gone.
They formed the duo Gallagher and Lyle in 1972 and their fifth album Breakaway charted and included the hit songs Heart on My Sleeve and I Wanna Stay with You.
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Morag: When did the passion for music start?
Benny: I was around 11 or 12 years of age when I first heard rock' n' roll and Elvis Presley's version of Arthur Big Boy Crudup's song That's Alright Mama just blew me away!
Coming from a family of 12 there was always music in the house mostly radio, with a ccappela versions of traditional Irish, Scottish and popular songs being sung every day and , especially over Christmas and New Year ... but, the actual song that made me decide to get into music was Ritchie Valens version of La Bamba the B-side of his latest release Donna – it jumped straight out of the jukebox and into my life – it went on to be one of the top records in the history of rock 'n' roll and the only one not to be sung in English.
You worked as a songwriter for Apple, and the encouragement of Paul McCartney was decisive in your growth as a songwriter. What kind of relationship did you have with Paul?
Paul was very "hands on" with all of the writers and artists signed to Apple, having just produced Mary Hopkin's version of Those Were The Days he wrote to all of us writers saying that he would like Mary's next single to be written by an Apple writer/writers.
We submitted our song Sparrow which was chosen by Paul – who then went on to out-write us with Goodbye, a far stronger contender as a single – and followed through with a letter telling us that, Sparrow had been chosen, accompanied by a chocolate cake and an invitation to attend the recording session on the day!
In 1970 your band McGuinness Flint stormed the charts and you had your songs played on famous TV shows. What are your memories?
The reaction to When I'm Dead and Gone was unbelievable – having been told by EMI /CAPITOL that it would never be a "hit" because it had a kazoo and a slide guitar solo in it – the song went on to double the sales of mandolins in the UK – outsell the current number one Granddad and be denied no 1 spot – due to an electricians strike the BBC TOTP used the previous week's sales figures – to this day, 43 years on, When I'm Dead And Gone remains in the top five royalty earners of the Gallagher and Lyle Song Catalogue!
You must have felt overwhelmed with all this success?
Yes, it was a great thrill to see the first single from our new band McGuinness Flint chart all over Europe and America, but, I had been playing in bands consistently since I was 13 years old, and Graham more occasionally – we had not lost sight of our original goal – our reason for moving to London and joining Apple was to pursue a career as songwriters.
What were the major changes in your life during that time?
It gave us the confidence and security to pursue our lifelong dream of being songwriters. Gallagher & Lyle became a force to reckon with and we have been extremely fortunate that so many of the world's finest artists and record producers chose to record our songs, and, consequently, allow us the opportunity to continue to pursue a career in music.
Performing together for so many years, was there a time where Lyle drove you "up the wall"?
We have always "driven each other up the wall!"
Graham is an only child – I come from a family of 12. The schooling system in Scotland dictated that Graham went to Protestant school and I attended a convent school – Graham is a "list maker" and I never write any lyrics down ...
So, the chances of the partnership working at all, were, quite frankly, slim to none!
I will be eternally grateful for the rest of my life and well into the "sweet bye and bye" that against all odds the Gallagher & Lyle songwriting partnership has overcome all of these obstacles and still continues to work so well!
Of all the songs you wrote, is there one song that you love, that always moves you?
Due to the number of songs written over the years it is a bit of a "moveable feast" as you re-visit and rediscover ones that you have not played in a while ... I suppose it is a little bit like meeting up with "an old friend".
Is there a song that you wrote that you hate or wished people wouldn't expect you to perform it live?
I know a lot of artists who have been "pressured by the industry to record "commercial" singles that are not their finest moments ... As Gallagher and Lyle and a solo singer-songwriter I have had the good fortune to be allowed to write and record songs that came from the heart.
So, the only issue I have is, whether, at my advanced age, I can remember the song they have requested and can do it justice on the night!
How is life on the road?
Physically, maybe wee bit harder than in my early years, but, the audiences more than compensate for the aches and pains.
Do you keep up with upcoming musicians? Which new singer-songwriter you think will do well in the business?
Yes, some attend my songwriter workshops and others are recommended by the management of venues.
We set up a competition for local up and coming singer-songwriters to "open" for Gallagher and Lyle on our 2010 dates in Scotland – there were more than 10 times more applications than we had "spots". Elliott Morris – a very fine young guitarist and singer-songwriter, recommended by Mundell Music is already starting to make waves in the UK.
How does your writing process work and what inspires you?
Writing is my life, my job, and my hobby – so, I basically just self-medicate every day as our family has an ongoing history of ADHD.
Inspiration can be anything, or anyone – poetry, literature, films, TV, places, people – a remark you might make in this interview, friends comments and relationships.
I got the idea for Heart on My Sleeve (a phrase allegedly accredited to William Shakespeare) from a television documentary .
I have recently written a song with Robert Burns – When I'm Dead And Gone" was inspired by the music and life of the blues Singer Robert Johnson.
Breakaway was inspired by Graham Lyle's sister-in-law flying off to be au pair in France.
Any advice for aspiring musicians and song writers?
Learn from your idols – find your own voice – be true to yourself and what is in your heart.
Your career will be all the better for it!
■ Benny Gallagher will be performing on Saturday at Coopers Hall from 8pm.
Tickets, costing £15, can be booked from www.cooperhall.org or Cheese and Grain box office.
Benny is also running a songwriting workshop on Sunday from 2pm.
The workshop costs £40 from www.cooperhall.org.