David Mackay

Born: May 11th, 1944, Sydney (Australia)
Nationality: Australian

Eurovision record
Australian-born record producer David Mackay arranged and conducted two legendary Eurovision entries for the United Kingdom, ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’ for the New Seekers (1972) and ‘Power to All Our Friends’ for Cliff Richard (1973). Both songs came close to winning the competition, but in the end had to settle for second and third place at the international Eurovision finals held in Edinburgh and Luxembourg respectively.

David Mackay during a television interview in Australia (1970)

Biography
David Charles Mackay was born in Sydney in 1944. His father was an accountant; neither of his parents had any talent in music. David: “But I had a cousin who had a piano. Every time we were visiting her, I’d sit at the piano, while she taught me some little things. When I was eight, I started taking piano lessons – and two years later, my parents bought me a piano, which just about made them go broke. Though it only was an upright piano, it took over most of my bedroom. I loved it! I was fascinated by music. At college, I was pretty useless, academically speaking, but, fortunately, there were a music teacher and a priest who saw my talent as a musician. Every year, those two spent some ten months working with students on a Gilbert & Sullivan opera. Although it was an amateur production, they put in lots of effort. I was part of the cast every year, starting off in the chorus when I was about eight, but, two years later, they picked me as one of the principal singers. The priest used to say to the rector that I was destined for a career in music. He and the music teacher really gave me my career. They were proper teachers!”

In the evening hours, after school, David took music lessons. At the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, he studied the piano, clarinet, guitar as well as taking courses in music theory. “Of course, the lessons there were classical,” David explains, “but, all the time, my love was in popular music. I liked listening to Elvis, the Everly Brothers, the Mills Brothers… that kind of stuff. With two friends, I formed a vocal group imitating my idols. At some point, my mother organised for us to audition at a radio show for teenagers. One thing led to another – after having done weekly radio shows for some time, we were invited to perform on TV in a show called Bandstand.”

“When I was fourteen, we were offered a record deal at Festival Records. We weren’t very successful as recording artists, but that first experience of doing a studio session was a key moment in my life. At that session, we were backed up by Col Joye and the Joy Boys, a rock group. Col himself was standing closest to where I was. Once we got started playing the track, we were interrupted several times by a guy who kept coming in, saying: “I want you to stand here”, “Don’t sing it like this, “I want you to change that”… I asked Col: “Who is he?” Col explained to me that he was a record producer. That moment I knew what I wanted to be when I had grown up. Already at that age, being a performer didn’t particularly interest me. I was sure I wanted to be in music, but I didn’t want to be on the charts for a short time and then drop off the radar. I wanted to do this as a career… making records, experimenting, establishing artists.”

David (left) with his fellow-members of the Toppers (1958)

After narrowly obtaining his intermediate certificate aged fifteen, David left school to join the J.C. Williamson Theatre Company who staged the musical ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ in venues across Australia. David: “That was basically my first job. I was a singer and dancer. We toured Australia for about a year. Upon returning, I briefly took up my studies at the Conservatorium, but all the while I was looking for new ways to get into the music industry. The job I got was being a panel operator at a radio station. Attached to this station was a recording studio, the AWA Studio. Now, after some months, the girl who was engineering the music sessions, left the company. As I had a background at music school, they asked me if I was interested in replacing her. Of course I was! This was really a step up from what I was doing. My job was to record sessions for rock bands, radio serials, commercials, and orchestras. I did that for a couple of years and it was great fun.”

“Step by step, I got the hang of the job, learning about acoustics, microphones, and all kinds of techniques required to record a large orchestra. Our AWA Studio was the place the arrangers in Sydney used if the EMI Studio was not available. Two of them were particularly happy with my work: one was Bob Gibson and the other was a blind New Zealander called Julian Lee, a real genius who later became the arranger for George Shearing. Those two guys told EMI’s directors they might have the best studio, but not the best engineer. They wanted them to approach me – and that’s what happened. I was headhunted by EMI and became a recording engineer for them.”

Mainly teaming up with producer Ted Albert, David Mackay worked with some of the best Australian rock acts of the 1960s, such as the Easybeats and Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs. In 1965, EMI gave him the opportunity to be a producer in his own right. Mackay: “The EMI staff producer had resigned that day to join Festival records. I was booked for an evening to engineer the session, recording a new band who had been signed by the Melbourne office. Roy Farr, the head of EMI’s A&R department, asked me if I would like to try my hand at engineering and producing simultaneously. That night, we cut a record which was a hit in Melbourne. After that, EMI wanted me to become a producer full time. Over the following three years, I had twenty-eight Top 20 records in Australia. My biggest act were the Twilights, a really great band; they were Australia’s version of the Beatles. To be able to experiment with that talent was fantastic. Working with many different artists, I divided my time between studios in Melbourne and Sydney.”

“Perhaps the biggest challenge of my job was to find suitable material all the time, chasing publishers and listening to demos of new songs. I was working every hour of the day. Lots of work was taken off my shoulders by Johnny Hawker, who wrote the arrangements for my artists. Johnny and I became a great team. For any given song, I explained to him what I was looking for in terms of key and routine – and then he did the arrangement. I simply didn’t have the time to be my own arranger at that time. By looking over Johnny’s shoulder, I learned lots of things which I put to use later on. Working with Johnny and other arrangers, closely examining their scores, was much more important to me than any classical music theory I had been taught at the Conservatorium.”

“The Junior Genius of the Charts”, David on the cover of an Australian music magazine (1966)

After a couple of years at EMI Australia, however, David got extremely frustrated. “We were making some really good records in Australia, but we didn’t manage to sell them elsewhere in the world. However hard we tried, EMI in England and Capitol Records in America refused to release anything. I had discovered this fifteen-year-old apprentice plumber called Johnny Farnham. He had the most incredible voice. His record sales in Australia went through the roof, but EMI in London remained unimpressed. “We’ve got Cliff Richard – we don’t need Johnny Farnham,” was what they said. It all started feeling very insular. What could I do? I wanted people elsewhere to realise that lots was happening in Australia! It was patriotism really… Fortunately, in 1967, an Australian guy called Ken East took over as the managing director at EMI in England. One year later, Ken offered me a contract to work at Abbey Road Studios in London. I didn’t have to think twice! Having been to London before, I knew how much more advanced their studio gear was. I was just like a kid in a sweet shop. I was only twenty-four years old and had no idea what London would bring me, but I felt it was time to move on.”

“When I had only just arrived in London, Ken East called me into his office. He wanted me to go to Brussels to listen to a rock band he had been tipped off about. That weekend, I flew over and was brought to the club where they were playing. I’d never heard anything like it! They were a rock band with a violinist and cello player from the National Philharmonic Orchestra. I decided we’d sign them for an album. Three weeks later, the guys came over to Abbey Road. They didn’t have a name yet, but as I looked out of my office at Manchester Square, I looked onto the Wallace Collection, a museum… That was a good name for this band! They liked the suggestion – and that’s how they became known as the Wallace Collection. The single track taken from the album we did was ‘Daydream’. As their English wasn’t particularly good, I sat down with their guitar player and we wrote the lyrics for the song together. It turned into one of the biggest earning tracks I’ve ever been involved in. It was a hit in many countries all over the world… but not in England. EMI in London still didn’t promote their foreign material – and I wasn’t getting anywhere with my plans to plug Australian artists in London either. I felt I was wasting my time. Either I was going back to Australia or I would leave EMI and go independent. I settled on the latter option. Though I didn’t have much more than £400 to my name, I started my own company.”

“One of the first things I did was going back to Australia for six weeks. Due to a conflict with Australian radio stations, some of the biggest international record companies didn’t allow them to play their artists’ music. Now, a friend of mine, Ron Tudor, had just founded his own little record company, Fable Records. He asked me if I’d come back to Australia and produce some records for him. It seemed like a good opportunity. For over a month, we recorded about a dozen tracks per day – it was like a sausage factory, really. I must have been in the studio for twenty hours a day. Most of the material consisted of covers of current international hits… ‘Cinderella Rockefella’, that type of thing. We also did ‘The Pushbike Song’ with a band called the Mixtures. Having done that, I brought it back to London and it became a big hit in England and internationally. Finally, Australian talent was being taken notice of in the UK.”

Three members of the Wallace Collection, with recording engineer Geoff Emerick (left) and David Mackay behind them (±1969)

“That same year, 1970, I got in touch with Keith Potger, one of the original members of the Seekers. After they split, Keith founded the New Seekers with three guys and two girls. Two of the three guys, Peter Doyle and Marty Kristian, were fellow-Australians who I had worked with in my early producing days. They were performing across the UK in cabarets. Keith had secured them a record deal with Phillips but their two album releases had achieved no success. Phillips offered them one last single release. It would be do or die. I went to see them in a club, but it was too ‘mums and dads’ – extremely old-fashioned, and I couldn't honestly see much potential. I just put them out of my mind, but, two weeks later, I was called by a guy from Polydor who had secured the publishing rights of ‘Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma’, a Melanie Safka tune. He also suggested a girl singer to me, but she was hopeless. She couldn’t sing her way out of a paper bag! I really liked the song, though, and I thought it might actually work for the New Seekers. If done rightly, it would give them a more youthful image. Keith Potger went along with the idea. I recorded it with the band. Philips weren’t happy with it, though. They were sure it wasn’t going to work. Fortunately, we owned the international rights. In the end, it was released by Jac Holzman’s Electra label in the US. Within four weeks, it was near the top of the American charts. It was a hit in many other countries too.”

“That song really kickstarted my independent career. It also was the first song for which I wrote the arrangement myself. In my first years in London, I had been working a lot with Bill Shepherd, who had been the arranger for the Bee Gees. As with my old friend Johnny Hawker in Australia, I learnt a lot by sitting with him, explaining what I wanted the strings or brass to sound like. Then I would sit and watch him write it. Around the same time, I also studied the American arranging textbooks, most importantly Russell Garcia’s. With ‘Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma’, I wanted to take out all the instruments in the middle – just to destroy the song, so to speak, which was really what the lyrics were about. It wasn’t the sort of thing that I felt I could explain to an arranger, so I decided to do it myself. I could hear in my head what I wanted it to be like. I wrote out all the parts, went into the studio, and recorded it – and it turned out really well! You could say I had gradually gotten to a point where I had enough background to be my own arranger.”

In 1971, the New Seekers recorded two more huge worldwide chart successes, ‘Never Ending Song of Love’ and ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’, the latter originally being written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway as an advertisement for Coca Cola, ‘Buy the World a Coke’. “Roger Greenaway wanted me to record the commercial with the New Seekers,” Mackay recalls. “He wanted the sort of mood I’d put into ‘Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma’. After we’d done the commercial, I took it to Polydor, urging them to do a full-length version as well, but they felt it wouldn’t do anything. A month or two later, I took the band to America, where they did a tour and several television performances. While we were there, the commercial came out – and the whole world loved this thing.”

“Then, the Hillside Singers did a three-minute version of it, which started going up the US charts. Only then did Polydor realise what a mistake they’d made. When we were in New York, I got a phone call from them, in which they asked me to do a full-length version as soon as possible. They sent the master tapes over, which I took into a New York studio. I had to copy it and cut it up three times to make it go for three minutes. I adapted the lyrics to take all ‘Coca-Colas’ out. That Sunday, which was our only day off, I got the group into the studio, we recorded the vocals and a little guitar solo, mixed it, cut the master, and got it to the factory, all on that same night. By the next Friday, it was in the charts. It was incredible!”

In 1972, Mackay and the New Seekers took part in the Eurovision Song Contest, while they also toured in the United States and Japan. The following year, the group were signed by the MGM label. Mackay: “That was a hideous mistake. We were doing really well in America with Electra. There was no good reason to switch to another company, but David Joseph, the group’s manager, was talked into doing a deal with MGM. Their director wanted to work with different producers, so I was dropped. They never had any real success after that. It was all very sad, because the group had so much potential. The two girls, Lynn Paul and Eve Graham, had amazing voices. Peter Doyle is one of the greatest singers I ever recorded. You could use any of them as lead vocal, depending on what the song needed. Peter and Marty Kristian were pretty good songwriters in their own right. They were all very talented people. Actually, what ABBA did some years later was pretty much based on the same thing – two girls singing harmonies. The sadness was that it wasn’t because the group itself made the wrong choices, it was all down to a rotten manager and to greed. Their success could have lasted much longer than it did.”

By now an established name in London’s studio business, in the mid-1970s, David Mackay worked with artists such as Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Blue Mink, and Cilla Black. He also arranged and produced three studio albums with Cliff Richard, including the original soundtrack for the film ‘Take Me High’. In the second half of the decade, Mackay produced Bonnie Tyler’s two first albums ‘The World Starts Tonight’ and ‘Natural Force’, each containing a huge international hit success: ‘Lost in France’ and ‘It’s a Heartache’.

“In 1976, I was approached by two songwriters, Ronnie Scott and Steve Wolfe,” Mackay recounts. “Steve had co-written the Eurovision song for the New Seekers a couple of years before. They were looking for a girl singer to record a couple of songs the two of them had written together. I remembered a girl from Wales who had recorded a demo for me some years earlier by the name of Gaynor Hopkins. She had been singing in clubs around Swansea. I suggested Ronnie and Steve to call Roger Bell who was promoting her at the time. He brought her to Morgan Studios and we cut the first few tracks. The first song we released got limited airplay but she changed her name to Bonnie Tyler and we released the second single ‘Lost in France’, which was a huge hit around Europe and to this day is one of my favourite productions.”

“After that, we did two albums with Bonnie and had another massive hit with ‘It’s a Heartache’. I shared the production credits with Steve and Ronnie. The string arrangements were mine alone. In those days, Bonnie’s range was fantastic. She was a very emotive singer, which played a big part in her success. It didn’t take long to produce her. She was the star and the music should be adapted to her and her voice. It was the same thing with Cliff (Cliff Richard – BT). Just keep it simple! To me, producing a record has always been about the song more than anything else.”

In the early 1980s, David Mackay was involved in producing records for a string of high-profile artists (Dusty Springfield, Billy Ocean, Demis Roussos, Vicky Leandros, Johnny Hallyday, Johnny Logan…), but, gradually, his focus was diverted away from pop music. Instead, he began composing and arranging music for television. He had his first stint in 1983, when he was approached to do the music to the ITV comedy series ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’. The series was an instant success, and Mackay’s theme tune, ‘That’s Livin’ Alright’, was the second-biggest selling record of the year. For his work on the series, Mackay won an Ivor Novello Award, whilst also securing a BAFTA nomination.

David working behind the console in his own Factory Studio in London in 1978

“Frankly, I lost interest in the record industry at the time,” Mackay explains. “It was becoming very much run by businessmen and lawyers. The real record men, the guys like Ken East and Jac Holzman, weren’t there anymore. The guys who took over from their generation of record bosses usually had very little understanding of songs or how to create an artist. They weren’t interested in building an artist from the bottom and teaching them the ropes – all they were looking for was instant success. Therefore, I was happy when TV came along. When I was approached to do ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’, I felt I could do this type of music. There were great characters in the show, which instantly gave me ideas what music I could write for them. For the theme song, ‘That’s Livin’ Alright’, I asked my old pal Joe Fagin. Joe was already in his forties and EMI believed he was too old… so we put it out on a little independent label, and it was a huge hit. Though I usually had to work on tight budgets, I thought doing TV was good fun – much more enjoyable than working in the record industry. Television was my main source of income for twenty-odd years.”

Other television series Mackay composed and arranged the music to include ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Blott on the Landscape’ (both from 1985), and ‘Bread’ (1986-91). In 1992, he co-produced the animation series ‘The Bunbury Tails’, for which all songs had been written by the Bee Gees; one of the tracks for this programme, ‘Fight’, also featured Eric Clapton as lead vocalist. Meanwhile, Mackay took on some recording projects here and there, mainly for Australia-based artists such as Marcia Hines and, most importantly, Jon English. In 1990, English and Mackay released a concept album, ‘Paris’, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and a string of internationally acclaimed artists, including Harry Nilsson and Demis Roussos.

“Somewhere in the early 1980s,” Mackay recalls, “I was working on an album with Jon. One of the songs he did was ‘Oh, Paris’, which he wrote as a joke. Jon was getting fed up with DJs who interviewed him about his music without making an effort to understand the lyrics. So he wrote a song about the Trojan hero Paris – and, no surprises there, he got asked all the time why he wrote a song about France’s capital city. So he proved these guys were producing nothing but verbal garbage. This gave him the idea to write a stage musical about the Trojan War. He wanted me to do the project with him, but as we were living on different continents, it took us nearly ten years to finish it. When I was over in Australia, I’d spend six weeks at his place working on it, and vice versa. In between, we sent each other our ideas. At long last, after we had done a demo, we started thinking about who to ask for the different parts on the album. Of course, we were delighted to get Harry Nilsson on board. It was a long labour of love. In Australia, it won the award for best album of the year, but Warner didn’t put it out anywhere else in the world, unfortunately. Our dream was to bring it on stage in Australia following the album release, but it never really materialised. Some really good amateur productions have been done in various countries. It can stand up to any musical in the world. It may happen yet – we live in hope!”

After the turn of the century, David Mackay worked on several more TV series, most notably the sitcoms ‘As Time Goes By’ (sixty-seven episodes between 1992 and 2005) and ‘The House that Jack Built’ (2002). Also in 2002, he was the musical supervisor for a West End production of ‘125th Street’. As a studio producer, he recorded albums with Dame Edna Everage (2000) and former New Seekers bandmember Eve Graham (2005). Gradually, however, Mackay allowed his work pace to slow down.

At work in the studio (± 1990)

“I don’t want to sound bitter, but the technology applied in the music business from the 1990s onwards just left me dead. I liked fiddling with the first synthesisers and drum machines which arrived from America in the 1970s, but I lost interest once producing music came down to pushing a button and the rest happening from there onwards. That’s not music – it’s technical wizardry that has nothing to do with composition and harmonies. From that moment on, it was just about toys – and whoever has the most toys is the winner. TV work changed dramatically as well, mainly due to budgets becoming smaller and smaller. At some point, I decided it was time to take things a little easier. I only want to take on projects that I really like.”

One of those projects involved teaming up with Bonnie Tyler again. Having produced her first two studio LPs in the 1970s, David Mackay took the honours again for the Welsh songstress’s seventeenth and eighteenth albums, ‘Between the Earth and the Stars’ (2019) and ‘The Best Is Yet to Come’ (2021). ‘Between the Earth and the Stars’ peaked at no. 34 on the UK Albums Chart, while also entering the Top 40 in several European countries.

“I hadn’t seen Bonnie for twenty-five, thirty years perhaps. She had just done a recording in America, but she was in tears because the result disappointed her. A guy who had been her bass player approached me. Listening to the material, I saw the potential. The songs were great, but the tracks were awfully done. So we basically started recording all songs anew and it’s been fantastic. I co-wrote some new songs which we added to the already existing material. We approached Rod Stewart to do a duet with Bonnie. Rod loved doing it – I went over to his house to record his vocals. Then Bonnie played that duet to Cliff Richard and he said: “Why can’t I do a duet too?” So we had to find another song for Cliff. Bonnie is good fun to work with. She is a great performer and a hard worker. She always gives it her all. I must confess, however, that, although I really like working on her music, the fun of making records isn’t there anymore. Getting all my musician friends together in the studio and building up a track from scratch… that’s something of the past. If it wasn’t for Bonnie, I’d probably say that I’ve had enough.”

“Having said that, I’m more than satisfied with the career I’ve been having. I managed to make a lot of hits for many different artists… and particularly, I succeeded in taking quite some Australian music and singers onto the international stage. It’s been good fun. I couldn’t imagine what I would have been other than a musician. Now, I’m happy spending more time with my family – my children and their children. I like watching my grandchildren playing football at the weekends and I have a season ticket at Crystal Palace. I’m attending all their home matches at Selhurst Park with one of my grandsons. Of course, I do miss the Australian way of life, but with my entire family here in the UK, moving back is simply not an option. Whenever we can, however, we’re going back on trips to Australia to meet old friends and enjoy the sunshine over there. It’s all lovely enough!”

David (far left) with Bonnie Tyler, Bonnie’s husband Robert, and David’s wife Brenda (2016)

David Mackay in the Eurovision Song Contest
The first of David Mackay’s two associations with Eurovision came in 1972, as the BBC’s Head of Light Entertainment, Bill Cotton, invited the New Seekers to represent the United Kingdom in the international festival. As the group’s bass player Paul Layton recalled, “We were absolutely chuffed to be asked, especially when we found out we were going to be performing the final six songs on the ‘It’s Cliff Richard’ series.”

Mackay, who had been the group’s producer since 1970, was also in favour of doing Eurovision: “It was probably good to do it at the time. Now that the group were so popular, taking part in the contest was a way of capitalising on their success. It was almost like Beatlemania, as they were having hits all over the place. It was a bit scary to give away the selection of the submitted song material to the BBC, but it wasn’t entirely out of my hands – I was given the opportunity to listen to all six songs before giving the final go-ahead. There were a couple of good songs in there, so I felt we would be alright. I wrote the instrumental as well as the vocal arrangements to all six entries and conducted Norrie Paramor’s orchestra for them in Cliff’s shows. We were doing one song every week and then the public voted for which one they liked best by sending postcards.”

With an overwhelming majority, the British audience chose ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’, a song written by Tony Cole, Graeme Hall, and Steve Wolfe. “Some years later, Steve was my co-producer for two Bonnie Tyler albums,” Mackay adds. “I quite liked the tune, though it never was one of my favourites. It lacked the quality of the New Seekers’ previous hits, like ‘Look What They’ve Done to My Song Ma’ and ‘Never Ending Song of Love’. Still, it was the best song on offer and it worked well for the group. Harmonically, it had all the earmarks of being a good composition. I felt we would have a good chance to win the contest with it.”

“When doing the studio recording, I had Terry Britten as my guitar player. He was a fellow-Australian who had come over to England around the same time as me. He used to be in the Twilights, a group I had been the producer of in Australia. Terry was a great musician who, later on, composed ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’ for Tina Turner. The bass player in the recording session was another Australian friend, a guy from Adelaide who had been in another band I knew. The main thing was to have a good rhythm section. I first made the basic recording with them, before bringing in the string players – and finally the group itself.”

The 1972 Eurovision Song Contest was held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Even though he was quite inexperienced as a conductor, David Mackay led the festival orchestra for ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’ himself: “I could have used the guy who did the show (that year’s musical director for the contest, Malcolm Lockyer – BT), but the group wanted me to do it – so that’s why my name was put forward. Suddenly, however, a problem arose. I received a letter from the Home Office, saying that my work permit to stay in the UK would not be extended. My time was up – I had to go back to Australia! Despairing, I showed the letter to my accountant. He then replied on my behalf, writing that the guy there were sending back to Australia was due to conduct the orchestra for the British Eurovision entry. He probably also mentioned that I was the New Seekers’ producer. Whatever his exact wording was, the Home Office got the message. They reversed their initial decision; I got a permission to stay in Britain forever – and that was it really!”

French single release of the New Seekers’ Eurovision entry ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow’

During rehearsals in Edinburgh, the New Seekers and their entourage were deluged with huge crowds of fans. “We couldn’t go anywhere,” Mackay laughs. “The police even asked the group not to go near the windows of the hotel where we were staying. There were loads of kids out there who went berserk anytime they saw a glimpse of one of the group members from one of the windows. There were screaming girls all the time. They even broke down the hotel’s front door. We were kept inside all the time. Every time we had to go to a rehearsal, the police took us out through the back – or one time even through the kitchen – whisking us out, into cars taking us to the auditorium. I would have been alright… I could have walked out the front door without anyone knowing who I was. The group really were the biggest thing in Britain at that time. It was a manic week.”

Aged twenty-seven, Mackay was the youngest of all conductors taking part in the contest that year. “… And I didn’t like conducting!”, he adds, smiling. “Of course, I had to conduct studio sessions regularly. When the New Seekers toured America and Japan, I conducted smaller orchestras for them. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to do, but, all the same, I never enjoyed it, because I didn’t think I was a good conductor. I never had any conducting lessons. But for this event, I didn’t really have a choice. I wasn’t particularly nervous, as I knew what I wanted to get out of the musicians. The score was done, it was pretty straightforward, but it was just a matter of getting that energy to it.”

“Fortunately, the BBC allowed me to have Terry Britten, who had also done the studio session, to be part of the orchestra for my song. That was a blessing, because there was a slide guitar part which I wouldn’t have wanted to leave to just somebody on the night. In Edinburgh, my work was really with the rhythm section more than anything else. For the concert, I had added little bits and pieces to the orchestration here and there to make it sound better. Everything was done live, including the bass and two acoustic guitars being played by the guys on stage. Some coordination was required, but the rehearsals were good and the concert was excellent as well.”

On the night, Paul Layton, the New Seekers’ bass player, was less confident than his musical director: “It was very nerve-wracking before going on stage. The occasion was very formal. I was faced with a problem of logistics. I was often on television, playing my bass guitar, with a drummer who was some distance away in the orchestra, and no matter how well they hooked up the monitors in those days, it was always going to be a nervous situation, to try to make sure I could hear him as he was playing, without there being any time lag.”

The New Seekers posing for photographers in between rehearsals in Edinburgh (Eurovision 1972)

Perhaps, the New Seekers would have been even more nervous if they had been told about the bomb scare which occurred just before the contest was aired. “The group didn’t know and not many other people did,” Mackay recalls, “but I had been in the control room just before eight o’clock – and the police were there. But they and the BBC believed that it was a hoax. They were pretty confident, so they went ahead and did the show. Afterwards, when I told them about what had happened, the group said that they were sure I had conducted it faster than normal – and now they understood why, because I wanted to get it done and go out! We had a good laugh about it.”

Just before the New Seekers were due to go on stage, the BBC’s Bill Cotton came into the group’s dressing room to wish them luck. Mackay: “I’ll never forget that moment. Billy said he hoped we would do really well, and also that he hoped we would come second. I was astonished and asked him why he said that. He explained that they were only putting it on because the country that won it last year (Monaco – BT) wasn’t able to find the resources to do it. So the BBC had to finance it to keep the show going. “But,” as he said, “it takes up so much time and money… we don’t really want to go through all of that again next year. So, in an ideal world, you’ll come second.” I wasn’t particularly happy about his intervention at the time. It was a bit ‘interesting’, let’s put it that way.”

As it turned out, Bill Cotton’s prayers were heard, as the New Seekers finished second. To the group’s disappointment, Spain and Malta gave the UK entry the minimum vote. “There was a little politics involved in that,” Mackay maintains. “We could have come first, but the UK and Malta were in conflict at the time over British army bases on Malta. Edward Heath and Dom Mintoff (the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Malta at the time – BT) were in open disagreement. If we had gotten some more marks from Malta, it would have brought us a lot closer. On the Monday morning after the contest, the front page of the paper brought the news that Mintoff had finally agreed to the financial compensation offered by Heath… so they were back on song again. Who knows what would have happened with the Maltese vote if the agreement had been reached three days before?”

The contest was won by ‘Après toi’, a lush love ballad performed by Greek singer Vicky Leandros, who represented Luxembourg in the contest. Mackay: “That was a good record and she was a worthy winner of the contest. It’s funny, because we didn’t meet in Edinburgh, but I did a record with her later on. Phonogram International were asked by the United Nations to put together an album with major artists for the International Year of the Disabled (in 1981 – BT). They wanted to do an album with different major artists from around the world – Demis Roussos and Johnny Hallyday were approached, but they wanted Vicky’s face on the cover, because she was such a pretty girl. Part of the album was produced by Vicky’s father, but I did the majority of the songs. It was recorded all over the place. I particularly remember a recording session with Johnny Hallyday in Paris, which went on too long – and I missed my plane, so I stayed with Johnny and we had a very late dinner cooked by Mort Shuman. Vicky also did a duet with David Soul for which I was the producer. She was a nice lady and a good singer. It was quite a project.”

Four of five members of the New Seekers on the Eurovision stage in Edinburgh, from left to right: Peter Layton, Lyn Paul, Peter Doyle, and Eve Graham

In a nice Eurovision coincidence, David Mackay was the conductor for the United Kingdom in the following edition of the Eurovision Song Contest as well. For the 1973 festival, the BBC invited Cliff Richard to do the honours. As luck would have it, David Mackay was one of the producers who had stepped in when Cliff’s long-time producer Norrie Paramor retired in the course of 1972.

“I got a call from Cliff’s manager Peter Gormley,” Mackay recounts. “He wanted to have a group of various producers to work with Cliff once Norrie retired. The others were Terry Britten, Bruce Welch, Hank Marvin, and John Farrar. He wanted a set of people, because Norrie Paramor’s boots were quite hard to fill with all those hits with Cliff to his credit. The offer to work with Cliff didn’t come as a complete surprise to me, as Norrie himself had told me about Peter’s plans, and how Peter had told him that he wanted me to be the first person to take over. I had worked with Norrie on a few things when I had moved from Australia to work for EMI, so we knew each other. I didn’t know at the time that Norrie had been diagnosed with cancer. That was the reason he was stepping back. He moved to Birmingham where he conducted the BBC Midlands Orchestra for some time before he stopped working altogether. He died some years later.”

“Peter asked me to do the first single with Cliff after Norrie left. It felt like a daunting task, because it wouldn’t look very good if I disappointed Cliff or his entourage in some way. I told Cliff that I was happy to do it, but that I wanted to change a few things around. I wanted him to be more involved in the recording process. With Norrie, he was used to having the entire track prepared for him in advance. Cliff was only called in to sing the song and then go home again. I wanted him to be there when we were doing the tracks. I wanted him to sing on the backing vocals, perhaps even write songs himself. I wanted him to be involved all the way through. Cliff said: “Yeah, great, that’ll be fun”, so that’s how we got started.”

“The first thing we recorded was a country song which we were all happy with… and then, the next thing I’m told is that Cliff would be doing Eurovision – and that he and Peter wanted me to arrange and conduct that. I thought: “Oh no, here I go again!” That was a tough old job! The song which was picked was ‘Power to All Our Friends’. It wasn’t a great song. It was good enough for what it was, the Eurovision Song Contest, but it’s not the favourite record I’ve ever produced. For the studio recording, I used the same session players with whom I had done all the New Seekers stuff – with Terry Britten again doing one of the two guitar parts. Two of the others were Australians, Trevor Spencer and John Farrar. John also was part of the Shadows at the time.”

While preparing the Eurovision project, Mackay was called to a meeting with the BBC’s Head of Light Entertainment, Bill Cotton. “Peter Gormley and Cliff were also there. Cotton had discovered that, under the rules of Eurovision, it was allowed to use a backing track. We all looked at him and thought: “Are you sure?” The previous year, everything was done completely live, so it must have been a new rule. Billy absolutely wanted to use a backing track to play along with the orchestra in Luxembourg. He knew that nobody had ever done this before. I have no idea why he thought it was so important. Perhaps he thought that, with a backing track, we would sound better than everybody else? Cliff and all the rest of us would have been more than happy to do the whole thing live. Billy Cotton took the decision – perhaps in collusion with one of his producers. Then, I had to prepare a backing track with the rhythm players for us to take to Luxembourg. At first, I was at a loss how we were going to do this. Again, there was going to be an orchestra that I had to conduct. Billy Cotton and the others at the BBC encouraged me. They said: “We’ll be behind you. You just go ahead and conduct the orchestra. We’ll worry about all the rest of it.”

Cliff Richard performing in the 1973 edition of ‘A Song for Europe’

Before travelling to Luxembourg as the conductor of the UK’s Eurovision delegation, there was some other minor business to attend to. “It was a very peculiar week, to say the least,” Mackay laughs. “I got married on the Saturday and I had to leave my wife Brenda on Monday morning to take Cliff to Luxembourg on my honeymoon! Brenda couldn’t be there with us. The wedding itself was wonderful enough. Cliff was there too – and his manager Peter Gormley, who was a fellow-Australian and a great friend, was my best man. After he did Eurovision, Cliff immediately flew to Australia for a tour. Before he left, he gave my wife and me free aeroplane tickets to travel around the world. That was his wedding gift for us. Brenda and I departed the week after the Eurovision Song Contest. I met up with Cliff in Australia to supervise the sound on one of his concerts to set him and his musicians off on their tour. Brenda and I did lots of travelling in the following weeks. We had a lovely honeymoon… eventually!”

Once in Luxembourg, it was down to the orchestral rehearsals. In the first rehearsal, with BBC producer Stewart Morris standing right behind him, David Mackay had to explain the musicians what was about to happen. “I needed an interpreter for that, because my French wasn’t good enough to explain what was going on. So I told them that I would be wearing headphones and that there would be a backing track. They were looking at one another. They must have been thinking: “What on earth is going on here?” Now, in the auditorium, there were delegates from other countries. When the track started and Cliff did his bit, I could see that many of them getting up and going to the back of the hall. As I was told later, they were looking for the director of the Eurovision Song Contest to file a complaint. We simply went through the rehearsal as planned. After coming off stage, we went back to our hotel and thought nothing more of it.”

As it turned out, there had been a mistake in the translation of the new backing track rule from the original French to English. “That same night, I was given a call by the BBC’s Head of Delegation. He said it was not a problem using the track, but we couldn’t use the backing voices. In London, following the instructions I had been given at the BBC meeting, I had done a track with rhythm instruments and backing vocals. So now I had to do a new version without the vocals. We hired a studio at RTL (Luxembourg’s broadcasting service – BT) the next day. The guys had their guitars with them and Trevor Spencer took his conga drums. As it was a radio studio, there was not the advanced recording equipment available that we had used in London. There was just one big desk and one microphone on the top. Alan Tarney, the bass player, had his bass plugged into a bass amp (an amplifier – BT), but in order to hear the sound effect, Cliff had to hold up the amp for him! It had to be as close to the microphone as possible. In order for them to know when to start singing the a cappella bit at the beginning, there was a short count-in on the bass guitar – and that was it, that was our new rhythm track!”

“Then, for the concert, the guys had to sing live to the rhythm track, while I had to conduct the orchestra and hope that their singing, the track, and the orchestra would all be in sync… because if we weren’t, we were in shit street! Fortunately, it all came together and it worked. The orchestra in Luxembourg were fine. I had no complaints with them. On the other hand, I wasn’t really testing them, because there was not a lot they had to do for our song really. Watching the video of our performance, you can see the drummer and the other rhythm players in the orchestra sitting there doing nothing behind Cliff, while he did that outlandish dancing routine he had thought out. It was all so stupid. I was embarrassed for the orchestra and I felt embarrassed myself doing it. I never spoke to the Luxembourg musicians at all really – we were just in and out, that was it.”

David and his wife Brenda celebrating their wedding, flanked by disk jockey Alan 'Fluff' Freeman (far left) and Cliff Richard (far right)

“Out of interest, we sat in on the rehearsals by the other artists. We were feeling so unhappy about being different from the others due to that rhythm track – and we wanted to be part of the festival along with the artists from the other countries, I suppose. Two or three of them were really good. Our favourites were Mocedades and ‘Eres tú’ (the Spanish entry – BT). That was just the most wonderful song and they had beautiful voices too. A class act! That should have won. Just before going into make-up before the show, Cliff and I went over to them, saying: “If there’s any justice, you guys are going to win!” They loved us for that. What better for any artist than to hear Cliff Richard saying that you deserve the trophy? In the end, we came third and they were second. I don’t even remember who won. All these countries voting – it’s very unpredictable, isn’t it?”

According to some sources, Cliff Richard took valium to keep his nerves in check for the Eurovision performance in Luxembourg; allegedly, Peter Gormley even had to do his utmost to wake him up in time. “Of course, he would have wanted to win, but Cliff wasn’t too dejected about not winning,” Mackay adds. “Coming third was pretty good. It was reasonable. My most vivid memory is of Cliff hiding in our dressing room during the voting. He didn’t want to sit with the other artists while the votes were coming in. He felt it was a cattle pen. It was embarrassing for an artist like him to be there. Now, Cliff’s dressing room was on the ground floor, but the four backing guys and I shared another one on the third floor of the theatre. When the voting was about to start, he came up to us and hid in the toilet of our dressing room until near the end. At some point, the floor manager came in, asking us: “Have you seen Mr Richard?” He was panicking. Now, we didn’t want to give him away, so we said that we hadn’t and that he surely was downstairs somewhere. When the voting was nearly done, Cliff went back downstairs as if nothing had happened: “Oh, I’ve just been walking around, you know.” When it was all over, he joined the afterparty with the other artists. He was just fine.”

“Following the Eurovision Song Contest, I worked with Cliff for the next year-and-a-half. We did a bunch of singles and three albums; one of them was ‘The 31st of February Street’, for which Cliff wrote about half of the songs himself. That was exactly what I had wanted from him all along! He also played some guitar for that album and he was in with the backing vocals. He really got involved on the recording side.”

Now, about half a year after doing Eurovision with Cliff, I was invited to Peter Gormley’s house. It turned out he wanted me to do another Eurovision. Olivia Newton John had been invited by the BBC. “No way,” I said. “No way am I going through all of that again. I’ve had enough!” Peter was just making a joke, because he knew I would never want to do Eurovision again, not even with Olivia, who was and still is a great friend. Her entire entourage was Australian, all of them being friends of mine too… but I just felt that Luxembourg had been an embarrassment for all of us. In Scotland, with the New Seekers, I wasn’t embarrassed. The guys were playing live on stage along with the orchestra; it was a proper contest in which everybody taking part was working under the same conditions. That was good. With Cliff however, doing the track, we just felt we were different from all the others – and it was a really uneasy feeling. We wanted to be the same! Peter Gormley asked Nick Ingman to do the Eurovision job for Olivia. That was a good choice, as Nick is a good arranger and a proper conductor; a much better one than I am!”

“That next year, the Eurovision Song Contest was won by ABBA. They used an extensive backing track – and the sound of the contest changed dramatically as a result. Suddenly, everybody started using tracks. I’m feeling even more embarrassed now about what happened in Luxembourg than I did at the time, because it was the beginning of the end. Eurovision used to be done on a level playing field: one set, one orchestra. That was a proper contest with a real atmosphere. Nowadays, it has turned into a beauty contest – and the broadcaster who wants to spend the most money on production and special effects is the winner. You just sit there watching something ridiculously over the top, but there’s no song to them! It’s supposed to be a song contest. Perhaps it would be better to have it on the radio, without the visuals. To me, doing Eurovision was just a job, but, at least, when I did it in 1972, it was down to picking the best song. It’s such a shame that’s not the case any longer.”

Cliff Richard rehearsing on the Eurovision stage in Luxembourg (1973)

Other artists on David Mackay
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Links & sources
  • Bas Tukker did an interview with David Mackay, December 2020.
  • An interesting interview with David Mackay for an Australian radio station from 2019 can be accessed by clicking this link.
  • The 1970s volume of Gordon Roxburgh’s ‘bible’ of UK’s Eurovision history: “Songs for Europe – The United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest. Volume Two: the 1970s”, Telos: Canterbury 2014.
  • Photos courtesy of David Mackay and Ferry van der Zant.
  • Thanks due to Gordon Roxburgh for readiness to answer my questions about the 1972 and 1973 Eurovision entries while I was in the writing process; to Bill Holland and Edwin van Gorp for proofreading the manuscript; and to Edwin van Gorp for putting it online.

  

Songs conducted
1972: Beg, steal or borrow
1973: Power to all our friends