Episode 6 of Barry Greenfield’s BARRY’S TALES:
The tale begins with me, a 19-year-old, upstairs in a double-decker bus in Manchester. I had my guitar with me. I chatted with Bernice Seger, another teen on the bus, about music. Turns out, her boyfriend was Lol Creme. She gave me Lol Creme’s number. I called Lol. He was a bit testy that I was calling, seeking guidance on the Manchester Music Scene. He gave me his manager’s, Harvey Lisberg’s, number, with direction to ask him. I was thankful.
I called Lisberg. He invited me over to his home. I immediately walked the 25 minutes, guitar in hand. We went into his sitting-room. I played him about 30 seconds of a Barry Greenfield song, when he stopped me and telephoned Graham Gouldman.
Lisberg, was the manager of Herman’s Hermits, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Freddie and the Dreamers, 10cc, and more.
“Graham I have this kid here who’s great, sounds like Cat Stevens”. (I had never heard of Cat Stevens). Graham was about to leave with his wife Susan for Ringway, and Majorca, on holiday. “Can you stop by, on the way and give a listen? “
Graham was one of my heroes. His catalogue shaped my music. The first song I learnt on guitar living in Durban SA, at age 15, was ‘For Your Love’. ‘Look through any Window’ had a brilliant riff! Graham walked in. Heavy coat, scarf, successful and cool in appearance. Susan by his side. I played him a few songs.
“Nice”. He didn’t sit down. Didn’t remove his coat or scarf. His decision was immediate. He asked me to write a single and concluded by saying that he would produce me at Strawberry in 10 days. Gone.
I wrote ‘Sweet America’, about Viet Nam. On his return Graham popped over. He approved my song.
When Graham and I arrived at Strawberry it was early afternoon. I recall how weird a place it was for a Studio. It was a street where one should buy apples and tea towels, raise a family, not make hits. Once inside it felt great. Small but compact small. Eric, Lol, and Kevin were waiting to work. The song needed a bridge/middle eight, and together Gouldman and I banged it out. Graham played bass, lead guitar and produced. Kev on the kit, Lol on Rhythm, Eric on the Board, with Peter Tattersall alongside. I sang. Personality wise, it was fun. They all worked well together and were happy to follow Graham’s instructions. They were supportive and interested. Eric and Kevin kept checking with me, ensuring the Artist was happy with the plan. Lol was colder and more aloof.
When we had the band-track complete, 2 hours later, it felt good. The feel matched my writing. I sang the verses with ease. But I struggled on the bridge. Graham took a few passes at it. That worked, and we kept his voice on the take. It was evident that the boys worked well together. Laughter. Ease of chat. Democratic. Eric asked me questions about choices, and I felt welcome.
The Studio was small and cozy. It was tidy and we were close together. I had a choice of microphones. The Boys took their places and worked diligently. I remember being interested in Kevin’s drum part and thinking that he didn’t look like a drummer. Lol was short and loved his own humour. Graham was the Captain that day. It was his project and his friends seemed okay with that. I sensed only joy. It was my first Studio experience, at this level, and though I was petrified going in, Graham made the experience safe and rewarding.
‘Sweet America’ was complete.
We approached ‘Dorothy’s’ Daughter’, the B Side. We duplicated the process, but the result was not the same. Kevin and Lol couldn’t quite understand the song, or my vision, or didn’t care. We spent some time on it, but I eventually surrendered, and the result was a crap recording of an okay song. To this day I see it as a missed opportunity. The song was always special to me but the recording, not so much.
When it was time to do the background vocals, Graham sang a harmony on ‘Sweet America’, that worked. The three, Kev, Lol and Graham, with me joining in, took a shot at ‘Dorothy’s Daughter’ on background vocals. It was weak and soulless and made the track worse. They made me feel uncomfortable. The experience was over.
Lisberg made a deal with Philips Records. ‘Sweet America’ came out and was named Tony Blackburn’s BBC Record of the Week. The week preceding was ‘Another Day‘ by Paul McCartney, and the week following was ‘Ticket to Ride’ by the Carpenters. At 7:45am, Monday to Friday, Tony announced that Barry Greenfield had the BBC Record of the week. I listened on my transistor radio all 5 days.
Looking back, it was a good ride, mostly due to the warm hearts of Harvey Lisberg, Graham Gouldman, and working with the uber talented Eric Stewart. I worked, and played, with Graham for the next year. Living with the Gouldmans’, loving my Manchester life. Writing and learning from the Master tunesmith. I was in school. Those lessons shaped me. Graham and I remain in constant contact to this day. Brothers in arms.
Strawberry was finding its legs when I got my turn. It obviously grew steadier, found confidence, and became historic. It’s always little steps that get you there. These steps were at the start of my long journey that continues today. I am grateful for that wonderful experience.
Every brick in my wall is an important brick. 1970, in Strawberry, taught me how to work with others, to listen, and to be courageous enough to offer my two cents. I have carried these early lessons forward.
Sweet America was covered by Buffy Sainte-Marie‘s as the title track on her 12th album (Feb ’76), her last until her 1992 comeback.