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Music interview: Simon Raymonde on ‘Paradise: The Sound of Ivor Raymonde’

Ivor Raymonde
Ivor Raymonde
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In the 1960s he was one of the busiest arrangers and musical directors in British pop, working with such stars as Dusty Springfield, Billy Fury, Helen Shapiro and the Walker Brothers as well as a pre-fame David Bowie and Tom Jones.

Yet as trends changed, and electric guitars and synthesisers replaced orchestras at the top of the charts, Ivor Raymonde found himself relegated to a footnote on dusty old record sleeves.

Now, more than 20 years after his death, a new album, Paradise: The Sound of Ivor Raymonde, compiled by his son, Simon, former member of the band Cocteau Twins and latterly boss of the record label Bella Union, and friend Kieron Tyler, attempts to open up a new appreciation of a skilful musician whose gift for orchestration illuminated such hits as Halfway To Paradise, I Only Want To Be With You and Make It Easy on Yourself.

Simon says putting together the compilation was “partly motivated by the very fact” that so little has been written about his late father. “I suppose there’s a lot of people from the 50s and 60s who worked on a lot of those records that aren’t known really,” he says. “If you try to google ‘Ivor Raymonde’ you’ll get a bit of stuff about Dusty Springfield but there’s not one image of him on Google Images, which is bizarre, if you think about it how things are today. You can google anyone you want from the 80s onwards and see no end of pictures, so that was quite weird realising I know what he’s done – well, a lot of it – but a lot of people don’t.

“Then once I started digging in I realised I didn’t know anything either and continue to not know anything either. I’ve just put together yesterday a compilation of just as good stuff, if not better, than [Paradise]. It just goes on and on and on, and that’s I suppose the beauty of the internet in its purest form right now, that I’m able to discover new things that are getting uploaded that a few months ago weren’t there.”

Trained at Trinity College of Music, the young Ivor Raymonde worked as a miner during the Second World War before finding work as a jazz pianist in clubs in Bournemouth. “Then he got a job on the Queen Mary, going from Southampton to New York, playing jazz piano,” Simon says. “He would jump off at the other end and they’d go off and watch their heroes play in these beautiful jazz clubs in New York – I think that was his real love at the time.

His talent was being in the studio, understanding a song, how to lift it at certain points but not over-dominating, I think that’s the thing.

Simon Raymonde

“Then one thing led to another and somebody who booked some of those shows in Bournemouth began working at the BBC doing various TV shows at asked him to get involved doing music stuff. That was the entry point into London and a career in that world.”

Ivor would work his way up to music director at the BBC, alongside the likes of Wally Stott, the Leeds-born composer and arranger later known as Angela Morley. Throughout this period Ivor was also a prolific session musician and songwriter. “He was quite faceted in lots of different areas,” says Simon. “He was an amazing string arranger, and I suppose that’s how most people know him, through the Walker Brothers and Dusty stuff, but he wrote a lot of stuff. I’ve even discovered more things recently that weren’t big hits but the musical direction, the playing and the singing [are impressive]. There’s a track on the album called Mylene that I just found by accident, it had just come up as a credit on this soundtrack of a movie called Upstairs Downstairs and I managed to track a copy of it down and when I actually got the vinyl and put it on the turntable I realised he wasn’t doing anything other than singing, he was the main featured vocal, and it actually blew my mind because it sounded so good, it was like Nat ‘King’ Cole. It made me have an even deeper respect for all these things because it just goes to show sometimes you end up doing just what people employ you to do.

“In those days it seemed from all the documentation he was the sort of guy who’d turn his hand to anything, he was happy to get paid, happy to be a session musician, happy to do an arrangement if asked and didn’t turn down work, and this was probably one of those scenarios. I can just imagine someone saying ‘The singer’s not turned up, can you do it?’ and him going ‘Yeah, sure, no problem’ and all of a sudden it’s on a soundtrack. I’m guessing there but that’s what to me sums up some of his talents and I’ve tried to put as much of it as I can into this compilation.”

Ivor also had a brief acting career, that was unknown to Simon until after his father’s death in 1990. “He died quite young [aged 63] and I was still in my 20s and starting to make my own way in music. I was obsessed with Tony Hancock for no reason other than I’d seen it on TV and thought it was hilarious and joined the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society and would get these fanzines every couple of weeks that had various information in it then I bought this academic book which listed every episode of the show and who did what, it was more of a reference book than one you would choose to read deliberately. I was lying in the bath one day and started to read the book and suddenly his name popped out on one of the cast lists. I called my mum and said, ‘Dad was in Hancock?’ She said, ‘Yes, you knew that’ and I said, ‘Mum, I did not know that’ So that was another crazy moment. His performance in some of the show is hilarious because he’s really no actor, I can imagine he was just there doing some music maybe and they were like, ‘Ivor, you’re a good-looking bloke, go over there and hold that thing’ and you can be an extra in the show, then gradually he got a couple of speaking parts. He was not an actor but it’s really funny and a great little story that is part of this appreciation of what he did.”

Following his stint at the BBC, Ivor moved to Phillips, where he became an in-house producer and arranger. It was there that he forged a strong working relationship with the singer Dusty Springfield, first with her group the Springfields then as a solo artist. “The track that he wrote, I Only Want To Be With You, which was her first hit, it was actually written for Frankie Vaughan,” Simon reveals. “The story I heard from my mum was that him and Mike [Hawker], his co-writer, went round to Frankie’s house and sat down at the piano and said, ‘We’ve got this tune for you, let us know if you like it’. So they played it and he liked it an awful lot but he said, ‘I’ve got a single coming out, boys, thanks very much but I’m not going to be able to do it at this time’.

“So they basically scribbled the lyrics out changing them so that they would seek a female voice, drove round to Dusty’s house and played it to her and she said, ‘I love it, let’s do it’ and a week later it was in the charts. In those days that’s how it worked, not like today where you’ve got to wait five months to get a record pressed.”

The pair continued to work together throughout the 60s. Simon believes the key to their partnership was his father “got what Dusty was about, what her voice was like”. “His talent was being in the studio, understanding a song, how to lift it at certain points but not over-dominating, I think that’s the thing. Some of the records from that period the vocal is almost being swamped by the orchestration but he just seemed to let it breathe. I think he leant a lot from stuff that was coming back from America. Ultimately Dusty decided that her future was not with this British version of the Phil Spector sound, but she wanted to go to America have the real thing. I think that was probably a natural progression for her when she started working with Burt Bacharach and people like that, I suppose that was inevitable.”

The Walker Brothers’ search for “top quality string arrangers” led them to Ivor Raymonde. “The band were popular in the UK at that time and wanting to do more stuff here and I think it was right place, right time,” says Simon.

He has “very vague” memories of Scott Walker coming to their house when Simon was four or five years old. “He came to the house one sunny day, I was looking out of the window and I remember this spectre, almost, in the garden. I remember the white shirt billowing in the wind and talking to my parents about it and asking them who this guy was. I knew it was somebody special. It’s quite weird, if you think about it, with what happened with my band [Cocteau Twins] signing for Fontana and him being on Fontana and him being on 4AD and my band being on 4AD, there are so many strange coincidences and connections, but I do remember that day and this excitement in the house of Scott Walker coming to tea.”

In the 70s Ivor worked with DJM Records. The new compilation includes the song Superman’s Big Sister that Ivor made with Ian Dury. “That one came out of the blue,” Simon says. “Ian heard a lot of stuff that he’d done in the 60s and said, ‘I want that guy’. I think it’s brilliant.”

It was however to be one of Ivor’s last major commissions. “Once you got to the late 70s and early 80s work really did dry up for him in the string-arranging side because people just didn’t do strings as much on big things,” Simon says. “It was just out of fashion and he struggled to get working the latter part of his life and that was pretty sad because sequencers and synths and samples were all doing the job for you as musician if you didn’t have the budget. The cost of an orchestra was quite prohibitive. That was a bit of a regret for him that he didn’t get work with a lot of the people that I grew up with.

“I know that Ben Watt was a big fan of his and went down to meet my dad and pick his brains about string arrangements and that was not long before he died. Ben was in his Everything But The Girl days, so I guess it was ’87 or ’88. Maybe he would’ve loved to have worked with dad but I just don’t think they had the budget.”

As a musician himself, Raymonde says he’s struck by the variety of his father’s work. “If you look at my career in music, it’s all in one genre; he’s doing all sorts of things. He’s got classic pop tracks, he’s got instrumentals and string arrangements and classical pieces, The Flies is almost like an early version of punk rock, he’s also got the ballads there. I got a printout the other day of all the Decca recordings from the early 60s through to about ’67, every single track that was recorded, and what is astonishing is how many tracks he was involved with. In the right-hand column it’s got who was the producer, who was the musical director and who was the arranger, and I would say 200 or 300 of the tracks he’s involved with. I’ve heard a lot of them through the compilations I’ve put together but there’s probably a good 100 of those tracks that are either not available and were just demos or they got deleted somehow.

“I’ve got a friend who helped me with this compilation, Keiron Tyler, and he’s obsessed with this era and he knows so much about it and I showed this to him yesterday and he said, ‘I haven’t even heard of half of these artists’ and he’s a specialist in this period. So it’s really interesting how much variation there is and I think it’s just a case of he was there at this point in time in music when so much stuff was being done. The Decca Studios were this hugely important part of British pop music.”

Simon regrets that he didn’t ask discuss music much with his father. “I don’t know if it was the age I was at when all of this was going on. Once I really started taking an interest in music I was 14 years old when punk happened and that was my entry point into music, really. You don’t really want your dad’s opinion at the age of 14, no matter who he is.

“My relationship with my parents was fine, there was nothing bad about it at all, but I don’t remember deep conversations about the music business, sadly, because I was too young to appreciate what he was doing and too selfish and wrapped up in my own teenage issues to really get it and I terribly regret that – what a wealth of stuff there to talk about, all things that I’m totally obsessed with – Walker Brothers, Dusty, Tom Jones, Helen Shapiro – there’s so much stuff on there that I personally adore. I would die to go and have a chat with him about this stuff now but at the time I didn’t get it, I was this snotty little punk rocker that was interested only in going to see whatever bands I could from night to night.”

It seems Ivor did however take a paternal interest in Cocteau Twins. “He was really sweet about that stuff and he was very encouraging about my own musical career which was taking off a little bit during the 80s,” Simon recalls. “He never offered too much of an opinion about it but he always said he loved the records. He had copies of them all in his record collection when he died. Quite how much he got it, whether he found it interesting, I doubt it because that was a difficult time for him. I’m doing stuff all over the place he’s sat at home doing nothing and it was obviously quite strange for him.”

Paradise: The Sound of Ivor Raymonde is out on Bella Union Records on August 3.