I've often been described as a ‘pop tart' by various acquaintances and I can see their point. Over the past 30 years or so, by positively taking on just about any project that has been thrown my way, I've had the great pleasure of working with an extremely diverse list of talented artistes in a wide contrast of music styles.
As a child I was weaned on the Beatles, Motown and the innovative late music of the late sixties which I still rates as my favourite. My first ‘gig' was at the age of eleven miming to a ‘Barron Knights' record at a Boys Brigade display. I got the bug and after doing the rounds of local pubs and clubs during my late teens, I turned pro with my band ‘Silver City' in September '75 and spent the next few years constantly touring around Denmark, Norway, Germany and Italy with the odd gig in the UK as well as a spell in Jersey.
My recording career started in 1977 with that same band when we recorded an album to sell primarily in Scandinavia where after a couple of years of long visits, we had become quite popular. By the Summer of '78 and after having ‘too much fun', I wanted to get a bit more serious with my music so I joined a resident ‘Mecca' band in a South Wales nightclub who had just acquired a recording deal resulting in my first UK single release as a writer / performer. However the album we'd expensively recorded never saw the light of day and I started searching for new avenues with which to exploit my music ideas.
After a chance meeting in a London studio, I was then headhunted by Eurovision winners ‘Brotherhood Of Man' who I joined as a frontline member earning me my first UK chart hit called ‘Lightning Flash’.
During my time with them, I was mentored by the band's manager / producer, multi Ivor Novello award winning songwriter Tony Hiller, developing my writing skills, learning how to arrange music and studio production techniques. The most invaluable advice he gave me was how to ‘create your own luck' in the music business by working hard at it. After a few enjoyable years with ‘Brotherhood' as a touring headlining concert act, including performing in front of the Pope, reaching the ‘Song For Europe' finals and an album release on EMI, I spread my wings in the mid 80s diversifying into dance music and became the resident DJ at the ‘Hammersmith Palais' in London, also gaining a part in the feature film ‘Foreign Body’ (as the Palais DJ).
After the extreme ‘middle of the roadness' of Brotherhood, becoming ‘hip' was a real challenge. However, I somehow managed to achieve some credibility in the dance market and ex ‘Radio Luxembourg' legend Tony Prince then signed me as a solo artiste to his new DMC/Arista record label. DMC was the hippest DJ / Re-mixer company at that time resulting in plenty of production work offers which kept me going right into the early 90s.
I also secured my first album release in the States and had many UK and international dance hits. During this period I also got to work with and produce some acts that I had bought records of when I was a child such as The Barron Knights, Wilson Pickett and Frankie Vaughan (sadly my favourite Beatles, were no longer available).
In 1990, on one of my many jaunts to the ‘Midem' music trade fair in Cannes, I met a fledgling A&R man by the name of Simon Cowell who was very interested in a couple of my productions. He gave me my first major publishing deal, which enabled me to purchase my own top quality recording studio, and one year later, a UK top ten pop hit on his new label at BMG with ‘Sonia’.
Hit releases that followed included one of my songs produced by Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) and with FA Cup finalists Crystal Palace (recorded at Abbey Road).
When tuneless ‘rave' music became fashionable in the early 90s, I did an about turn and gave up my DJ activities in top nightclubs in favour of my new found passion, playing tuneful Country Rock music live with my band ‘Starz & Strypes’. This resulted in song writing trips to Nashville USA and the production of an album full of my new American country style tunes although I was still keeping my dance and pop music hats on producing and writing with acts such as ‘Hazell Dean' and ‘Dollar'. I also had a spell as musical director for ‘Bucks Fizz' and another FA Cup Final hit, this time with Chelsea FC.
In July of ‘94, I took my new live gigging act WILD AT HEART to Bosnia with comic Jim Davidson for a successful CSE tour of military installations.
Although not politically motivated, during the summer of ’95, I was asked to provide and musically direct my band for the Labour Party (and the Daily Mirror), on their high profile ‘Rolling Rose’ tour of the UK. Hilariously, this included TV appearances on current affairs programmes (Panorama, On The Record, News At Ten etc.), with Tony Blair, John Prescott and various other members of the then, shadow cabinet.
The country rock CD eventually led me to the line dancing scene which was the new craze of ‘96/'97 and together with the help of line dance expert Steve Crosby, who was running the national UK championships, I auditioned and created the poptabulous ‘Steps', and wrote ‘5-6-7-8' which eventually became a worldwide hit, subsequently a party pop standard with 17 weeks in the UK chart, climbing all over Europe and the Far East, finally topping the Australian chart at No.1. After nearly every major label turned us and ‘Steps' down (they thought a boy / girl act was not fashionable anymore), Pete Waterman jumped in, signed the act up and on they went to legendary status.
Apart from the many gold and platinum awards for ‘Steps’, I also received a silver disc for the hot selling NO.1 LINE DANCING DANCING ALBUM (Polygram TV) with myself, performing my own song ‘I’m Still Falling’. My self produced and directed video of this song was a ‘Hot Shot’ on CMT Europe.
In late ‘97, I now had a surplus of New Country Rock songs written and recorded partly in the States and so I released another solo album, this time with a line dance theme (unashamedly titled 5-6-7-8, The Album). I subsequently got the chance to appear in a feature film with Patrick Stewart, singing and playing a couple of my own songs.
After a couple of years of trying to re-create the success of ‘Steps' with various young ‘wannabes' who hadn't the necessary work ethic (although I came very close on a couple of occasions, e.g. ‘Waikiki', the worlds first all female surf band), I turned to producing and writing with seasoned professionals such as long term friend ‘Shane Richie' and punk icon lunatic ‘John Otway' of whom I had been a real fan for many years.
It was with great pleasure that I helped John realize his dream of having a top ten hit on the very week of his 50th birthday in '02 by producing the track ‘Bunsen Burner’ which resulted in us both appearing on Top Of The Pops and at The London Palladium in the same week. We followed that success up with a co-written album which I also produced including my first ever Rock anthem and riff, the song becoming an Otway fans' live classic.
After that followed hits in '03 with another FA Cup final song, this time for Southampton, then in '04 with ‘The Cheeky Girls' and incredibly, with my own current live band (under the name of ‘HotPantz'), the latter becoming my first Christmas single success.
During the last few years I've achieved chart status with some World Cup related songs ('06), an updated re-record of the classic ‘Grease' album ('07), a song inclusion in the Oscar winning film ‘Little Miss Sunshine' ('07), a Halloween Party Album (’07), a childrens TV Themes album (’08) and the follow up ‘My Favourite Musicals’ album (‘09).
At the tail end of 2009, I had a surprise international top 20 Country hit with a song I’d written 15 years earlier and finally released the album I’d been working on (between other projects) for over 10 years called ‘Peace, Luv & Hotpantz’.
Some of my T.V. and radio appearances over the years include items with "Brotherhood of Man" together with features on "Jameson Tonight", "The Big Breakfast", "VH1", "The James Whale Show", "Johnny Walker (Radio 2)", "Top Of The Pops" and various other promotional interviews, videos and musical items.
When I look back over my 30+ years of record releases, I can say with all sincerity that I'm proud of all the work I’ve created, whether ‘cheesy' or ‘credible' and although it may be unfashionable in some quarters, I'm deliriously happy to be a ‘pop tart'.
Copyright © Barry Upton 2019. www.barryupton.co.uk