Barry Palmer Interview

September 25, 1997
Marcus Junglas, Konrad Doser

At the beginning I want to mention that I got many notes of people who said that your voice matches perfectly to Mikes music. It's not just my opinion.

Ah, you disagree, I know you think I sound like Barry Manilow.


We check this later. [laughs - we always did that joke on the meeting]

I know that Manilow is just a cover name of yours.

Of course! I though we agreed to keep quiet about that. Seriously, this is a nice compliment if someone says this to me, although I do not think that was true really. Anyway this is a nice compliment and I feel very good about that.

How did you meet Mike first?

Actually I was contacted by the telephone from him. He heard a record I made with Triumvirat. He was touring in Germany and he was with his friend Dirk Hohmeyer who worked for Virgin records and he played one record at a dinner, so Mike asked "who is this singer" and Dirk knew me. I think that Dirk had in mind to let Mike hear me sing and Mike liked it and tried to make some contact with me. Itt took Mike a long time to find me as I mooved from one adress 3 or 4 times in meantime. Eventtually he caught me and phoned me at my home. Anyway I have to thank Dirk and Triumvirat.

The first song you recorded was Crime of Passion!?


Who or what is this track about?

As far as I know and Mike told me at the time was that he had a cousin or a niece... and she had a decease - I can't remember the name, but it was a fatal decease which limited life up to an age of 16-25. This is a real situation and he was founding out that she was getting ill and in tthe meantime she died at 19. He was very sad and he wrote the song inspired by this, but he didn't want to make this public, he wanted it to be more mysterious for people, he didn't use someones death as a promotion for a record, so he wrote down his ideas in music and I can understand this completely. I hope he won't mind me to say this, but it's 13 or 14 years ago now and maybe he have told others about it yet. The song is really mysterious and you can't really tell and with moonlight shadow you can't find out what the song is about. When I asked Mike what 'Moonlight Shadow' is about, I didn't get a very good answer, you know. He wasn't straight, so I still don't know the answer.

Do you think Mike himself does now?

No, absolutly not! I think he listens to your theory - I thought about it is a song about John Lennon being shot and when I said that to him he said "Ahhhh.... could be... could be...", like it's just interesting. I don't think he know.

What do you thin about the lyrics in general?

I have to be honest here... If I have a complaint about Mike, the lyrics are often difficult to understand. I write lyrics, too, anybody who listens to lyrics may have some problems finding out what the tracks are about. On the other hand he doesn't have to write a story that I understand, a story which workds in the context on his music, so I can't complain at all. I just like to hear a story told in lyrics and I like to understand it. He must know what can be understood and what can't be understood, it's his decision when he is writing it. It's him music and it makes it more mysterious and it make you finding your own meanings and that's probably part of what he does. It can mean something to you and maybe something different for me, and that's in another way quite clever I think. I think Bob Dylan did this for 30 years, writing strange songs, strange lyrics. But I like his [Mike's] lyrics in the way it matches to his music and if you want to be a song write the lyrics have to match absolutely to the music, if you don't understand that it's tough. Mike is very good on that.

Back to 'Crime of Passion' - there was this strange video in a child's room. How was it made?

I think this video was more to do with the true story. If you wantch the video there is a part with a small child swinging on a swing in the garden. She is acted by a grown of women, but she is meant to be a small child, which represents Mikes cousin - or niece - which dies with this decease... errm... it might be ''muscular distrophy" [ nice job to transcribe this for a native german speaking ;) ]. I think he was trying to show some symbolic about a grown up monan who is still a child really and before she can have her life she is dieing and I think the video was a little bit about that. But again, it was a bit like the lyrics, not too clear, not too simple, you have to figure something out for yourself. This is just my interpretation, I can be wrong. He never discussed the video, he discussed it with the video director, but never with me. If I am right it's just me and him in the video - and this girl on the swing, so it was strange for me. No drummer, no base player, nothing. I thought it was a weired video, really. I can't say that I like it.

There was this strange movment of everyone, non-syncronous vocals. Why and how was this done?

This was a special effect that the director invented at that time. The way to get this 'strange' effect is that you would sing the song speeded up [sings 'Crime of Passion' and double speed and double pitch] and thay videotaped this fast performance and then the recorded a very slow performance [demonstates this too]. And then he mixed up both sessions to normal speed, so there is this movment. The speed is going faster and slower so quickly that it looks that way. I think it didn't work, personally. It was one of those ideas which they though was quite interesting about a video looking a bit strange ... bit I have to say that I didn't like that video and I don't want to see it again, really - not in front of any other people. I think it is a bit embarassing. I'm shure that Mike would agree. It had some nice ideas, but ideas have to work and if they don't work you... you're in trouble.

There was a new video equipement used for it, so maybe they wanted to play a little bit with it.

That's right, I think they wannted to show what tricks they had. You can see it when the guitar solo was done, taking freeze frames with that technology very quickly, but now it looks old fashionned, ok, it was a long time ago... I thought the video is too much on the singer, too much on Mike and too less on the story. Anyway, it was my first video and I did everthing they told me. I wore the clothes I was told to wear, I sat where I was told to sit and I moved the way they told me to move. Now I wish I haven't. I once asked to stand up as I prefer to stand up when I sing - "no, sit down, you must sit down". But Mike was nervous, too. So I think he would agree with me that it wasn't a very exciting video.

Well, then you recorded 'Discovery' in Swizerland...

Yes, that was the next year. 'Crime of Passion' was quite successful, but not as successful than 'Moonlight Shadow' and some people said it sounded too much like 'Moonlight Shadow' and I was one of them. It was too similar. Anyway it was in the charts and then he contacted me again to do the 'Discovery' record, "I don't have any domos or tapes, just come to Swizerland, here is your ticket, this is what we pay", but it was good and it was exciting, because to do an album is better than to do a single, because there is a bigger audience for albums than for singles, normally. So I went to Swizerland and I did 4 tracks, but what people never realized that I didn't met Maggie Reilly this time. She sang on the album and I sang on it, but we never met. I did my job first and Maggie came after me and recorded her part. Even on 'Tricks of the Light', which is a duet, we didn't see each other. It was great and it was the best standart I worked on so far - concerning the equipement and Mikes experience and knowledge.

Was it a relaxed athmosphere or was it just...

Absolutely. It was very relaxed, every night we went to the pub, having good fun, coming into the studio at about 1 or 2 in the afternoon... We had a time to do the work and it was exactly one week, then it had to be completed, but this was enough time to do this without any real pressure. The only problem I had is that on the 2nd day I lost part of my voice and couldn't get a doctor. I think it was the change of weather and my throat is a bit sensitive to stress, so I thought I was not singing very good. We were doing 'Discovery' and I suggested to Mike I could take a week off and get my voice better and come back after Maggie will have finished. He said it't not possible and it's really difficult... but he thought it sound allright, but it was not the best I could have done. "It's enough and I can make it sound good." Espacially on 'Discovery' and a little bit on 'Saved by a Bell' I had quite problems and at that time I was really unhappy with it and I knew I can do better. On the other hand when I listen to it now, I think it's OK, I don't think it's a bad performance and I think it has another quality because there is a big effort in the voice to hit the notes and this gives it another exciting quality. At the end it worked out good.

When was 'Discovery' recorded exactly?

Uff.... I THINK it was the spring of 1984. April, maybe even March and April. I THINK, I might be wrong. It was quite cold and they still went skiing over there.

'Crime of Passion' was recorded in England.

Yeah, in England, before that - I think it was the autuum of 1983 and came out some time before Christmas - I believe, have to check this out.

What was the most and the least favorite song?

My least favorite for me is 'Tricks of the Light', because Mike wanted me to sing it in a style that I felt unhappy with. [Demonstrates] "I'm a-half a cracy man, we-aiting for"..... "we-aiting"... instead of "waiting". It made me feel something of a carbaret singer, it wasn't my style, be he wanted this certain style. The perfomance is ok and it's sung correctly, but not in a style I would ever do if it is my production. If you do a job for something like Mike you have to do it his way or you should go. He calls the singers to do his songs, I'm shure if I want to get a guitar solo of him he would do it the way I want, if he is working for me.

Did you ask Mike to do it in your way?

Yeah, of course and we tried it, but he didn't like it. He had an idea in his head "..and this would sound good." and so he wanted it to record. Probably for someone who listens to the song it sounds ok, but for me as a singer it was a bit like a joke. A part of the phrasing sounded a bit silly when I was doing it, because it wasn't serious. Mike thought it was a bit of a joke to hlet it sound like "we-aiting" instead of "waiting". As I said, I didn't really complained, but that's the one I enjoyed the least.

The one I enjoyed the most was... probably 'Saved by a Bell', because it has a big contrast between very soft and gentle, mellow singing and then a very powerful, exciting singing in the same song. For me it gives a good example of two styles in one song, one studio performance. From a singers point of view it's good to do that you can show that you can come that very screaming back to this very intimate thing. It's nice to do that and I enjoyed this a lot, but I also enjoyed 'Poison Arrows' very much.

So I would think #1 is 'Saved by a Bell', #2 will be 'Poison Arrows', #3 will be 'Discovery' and... 'Tricks of the Light' would be #77... [Laughs]

It sounds like there are two voices on 'Tricks of the Light'. Is it you or is it Mike singing there?

It's me. I did the harmonies and then Maggie did the chorus.

On 'Crime of Passion' there are some voices which sound like Mike. There is a lower and a higher voice.

No, it was just me singing there. There is that part I sung an additional track one actave lower and one at higher pitch. [Demonstrates] It's all me.... I have all these voices :), the big ones and the small ones.

Did you record any other songs, which weren't released?

On 'Pictures in the Dark' I sung all the parts at the beginning and Aled Jones doing some small parts, but Mike changed the production and my part was putting down and down... so I was left with only a small part. It was a bit of a dissapointment, because I thought it was good - but that's the way he works, he wants the best for his song and often uses 4 or 5 singers to do the job and you have to get the record to see who is on it.

I did a couple of tracks on 'Islands', which are also not know, because the did not come out on the record. I recorded a song called 'When the night's on fire' and onother song called 'Man in the Rain'. The first one came out as a bonus track on CD I think, with Anita Hegerland. 'Man in the Rain' I never heard of again.

'Man in the Rain' became 'Heaven's Open' I think.

Yeah? I don't know that, let's check this out! I haven't got that album, so I haven't heard it yet.

Do you have some tapes left from 'Man in the Rain'?

Well... no, I don't think so. Now I wish I would, this would be interesting.

[Here] It's the same chords, but with a totally differnet main melody and if you wouldn't told me I might not even noticed that, but I recognised this [Sings], I sung that melody! I've to say that it WAS a better melody than he uses now. In my opinion... well. I didn't like it because he hasn't so much to do, so much of this one is better, the backing track is more Mike Oldfield than it was.

I did 'Man in the Rain' in Switzerland. It met a german band with drums, bass, keyboards.... Mike played keyboards and a couple of guitars... and we recorded everything it live in the studio to get a live feeling... and it was HORRIBLE. We finished the backing track and I came back to do some work on the vocals, I did some harmonies.. I really really did like it. Mike asked me later "What did you think?" and I said "Do you want me to tell the truth!?" - "Yeah, of course" - "It's not Mike Oldfield. These guys sound as they can't play together properly. They sound like they were drinking too much beer." The drummer was alwys laid back, a bit sloppy, and Mike was looking for something like that but I think he went too far. So I told him my opinion "Don't put this out on a Mike Oldfield record. People will get a bad surprise, something like an insult." He used to be a perfectionist. He used the highest standart on drumming and instruments and vocals. So I gave hime my opinion and he wasn't that happy to hear it that time, but in a way he proved that I was right because he didn't heave it like this. Now, the arrangement is better, the instruments are more interesting and it sounds more like Mike Oldfield - more quality.

You should have heard it! I swear you, if I'd played it to you...

I own opinion is that 'Islands' is one of my least favorites. I nearly hate it. It's not Mike Oldfield.

That how I feel, yes, even now I still think it's not - If you have heard the old version - believe me - you'd say "maybe Islands isn't that bad now". The band was like you can hear it in the pub, the sound's not right, the playing was not right, all was very loose and... mhhp.. I don't say the musicians were bad! I didn't know them, but they were supposted to be great players, but Mike was keeping saying to them "Keep it loose! Have another beer.. take it easy" or something. He was looking for that. He was working with Kevin Ayers that time and Kevin produces that very loose style like a good time in a pub. Maybe Mike was looking for that. But I wouldn't have been worked on a normal Mike Oldfield album, maybe in a special situation.

If I would find a tape of 'Man in the Rain' you will NEVER in 1000 years think... "Ahhh, that's Mike Oldfield!". There was nothing to recognise, not even the clue, the lyrics, the melody or the waythe guitar was played. There was just a rythm guitar at that time, which was not even played by Mike. Mike played some keyboards.

"Man in the rain" was horrible, but 'When the night's on fire' was a nice song and it's good it was released. I would not have been happy if "man in the rain" came out.

These were the two tracks I did, which were not released, but this is not uncommon. Lot's of stuff is being recorded from different singers. I have a friend, which I introduced to Mike when we were doing Islands, who did 'Magic Touch', a man called John Pain. He now sings in a band called ASIA. John is an old friend of mine.

'Magic Touch' was produced by Joffrey Downes and this is the connection to ASIA.

Exactly. I suggested John to Mike as Mike wanted to have the song sung from a different voice and he was very happy after hearing some bits of John. Mike decided to use John's version until the last minute, but then he changes to Max Bacon.

Max Bacon's version was not used due to contractual problems, so he used Tim Price at the end, but he has a very similar voice to Max.

Oh, I see. You see, the day you are doing a song for Mike you can't be shure it comes out on the record until you see your name on it. I can say on 'Islands' - especially on 'Islands' - he used very much different singers and was doing lot's of different versions. For example 'Pictures in the Dark', when I went to record it it was still a baby. He didn't have much idea of how it's gonna sound. It took 3 or 4 days, while we work on the track with me singing all the background voices and all the harmonies and we did lot's of different arrangements together. I was very happy with it, I thought it sounded good. In the end it came out with almost nothing from me, just the harmonies - you can hear some people singing in the background, doing harmonies, that's me. The rest was just replaced, but they used the same ideas. What Anita sang was the part I did, too, and she had to learn from me, the way how to sing my performance of Mike's melodies. I can't remember any other singer, who worked on 'Islands', too.

Another thing, which just come into my mind: While we were working on 'Pictures in the Dark' he was trying to contact a group called CLANNAD, because I was doing some harmonies on the track and he said to me "You sound like CLANNAD, now" and I said "Yeah, I like CLANNAD very much". They're using very soft, breathing harmonies, very gentle. "I wonder if I can get them" he said and I said "Why not!?". So he was doing some phone calls and at the end he wanted ENYA, who was at CLANNAD at that time, just her. As far as I heard, ENYA said, that he has to take the whole band and not her in solo sessions. He said "I've Barry to do all the voices, but I just need one single voice to complement" and she said "I can't do it". I think he kept this ENYA and CLANNAD idea in his mind when he tried to make it first with me and then with Anita to get this certain sound he wanted. Can you imagine, if you are Mike Oldfield with such a big reputation. He even could ask Michael Jackson to do some "Woowwoow" for his new record if he is free and he could afford it.

Maybe you know that the 'Exposed' tour in 1979 was a financial desaster. What do you know about the 'Discovery' tour?

I'm sure it was very successful. We had a good sponsorship agreement with Puma which paid lots of his business, hotels, merchadising etc. I don't know the numbers, but I think everybody was happy that the tour made some profit and I know the ticket sales were very very good. Only 2 or 3 concerts I think were not successful and they were in Italy or somewhere over there. They weren't really unsucccessful, just a bit more modest. It think to take an orchstra and a choir is crasy. Just imagine the hotel bill! 50 or 60 people in a hotel, that's ridiculous. On 'Discovery' he had a good band and the Fairlight technology, which was backing the band. This made the sound quite orchestral, so it was cheaper.

After 'Discovery', what was your career then? You made a solo album as far as I know.

Yes, but I have to step back first. I was working on a solo album in 1983. The first time when Mike contacted me there was to do the 'Crises' tour and he wanted me to sing on it, just the tour - no recording. It was before 'Crime of Passion'. I lived in the north of England then and he send me some tickets to fly to London, he came to meet me at the airport. This was the first time we met.

I didn't do the tour because I was busy working on my solo album and he was quite angry and dissapointed. So he kept offering me more money - actually it was not him then, it was his partner Sally Cooper. I said "It's not the money, the money is fantastic, I just don't have the time". Once she said "It's a shame, because you might miss this opportunity for your career. You might not get that opportunity again". It was crazy to turn out Mike Oldfield to do a solo album of a nobody, but I already worked in the studio and I thought my solo album could sell as much as 'Tubular Bells'. [Laughs] YOU BETTER PUT "JOKE" IN BRAKETS THERE. ;-)

But it was important for me and all was arranged, the musicians were paid, the studio was booked... so I kept saying no and thay kept phoning. Sally said "It's a shame as you might not hear anything from Mike again", but it was my decision.

Now I know that it was a bad decision. The 'Crises' tour would have been good for me. Anything could have happen after that.

Well, I finished that album, but I didn't release it, because in the meantime the 'Discovery' tour went ahead and Mike came back and contacted me again and asked me to do a single, which was 'Crime of Passion'. You know, I said yes to it. So, it went on from there.

When the 'Discovery' tour was finished, I went back and did some remixed and work on my solo album to make make it better and finally it was released on a small company in England. This company went bankrupt in a short time, maybe some weeks, so they weren't able to promote the record. ["Without an aim", 1985, Venom records - a concept album about a man who got his big success too early and had a fight which changed his life completely.]

I'm not saying that it it would have been promoted it would have been a big hit. I listened to hit some time ago and there are several things which I would change now, but it shurely deserved to be in the shops a bit longer, so it didn't even had ANY chance of success. Now I have one copy left. It was just bad luck, really.

Then I started to make new records. I made a song called 'Good bless the children', which had some success in Skandinavia, but only small success in England, nothing phantastic. The I had the opportunity to start my own record label called "pyramid records" and I signed some artists and did some productions and did some more work in the background, not as a singer. Then I got to the point we had not enough money to keep it going and we learned tough lessons that you need big money to get out and promote a record. To make it is not so bad, teh sleeve is not bad, but to promote it is expensive. So my company had to stop working.

Then I retired from music for a few yeas and decided just to sing for fun and I joined a band in bluesband in London and I joined another band in the same time called "the wedge" singing Pop/Rock covers, no original songs, just for fun in pubs and clubs. Then I sang in a soul band called "nightshift", a 10-peace band with horns and all that.

It was a nice time, not for the money, but it was the first time after many years that I sung just for fun, just amatuer gigs. In a way it made me more happy, it was great fun. There was no pressure and I would recommment to lots of professional musicians to take a small band and play in some pubs and forget the lights and big PA. It's very refreshing to do it.

In the last couple of years I decided to do one last try to get together a good solo album to get it released it on a label which won't get bankrupt in a 3-weeks time. [Laughs]

Now I'm working on the demos, I've got my own 16-track studio in my house and a songwriter partner called Dave Duncan [spelling!?] and I think we are working quite well together. Now it's octover 1997, we have got 6 or 7 demos ready [they are 8 now]. When there are 12 or 13 demos ready then I send tapes off to some record companies to see if anybody is interested. Maybe they are, maybe they're not, I can't say, but I'll try hard. If it happens it'll be great, if not that ok, too. I'll carry on singing in the pubs. That's my plan at the moment.

I missed the point after 'Discovery' to exploid the situation to move from my small record company to a bigger one, but I choosed to be loyal. I'm quite happy now, I've got some new songs and I think they sound allright, but I cant decideif there is another Barry Palmer record. The only thing I can do is to send tapes to the record companies and see what happens.

Mike Oldfield
Mike Oldfield