Jimi, Elton, Dusty… the little-known musical magic of Barbara Moore | Music


In 1968, when Barbara Moore takes the baton of the conductor in the huge EMI Studio 1, the musicians gathered are incredulous. Moore was best known to them as a backing vocalist, a regular at the all-female singing group. ladybugs. Although she has already released her own piano album, A Little Moore Barbara, few have realized her potential as a songwriter and arranger. “My name was at the bottom of a list at EMI,” she told interviewer Lorraine Bowen in 2012. However, a flu pandemic had left everyone incapacitated, so Moore got an unexpected call from the producer. Tony palmer. “He said, ‘I understand you’re an arranger… I need an album to do in six days – could you do it?'”

As Moore – who died last month at age 89 – addressed the EMI orchestra, she was shaking so much the stick slipped out of her hands. But all disrespect in the hall evaporated when the musicians looked at her first arrangement: a rock and orchestral version of Scarborough Fair for the up-and-coming folk singer Deena Webster. “I had been working day and night on the piano, singing the main line, thinking: this must be brass, these are strings,” she said in 2012. “You didn’t really know what that would sound like. It sounded beautiful.Moore recalled the hugs and applause that followed the closing bars of his arrangement. “I tell you, these were the best minutes of 80 years.”

Moore talks about his job. Photograph: Haiselden Stage

Moore’s transition from backing vocalist to arranger was a moment she recounted with cinematic perfection, right down to the details of her pink crepe mini dress and Courrèges leather boots. I have often wondered if Moore’s frequent recounting of his time in the studio, living in the details of the time, was a defense against the idiosyncrasies of his career, a way to assert his place in the musical timeline. Because Moore was everywhere and nowhere in the ’60s and early’ 70s – the indispensable musician many studios appealed to, but whose name rarely appeared on the cover of the record.

You can hear Moore’s voice in the opening bars of ’60s TV thriller The Saint, rising to the C-top, distant and drenched in reverberation, foreground by a lone jazz trumpet. Moore is one – maybe both – hypnotic singers singing in counterpoint to Peter Cook’s weird, unemotional pop performer in the title track of the film Bedazzled. By the time they were recording this number, songwriter and co-star Dudley Moore (no relationship) and Barbara had already cemented a long-standing friendship.

As the Ladybug, Moore sang backing vocals for the Dusty Springfield TV show and supported Sandie Shaw’s hit Puppet on a String. His own band, the Barbara Moore Singers, were a regular on the BBC’s Top of the Pops show, singing with Jimi Hendrix when he played Hey Joe live at Lime Grove Studios. An important detail for Moore was the shepherd’s pie she bought from Hendrix when she found him alone, emaciated, near the BBC canteen.

She spent many years skipping session to session, sight-reading half a dozen album tracks in three hours, with just a short break to smoke one of her favorite cigarettes. “An elite group of these girls can make £ 100 a week and have a safe place in the precarious world of pop music,” Mary Kaye said in the Liverpool Echo in 1969. “They can walk down a little-known street, but few top singers could hope for success without them.

Moore’s success in EMI Studio 1 kicked off a career as a composer and arranger that continued alongside her vocal work. It also ended her sessions with the Ladybugs – Moore claimed they considered her “too ambitious.” Steadfast, she accepted invitations to compose a musical theme for Terry Wogan and update At the Sign of the Swingin ‘Cymbal – the frenzied dance piece that marked Alan Freeman’s countdown on BBC radio. She added heavily accented syncopations and booming brass, giving Brian Fahey’s original an extra boost.

In 1970 she was also working as a session singer for By Wolfe, the library’s music catalog. One of his outstanding vocal sessions can be heard on Roger Webb Sound’s Moon Bird (reissued on Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs’ compilation English weather). Moore’s pure vocal line floats over electric guitar, flute, and dismal trumpet. “That open voice, with minimal vibrato – there’s a fragility,” says Mike Roberts, arranger, frontman of Mike Flowers Pops and Moore’s voice fan of the day. “It’s a mix of jazz and British folk tradition.”

Moore’s voice could deliver the main line of any jazz standard, but wouldn’t feel out of place singing choral music by Thomas Tallis – a connection that’s not surprising, considering the back- Moore’s musical plan. Born in 1932, she was the daughter of Arthur Birkby – an arranger who worked for dance conductors Joe Loss and Jack Payne – and Clare, a singer with fellow conductor Geraldo. Arthur’s career was lucrative enough to send Moore to St Paul’s, London’s private girls’ school, where she learned piano and music theory from Nora Day, a copyist of composer Gustav Holst.

By 1972 Moore was composing his own tracks for De Wolfe and working under their strict creative restrictions. Each short track had to evoke an obvious mood and theme, without significant changes in key or tempo. His answer, Vocal Shades and Tones, managed to stay between the lines while harmonizing like an artistic gem – a favorite among vinyl case diggers to this day. There is mellowness and electricity in the tight vocal harmonies that spring from Fly Paradise, for example, sung with the precision of cathedral choristers decades before Auto-Tune. “You could tell she was really enjoying those big vocal leaps,” says Roberts. “They were really daring for library music.”

I’ve always wondered how Moore’s music would have developed if it had been let go by the restrictions on commercial sessions and library tracks. We get a taste of it in his cheerful soundtrack to Serendipity (1972), an experimental hymn to concrete and brutalism created by filmmaker Anthony Stern. As Stern floods the screen with cut-ups of London buildings, Moore can be heard at the piano, surrounded by associates from the jazz scene – among them Chris Spedding, Ray Warleigh and John Marshall – freely improvising on a few of his latest themes.

Session and library music would have given Moore the security she needed. Outside of the studio, she faced the aftermath of a short and unhappy marriage to arranger Pete Moore (the songwriter of Asteroids, the theme of Pearl & Dean) and was the sole parent of her daughter, Lindsey. Her session bookings may also have offered a financial lifeline to her second husband, Chris Pyne, a talented trombonist who otherwise lived on the London jazz scene.

“Moore’s life in and out of the studio appears to be characterized by striking generosity.” The musician pictured in 1965. Photography: courtesy of Lorraine Bowen

In the 1970s, Moore was also making money working on the Hot Hits compilation series, with low-budget cover versions of the records. Filmmaker Marek Pytel recalls visiting Lindsey at their Twyford Avenue home in Ealing to find Moore with a portable cassette machine in his lap, listening to T Rex and noting lead lines and chords. “Even then, it was considered deeply tasteless,” Pytel recalls. “So Barbara left incognito.”

He adds: “I treated Twyford Avenue like a kind of second home, Barbara always welcoming a rapidly changing environment of musicians around her kitchen table. She had an incredible influence on me early in my life. She treated all of us, the very young men – the boys, really – with great respect, and everyone had meaning in return. “

Moore’s life in and out of the studio appears to be characterized by striking generosity. Composer Chris Gunning recalls meeting her while recording the score for Dudley Moore’s film 30 is a dangerous age, Cynthia. “When I played a few bars on the piano during a break, Barbara crept in and said, ‘Cool chords.’ It was while working at Olympic Studios that she offered a stand-by session to a young Reg Dwight, as her usual singer was on sick leave. It was a favor he did her, as Elton John, when he booked her to arrange and conduct the choir of his first gospel-inspired track, Border Song.

Over the last 10 years of her life, Moore experienced a resurgence of interest in her catalog among listeners who were curious about the sounds of the ’70s – a renaissance that began when Bowen found her in the phone book, interviewed her and started to unravel. details of his life.

Moore passed away peacefully at his home in Bognor on August 26. I have been fortunate enough to meet her a few times and will cherish the time I spent sitting at the piano with her, listening to her memories of the 60s music studios as she fished for the next perfect piano chord. .


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