Simon Darlow’s songwriting is synonymous with the eighties. He has penned hits for the likes of Grace Jones, Dollar, The Buggles, Toyah Wilcox, while as an arranger and musician he played with iconic acts from the era including Wham!, Bucks Fizz and Musical Youth.
As his career developed, Simon was drawn into screen composing and now has more than a hundred TV theme tunes to his name. He has also composed for film and adverts, and is Deputy Chair (Writer) at PRS. It is this adaptability and collaborative instinct that will put him in good stead for his new role as chairman of BASCA.
He took over the role from Sarah Rodgers earlier this year and is keen to make his mark on the songwriters’ academy. BASCA is most widely known for its annual Ivor Novello Awards but as Simon explains below, there is a lot more going on at the organisation.
Do you see the culture at BASCA altering under your leadership?
I’m certainly hoping so. I think we need to get in touch with the youth because BASCA has got very top-heavy and it needs to grow and modernise. We need a strong authors’ society more than ever before because there are so many threats to copyright. We need a home where we can help people address these issues, vouch for them and educate them on the importance of valuing themselves. We are a perfect home for it; we just need to engage with all the young people who are coming through.
You mention the top-heavy nature of BASCA. Do you think it’s always been that way or is it a recent phenomenon?
I think it’s evolved to be that way. Not enough people have come in lower down to keep the balance, that’s all. There’s a fantastic bunch of guys there who have been around for a long time – fabulous writers, very successful, who we all aspire to be like – but there’s something missing. I don’t think enough effort is being put in to keeping the ranks coming up.
How are you going to change that?
The plan is to work in partnership with other people – there have been groups springing up all over the place who have the same concerns and issues but they don’t necessarily want to be part of BASCA’s slightly older image. If we can act as a hub for all of them and give them structure and the aspiration and excellence through The Ivors and whatnot, then hopefully we’ll broaden our church. They’ll have their own identities but work with us and use our expertise and knowledge.
What can BASCA offer a younger songwriter?
It can offer networking, structure, experience; the wisdom of others on how to survive fiscally in the business, which is so crucial. It’s one thing to write the songs but if you want to make a living out of it there’s a lot to learn. There are many pitfalls, especially with online. People have this myth about ‘free’, thinking if you give your music away you’ll still somehow make a living. But if it’s free, it’s free – you make no money.
You mention you’d like to work with other groups and have talked previously about expanding your relationships with PRS for Music and UK Music among others. Could you elaborate?
Well, PRS for Music is doing so much of what we are doing – and what we should do – in terms of developing writer events and looking after writers. I think there’s been a culture where we have been a bit separate and that all needs to stop. One of the unique things at the moment is, because I’m Deputy Chair of one [PRS] and Chair of the other [BASCA], I can hopefully break down every single wall and get everyone into the same place. We’re all on common ground; we’re all doing the same thing. It’s the same with UK Music – everybody is clamouring for a writer voice to represent us, and I think its BASCA’s responsibility to put this together. It’s something I’m leading on. If we get this right there will be one consistent message from everybody. We all need the same things – it’s about the value of copyright and how you maintain it.
If you are going to appeal to younger songwriters and composers, where do you think the line should end between PRS for Music and BASCA?
There shouldn’t be any lines – it should all be one thing. We should work together on so many things. We are doing some work to examine that.
Where would you like to see BASCA five years from now?
I’d like it to become nationally known as the songwriter organisation, so we’ve got a bit of work to do but it can be done.
How are you changing your strategy?
I can’t give too many details away on that yet – we’re digging through what’s there to see what we need and what’s not necessary. Clearly we need to learn how to market ourselves… There’s a tendency for organisations to be inward looking, but we need to get out there and make friends with absolutely everybody so we are part of the wider scheme of things and we get ourselves known. No barriers.
You’re best known for The Ivors – do you see that event developing?
I would like to make more of The Ivors. It’s a brand of excellence and it’s just not known as well as it should be known, and I think that’s where we start.
How did you get into songwriting?
I met a guy called Trevor Horn when I was 20. We were in a keyboard shop in Denmark Street in London and we got chatting. He asked me to play a session with him, which I’d never done before. He was in The Buggles at the time and he said, ‘Have you got any songs?’ I played him my little porta-studio demo and his wife and business partner Jill Sinclair rang me up and said, ‘Can you come and see us? We think you’ve got something.’ They offered me a publishing deal with Perfect Songs and a recording deal with The Buggles, so I temporarily joined them to help finish the second album.
Then Trevor was asked to produce Dollar, and I wrote Give Me Back My Heart, which was their biggest hit. Suddenly at 21 I was having hit records, which was really nice. Then because of that, phones started ringing a lot. I started working with Toyah Wilcox and we’ve done loads of albums together. Trevor and I, with Bruce Woolley, wrote Slave to the Rhythm for Grace Jones too, and I started playing with allsorts of people. I played on a lot of records in the eighties.
I got into media music, quite by accident, when someone asked me to do the music to Sounds of the Eighties. I got really into it. They great thing is, they pay you! Or they did. Now I have stuff on BBC news and sports channels a lot of the time. The X Factor, allsorts of things.
Have you got any advice for songwriters?
If you’ve got it, you’ve got to know you’ve got it. You have to be incredibly determined and not kid yourself. Network, network, network – get to know everybody. I’ve collaborated with allsorts of people. There used to be the Melody Maker magazine in my day with ads at the back where musicians looked for others to work with. You learn so much through that and gain a lot of contacts.
BASCA was founded in 1947. The organisation represents and campaigns for the rights of music writers in all genres, and celebrates their achievements via its sponsorship of the prestigious Ivor Novello Awards, British Composer Awards and Gold Badge Awards.