The news that lyricist Barry Mason died in April 2021 at the age of 86 came as a surprise. It was also a reminder that there are thousands of lyricists and composers out there whose name are not well known. Yet their songs are among the most well-known in music history.
Mason’s songwriting catalogue includes worldwide hits such as “The Last Waltz”, “Love Grows (Where my Rosemary Goes)” and “Delilah”. The songs were written for – or were covered by – Engelbert Humperdinck, Rod Stewart, Barbara Streisand, Tom Jones, Dalida, Mireille Mathieu and many more.
Mason: lyricist and hustler
Talking to the International Songwriters’ Association, Barry Mason explained how he started in the music business. “I met this boy called Tommy Bruce and I spent my last few pounds making a demo of him singing an old Fats Waller song, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” – and he had a hit (No.3, UK, 1960). Suddenly, I was his manager, not knowing anything about the business. But the important thing was, I was in the business – and when people ask me what to do to become a songwriter, I always say, “Try and get into the business in any capacity, then you’re a step nearer to it”.
Over the years, Mason demonstrated another skill: that of finding great partners. He has said that over 90% of his work has been co-writes with people such as Les Reed and Roger Greenaway. It is significant that many of this hits were always superbly written in terms of melody and structure.
Great lyricists are generally recognized as such when they have great hits with great bands or solo performers. Mason first became aware of singer Tom Jones as his manager, Gordon Mills, was in the same poker-playing gang in London.
Even in later years, he spent a lot of time putting together projects such as musicals with different partners.
Lyrics “on peoples hearts around the world”
In a tribute, Engelbert Humperdinck wrote about Mason, “I will miss our London meetups but the memory of our friendship and the music we made is something that will never fade. You wrote the kind of lyrics that are written on peoples hearts around the world.”