Alan Blaikley obituary | pop and rock
Although not household names like Lennon and McCartney, or Jagger and Richards, the songwriting team of Alan Blaikley and Ken Howard enjoyed a long period of pop chart success in the 1960s. and 70, before writing scores for West End musicals and themes. music for several television series, including BBC’s Miss Marple. They also became the first British songwriters to have their work recorded by Elvis Presley, who took their composition I’ve Lost You to the US charts in 1970 and was also seen singing it in the film Elvis: That’s the Way It Is.
Blaikley, who died aged 82, had known Howard since they were seven-year-olds at University College School in Hampstead, north London. Their big breakthrough came in 1964, when the Honeycombs topped the UK charts with their song Have I the Right? Blaikley and Howard had spotted the band, then called the Sheratons, performing at an Islington pub, and invited them to listen to some songs they had written.
Do I have the right? became an international hit (bolstered by its distinctive Joe Meek production and enthusiastically promoted by DJ Tony Blackburn on Radio Caroline), and sold over 2 million copies.
The duo then discovered Dave Dee and the Bostons at a gig in Swindon, and were struck by how there was “something of British music hall tradition about them”, as they put it. Blaikley. They took over management of the band and renamed them Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, and enjoyed 13 consecutive hits with the band, including the feverish tex-mex chart-topper The Legend of Xanadu and the opera Last Night in Soho, as well as Hold Tight!, Bend It, Save Me and Okay!
Increasingly in demand, Blaikley and Howard wrote songs for The Herd, Lulu, the Tremeloes, Horst Jankowski, Engelbert Humperdinck, Marmalade, Rolf Harris and, under the joint pseudonym Steve Barlby, the band Matthews Southern Comfort.
In 1971, their song Heart of Rome (co-written with Geoff Stephens) appeared on Presley’s album Love Letters from Elvis and was the B-side to Presley’s single I’m Leavin’.
Alan was born in Hampstead Garden Suburb, the eldest of three children of Francesca (née Hall) and Ernest Blaikley. Ernest, almost 30 years older than his wife, a schoolteacher, had been an official war artist in the First World War and curator of the Imperial War Museum, and was a founding member of the Society of Graphic Art.
Alan gained his first musical experience as an altar boy at St Mary-at-Finchley Church. He read classics and English at Wadham College, Oxford and was editor of the student newspaper Cherwell.
After Oxford, he joined Howard and another Hampstead school friend, Paul Overy, to publish Axle Quarterly magazine (1962-63). In a series of spin-off booklets called Axle Spokes, they covered controversial topics including New Wave cinema, the permissive society, and pop music. Blaikley’s contribution (under the pseudonym Anthony Rowley) was Another Kind of Loving, an essay on homosexuality, which was then still illegal in the UK.
In 1963-64 he was a trainee producer in the BBC’s Television Conference Department and worked on the current affairs program Tonight, presented by Cliff Michelmore. It was in 1963 that Blaikley and Howard started writing songs in earnest, although Blaikley recalled that they had written a song together in 1954. Titled The Yellow Dance, it was recorded on his father’s dictaphone. of Howard.
Howard, whose mother was a concert pianist, observed, “Alan and I have known each other for so long that we have developed an intuitive empathy that allows us to shorten the creative process.” Blaikley added, “The creative process requires a temporary suspension of one’s critical faculties. Kind of like being in a trance, and the mood shouldn’t be broken.
Their working methods have allowed them to approach many genres with flexibility. In 1969 they crafted the concept album Ark 2, a sci-fi story inspired by the 1969 moon landing. It was credited to the band Flaming Youth and gained cult status as the first label recording major by drummer Phil Collins, who joined Genesis shortly thereafter. Although a commercial flop, The Sunday Times named Ark 2 its rock album of the year.
Blaikley and Howard had the audacity to write gay-themed songs, for example Do You Like Boys for British pop duo Starbuck, and all the material for Peter Straker’s album Private Parts (1972). “The album is very personal,” Straker told The Gay Times. “I discussed everything with Ken and Alan. We tried to be explicit – as explicit as Jacques Brel.
Their first musical, Mardi Gras, was held at the Prince of Wales Theater in 1976 and featured a book by Melvyn Bragg. Their next effort, an adaptation of 13½-year-old Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, was staged at Wyndham’s in 1984.
They also wrote a pair of BBC TV musicals, Orion (1977) and Ain’t Many Angels (1978), and created the music and lyrics for the tour version of Roald Dahl’s Matilda (1990). Television work included music for two 80s drama series, The Flame Trees of Thika and By the Sword Divided, as well as Miss Marple, played by Joan Hickson, beginning with The Body in the Library (1984).
Blaikley had a keen interest in psychology, and he and Howard wrote the music for the album Life Before Death (1978), a collection of poems performed by psychiatrist RD Laing. Encouraged by his own analyst, William Kraemer, Blaikley trained as a psychotherapist and, from 1981, ran a private practice from his home in London for more than 20 years.
From 1978 his partner was translator David Harris, with whom he formed a civil partnership in 2007. David died in 2015. Blaikley is survived by his brother, Paul, and sister, Marian.