Peter Callander

Mitch Murray remembers his songwriting partner Peter Callander who recently passed away on 25 February.

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 5 Mar 2014
  • min read
Mitch Murray remembers his songwriting partner Peter Callander who recently passed away on 25 February 2014. Peter had a hand in a huge range of hits for artists such as Neil Sedaka, Paper Lace, Cliff Richard and the Tremeloes and was a PRS director.

When George Gershwin suddenly died back in 1938, the novelist John O'Hara wrote; ‘They tell me Gershwin is dead, but I don't have to believe it if I don't want to.' With the passing of Peter Callander, I think I finally understand what O'Hara was on about. Peter is simply not the type of man to be dead.

Peter Callander and I became songwriting partners at just the right time for both of us. He was a first-class song-plugger and music publishing executive who also specialised in writing English lyrics for foreign language songs - not much money in those, however, even when they chart.  It was around 1966, and I was a young songwriter who, after having written two number ones and a couple of number two hits - words and music -  was suddenly having trouble coming up with lyrics. Boy, did we need each other!

Artistically, we hit it off immediately, and socially, we got on like a house on fire. We played poker together, we drank brandy together and we wrote hits together - often all in the same day. Yet we were very different personalities. Perhaps that's why our relationship was so harmonious.

The big hits started to happen rather quickly: Even The Bad Times Are Good (Tremeloes), Hitchin' A Ride (Vanity Fare), Goodbye Sam, Hello Samantha (Cliff Richard). I know I'm biased, but I believe Peter was one of the world's best lyricists. His words certainly brought extra magic to my melodies and together, we began to develop a unique style of 'story songs' like The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde (Georgie Fame), Billy, Don't Be A Hero and The Night Chicago Died, (Paper Lace), Avenues And Alleyways and I Did What I Did For Maria (Tony Christie), most of which we also produced, as we did with Neil Sedaka's classic, Is This The Way To Amarillo. This latter song re-emerged in 2005 for seven frantic weeks at number one.

In a short space of time, Peter and I had a profitable publishing company - Intune - and a wholly owned record company - Bus Stop Records.

Although we were very different types, I believe that over the years, Peter and I changed each other quite a bit, and for the better. He taught me restraint, respect for the obvious and to avoid bucking the odds. I showed him how a little more fun and a little less stress is not only healthier, but can also be quite profitable. Peter was a thoroughly decent and honest man and we enjoyed a mutual trust without limits.

In 1973, along with our families, Peter and I re-located to The Netherlands; the Callanders to The Hague and the Murrays to Amsterdam. When our stint in Holland ended, Peter and Connie returned to the UK to live in Beaconsfield.

Peter Callander was always prominent in music industry affairs through his work with several organisations, including the old Songwriter's Guild - later the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) - MCPS and, of course, PRS where he served as deputy chairman for some years.

As one of his co-directors on the PRS board, I was in a position to witness his outspoken passion and dedication to the cause of copyright promotion and protection. I promise you, this guy made a real difference.

Although the last time we actually worked together was about thirty years ago, I still look upon Peter Callander as my writing partner, and I feel very lucky to have been associated with him for so long.

It's a cliche, I know, but a songwriting partnership is very much like a marriage. There are ups and downs, laughter and tears, triumphs and disasters and all too often the whole thing ends in divorce.

Not so in the case of Mitch Murray and Peter Callander; we maintained our close friendship until he passed away on the 25 February, leaving behind his devoted wife, Connie, their son, Jason and so many of us who were lucky enough to know him.

Main photo: Lucy Sewill