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Interview and feature on Cilla Black’s former EMI music producer David Mackay

In 1973, after 15 years of working with the legendary George Martin, Cilla Black signed a new contract with the EMI label and switched to a new record producer David Mackay. David produced a series of singles for Cilla including her hit ‘Baby We Can’t Go Wrong’ as well as two of her most prolific studio albums from the seventies (e.g. ‘In My Life’ and ‘It Makes Me Feel Good’).

Born and bred in Sydney (Australia), David began his musical career at a very young age in the local theatre and radio. It was also during this time and through his radio work that he became aware of Cilla’s significant impact on the sixties pop scene.

“When a new Cilla Black record came out [wow] you just couldn’t wait to hear it…I followed all those early records just bought every record I could find.” – David Mackay

David was soon head-hunted by EMI Australia who, realising his potential, quickly escalated his position from Recording Engineer to eventual “Head of A&R”. He then established himself with an impressive reputation, responsible for producing 30 hits and discovering some of Australia’s hottest acts. Needless to say this didn’t go un-noticed across the pond as EMI transferred him to work in England at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London.

David was soon to find himself working with the likes of Cliff Richard and regularly spotting many of the British acts he was so conscious of in Australia eg. The Beatles and of course Cilla Black. It was then to his surprise that in 1974 he found himself thrust into the production of a new Cilla album entitled In My Life. The musical partnership began.

Although not his favourite album for the fact it was “so rushed” – Cilla’s 1974 album ‘In My Life’ showcased a new vocal style for Cilla Black which David felt continued in the vein of ‘Step Inside Love’ [which he considered Cilla’s best work]. The new sound was an all in attempt to keep Cilla’s music in tune with what the current pop market demanded. However, it wasn’t until the next project ‘It Makes Me Feel Good’ that David was really given the chance to develop this style properly.

“I’d just try to find songs she’d relate to. She’s very good at listening and very open. She’d listen to songs and ideas and we’d discuss lyrics and content. She and Bobby and I would sit around for hours playing songs and finding the ones she’d feel comfortable with. The idea was getting her away from the pressure of the UK and it really worked and there was an atmosphere which went through the whole album.” – David Mackay

Cilla’s 1976 album ‘It Makes Me Feel Good’ was in David’s eyes his best work with Cilla and by far the project with the most memories attached. It was also to be quite significant as it was the only album to involve sessions in the USA. For this, David flew out beforehand to Los Angeles scouting for suitable song material and musicians. On both counts he succeeded with some acclaimed musicians now involved e.g. Lee Rittenour (guitarist) who had worked with Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand etc, Herbie Flowers (bassist) who’d worked with Elton John, David Bowie, Harry Nilsson etc and Alan Tarney from The Shadows. On Cilla and Bobby’s arrival the trio began sifting through the song material and soon after began recording. Even though commercial success eluded this album it is still to this day recognised by many as Cilla’s best work during this ever changing decade. The sessions also yielded what became David’s favourite Mackay/Black collaboration which was Cilla’s cover of the Nilsson hit “I’ll Take a Tango”.

David later left the stables of EMI to set up his own independent company June Productions Ltd. He also diversified into the medium of television, arranging and producing themes such as Coca-Cola’s ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing’ as well as scores for BBC shows ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’, Carla Lane’s ‘Bread’ and ‘As Time Goes By’. Furthermore, the ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ project spurred a hit single “That’s Livin’ Alright” by Joe Fagin which won him an Ivor Novello Award & a BAFTA nomination.

To date, David has left his Midas touch on some pretty amazing projects which have included sessions with some of the industry’s greatest recording artists such as Cliff Richard, Bonnie Tyler, Billy Ocean, The Bee Gees, The New Seekers, Eric Clapton, Demis Roussos, Harry Nilsson, Dusty Springfield and of course Cilla Black.

On the 7 November 2002, this site caught up with David Mackay who although busy working at the time on his latest musical production 125th Street kindly took time-out to do the below video interview (provided in real player format):

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