Barry Ryan – Singer, musician, photographer
Born October 24, 1948; died September 28, 2021
Barry Ryan, who has died aged 72, was a singer who topped the charts in several countries in 1968 with his single, Eloise. The song was a flamboyant baroque epic written by Ryan’s brother Paul, with whom he previously performed as a duo, and inspired in part by Richard Harris’ rendition of Jimmy Webb’s song, MacArthur Park.
Ryan’s recording of Eloise was produced by Bill Landis and arranged by Eurovision conductor Johnny Arthey, with musicians including future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. The end result was a breathless melodramatic gallop awash with strings and horns that lasted over five minutes. As Ryan’s yearning voice gave way to a slowed down mid section, the song climaxed with a final frantic declaration of devotion.
Eloise was a glorious pop anomaly that found mass appeal through an audaciousness that went far beyond any idea of novelty. The effect was heightened by a soft focus promotional film that saw a windswept Ryan sporting a yellow cape as he rode a white horse on a beach in pursuit of the object of his affections.
As over the top as all this was, both Ryan and Eloise left their mark. In an extensive 2017 interview in www.thestrangebrew.co.uk, Ryan noted that his record had been an influence on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and that Freddie Mercury had used its success as an argument to justify his band’s own epic to be released as a single. Ryan’s baton was picked up again in 1986, when punk-sired group The Damned scored a hit with their own version of the song. Despite this and other interpretations, it is Ryan’s original that remains definitive.
Ryan was born Barry Sapherson in Leeds, Yorkshire. With his brother Paul, he was one of identical twins to Marion Ryan and Lloyd Sapherson. His mother was a pop singer in the 1950s, who became known as ‘the Marilyn Monroe of popular song’. She had a hit in 1958 with Love Me Forever, and appeared regularly on TV quiz, Spot the Tune.
With their parents split up and their mother away performing, the brothers spent a lot of time with their grandmother, and were boarders at Fulneck School, Pudsey. When the family moved to London, Barry and Paul’s mother suggested they too try singing. Their mother’s second husband, showbiz agent and impresario Harold Davison, helped steer them to success when they were still teenagers. Davison’s friend and client, Frank Sinatra, had become their godfather. Ryan changed his name to Davison by deed poll in 1984, and his second wife Christine and their two children bear that name.
As Paul & Barry Ryan, the duo had a stream of hits, including Don’t You Bring Me Your Heartaches (1965), Have Pity on the Boy (1966), Missy (1966), and I Love How You Love Me (1966). The latter featured bagpipes played by roadie Don Ferguson, who would march on stage to perform the song in full Scottish dress. A final hit, Keep it Out of Sight (1967), was written for them by Cat Stevens, who became friends with the siblings. As Stevens noted in a social media post announcing Ryan’s passing, it was Ryan who introduced Stevens to Patti D’Arbanvile, who became the inspiration for his song, Lady D’Arbanville.
With diminishing returns from follow-up singles, Paul withdrew from performing following a breakdown. The partnership continued, however, with Paul writing for his brother behind the scenes. Eloise appeared on the album, Barry Ryan Sings Paul Ryan (1969), with further solo singles including Love is Love (1968), The Hunt (1969), Magical Spiel (1970), and Kitsch (1970).
Ryan gradually found more success in Europe than the UK, and was particularly successful in Germany. It was while touring the country that he was photographed with bandages covering his face following an accident while he posed for publicity photographs with a telephone that exploded. Fortunately, after being hospitalised in Munich, long term scarring was minimal.
In search of a new direction, Ryan released I Think You Know My Name (1971), recorded with Scottish band, The Verge, after being paired up by Status Quo bassist Alan Lancaster and Max Clifford. The song revealed a heavier sound than Ryan was known for, and he and The Verge toured Europe and wrote together before moving in different directions. Later albums by Ryan included Red Man (1971), and Sanctus, Sanctus, Hallelujah (1972), before he too withdrew from singing in 1976. The same year, Ryan married Tunku (Princess) Miriam binti-al-Marhum Sultan Sir Ibrahim. The pair divorced in 1980.
From the mid 1970s, Ryan carved out a career as a portrait and fashion photographer on magazines such as Zoom and Ritz, the latter edited by David Bailey and David Litchfield. He later worked on a photography project in honour of his brother, who died in 1992. He married a second time in 1995, to Christine Goodliff. He returned to performing in the early noughties, when he joined the Solid Silver 60s Tour 2003, and sang Eloise backed by The Dakotas. What had become Ryan’s anthem remains one of the most larger than life songs to have ever graced the charts.
He is survived by his second wife, Christine Davison (nee Goodliff), their son, Jack, and their daughter, Sophia.
The Herald, October 12th 2021