Del Newman isn't exactly a household name, though he resides quietly, but resolutely, in the music collections of millions. A ghost at the feast of sound, he was a craftsman, a background genius, and a man responsible for realising the best in the work of others. An aural jeweller, a setter of songs with an ear for the finest elements residing in an idea, his work spans three decades of output. Some of the best selling records of the Seventies and Eighties bear his fingerprints. He should be placed in the same category as George Martin, and with time, and now sadly in his absence, he eventually will be.
If you own Anticipation by Carly Simon, or Mona Bone Jakon, Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat by Cat Stevens. If you've danced badly to "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" by Rod Stewart, or possess a copy of Deceptive Bends by 10cc or been mesmerized by "Live & Let Die" Paul McCartney & Wings' Bond theme, it is Del Newman conducting George Martin's arrangement; you know his work. Should you listen to Art Garfunkel's Breakaway or Fate For Breakfast or Lefty LPs or Elton John's singles "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" or "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" then you've been in the presence of Del Newman. He did arrangements for George Harrison, a pleasure he had no wish to repeat, and for Harry Nilsson on A Little Touch of Schilmsson In The Night whose creator he described as mad and someone whose brain was out to lunch most of the time.
Newman was responsible for the strings on "American Tune" by Paul Simon from There Goes Rhyming Simon and for producing Randy Vanwarmer's "Just When I Needed You Most" a song his determination saw become a single, despite record label reluctance, and subsequently a huge hit. He later worked on four albums by Squeeze. Amongst the others he assisted were Diana Ross, Scott Walker on Stretch to which he contributed his composition "Someone Who Cared," Leo Sayer, Cliff Richard, John Cale, and Johnny Mathis. He produced Brian Protheroe's timeless polaroid gem of dissolute bedsit London bohemia Pinball, but in the early Eighties gave up on his music career and became a mature student at Exeter University again, and afterwards concentrated on teaching.
Born Derrick Martin Morrow in London on 5th October 1930, the son of an Irish nurse and a Doctor of West African heritage, whose father had been a village chief. Adopted at a few months old by the Newman family who recognised and encouraged his interest in music, from the age of eight he had lessons in cello and piano, and was sent to a grammar school. After National Service he studied music at Exeter University and went on to Trinity College of Music. Amongst those who taught him were the composer Elizabeth Lutyens and the conductor Antal Dorati. Newman made his vinyl debut in 1967 with Flower Garden as the Del Newman Sound, a mix of his own compositions and hits of the day like "I'm Your Puppet" and "If You Go To San Francisco," and he featured as the guitarist on Gordon Giltrap's debut album the following year. He produced a few other albums of easy listening material that fared well in Italy, but from the early '70s he was in constant demand as an arranger, conductor and occasional record producer. He even did the arrangements for Uri Geller's thankfully lone foray into vinyl in 1974. He also added his graceful magic to albums by Charles Aznavour, Peter Frampton, Family, and Francoise Hardy.
Del Newman was a remarkable and unique figure. His fingerprints are all over the music of the '70s and '80s, but he is mostly reduced to a foot-note as arranger and you have to listen to figure which tracks he had a hand in. His tremendous lightness of touch perhaps explains why he isn't as valued as he deserves to be, since he wasn't one to lay claim to any sense of personal greatness. In 2010 he wrote A Touch From God: It's Only Rock & Roll an entertaining take on his life in music that would have benefited from someone to prompt him to give greater detail and insights, but that really wasn't his style. He'd been there and done it and that was it. A man of mixed heritage working a time of extreme intolerance makes him all the more relevant and remarkable and a stalwart groundbreaker by virtue of simply existing, and then there's his unquestionable gifts. Many will continue to listen and appreciate his work without even realising that they are. A compliment, albeit an invisible one, unless you read the small print.
Del Newman died 10th August 2020 in Carmarthen, Wales. His daughter is the singer Delphi Newman.