Barbara Ruskin is a name remembered by few these days. However, back in 1960s Britain, she was one of only a handful of female singer-songwriters. She released a number of great singles between 1965 and 1972 and even co-hosted a radio programme for the BBC.
Barbara Ruskin was born in East Ham, east London, in 1948, and moved to Stoke Newington, north London, before starting secondary school.
Her father died when she was still young. It was left to her mother, who worked for music publisher Lawrence Wright in Denmark Street, in central London, to encourage young Barbara to pursue her love of music – and even bought her daughter her first guitar.
Barbara taught herself to play it and soon began composing her own songs.
She gained her first experience of work in the industry when she joined the group The Demensions (later known as Jimmy Powell and the Dimensions) in her early teens. Before long, she would spend her spare time performing at weddings and youth clubs.
Having built up a portfolio of her own compositions, she began sending off demo tapes to music publishers – but kept getting rejected. Eventually, she took herself down to Denmark Street with her guitar and knocked on some doors, hoping to sell some of her songs.
Her efforts paid off, and in 1964, to her surprise, she was offered a contract not as a songwriter but as a singer. Signed to Piccadilly Records, through Pan Musik, she was teamed with John Schroeder and Ivor Raymonde, the men behind many of Helen Shapiro and Dusty Springfield’s hits respectively.
A version of Billy Fury’s Halfway to paradise was issued as Barbara’s first single, in February 1965.
Keen to cut her own material, Barbara’s second 45 was one of her compositions, You can’t blame a girl for trying, which she had written with Sandie Shaw in mind. A third single, Well, how does it feel?, recorded in the style of Sonny and Cher, became its follow up that autumn.
With Motown all the rage by early 1966, Barbara came up with the stomping Song without end – arguably, one of her best singles. Surprisingly, the song failed to score. However, by this time, Barbara was establishing herself as a songwriter, and other artists, such as Marilyn Powell and Judy Cannon, had recorded her songs.
Light of love was her final single for Piccadilly, before Pan Musik switched distribution to the Parlophone label and took Barbara along.
The often-overlooked Sun showers, issued in February 1967, became her first 45 for the new label. Just two months later, Euston station was released as its follow up. The song was voted a hit on Juke box jury – but not by the record-buying public.
She followed it up with one of her finest singles, Come into my arms again, a song she’d written on the bus on the way to the studio. It was subsequently recorded by a variety of other artists and became a good income earner for her.
She was then offered a role co-hosting a radio programme, Cool Britannia, on the BBC’s World Service. As part of her role, she got to interview many of the big stars and composers of the day.
Meanwhile, in 1968, President Records took over Pan Musik. Pawnbroker, pawnbroker was her first single for the label, released in October 1968, with the even better Almost on the B-side.
Having seen the sales figures for recent British Eurovision song contest entries by Sandie Shaw and Cliff Richard, Barbara composed Gentleman, please for the 1969 British national final, all of which were to be performed by Lulu. When the song didn’t make the last six, she released it herself (with the infinitely better The 24th day of July on the reverse). Although the single wasn’t a hit, interest in it was high enough to warrant Barbara going to Berlin to record a German version. With the same title, the song became the B-side of her first German release, Hey love – So ist die Liebe. (Gallic yé-yé girl France Gall also released French and Spanish versions of the song.)
Barbara carried on recording, releasing a string of singles in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Hail, love! (a song she’d performed at the 1969 Festival of two roses song contest in Antibes) and A little of this, a little of that.
A second German-language single, Irgendwann, irgendwie, irgendwo, was released in 1971. A tour of Germany was also planned, though Barbara turned it down, as she had married and was expecting a child. Instead, she opted to do cabaret in London’s West End. .
Beautiful friendship was her final single, released in 1972.