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Tony Barrow, The Beatles’ Publicist, Dead At 80

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By ALLAN KOZINN, reposted from New York Times (here) 

Tony Barrow, who gave up his career as a journalist and music critic to become the Beatles’ first publicist in 1962, and who for the next six years played a crucial role in shaping the public’s perception of the Fab Four — a nickname he coined, in an early news release — died on Saturday in Morecambe, England. He was 80.

His death was confirmed by the Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn, who had known Mr. Barrow for 35 years.

In one of his first acts as the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein wrote to Mr. Barrow in December 1961, hoping to get the group mentioned in “Off the Record,” the record review column Mr. Barrow had been writing for The Liverpool Echo, under the pen name Disker, since 1954. The Beatles were then an unsigned dance-hall and bar band, and Mr. Barrow, who had moved to London and also had a job writing liner notes for Decca Records, responded that as a record reviewer, he could do nothing for a band that had not made any recordings.

Mr. Epstein was persistent. While visiting London in the hope of getting the Beatles a record deal, he visited Mr. Barrow and played him a poor-quality live recording of the group. Mr. Barrow was intrigued enough to help Mr. Epstein arrange for the group to audition for Decca.

As it turned out, Decca passed. Told by his boss that he could sign only one group, the label’s Mike Smith signed Brian Poole and the Tremeloes instead.

Shortly after the Beatles were signed to Parlophone, an EMI subsidiary, late in 1962, Mr. Epstein invited Mr. Barrow to join his production company, NEMS Enterprises, as senior press and publicity officer. Both Mr. Barrow and his wife, Corrine, doubted the wisdom of leaving a steady corporate job to work with a nascent pop band. But Mr. Epstein offered to double Mr. Barrow’s Decca salary, and Mr. Barrow decided to take the chance.

As a former critic, Mr. Barrow knew what writers wanted, and he filled his early news releases with details about which instrument each Beatle played, and who wrote the songs featured on their singles and albums, as well as fan-friendly information about the Beatles’ backgrounds, interests, ambitions, likes and dislikes. He did the same for other NEMS acts, including Gerry and the Pacemakers and the singers Cilla Black and Billy J. Kramer.

He also wrote detailed liner notes for the Beatles’ early British albums and EPs. And he was directly responsible for several recordings that are now prized by Beatles collectors.

It was at his suggestion that the group made a Christmas disc, to be sent exclusively to members of its fan club, at the end of 1963. The band continued the practice through 1969, filling these seven-inch discs with humorous messages, skits and songs.

It is also thanks to Mr. Barrow that the Beatles’ final live concert, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on Aug. 29, 1966, was preserved on tape. The Beatles had by then resolved to give up touring, and Paul McCartney had asked Mr. Barrow to tape the show. Standing alone a few feet in front of the stage, he captured most of it on a primitive cassette recorder. The recording was never officially released but has been widely bootlegged.

Mr. Barrow was born in Crosby, a Liverpool suburb, on May 11, 1936, and was educated at Durham University. He began his writing career while still a high school student: Fascinated with music, he persuaded the editor of the Liverpool Echo to give him a column when he was 17. But because the paper did not want it known that its critic was so young, the editor insisted that he use a pseudonym.

Mr. Barrow chose Disker after seeing the American singer Guy Mitchell called “the world’s top-selling disker” in an advertisement.

Mr. Barrow’s survivors include his wife and their two sons, Michael and Mark. He lived in Morecambe.

After Mr. Epstein’s death in 1967, the Beatles sought to distance themselves from NEMS and set up their own company, Apple, which had its own publicity department. Feeling marginalized, Mr. Barrow resigned from NEMS to start his own publicity company, Tony Barrow International (later Tony Barrow Management), with a client roster including MCA Records, the Bee Gees, the Kinks and the Bay City Rollers.

In 1980, he left the publicity business to return to writing and editing. In 2005 he published a memoir, “John, Paul, George, Ringo & Me: The Real Beatles Story.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

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