The Tiger Who Came To Tea

The Tiger Who Came to Tea: Interview with lyricist Don Black

Category: Interview

Were you aware of the book The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ before you became involved in this project?

A little bit. Not as much as everyone else I’ve ever met [who] knows it backwards, but I’m pleased to say I read it in one sitting.

And now you’ve read it, Don... You’re a storyteller yourself, you tell stories through lyrics...What is it about this particular story that’s spoken to generations of kids?

It’s very difficult to say, it’s just irresistible. It makes you feel young again! I think when you read it you’ve got a smile on your face from the beginning, especially when she opens the door – it’s thrilling – and it’s told very easily, very accessible to anyone. Who knows why anything works? But it’s hard to fault it, let’s put it like that!

What made you want to get involved and write this song?

When David Arnold sent me a tune...! I got a call from David, who I’ve worked with before, and he mentioned this and I said: ‘’Have you got a melody?’’ He sent it to me and it was so catchy! An idea started popping into my head lyrically straight away. A lyric writer’s job is to try and capture the mood of the music so I thought: ‘’This has to be child-like.’’ Songs like Candy Man or Gingerbread Man, various songs... I thought it should be that kind of thing. It was a joy to write and I didn’t feel as though I wrote it. I felt as though I’d found it, it was a very easy thing to write.

What was going through your head? There are some wonderful lines.

People always ask about inspiration for songs and there isn’t. Paul McCartney once said when he was asked what happened when he wrote Yesterday. He said: ‘’It was a good day at the office.’’  It’s as simple as that. When you do this for a living, it turns out to be a good day at the office or a lousy one. Another man, Jules Styne, a great Broadway composer, said: “Inspiration is for amateurs.” There is a lot in that. Inspiration is for amateurs, if you’ve got to write a song for four o’clock the next day, if you work in the theatre, it’s got to be there. Inspiration doesn’t really come into it.

Tell us about what Hey Tiger! is all about?

It catches a mood of innocence and youth and a delightful tale and brings a smile and, it makes you feel young again, if you’re not young already.

Tell us about some of your favourite lines in it.

My favourite line in the song is probably the first line – “Hey Tiger! Glad you called, come on in, there’s lots of biscuits in the biscuit tin”. Straight away you get the mood. It’s very important for a song to draw you in, it kind of lures you in and from then on, it’s just finding some images – an ice cream van and all the various other images in the song. But that’s my favourite line – “there’s lots of biscuits in the biscuit tin”.

Tell me about your collaboration with David Arnold because you guys have worked together for the best part of 20 years on different songs for different projects.

Well, David Arnold has a particular gift that’s very little to do with writing songs or movie scores, he’s a terrific singer.  Now I’ve worked with Elma Bernstein, Henry Mancini, John Barry, Quincy Jones... None of them can sing like David Arnold. So when he ‘la las’ it to you, already it sounds great. But as far as the actual working, I do the lyrics to his melody. I’ll sometimes throw him some lines to kick him off and get him started but it’s very easy, it’s quite painless.

Let’s talk about Robbie Williams recording it. Why was he the perfect artist to bring this song to life?

Well, for me personally, I’ve always been a huge Robbie Williams fan, particularly after I met him, because when I first met him, he was talking about Sammy Davis and Dean Martin, and basically, there’s a lot of the old school about Robbie Williams. He’s an old performer really. And he would get this song, he would hear it and say: ‘‘Oh I know what you mean.’’ And he’s ideal for it. It’s a show song, it tells a story, and he’s great with the lyric. He kind of lives a song and we got him!

What was it like seeing the song performed by the person born to sing it?

It’s always a thrill when you think, I’ve had that a few times I’m pleased to say in my life and my career, when you think: ‘’Wouldn’t it be great if we can get him or great her?’’ And Robbie Williams was a dream David and I spoke of on day one. And to say he’s actually going to do it? Well, you get goosebumps!

At the beginning of the recording session you saw some of the movie. What was it like for you to see your words go with those pictures?

It’s impossible to describe, some things that are indefinable and that is the kind of thing it comes together and, in a way, it’s like it was always there. There are some things you can’t express and that’s one of those. What do you feel when you hear a great performance or a great moment? It’s just there and you’re very thankful for it.

Did you enjoy writing a family-orientated song Don?

I always like writing a family song, children’s songs. It’s like telling a story to your kids at night, so it’s a delight and I think it’s worked out well.

Lastly, it’s going to go out at Christmas, what can families around the UK expect when they see this movie finally finished with your music and the wonderful visuals?

Well, they’ll find 30 minutes of great escapism. They’ll smile, there may be a tear or two, as well.