Beautiful to Me – Tose Proeski

When I first met Tose Proeski he was already a well-established star, one of the biggest in his home region of the Balkans. He’d had several best-selling records, was a headline act at festivals and could regularly sell-out the biggest venues.

At the time I met him, he had a group of people around him convinced he had the potential to become a truly international star. One of them was video director Bryan Taylor who I’d worked with and who knew of my connection with big international sellers like Simply Red. He told me Tose’s people were looking for a UK producer to make an album that could have that kind of mass appeal. So I duly invited Tose to come and see me at Metropolis studios in London.

He must have been around twenty-five at the time. He was a great-looking guy, immensely likeable, with this wonderful persona, a lovely spirit. We set up a keyboard piano and he sang one of his songs – to him, I think it must have felt more or less like an audition.

I remember being struck at just how loud his voice was, he had the most amazing power. Overall, I was really impressed. Lilijana, his manager, told me they were actually looking for songs as well as a producer, so I agreed to do a writing session with Tose to see how we’d get along.

My only rule when songwriting is that we start from nothing – no lyric sheets, no chords, no riffs, the whole thing starts from zero. What results from the day is the chemistry of two people. And on that very first session working together we co-wrote Beautiful To Me.

The song had a slight Latin groove and flavour, and he had an incredible sense of melody and just sort of scatted partly in English, partly in Macedonian, just sounds and words. His English was very good, but his singing in English was actually excellent. The first session set the tone for the way we would go on to work together. When Tose left that day he was beaming from ear to ear and just full of excitement and energy about the whole project.

We decided we definitely wanted to continue, and took a trip to Jamaica to do an extended stint songwriting – which was wonderful, but when we got there, we discovered there was virtually no gear in the studio we’d booked, practically no instruments available either. We were forced to improvise and I think it only pushed our creativity. When we returned to London, we continued with the material, I agreed to help on the lyric side of things, as well as pulling in some of my other regular lyric writers.

When we finished Beautiful to Me his team worried that maybe it wasn’t ‘Tose’ enough. I wanted to use his voice in a different way – because he had such a powerful voice, but we wanted to show a lighter, gentler side.

We were making great progress, working on more and more songs together, taking the production to new heights which included a full orchestral recording with Italian star Gianna Nannini at Olympic Studios.

And then the terrible news came through that he’d been killed in a car crash back in Croatia. Everyone involved was devastated at such a tragic, sudden and shocking loss.

Tose was given a state funeral in his home country, a measure of the high regard in which he was held. And those of us who’d worked with him agreed we’d finish the record he’d been trying to create, as a tribute to his memory and to support his ongoing, lasting legacy.

Beautiful to Me remains probably my favourite of the songs we did together, probably because of its wonderful spirit and because of the memory of that first day.

The song is so simple, so innocent, and it took a talent as special as Tose’s to make it work.

He was an exceptional person. As the years have gone by, it’s evident just how much he’s still missed.

There was and there still remains an amazing wealth of love for him.