Thursday, June 23, 2011

LEO SAYER the Show Must go On : INTERVIEW



When Leo Sayer first toured Australia in 1974 it made quite an impact on him. After months of lead up, by the time he landed it was full blown Leo-Mania. Thousands of fans greeted him at airports and the sold out concerts across the country were scenes of fan-demonium. Australia liked Leo Sayer and Leo Sayer liked Australia. He became a regular visitor, doing over twenty five tours before emigrating here in 2006, and taking citizenship in 2009. He clearly feels he belongs here. When he speaks about the Australia and its music business he says ‘our country’ and ‘our business’ with great integrity. Since the move Sayer has been back in the UK charts, worked with the Wiggles regularly, judged a Miss Nude Universe contest, become close friends with many local musicians and is about to hit the Adelaide Cabaret Festival for four shows this weekend at the Dunstan Playhouse.

His early years were packed with hits like Long Tall Glasses, Moonlighting, One Man Band, When I Need You, You make Me Fell Like Dancing and More Than I Can Say. The longest the Leo has ever been away from the charts is five years, so he is about due for another appearance on the charts.

Leo is on the phone from his home in Sydney having just returned from a sell-out show in Sri Lanka his first visit there. Having just dodged the Chilean Volcano ash he is keen to talk about his life and music to Faster Louder.

I wonder what your memories of that first Australian tour are?

“It was Leo-Mania! Ha ha. It’s hard to realise in this age of celebrity, with useless magazines that talk about ‘stars’ all day and useless TV shows like X Factor and Idol, everything is very instant and saturated. But back in those days I guess they used to rely on things like putting up posters ‘He’s coming in six months’. And (Paul) Dainty was so organised, I’d never been involved in a tour so together. Countdown was involved and all the magazines were all going ‘he’s coming, he’s coming’ that interest was huge by the time I got there. The airports were lined with people. In Melbourne the airport had just got one of those enclosed ramps and they were really proud of it. But they decided not to use it so Leo Sayer could walk down onto the tarmac and all the people on the roof could see. It was things like that I found funny.”

Was is funny or was it a bit scary?

“Mostly it was just funny. There was an incident in Brisbane when the limousine took the wrong turn into a radio station car park and there was about 5,000 fans waiting. They went a bit nuts and rolled the car over with me in it. Eventually the police came running in, but by that stage I was sitting on the roof inside with three other people going ‘what the fuck?’. The ocker DJ inside wouldn’t believe me ‘pull the other one Leo’.”

Yes that’s right boys and girls the nicest man in pop swears. Swears like a trooper as it happens. That kind of hysteria seemed at bit odd for somebody who was essentially a singer songwriter.

“I know the world of Justin Bieber (laughs). That poor kid is out there trying to do a job and the publicity machine goes into overdrive because his people want to drain as much money as they can out of the fans pockets before he falls out of favour next week. So I met with the pop world which wasn’t anything to do with me really. I wanted longevity. I always had an attitude of ‘c’mon guys, don’t fuss about, we’ll be here for a while’. When I think of bands like the Beatles and the Stones who will always be the biggest bands in history, U2 and the Foo Fighters can’t touch them. They are it. But they were forty years ago and they haven’t been improved upon. At the time they were thinking ’We’ll never be as good as Chuck Berry’.”

It was a great time for music and the dawn of the Countdown era in Australia.

“Countdown was a great platform. With that crazy Molly Meldrum in charge. He was nowhere near a professional host, but he had lots of enthusiasm and he seemed to like me more than a lot of the others. So if a show was going a bit dull or somebody dropped out he’d be “play some Leo”. For which I am very grateful.”

I think Molly worked so well because he was not ashamed of being a fan and loving the music and the musicians on Countdown.

“Exactly! It’s one of the things I love about this country, it’s no bullshit. There’s hype but people in bands and the people who go to shows are no bullshit. The reason urban music has never taken over here is we are used to people who can play instruments and the fans who are fiercely loyal and will follow the Chantoozies til they die. Which is great. The media can’t get away with the sort of crap the English music press have always done. Culture Club went to America and play in a small club and the papers in the UK are front page Madison Square Garden Sell Out for Boy George. Here it’s reality or nothing. It’s straight up and I’m proud as an Australian citizen to be thought of as one of the boys.”

That’s very much an Aussie attitude generally was that part of what has drawn you to the country and made it your home?

“Totally. I am very anti-fame. I don’t like X-Factor and Idol and all that hype. I feel like what Australians expect from their lives and their culture is to cut to the chase. I think people here don’t want to be told what they should like, they like to see for themselves. I recognise the fact that Jimmy Barnes has been on stage for thirty plus years done 3,000 gigs and still doesn’t want to get in a limo.”

Given that you hate all that celebrity nonsense I was a bit surprised when you went into the Celebrity Big Brother house in 2007.

“Surprised me as well mate! It was a load of old shit. Everybody in life does something as a vehicle. So I was approached and was told that the zeitgeist of the modern times was that if I did one of these shows, there is a guarantee of a record contract. I’d been working on a new record and trying to sell it, but nobody was interested, because the whole industry now works round celebrities. So what do you do? So I did the show. It was shit and they set me up.”

And set him up they did. There was a dispute over clean underwear and the fact they were making Leo share a bed with Towers of London lead singer Donny Tourette’s who preferred sleeping in the nude. After several arguments with Big Brother and demanding to see his contract Leo Sayer, always considered one of pop’s nicest guys, broke through a door with a shovel and had a massive argument with security guards who were preventing him from getting out of the compound. In some ways it was the last straw for Leo in the UK’s celebrity obsessed tabloid culture. He left for Australia soon after the BB incident.

Having had such a long career do you constantly have people saying ‘That was the song I got married to’ and expressing how your songs have impacted on their lives?

”Yes I do. It’s wonderful to think songs I made in 1973 still mean something to people. I get a long of people saying ‘You did that song? I had no idea who did that’. Some people who think that’s a problem but I fucking love that the songs have a life of their own. I never had kids so my songs are like my children. They are greater than me, bigger than me. I guess sometime the song becomes bigger than the artist in some ways. There was a very rich lady in England who I sang at her engagement party. I sang at her wedding and when she got divorced she had a party for all her friends and I sang at that too, book-ending the whole relationship.”

Leo brings his The Show Must Go On show to the Dunstan Playhouse this weekend (June 16, 17, 18 and 19).

Ian Bell

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