Local music writer Matthew Jacobson interviews singer-songwriter Leo Sayer.
Leo Sayer will be celebrating the milestone of 50 years as a recording artist the only way he knows how via a huge UK tour set to run between September – November 2022.
Leo Sayer is one of the most successful British artists of all time, racking up millions of album sales, transatlantic No.1 singles (as well as numerous GRAMMY and BASCA awards). His army of hit singles include Thunder In My Heart, The Show Must Go On, One Man Band, Moonlighting, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, How Much Love, I Can’t Stop Loving You, More Than I Can Say and the timeless When I Need You.
During the lockdown period while Leo was at home in Australia he was extremely active, spending a lot of time recording and releasing new singles – My City In Lockdown and How Did We Get Here? – as well as collaborating on the tribute single to his friend and late-guitarist, Al Hodge, by recording Al’s classic track Tradewinds. He also found time to self-produce a new album – Northern Songs, his own take on songs written & composed by John Lennon, Paul McCartney & George is out now on CD and vinyl.
Always a hugely popular live attraction, Leo Sayer will embark on a celebratory tour of his 50-years in music, performing a staggering 32 concerts right across the UK in autumn 2022.
I interviewed Leo about 50 years in the industry, meeting his heroes and ambition….
Congratulations on reaching 50 years in the music industry, has time gone quickly?
It has, it’s incredible to get here after 50 years! Mentally I’m still the same, I’m still an inquisitive person. Yes I have knowledge and wisdom and experience which can make life a lot easier, but I’m still the same person. I don’t think I’ve changed, I’m still ambitious and interested and fascinated in small details, so it puts me in good stead, it keeps me young! I don’t think like a 74 year old…
You have to ignore the windows, age is a mental thing, as long as you can physically cope. I have three stents, heart trouble, knee cap replacement, I’ve got Crohn’s disease, but none of this holds me back, I’m still able to do my job – I still have my hair and a voice so can’t complain!!
What have been the biggest challenges over the fifty years within the industry?
I’ve suffered some very big rip offs so getting over them was more of an achievement than getting a hit single – there are so many rogues in the business. Harvey Weinstein was my promoter once! Andy Coulson was my biggest champion for a time, so you meet rogues along the way!
Are you much more guarded?
Yes definitely, I’d tell my 18 year old self – not to trust anybody! Live by your own decisions, go with your gut. There are opportunities offered to go left or right, many crossroads, but go with your gut and follow your instincts!
What have been your highlights?
The first hit with Roger Daltrey, “Giving It All Away” was special. Hearing Roger singing my song was a big moment, something I’ve created was sung by someone else was just incredible and it’s out there in the ethos. Having the first number 1 in America with “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing“ was also special, it shot up the charts and was an amazing moment. And to follow, the next single, “When I Need You” also went to number 1 in the USA, it was an incredible time for me. Becoming an Australian citizen was also special, I wanted to reinvent myself. So many career and life highlights…
Did you meet your heroes along the way?
Yes, for sure! I spent 14/15 hours on a plane with Muhammed Ali talking about our lives. Then I got to speak to Elvis just before he died. I was friendly with Ayrton Senna and got to know Bob Marley after designing some of his record covers! They all had something special about them, they all had amazing charisma, just like Lennon and McCartney, they have an aura around them – they are not quite human. They have all brought influence to the world, such positivity…
Are you always thinking about writing or do you have to stop and write a song?
Funny enough, I’m not writing at the moment but I have many ready for the next album. The creative process… well, you can have a song that’s a demo and then get it ready to release but all of a sudden you see it taking a different direction.
During Covid, I was writing and actually wrote a song called, How Did We Get Here? which was talking about the virus, where it came from and how we deal with it – with modern factors of gossip and blame which is all unnecessary.
And following on from that when recording the album, Northern Songs, without this sounding wrong, I felt I could take liberties with the song they’re known by so many people and so popular but I could put my own twist on them, my own stamp on them – when I heard the results I thought I can’t release this – they WILL think I’m taking liberties! (laughs) – but people loved it, so I released it.
After 50 years of songs, tours, No1’s, – what is your motivation to carry on?
I have a theory, to live 20 minutes ago and 20 minutes to come. You can’t fix the past nor predict the future. Plans are made by others in this business. You may have your own opinions of the past and the future – but it’s about living in the now, living in the moment. I think of the legacy that I built and in many ways the songs will outlive the artist. Songs do have a life of their own, but I have some good material.
There’s also personality in my songs, “One Man Band” was really me – I was really run over by a taxi cab! ‘Orchard Road “ was about breaking up with my wife over an affair and then running back to the wife because it was wrong. “Moonlighting“ was about the Scottish roadie in the band who ran off with the daughter of the chief of police… you know, they are all real stories and that’s the personality within the song…
You have covered many Beatles songs, was that a risk?
I’ve met them all, and took their personalities – they were intrinsic to how I focussed on the project. I had them in my head, how would they look at those songs now – how would they re-record them now and how would they reassess them?. I put them into my thoughts and me into their shoes. Jimmy Hendrix reinterpreted “WIld Thing” and Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and The Beatles reinterpreted “Twist And Shout”.
I didn’t really listen to the original version and just rolled them out in my head. I wanted a Prince groove to ‘Girl’ and a Michael Jackson twist to “Eleanor Rigby” which I always heard. I wanted depth and blues in “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” – I was mixing up influences and interpretations really and felt I got to know the songs really well by doing so. I brought out different things and the words. “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” gave me thoughts of someone knowing what love is – but unable to buy the trinkets to match. You can revisit songs and find more meanings and depth…
A question on memorabilia, I have memorabilia from my hero, Morrissey’s shirt from a gig – have you collected along the way and what do you have?
Well, I go to Ebay and buy Leo Sayer memorabilia!! (laughs) because there are so many items that I’ve forgotten and it helps with my book that I’m writing, so rare stuff really helps! I have lots of Dylan stuff and a signed Elvis picture and a beautiful Hendrix picture…
What can people expect at your gig in Liverpool?
Well there are two albums that aren’t represented but it will include songs from the Northern Songs album – so we will perform ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Across The Universe’ and maybe throw in, “Can’t Buy Me Love”. It kicks off with “The Show Must Go On“ and ends up with two songs from the Daltrey album so it takes you through 50 years of the most popular songs, the first half is slow, but the second is mad! We played shows in Ireland and it went well!
As for Liverpool, we played The Empire with Roxy Music in 74, and we also supported Slade there – which went well, but Noddy came on stage and told the audience to shut up and listen!
I love Liverpool, it’s so rich in musical history, it means so much to me – my influences stem from The Beatles, but the city always had great music – Gerry Marsden was a great mate! I always wanted to play The Cavern. It was close to happening once. I’d still love to play there and ask Paul to play bass. This tour is certainly not a swan song – I still have lots of ambitions!
I’ve an ambition to play Glastonbury, Hyde Park, Albert Hall and Anfield.
I’m an Evertonian, Leo!
(laughs) So sorry Matt, Everton’s ground then
I just can’t wait to get out there..!
Thanks Leo and thank you for your time and best of luck for the future.
Cheers, Matt – lovely talking to you, see you at the gig!
With Love and Peace,
Leo Sayer plays the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall – 12 Nov 2022.
Tickets available now via: