Leo Sayer, an English Australian singer and songwriter chats with Kevin Cooper about what The Beatles mean to him, his fifty years in the music business, his latest album Northern Songs and his forthcoming 2022 tour of the UK.

Leo Sayer, an English Australian singer and songwriter has been an Australian citizen and resident there since 2009. He launched his career in the UK in the early 1970’s when he became a top singles and album act on both sides of the Atlantic.

His first manager was Adam Faith and with him his first seven hit singles in the UK all reached the top ten. Whilst his first single did not chart, his second, The Show Must Go On, went to number two in the UK singles chart as did his debut album, Silverbird. Other hits followed such as One Man Band, Long Tall Glasses and Moonlighting.

The peak of his career came in 1977 when he achieved two consecutive number one hits in the US, first with the disco styled You Make Me Feel Like Dancing followed by a romantic ballad, When I Need You, which was his first number one single in the UK.

He has also written for the likes of Cliff Richard and Roger Daltrey.

Whilst concentrating on the start of his rescheduled UK tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

G’day Leo, how are you this afternoon?

(Laughter) hi Kevin, I’m good mate, and let me say thanks for the warm Aussie style welcome you cheeky bugger. But more to the point how are you today?

I’m fine thanks for asking, and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

As always, whenever you and I get to have a good old chat, it’s a pleasure and ‘Fair Dinkum’ (laughter).

(Laughter) thanks for saying that but I feel that, for the sake of our non-Antipodean readers, we should try to keep the Australian slang to a minimum, don’t you?

(Laughter) I totally agree with you, so I will try to behave myself.

Thank you and I have to ask, just how is life treating Leo Sayer at this moment in time?

What can I say; life at the moment is fantastic. It’s great to be back. We have already played three shows in Ireland, and that really went fantastically well. All of this was postponed from way back in 2019. In fact, we were in the middle of the Irish tour; we had just played in Derry, Wexford and Limerick and we were on the way to Cork when the rule came down in March 2019 informing us that there could not be any more gatherings of more than 200 people. So, I had to skedaddle back to Australia but luckily, now that we find ourselves back in safer times, we have played Dublin, Cork and Belfast and I have to say that all three shows really were fantastic. It really is amazing out there. So, as you can imagine, I am now chomping at the bit to get going once again.

Before we move on let me just say congratulations on fifty years in the music business.

Thank you so much for saying that it’s incredible isn’t it. Time really has whistled by in the blink of an eye (laughter). It’s quite incredible really and I don’t think that I have changed that much, of course I am more experienced and a little wiser. Having said that I have been ripped off a fair few times, and of course I have suffered disappointments as well as experiencing great achievements. But I think that I am still this inquisitive guy; the same guy that I was when I was first starting out in the music business. I like to think that I am still individualistic; I don’t think that I am much like anyone else who I know. And more to the point, I am still ambitious. I like to think that my best album is still ahead of me, and I like to think that my best shows are ahead of me. I still think to myself, ‘God, I’m never going to be happy until I have played Glastonbury and Madison Square Garden’ (laughter). I really do still believe that the sky’s the limit for Leo Sayer really.

Have you enjoyed the ride so far?

Yes, I have it really has been fantastic. Of course, there have been horrible moments, as well as rip-offs. It really is a horrible feeling to be told that you have lost all of your money, that someone had walked off with it, but you know, in the middle of all that, it really does spur you on to still keep achieving, and to keep moving forward. I have this theory that I have come up with; I call it the twenty-minute theory. I tend to try to concentrate on everything that happened twenty minutes ago, and the twenty minutes that are to come. The rest of it you can’t do anything about, you can’t predict the future, and you can’t really fix the past so, just stay in the now; that’s what I do. I really am very much about the now.

You must have seen lots of changes over the fifty years, some good and some not so good?

Yes, I have, I really have seen a hell of a lot of changes. There are some incredible things happening now with the likes of Google, and the fact that we are able to research things. Recently, I was in a café and there was a Chinese couple next to me and both of them kept on looking at me furtively. After a few minutes they both started looking at their mobile phones, and what they were doing was they were Googling me, as they thought that I just might be Leo Sayer (laughter). They started to look for me on YouTube as I heard some music and in the end they both looked at me and said, “Mr Sayer you are incredible, it is so nice to meet you” (laughter).

We have tools at our disposal now that are just incredible aren’t they. It is just a fascinating and wonderful world so there really are pluses and minuses in it all. At the same time, we have lost that kind of radio we used to have where Nana Mouskouri would be played next to The Rolling Stones, whereas nowadays everything is all a bit specialist. So, I think that we have gained, and we have lost. For example, the BBC isn’t what it used to be, when they used to make beautiful dramas, comedy shows like Morecambe and Wise, things like that. Just where has all that gone? Now we have people like Rupert Murdoch ruling the world and telling us all what to think.

So, there are both negatives and positives, whilst at the same time I think that there are still people like us from our age, dare I say, and I am including you in that, we really do have something to offer the world. And that has been proved in the fact that the popularity of The Rolling Stones, (Paul) McCartney, Billy Joel and (Bruce) Springsteen are still performing to sell-out crowds all around the world. People still love their music. Jimi Hendrix is bigger now in a way than when he was alive. The legacy goes on. Whenever people play our records, and people still play my records, to them, on the radio, it is still contemporary and that really is fantastic. We are not stuck in aspic in the past.

That leads me on nicely to my next question. Back in 1973 when you were first starting out in the music business, could you ever envisage that you would still be writing and recording music, and that you would still be as relevant some fifty years later?

No way, no, no, no. Think of the pop business here in England; we were all so competitive and we were making music that kind of echoed our feelings towards other artists and bands. We all hated each other really; we were at war in the charts with each other (laughter). We were also trying to make the most individualistic records that we could. We never wanted to be compared with each other, and I think at that time, we were all so busy trying to catch the zeitgeist of our lives, things like the miners strike and Margaret Thatcher; all of these kinds of issues that were global like the death of Kennedy. We were all so concentrated within the time. I don’t think that any of us ever thought that this was something that would last.

I think that we thought that fashion would change, maybe it would be robots that would be making this kind of music, and maybe it would all go a little science fiction. Maybe records themselves would go out of fashion. So, I think that we were all prepared for the end of the music business, and we never realised that, rather like the wine industry, you create a bottle back in 1949 and it becomes the most sought-after wine in the 2020’s. Well that is what it has been like. We all created something that is actually one of the great classic things of all time. Arguably it sits beside the great composers of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

There is something about this period which if humanity lasts that long, the Earth lasts that long and we can look back, this will be one of the golden times, I think. The 60’s most definitely will be; the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s really were a golden time of creativity, especially for young people as well. That goes for all of the arts, that goes for the theatre, visual arts, the movies, radio, it’s all there. We come from a golden time, and probably because we didn’t have the means at our disposal to enable us to think outside of the box, for example cable TV, satellite TV, the internet, mobile phones, all of these tools that we have now, we simply had to be so creative with the tools that we had at that time at our disposal. A six-string guitar or a piano together with a voice was everything; we all managed to create some magic from that point of view.

Taking you back to 1973 when you were just dipping your toe into the music business, Roger Daltrey with Giving It All Away and Sir Cliff (Richard) with Dreamin’ were both songs written by you. Did that give you the boost that you were both needing and craving at that time?

Of course, absolutely. As you know, music goes in and out of fashion, and even before More Than I Can Say back in 1980, I was sailing around thinking, ‘God, where is the next hit going to come from’ and then I met Alan Tarney, and we started working together. We did an album together called Living In A Fantasy, and we had one extra day in the studio. That one extra day turns up, and Alan and I were watching the greatest hits of Bobby Vee on the TV. On comes More Than I Can Say and I said to Alan, “hey, let’s record that”. So, you grab things that are in front of you, and sometimes they even work out (laughter).

Out of that situation of course, Alan was then working with Cliff on his next project, and Cliff was listening to some of my tracks with Alan and really loving them, and he said to Alan, “we really should get Leo to write something”’. So, that was the next thing. I was called in the middle of the night which really did surprise me for Cliff, and it was a case of, “come down to the studio now, we’ve got a song and we would like you to write a lyric for it”. And that was Dreamin’. So, things really do come when they are least expected and that’s why you have got to have an open attitude, I think to everything. Who knows, Snoop Dog could call me and say, “Leo, I really love your songs” you just never know, do you (laughter).

It’s like songs appearing on movies; the movie Deep Water where a little girl is singing at the end of the movie, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing in the car; I didn’t expect that (laughter). It just came out of nowhere. But the plus side to that is that everybody is talking about me again. So, I think that you have just got to be ready for anything, and mostly that is because we really did lay down a good legacy at the time. That legacy would have led to Cliff wanting to record a song using my lyrics, and those legacies create the opportunities.

Coming right up to date and your latest album Northern Songs, where you have reinterpreted the songs of The Beatles, John (Lennon), Paul (McCartney) and George (Harrison) and I have to say that I absolutely love it; I think that it is fantastic.

Thank you so much for saying that. I have to say that it was a risky thing to do in a way, because I was quite prepared for people to hate it, simply because The Beatles are so sacred. I do have the honour of having met all of the boys and actually to be in a position where I was able to spend some time with them during my life. So, I felt that I knew them as people, and I went into the recording of the record with the approach of, ‘how would I interpret those songs’ and also, I was thinking at that point, ‘what would be their approach if they were interpreting their songs in a more modern way’.

So, as you can imagine there was a hell of a lot of interpretation, re-reading of the tracks, trying to pull out some new meanings in them, things like that, and I have to say that it has been a really interesting experiment. I have to be totally honest with you and say that when it was finished, I really was loathed to release it because I really did feel that I was going to get canned for it. However, all of my friends said, “no, you have got to release it, it really is good” so, there you go (laughter).

You really did have to bring you’re A game to the table because it really is forbidden fruit isn’t it, whenever anyone messes around with anything Beatles??

Yes, it is plus the fact that you have to be able to add something to it. For a couple of the songs I treated them really straight, for example Get Back in a way is just a little more energised, but mostly I have really tried to pull something new out. I am particularly proud of Can’t Buy Me Love and I think of that track as almost a Paul Simon South African kind of thing where a poor guy who has no money or anything is singing, “I’ll buy you a diamond ring” whilst he could never afford a diamond ring. There are elements like that which are open to interpretation.

Well, I have to say that using the Billie Jean beat for Eleanor Rigby simply shouldn’t work, but it does (laughter).

(Laughter) I’m so pleased that you have picked up on that because I totally agree with you. Using the Billie Jean beat for Eleanor Rigby simply shouldn’t work but as you have pointed out, it does (laughter). I personally thought that the Billie Jean beat bought more angst to the song in a way. That really was kind of interesting.

Whose idea was that because the two fit together perfectly?

(Laughter) that was mine, I just found myself doing the groove, whilst I was singing Eleanor Rigby and flattening the notes a little in the vocal in an attempt to make it more soulful. It was just a mad idea that I came up with (laughter). I just went straight to the keyboard, started chasing it down, went to the recorder and started putting down all of the parts. I have to tell you that I was as surprised as everyone else was with the result but when I played it to people, they all agreed that it was great (laughter). I personally feel that you can marry styles like that, and I will tell you that we do that on stage by the way on this tour and I have to say that it has gone done really well. We will also be playing Across The Universe as well, and both of them have been going down great in the Irish gigs that we have just done. Those shows have really been fantastic, and I really can’t wait to perform them when we finally get over to England.

I have to say that I love Nowhere Man and that Reggae feel that you have managed to implant into the song.

I always kind of felt that about Nowhere Man when I would spend ages thinking, ‘I wonder what UB40 could do with this’ (laughter). I often found myself thinking about other bands, and their interpretations. Across The Universe is very much my take on what it would sound like if Noel and Liam Gallagher had recorded it and how they would have approached it. With A Hard Day’s Night, I was thinking about Van Morrison; so you get that kind of groove. There is a hell of a lot of me interpretating the songs through the eyes of other artists, other conduits as it were. At one point, I was even thinking about Yesterday being a Cuban anthem and things like that.

Something like Strawberry Fields Forever and turning that into a groove, that really was putting the beat back into The Beatles. Girl is very Prince orientated in a way; it was fun doing all of that, exploring all of those different things. Maybe, it was me seeing just what I could get away with (laughter).

You recorded the album during lockdown. How did that affect your recording style and techniques?

Great question, well, what can I say, there were a lot of challenges in making the album, as well because there was Covid-19. I usually work with my engineer, John Hudson in the Mayfair Studios where John has previously worked with the likes of Tina Turner and Brian Adams. John is now living down in Australia as he married an Australian girl, so he is now living down there. John and I usually work very closely together. However, this time we couldn’t even get together because of Covid. So, I would be sending him stuff and he would be sending me stuff, and gradually we managed to pull the album together simply by an internet communication. So, as you can imagine, that was another challenging part as well.

Just what do The Beatles mean to Leo Sayer?

That’s simple The Beatles are the greatest band of all time. I think that Elvis (Presley) was probably the most exciting live singer, and Bob Dylan is the greatest poet of our age then The Beatles are the band. There is something about the chemistry of those guys, and when they put all of that material together, they were only comparing notes with each other. And I have to say that I think that is what is beautiful. You can see that in the movie Get Back and that really is something to witness. They were such incredible and creative people, but they were so bloody normal as well. They never came over as pompous artists in anyway. They were just plain and lovely guys.

On that note Leo, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful as usual.

Thanks Kevin, I’m stoked that we were able to get together once again. You take care and I hope to see you in Newark.