Rick Astley, singer, songwriter and radio personality, chats with Kevin Cooper about playing drums with friends in a rock band, how he likes being retro, his latest album Beautiful Life and his forthcoming tour of the UK.

Rick Astley is an English singer, songwriter and radio personality. In 1987 he released Never Gonna Give You Up which went to number one in 25 countries and won the 1988 Brit Award for Best British Single. In 1993 he retired from the music industry at the age of just 27, but not before he had sold over 40 million records worldwide.

Astley made a comeback in 2007, and became an internet phenomenon when the music video for Never Gonna Give You Up became integral to the meme known as ‘rickrolling’. He was also voted Best Act Ever by internet users at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 2008.

In April 2016 Astley released Keep Singing, from his seventh studio album, entitled 50 which was released later that year, when it reached number one on the Official UK Album Sales Chart. Earlier this month, he released his eighth studio album Beautiful Life.

Whilst busy promoting his latest album, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Rick, how are you?

I am very well thanks’ Kevin, how are you?

I’m well thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No worries it’s my pleasure as always.

And how is life treating you?

Very well, I can’t really complain can I (laughter). We are having a few days off at the moment in Ibiza, then we get back to the UK and start full on with all the promotion so it’s good; as I said we can’t complain. The sun is shining but then the sun is shining in Britain isn’t it.

It’s fantastic at the moment and that makes a change. I think when we last spoke in March 2016 we were actually in the midst of a monsoon here in Nottingham (laughter).

Oh really, oh my goodness. We do tend to get both ends of the weather spectrum.

Before we talk about the new album and the forthcoming tour, can I take you back to 2016 and 50. Were you pleased with the fans response to it?

Of course, it was incredible. I don’t think anyone involved with the record, not the record label or my manager; I don’t think any of us expected what happened. To actually have people get into the record so much that they actually went out to buy it, really was amazing. It really was amazing for me to be playing gigs where nobody went to the bathroom or to the bar in order to get a drink. That was fantastic because take it from me that is what happens to an artist of my age when I say that I am going to play a new song (laughter) so yes, it was pretty amazing.

Well the album was number one here in the UK, awarded platinum status, and the tour sold in excess of 100,000 ticket sales. It must have put you in a good place?

Yes, it did and what was really nice was that it give me a lot of confidence in terms of the new record. I made the last one to mark being 50 obviously, and there were some fans who had said one way or another they wanted a new record, but that’s not the same as having a number one album and seeing your name up there with the likes of Adele, Coldplay and everyone else. The confidence that gives you is pretty amazing. So I am really excited to see if we can have lightening strike twice. I don’t necessarily think that we will have a number one album this time around because you have to make sure that all the stars are aligned to do that, if you know what I mean, and we have already done that once. That really was amazing so if it happens again fantastic, but if it doesn’t then that’s not a problem. We are all very happy with the record so we are just going to get cracking and see what happens.

I have to tell you that I was lucky enough to both photograph and review you twice here in Nottingham, once in April 2016 and again in March 2017 and I was blown away both times.

Oh right, thank you. That is so nice to hear. It means that we must be doing something right (laughter).

I’m hoping that it’s third time lucky and that you manage to do it once again when you get to Nottingham.

Well what can I say, we will just have to wait and see won’t we (laughter). It really is a funny thing, I’ve done a lot of retro gigs, the kind of gigs that are steeped in nostalgia, and it is a really good feeling. It’s a trip down memory lane for me as well as for the audience. I don’t think that any artist would say to you that they don’t prefer playing the new songs that have been on the radio and that people have got into. It’s such an amazing feeling because I think that for all artists their favourite record is the last one that they made. Listen, I love some of those old tunes and they have been really good to me but I think it is just amazing to be in a situation where we go out and do gigs and we, the royal we, meaning the band and I, just feel that it’s great to play the new songs and the songs from 50. But we will just have to see how it all goes. I can’t say enough about it really, it is pretty amazing to be in that situation.

I have to tell you that I recently interviewed a well-known artist from Sheffield, who shall remain nameless, who tore me off a strip when I mentioned him playing retro concerts. He said that he wasn’t a retro artist in any way, shape or form. It’s a shame really because I really did enjoy his work with Ace, Roxy Music, Squeeze and Mike & The Mechanics (laughter).

(Laughter) so I take it that you have been speaking to Paul (Carrack) have you (laughter). Well I guess it depends on where you’ve been and what you have been doing with your time. But for me I am much more comfortable using those sort of terms. What you have to remember is that I quit the music business for quite a long time and didn’t do any gigs whatsoever. So for me it was a little bit like nostalgia because I haven’t been singing those old songs for 25 years or more so I kind of came back to them. It was a bit like some people who come to the gigs and see, and I am going to choose my words carefully, a line-up of artists who have been around a bit, if you know what I mean (laughter).

There is a feeling of nostalgia for me in those songs as well because I think that we need to be singing them literally and we never stopped. To be making those records was part of who you are but for me not having sung them for years I am just going through them again. I’ve been doing it now for ten years or more so it’s not a new thing for me to do although it did feel like it was because I have had to relearn the words all over again. There were a couple of tracks where I have gone ‘hang on a minute what’s next’ (laughter). It was pretty weird but it was some time ago now, but it was still pretty weird.

Putting a legal hat on for a minute, is it really legal to get paid for having so much fun on stage?

Well, yes it’s a funny one. I think that the way that I got back into it, it was very slow. I went and did three gigs in Japan and that was the first time that I had sung my old songs properly with a band trying to emulate that sound. Then I didn’t do it again for a little while, but then I said “yes” to a few more gigs, and then a couple more and then a couple more. So I think my attitude towards it has been treating it all as though it was a massive karaoke in Japan because that was what it felt like to me. I didn’t try to be too precious about it and I’ve never tried to be too serious about it simply because there are a lot of memories for people from when they were young, and those memories are my memories also.

So I really never feel like I’m 21 again whenever I get up on stage. I don’t because I feel all my aching joints, but then there is an element of me who thinks ‘who gets to do this again’, so I try to bring that into what I’m doing. I always have a little chat with the band and the crew before we go on to remind everybody, that you know, well I can’t speak for them, they can speak for themselves, but I always remind them of the reason why we’re doing my gigs at least. We have to go out there and earn this because even though some of those songs have been around for a while, people have already bought their tickets and we have to go out there and earn it, and the best way to earn it is for us to enjoy ourselves which then transcends into hopefully a great experience for the audience.

On both albums, 50 and now the new album Beautiful Life, you have written everything, directed everything, produced everything and played everything. Do you ever feel that puts you under extra pressure? Do you think that the added pressure makes it a bit more special?

Thinking about it, in a way it probably does bring a little extra pressure sometimes but then again, I can always call someone up and get them in. In lots of ways it’s not really pressure in the normal sense of the word, and with the new album, Beautiful Life, I’m kind of almost testing myself a little bit and saying to myself ‘you’ve done that once and you’ve had a record that people have taken notice of, now can you do it again. Was it a fluke or was it because you haven’t done it for years and you’ve had some decent songs and some good ideas hanging around’. The idea of me saying ‘what if’, well it’s a bit like the dreaded second album if you like. That’s how it feels to some degree.

If I am doing it all and I did have that attitude with 50, to see what I am capable of, because I can’t do anymore, I can’t do it any better than that and I can’t do it any differently because that’s the way I play, that’s the way I write and that’s the way I do things, so I’m quite comfortable with that. I am quite comfortable with the idea of me being, as pretentious as this may sound, a true artist that goes in to a room and produces something whether that be surreal or happy music. That’s what I like, that’s what I can do and that’s me at my best if you like. So in a way that takes some of the pressure off, because the most difficult thing is accepting the fact that some people may not like it. If you can accept that, then it will be fine.

That is one of the difficult things. The other one is the financial thing. When it comes to selling the album you have handed it over to a record label and their job is basically to sell as many albums as possible and you can’t, although some artists sometimes do fight their record labels, because they say “we don’t want you to do this, we don’t want you to do that” so they kind of tie the labels hands a bit. I’m a bit the other way, I’m like ‘I’ve made this and I’m happy with it so you can do with it just what you want’, although we do discuss things. What I am saying is that if I am happy with it but you want to try to get me on this TV show or that TV show then try to get me on there.

If you want to try to get me on anything then do because I’m happy to promote it because I feel that I am happy with the record and I’m not embarrassed by it because it’s a solid part of me, so in that way I think that it is really good because I am not going to promote a record that has been written by four writers and three producers for me because that can be a bit difficult as it was with Stock, Aitkin and Waterman (laughter).

Well I have to say that I have been playing the album for a while now and I think that it is a great piece of work. Are you happy with it?

Yes I am, I am very happy with it. I think that, as I have said, the weird thing is that I made the record at home in my little studio behind the kitchen. It’s very nice in their but it’s a home set up, it’s not a professional studio in that sense. So it’s a bit weird because not many people get to hear it. Literally only a few people; my wife obviously because we live together, and she manages me so she gets to hear it because she’s in the kitchen whilst I’m doing it. Then there are a couple of friends and Dan Frampton who engineers for me and mixes the record obviously. But other than that there aren’t many people that get to hear it really. Even my band don’t get to hear it although the girls who get to sing the backing vocals do get to hear it.

Then you get to a point where you start playing it to people which I don’t like because I won’t lie to you, it’s a nerve wracking experience. Then you go through that process of, are you happy with it and are you okay with other people not liking it. But yes I really like it. I think that some of the songs are more expanded than last time, so yes I’m happy with it.

Well after listening to it, and then comparing it to 50, I feel that it is a lot softer and a lot mellower. Is this Rick Astley showing us a softer side may be?

I think I’ve become a bit more comfortable at trying different things. If I’m honest the last record was me probably venting myself at times lyrically, and I also felt that the first song was a song called Keep Singing because I really felt that I had to open the record with me really singing. If anybody was going to remember me they might remember Never Going To Give You Up and the video obviously, but I hoped that they would remember my voice and so I really felt that I needed to open the record with that particular song. Keep Singing takes no prisoners, it starts off lyrically, vocally and emotionally full on, and I felt that I needed to do that.

I think that with this record, a song like Beautiful Life for instance, I can just have a bit more fun with that because I’ve been out and toured new songs and people have got off their arses and danced. That has made me think two things. Firstly it has made me feel okay that you can chill out and relax, and secondly we can make some songs that people want to dance too a little bit. Don’t get me wrong it’s not a bloody dance album for god’s sake (laughter). It really is a record for an age group together with a certain genre and people have been a bit more comfortable with that I guess and chilling out a little.

At this moment in time I have two go to tracks; She Makes Me and Better Together. I think that they are fantastic songs.

Thank you, thank you.

And I’m not trying to get on your good side but I as you know, I am an old soulie at heart and whenever I listen to Better Together I can envisage the late Bobby Womack playing an acoustic guitar singing that song. I think that it is fantastic.

That’s high praise indeed, thank you. That’s amazing, thank you Kevin.

Now then you will be playing 18 UK dates on the forthcoming tour; are you looking forward to it?

(Laughter) well what can I say, of course I am. We all are and that includes the band. We are going to Europe first for a few gigs where we will be playing a few gigs in different countries so we will be nice and warmed up by the time we get back to the UK. In fact we are having a rehearsal next week actually. We have already gone through the songs once or twice with the band in a rehearsal room and stuff. But again it’s kind of a weird feeling because they are new to the records. I couldn’t give everybody a copy of it because you can’t do that anymore. It’s frightening because you can’t give copies away like we used to, they are now all watermarked and everything. So it’s going to be interesting. It’s always a nice feeling whenever you get to play new songs; it’s going to be good fun I think.

Have you decided as yet just how many of the new songs will make it onto the set list for when you play here at the Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Monday 12th November?

What I can assure you is that we are not going to play loads of the new songs because the record will have been out for a while by then so we have to see what happens with regard to the whole thing. We are going to have to see how well the album does and what the reaction to it is. As you know I look at Facebook and Twitter to try and get an idea of what people are saying about certain things, so we will just have to wait and see. What I will tell you is that we will rehearse a lot of the new songs but we won’t be playing them all. We are just going to judge it. I like to be able to be on stage, turn round to the band and say “you know what, let’s just play this”.

It’s a bit scary once you’ve got proper production, lights and the rest of it because they’ve got to try to follow what you are doing on stage but I kind of think that it’s nice to throw a different song in and it’s nice to test the water with it and yes it’s good. It’s always interesting for us to do that.

Well I checked this morning and the Royal Concert Hall is selling really well.

Oh good, that’s always nice to hear.

A full house expected yet again.

Let’s hope so (laughter).

What can we expect? What surprised me the first time I saw you was when you performed AC/DC’s Highway To Hell and you played the drums.

That’s right I remember it well (laughter). I play the drums in a band with a couple of friends. We have a little rock band which really is a midlife crisis for sure (laughter). In fact my whole life is a mid life crisis at the moment (laughter). We play some punky rock songs and the concerts we do are always for charity so we manage to get away with it. However, if we were to do it for real that would be really sad. I play drums and sing in that band because I am a closet rocker on the side. Sometimes I think that everybody is at some point in their lives (laughter). Whenever I get to play that song I really do feel like a kid again to be honest. Listening to Highway To Hell was how I learned to play the drums really. It is one of the steadiest records to learn to play the drums to when you were a kid because it’s not over complicated. However, I have to say that it really is bang on. It’s a really great record to drum along too, so why not (laughter).

And you will have the wonderful Gabrielle opening things up for you?

Yes I will and I am really looking forward to that. She’s got a really good album out at the minute which is getting a lot of radio plays together with a couple of singles. She has got some great songs as well from dare I say, back in the day (laughter). Notice that I didn’t say retro (laughter). I went to one of her gigs a long time ago now in London and I just thought that she’s very interesting with what she does. Her voice is very distinctive. She is one of those artists that opens her mouth and I go “oh it’s her” so yes I’m looking forward to that, it will be good.

I saw her last year in Birmingham and let’s just say that she was on form that evening. In fact she blew everybody away.

Oh that’s great.

Now then, the last time that I spoke to you I asked you who were the first band that you saw live.

Oh alright (laughter)

And you said Camel.

Oh in that case I had better say the same one (laughter). I’ve spoken to my sister and I’m pretty sure that it was Camel and she says it was Camel but it could have been Supertramp (laughter).

Well I mention it because they are actually touring the UK once again.

I know, I know, I had heard about that.

They are playing at the Birmingham Town Hall and you have actually got a day off.

(Laughter) I love it (laughter). You’ve done my research for me. Well I might get some tickets and invite my sister along. She could go with me (laughter).

I have to ask you, we have spoken about things ‘retro’, can you believe just how popular cassette tapes are once again?

I have to be honest and say that I don’t understand that at all. I get vinyl one hundred percent because vinyl is a beautiful thing; it looks nice, it’s nice to touch and the whole thing about putting a record on is great. Cassette’s, I don’t understand. I don’t even know anybody who has a cassette player for one, and so I just cannot understand that at all. But you know what, like I say, record companies do what record companies do and we’ll see what happens.

On that note Rick, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been fantastic and I will see you again up here in Nottingham.

No thank you, it’s been a pleasure once again Kevin and I hope to speak to you soon. Make sure that you come and say hi. Thanks a lot and bye for now.