Interview to "The Jack & Jordan Show"

 

Here is a text version of the interview with Chris Norman to "The Jack & Jordan Show" internet radiostation taken in November 2020 by phone. You can listen to the original audio here.

 

 

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Please welcome to the show. Today’s guest is Chris Norman! How are you Chris?

Hello! I’m good, thank you.

So how has this all crazy year been for you ‘cos obviously it has been hard for musicians everywhere, hasn’t it?

Yeah, it’s a difficult time, I mean not just for musicians, it’s difficult for everybody I think. From my point of view, it’s been quite difficult because this year was my 70th birthday year. We had a lot of things planned: we would be touring, we were gonna do a documentary which had to be put on hold, loads of shows – so far as about fifty shows I’ve supposed have done this year which are all been postponed to the next year hopefully. You know, I just finished an album and we supposed it to be already out but we have to wait for that now as well. So it’s just basically difficult because everything’s having to be put on hold while we wait for things to get back to normal.

Is this the longest period in your career where you’ve not been performing live?

No, it’s not the longest time. Actually about late 80s I decided to stop touring all together, so from 1988 to 1994 I actually didn’t play anywhere. I didn’t tour at all, I was just recording. I was doing promotional trips and TV shows and things like that, but I wasn’t doing any live performances cos I decided to take some time off. So 6 years I didn’t actually perform live. But since 1994 I haven’t stopped really. I’ve been performing live and doing tours ever since then. So it’s a longest time for ages really.

And this year was different anyway because I had loads of things already planned or booked in, so I had to postpone them cos theaters went off and festivals were cancelled and everything… So yeah, it’s just a difficult period. I’ve been trying to get picky, busy by doing a bit of writing, a bit of recording, a bit of this and that, but it’s not the same as when you’re actually out there doing in front of an audience.

You’ve had such a brilliant career. What is the one thing that still this day with all that you’ve achieved keeps you so hungry and motivated to carry on writing, recording and everything like that?

Well, music has been my life really since I was about 15-16 and I went semi-professional in the music business when I was 17. So it’s been my life really all along. I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t do it really. I wouldn’t want to stop because there’s nothing quite like playing in front of a live audience. There’s nothing like making a new album, going into a studio. I love going into a studio after a couple of years and start to point things together again, to put out a new album, so then when I’m touring I’ve got something current to play as well as the old stuff that I play from the throughout my career. So when I do tours I do like loads of songs from the 70s but I also do them from all the different decades. And usually I always put a new album out the same time so I’ve got a brand new material to play as well. And as long as I’ve got that, it keeps it fresh for me. So I love doing it. I mean I don’t like the travelling so much but that’s a part of the job, you can’t get away from that. But other than the travelling the actual idea of playing in front of a live audience, putting out new album and stuff like that is what I’ve been doing since I was 17. So it’s a big thing.

Chris, I was reading that before Smokie you were in a few of smaller bands in your teen ages. And that was when you met Alan and Terry who later became friends of yours. Was it true you met them at school in Bradford?

Yeah, Alan, Terry and myself, we all went to the secondary school called St.Bedes Grammar School in Bradford, and we met there. I knew them from when I was about 11 or 12 years old. Me and Alan Silson first got together when we were 14-15, we both got guitars. For Christmas, I think, in 1964 or 65. So we started getting together, playing different things and showing each other what chords we knew and what new things we’d learned. Actually all those little groups I was in at the beginning - it was always me and Alan. We were always trying to find people that we could play with, that would be the same as us, similar age, similar standard of how good we were whatever it was in the time. And then a bit later on Terry got involved with that, and that’s really how Smokie did evolve from those early groups.

And from that point was it always a long-held ambition of yours, since you’ve met the guys, has it gone from hobby to “this is what I’m gonna do with all my life now”?

Yeah, I think it started like, you know, when I was a kid I was always want to be like Elvis Presley or Cliff Richard, or The Shadows or something. And then when The Beatles came around, that was kind of the dream to become another group like The Beatles. So when we started playing professionally we always believed that if we keep going and go better and better, one day we would make it. So it was always like an ambition and the dream first to do that, and we always believed we would one day. Although there was a lot of times when it seemed impossible. Eventually we got lucky, in the middle of 1975 we had our first big hit. And then it went on from there.

With regards to your time in Smokie, what was that like? Cos I’m imagining that must have been an absolutely crazy, wonderful time period.

Well, it was like everything we’d always wanted so came true. We wanted to have a hit, we wanted to be on “Top Of The Pops”, we wanted to play big stadiums, arenas, all that. And we ended up doing all that. So when it first happened it was fantastic. I remember being in a little Mini I had in 1975, with putting on the radio and hearing ourselves’ the first hit “If You Think You Know How To Love Me” being played on “Pick Of The Pops”. And that was like an amazing thing cos we thought we’ve made it. Well, you don’t realize when that happens that it might not last forever, you know. But everybody has their ups and downs, and after a while, after about 5 years, it wasn’t happening so much, and then there was a period when nothing happened. And then I started a solo career. But it was a great feeling cos we were mates anyway. There was me, Alan and Terry, and at the beginning we had a guy called Ron Kelly who left a couple of years before we had our first hit. Then Pete Spencer joined instead as a new drummer. And then suddenly after about 2 years he joined we started to have our hits. Like you say, it was a fantastic time cos we were all mates together and we were living a dream really.

Obviously, you were massive in those days, one of the biggest bands in the world pretty much. But with the regards to your career in those early years in Smokie, do you now look back and think – well, if I was doing all that again, I wouldn’t say yes to this or I wouldn’t do that?

It’s difficult to sort of go back and think - oh I wouldn’t have done that or this. Because when you look back you think - well, maybe I didn’t more really want to do that, but it was successful, so probably without it I wouldn’t have been where I am now. For instance, “Living Next Door To Alice” - we really didn’t want to release that. I mean that took us in a different direction than what we intended to be because it was a schmaltzy kind of song. But at the end of the day it sold millions records, it was number 1 all over the world apart from England where it was number 5. It was number 1 all over Europe, it was a big hit in South Africa, Australia, got in charts in America. So it was a song that we didn’t want to release, but at the end of the day, when you look back on it now, it was a big success. Maybe it took us in a slightly different direction of what we were thinking we were gonna be. So it’s fine really at the end, it worked, we are where we are.

And why do you think, of all the songs, of all the records you have released throughout your career, why “Living Next Door To Alice” has managed just to become legendary amongst all ages?

The new Smokie, that I call the guys that are going now as Smokie which has got Terry in them, they re-recorded it in the 90s. They made a comedy version of it with the swearing in it. And that kind of re-invented it a bit, so people remember that version as well. But I had nothing to do with that. But it helped to give the song a longer life. So maybe that’s one of the reasons, people remember that because of that thing. And besides that the song came out at Christmas originally, we recorded and released it in 1976 for Christmas, and it was a big hit during the Christmas period. So it was a kind of a friendly, kind of a happy Christmassy type of song, it has a feel about it. So maybe that’s another reason, I don’t know. You know, we had other records that were hits which I prefer, but that probably sold more than any of the others.

And finally of that song, was it about some particular Alice, based on someone that you knew at the time, or this was just purely from your creative songwriting style?

We didn’t write that song, it was written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. Basically Mike Chapman was our producer, and when we were in the studio one day he said, why don’t we record this, and he played that song. And we said, it’s not really what we want to be doing. It’s a bit too country or whatever. And he said, why don’t we just put it on the album for America, cos it might do really well in the country charts, and we won’t put it on the album for anyone else. We went, ok, we’ll do that. And then when we got back from the session, cos we recorded in Los Angeles in those days, when we got back to England, the record company, Mickie Most was the head of RAK Records we were signed to, he said that’s gonna be the next single. We went, no, no, we didn’t record it for that, we recorded it for America. And he was going, oh, we think it’ll be a big hit here. And then all the other countries like Germany, Scandinavia, everywhere, decided to put that out as the first single. So we got sort of handing with that, we had to go along with it, and it came out that he was right, it was a big hit. But it did change people’s perception of what kind of a group we were. It was really only supposed to have to come out in America in the country market. But as I said it happened. For a long time I didn’t like playing it but now I play it and the audience love it. So at the end of the day, if you go on stage and you can play a song that people go “wow”, then I love it. That makes it feel better, to do it, and I’m used to playing it now, so it’s fine. And the main thing is to try to make it sound as much like the original record as possible which is what I do when I play it live. And we don’t do the swearing in the middle.

What was your thoughts of that version when it came out?

Well, I’d heard that version already before the new Smokie recorded it. There was a production company called Gompie in Holland, and they were the first ones to re-record that in the 90s. And they had that swearing bit in the middle of the every chorus. So I’d heard it and I thought, well, somebody else is making a novelty record out of it, that’s ok, it’s nothing to do with me. But when that Smokie re-recorded it I didn’t like that really, I didn’t think they should have done that, they should have left it alone. But they did and it is what it is.

We have not yet touched on a layer of your early life before you even got to Smokie. Where did you grow? Was it in the North of England?

Yeah, I was born in Redcar which is in North Yorkshire, it’s in Cleveland now. It didn’t used to exist, Cleveland, it was just North Yorkshire. It’s just a little seaside town. My grandparents lived there. My mum and dad were in show business, so they were doing tours and performing on stage and everything. And my mum came back to Redcar to give birth to me at my grandma and granddad house. So I was born in Redcar. I was brought up by my grandparents for the first 4 years of my life cos my mum and dad were often touring. And then we moved to all over the place. With my mum and dad we lived in Bradford which is where I spent most of my formative years, cos my mother’s family was from Bradford originally. So we lived in Bradford, we lived in Luton, in Hertfordshire, we lived in Nottingham - we lived all over the place. But when I was 11 or 12 we moved back to Bradford and I stayed there and went to secondary school there which is where I met Alan and Terry. So I feel like I’m a Bradford person really, cos there I spent my formative years, teenage years, that was all spent in Bradford. But I’m from the North, yeah, from the North Yorkshire and then West Yorkshire.

Speaking of people from the North, do you think people there are a lot more community oriented, more like traditionalists of village?

Yeah, I think that people in the North are more friendly anyway. I live in the Isle of Man now but I go back to Yorkshire quite a lot. People there are the friendliest people in the world, I mean I’ve travelled all over the world. Really, you don’t get that kind of openness, friendliness anywhere other than in Yorkshire, in my opinion. And they are nosy really!

I was reading that your family, your lineage was very much sort of Bradford show business. You are the third generation in your family that has gone into that business. What is that like to have your parents and your grandparents involved in different aspects of show business?

I was very shy when I was a kid. So I never used to really think of myself as being in show business. My grandparents had long since given up by the time I was born. My mum and dad were still doing it. But it was a different branch of show business than the one I finally went in, cos it was like song and dance. I remember them trying to want me a tap-dance when I was a little kid and learning a tap-dance. I didn’t want to know it, I just wasn’t interested in that. But obviously the musicality of the family had a big influence on me. I always remember having big singsongs, and everybody used to be singing his old songs. My granddad and my dad used to always do the harmony. So I was surrounded by that. I could always sing harmonies myself maybe because of that experience or maybe because it’s just in my genes, I don’t know. So yes, it influenced me even at the time I probably didn’t know it. But the only thing that really made me want to get into show business myself was to do with the rock-n-roll thing and The Beatles. That’s what got spot my imagination and got me wanting to be involved in it. And I didn’t really think that being in a group was anything like being in show business, I just thought rock-n-roll was a different thing. But when you’ve been doing it as long as I am, of course it is show business, cos you get to a point where you are going on and you’re gonna make sure you do a good show for the people who come to see it. So it’s the same thing really. But I never thought when I was a kid that I would ever be in it, and nobody probably did either cos I was very shy when I was little.

So when you learned to play the guitar when you was 7-8, did that really bring you out of your shell and helped to outgrow shyness?

I didn’t really learn to play the guitar when I was 7-8. I was bought a little second hand guitar but I didn’t learn to play it because I didn’t know how to learn to play, nobody knew anything about playing the guitar. So I used to just plunk about on it when I was 7-8 until I got bored, and it was put in the attic. When I was about 13, then I got a guitar and I actually got a chord book with it, and then I started to learn how to play it, how to tune it. From then on I started to play the guitar. But I’d already started to come out of my shell before that, because I think when I was about 10-11 I started to play football for the school football team. We stayed in one place for a bit longer than usual, for about 2 years which was a long time for us to stay anywhere. And in that 2 years I kind of started to come out of myself - playing football for the team, getting friendly with people and having friends around. That put me out of myself. So by the time when I was about 11 I had started to be not so shy and be a bit more outgoing. And then with a couple of years later, that’s when I got started to play guitar really.

Was that around the time as well that you started making notes then tending to some of your first songs, or did that come along later on?

Well, I actually wrote my first song when I was about 10 years old. It was called “Dream Girl”. I wrote it with my cousin Tina, between us we made up the tune and some words for this song. So that I guess was the first song I ever wrote. And then I wrote another one a bit later on. But I didn’t really think of myself as… You know, when you are at that age and in those days, you didn’t think of yourself as of the songwriter anyway, nobody did. Even when The Beatles first came on the scene in 1962-63 there was a lot of older people, the older generation, who thought that somebody else wrote their songs, they just put their names to it. They didn’t believe that young people like that could write songs. And so I didn’t think of it. I really didn’t start writing songs again properly until probably when I was in my late teens - early twenties. I have started to write songs a bit then. But I didn’t really sort of get the hang of writing songs till I was about 23-24.

And once you’ve sorted writing your first hits, did that all then come easy to you, or was it something you really had to spend a lot of time on to formulate these really great songs that then become something amazing?

Well, I kinda learned a lot from Mike Chapman being in the studio with him. So we’d write a song and I play it to Mike Chapman and then he’d say, yeah that’s pretty good, but when it gets to the middle it sort of goes away somehow, you need to go somewhere there. So he gives us like little tips like that and we go away, I used to write along with Pete, the drummer Pete Spencer. And we go away and try to work out about middle or the chorus, or whatever it was. So I got to give him credit for sort of showing us how, helping us with that, cos he was a great songwriter.

And then really when you start writing songs you’re just sitting down with guitar or piano, whatever, messing around and hoping with something that comes from nowhere. The best songs are always the ones that come from nowhere. You don’t know why you wrote them, you don’t know where they came from, you feel like you’ve heard them before even, it’s like spontaneous. So the best songs are really spontaneous to come from nowhere. And then, once you’ve got an idea like that you spend time to develop the idea, write the words and take it somewhere. And that’s what I do now, to this day, I still do the same thing. I can sit for ages playing a guitar or whatever. And come up with something but it’s not very good. And then, another day I can pick my guitar and just suddenly start singing something, and you think - that’s good, where did it come from? So, you know, it’s partly technique and a bit of talent to do it and a lot of luck, I think. And I think that it’s the same with all parts of the music business, it’s part of talent, part of luck.

When you was in your early years, before you got to Smokie, in that stage of your career, was there someone of family or friends who really gave you the confidence to go?

No, nobody really did that. My parents, although they were in show business, they didn’t really think that being in a group like I was was the same thing. I remember my mum, when I was in my early 20s, saying: you know, you‘re not making enough money, it’s about time you part the scene and get yourself a real job. So they didn’t really support me like saying, go for it, you’re gonna make it. No, that wasn’t that case really. We just progressed. Every year we were playing bigger gigs, better gigs, getting better ourselves, better doing technically, getting better guitar stuff, better playing, better singing. And we just kind of grew. When you grow like that and the audience starts to show that they like it – that’s the stuff that gives you the encouragement. You get to a point where you think, actually we must be pretty good cos we’re going down really well now, and you can hear that you are getting good. So that’s the thing you think, if we keep going like this, you know, we could make it. And we had a lot of things happened to us. Years before we had our first hit we were doing radio shows and stuff, we were doing auditions and getting them, being on Radio 1, we did 2-3 TV shows, small TV shows but still. So we knew that somebody was seeing something in us to put us on TV, to put us on radio. Our first records came out in the early 70s, none of them were hits but we had 4-5 singles out before we had a hit. We knew the record companies thought we were good enough to sign us. So that’s what gives you the boost and the encouragement to keep going, I think.

When you were first getting into the business, you first started getting your breakthroughs in the time in Smokie. Do you look back and think that it was probably easier to get into the music business then or was easier now?

I think it’s kind of both in a way. It was difficult to get into the music business then, to get a breakthrough. It was easier to play places cos now there’s not the same venues as it used to be when I started in the 60s and early 70s. There was lots of venues, you could play dance halls, you could play pubs, you could play clubs, you could play all over. Young people don’t have that same sort of outlet now to start. But then again we didn’t have the Internet, you know, we didn’t have YouTube, we didn’t have Facebook, all that which you can get your songs on now and a lot more people can see it all at once. So we had to do it a bit a different way and it was a better way, in my opinion. Because we were learning all the time, we were playing all these clubs, pubs and dance halls, and every time we played somewhere, we were learning something, so we were getting better. Nowadays people have to take what they’ve got and make some kind of a home video or something, take it on YouTube and hope that people like it. But they don’t have a chance to grow with it until they actually get some success, and then they have to suddenly do all these things which they are not prepared for. And they all are going on a talent show. When I was 20 I would have hated to go on something like “X-Factor” or “The Voice” or something because I wasn’t ready for that. I wouldn’t have had the confidence, I‘d be too nervous. It amazes me how some of these people get up there and start singing in front of the audience. And some of them didn’t do it before, some of them have done it a bit, but some of them haven’t done it apart from their own privacy before. And that, I think, takes a lot of balls, to be able to do that. So it’s a different world. There’s not so many venues to play but there’s different outlets for your music now which we didn’t have. So it sort of balance as so far, I think it was hard then, and it’s probably just hard now.

Obviously now it’s a lot easier for people to get their music out, with those multiple Internet platforms. Some of the famous pop stars of today started on YouTube when they were 14-15. But they never really had that period in their life where they had to plug away, be in obscurity, and as you say, do the pubs, the clubs, all those sort of venues which is a proving ground really, isn’t it? They’re just being thrust straight into the limelight almost overnight. I was just wondering if that sort of thing would happen to you nowadays, how would you handle that? Because you had this period in your life where you were able to develop your own style and your own songwriting. I was just thinking, from a fan’s point of view, that when you got to be in Smokie in your early and mid-20s, you might had been more ready mentally and physically for the demands of fame and the business.

Yes, absolutely. And from my point of view, I’m glad that I started when I did and did all that stuff to get that. I would rather play in some pub somewhere to 50-100 people and have a bad night, you know, or don’t play very well or make mistakes. I’d rather do it there than to do it on a national television. So it definitely helps and helped me, I think, to have that what you called proving ground, to be able to develop yourself and to learn by your mistakes really. Whereas today it’s much more difficult, you have to just suddenly jump in. But on the other hand, you can sometimes reach success almost instantaneously, if you go to one of these shows, and become successful from that. It happens very quickly whereas with us it took quite a few years before it did. But on the other hand, they don’t last for so long sometimes, some of them do. But a lot of times they are flashing, they come out, they win a show like “X-Factor”, they has an album out, and quite often you hardly hear of them again. So it’s a difficult time now but it’s completely different, you know.

Following on from that, do you think now, with the new world of the talent shows and everything like that we’re living in, it’s valuable now for people to go on? Do you think nowadays people go to these shows thinking, I want to be famous, that’s all I want and I want the money, whereas from what of I’ve read about your own career it was purely about the music first?

I wanted to be famous straight away too. I mean, at that time if somebody would give me the chance to become famous immediately, I would have said ”Yeah, please”. But in retrospect I’m glad that it didn’t happen. We had our first record out when I was 19, it was called “Light Of Love”, and we were in the group called Kindness in those days. The record sold out 300 copies and then died. And we were really disappointed cos we wanted it to be a hit. But I’m glad now that it wasn’t. Because if it had been a hit, we probably wouldn’t have been around after that for very long cos we weren’t ready for it yet. And maybe we would have got a little bit big-headed about it thinking, hey, we are a pop stars. Cos when you are 18-19 and suddenly become famous, you believe it, you know. But when you’re a bit older and you had a lot of knockbacks and things that didn’t happen, you’re just very grateful that you finally made broken through. You have a feeling that we’ve been lucky and we’ve better worked at it because it might not last for very long. So it’s a different kind of a situation. I think if you do it when you are very young and you suddenly go on something and suddenly have a hit, I think it would affect you different. So God knows what I would have been like if it has happened to me that way. If somebody would offered to me, I would have definitely taken it at the time, but as I say, I’m glad it didn’t really because it gave me a chance to build up my experience and to realize what it was about more.

Over your long career there must have been a few moments or stories, something that lives in the memory, of a particular gig or particular period in time where you look back and think, wow, how amazing was that, or I got to meet this guy who was one of my idols. What was the moment that even at this day, after all you have achieved, that you still think, how lucky was I to be able to be in this spot or have the skills and the talent to get myself there and meet someone or play here?

Well, with us it happened gradually. We had a hit and then it spread to other countries, and then we went to do TV shows and stuff in other countries, and we had another hit and then another hit, another hit. And then we were touring in the different parts of the world. We started off playing to smaller audiences like maybe 500 and then it got a thousand the next time and then few more, it gradually grew. So all those moments was special moments. The first time when we realized we were actually playing arena tours where we were playing to 10-12 thousand people a night, you know, that was something special. The first time we found ourselves in a huge arena when we were doing a soundcheck, and you realize, blimey, look where are we playing, how did we get to this! That’s a huge moment. And I always remember playing once in Vienna. There was 15 thousand people in front of us and we played the song, I can’t remember which song it was, and everybody lit matches or cigarette lighters. We just looked over the whole thing, and I remember looking out and seeing this 15 thousand people over these little flickers of light went all over, and I thought, wow, that’s amazing sight, you know, that they are doing that for us! So there’s lots of different things happened like that which are really special moments, I couldn’t pick one. There’s just a lot of things. Each stage is like a very special thing. And then, of course, meeting people we did all a lot of big shows and did big TV shows with. Different people. I remember meeting Bing Crosby on “Top Of The Pops” once. Bing Crosby to me was like wow, I did meet Bing Crosby! You know, you meet people but… Gradually the more famous you get, the more you realize that fame is not a big deal anyway. So if somebody’s going “Oh, look, I was talking to David Bowie earlier on, wow!”, it was like – well, you know, he’s David Bowie, I like him but... he was just a guy who was lucky like I was. It’s the same thing really. You get used to it and realize it doesn’t make you into superior person or whatever. So I don’t think that I would put meeting anybody down as a special moment. I think mainly for me it was just a progression of getting bigger and bigger, and playing a better places, and having bigger hits and selling bigger records. That was each time a special thing. And it just happened gradually, it wasn’t really something that we knew - this is gonna happen now and that the next year. It just gradually happened and it was always a surprise for us.

You’ve released so many brilliant albums over the years, both on your own and with Smokie. Is there one that is a personal favourite of yours and has a special meaning to you?

For me it’s always the last one that I’ve done, and I’ve just finished the album. You know, cos it’s new to me too now, this new album. I just did an album, and I was working with Mike Chapman again which whom I haven’t worked with since the 90s. We just got together and I went down to stay with him in his apartment, he lives in London now, cos he’s been living in America for the last 40 years pretty much. And he’s moved back to London in the last few years. And we went in the studio, we recorded some new songs. I’d written 7, he’d written 4 and we wrote a couple together, then going in the studio, recording them. That to me is the most exciting album I’ve done so far, but it always is whenever I do a new album because it’s fresh for me. And always that’s my favourite album.

If I go back to the Smokie times, I think my favourite Smokie album was probably “Bright Lights And Back Alleys” which was our 4th album, I think. But then again, there are tracks on other albums we did with Smokie that I think, that was a great song, you know, that’s a good track. So it’s difficult to say. As for my own albums, as I say, it’s always the latest one that is my favourite.

Since as you mentioned your new album, it’s out now, isn’t it?

No, it’s not out yet. It was supposed to be out in October, it would have been out already apart from the coronavirus. It’s just sitting and waiting for release. Cos if you release an album in the middle of all this, you can’t do any promotion, you can’t do tours, you can’t promote the album by doing tours, you can’t do TV shows, you can’t do anything. So there’s no point of putting it out until there’s some clarity about when I’ll be able to do promotion and stuff again. But it’s finished, it’s mixed. It’s been finished since June. So we are waiting, we are waiting. The album is called “Just A Man” and it has got 12 songs on it. And yeah, it’s great, I love it.

Is it different stylistically in any way from the stuff you’ve done previously?

I think all my albums have got different styles of songs on them anyway. So you can’t say of the whole album, it’s rock-n-roll, it’s blues or it’s ballads or whatever. They always have mixture of songs cos that’s the way I write songs, I don’t write just one type of songs. I think for me this album is different because it’s the first time I’ve worked with Mike Chapman for a very long time. So it has got a kind of production flavour that he’s brought to the table. I worked with different musicians. I used Geoff Carline, my guitar player from my band, who’s been a friend of mine and my guitar player for 25-26 years. But other than that I used different musicians. The bass player was from Amy Winehouse’s band, the drummer was that guy that plays with Elbow, another guitar player called Nick. So I used the different players, the different engineer than I have used before, this guy called Jon Moon, he did quite a lot of Amy Winehouse’s stuff as well. So they are all different people, and I think when you work with different people there’s always gonna be a different flavour to it because of their input. But that’s always gonna sound a certain way because the songs are usually coming from me or this time partly me and partly Mike Chapman which is, again, sort of historically the same. And my voice is always the same, so that’s always a current theme. So the album sounds like me and it’s kind of a pop-rock album, which then again nearly all my albums are like that really.

You were saying you did something on Instagram or Youtube. And recently I saw a performance of one of your new songs “Give Us A Smile” which I thought was an absolutely lovely song. Do you think as well that some of the songs you’ve been performing through YouTube, with what is going in the world at the minute, take on a whole new meaning, going forward?

Well, they do. I mean “Give Us A Smile”, I wrote that in 2019 and it wasn’t about this situation that’s going on at all. In fact, it wasn’t about anybody in particular. Originally it was called “It’s Beautiful” where instead of “give us a smile” it was said “it’s beautiful”. I liked the melody and the way it went, but then I thought it wasn’t strong enough. And then I started to write some lyrics and imagined, somebody older saying to somebody younger - you know, it’s not so bad, give us a smile, whatever it is you’re going through it, you‘ll get over it. It was more like a talking to somebody who’s maybe lost the boyfriend or somebody. That’s what originally this song was about and that’s how I wrote it. When I recorded it, it was like that too, with that’s gonna be one of the first songs on the album. Then I decided to do it just acoustically for Facebook and it started to get response. I realized when I was getting a response and seeing the comments about that song that people were meaning nowadays - give us a smile, it’ll be over soon, you know, it’s not so bad and all other stuff. It wasn’t written for that reason originally but did take on a different meaning. And I did another one from that album too called “Hey Mr.Musicman”.

That’s the one I was going about to ask you next. I was thinking, those were 2 songs that I’ve heard recently from anyone that gonna really relay to a lot of people, not just fans of yours but fans of music generally.

Yeah, that did get a lot of comments to do with a current situation too. But again, I didn’t write it for that, I wrote it last year too. That was just me writing song about kind of me, a music man, a guitar player, “hey mister music man, play the song...”

The thing is as well that music is really one of these powerful mediums, and it can really help people that are going through a hard time, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, whatever. That’s gonna help as well. It must be amazing feeling, Chris, to know that a gift you’ve always had is helping people.

Yes, it’s very awarding to get some sort of the reaction like that. I was gonna do some more songs acoustically from the album but then I thought, I don’t want to give all the songs away before the album comes out. There are some other good songs, well, they are all good as far as I’m concerned, the ones on this new album. There’s a few others that stand out like that as well on the album. So I’m looking forward to… That’s why it’s frustrating that I can’t get the album out when I expected it to be, cos I’m waiting for people to hear this new stuff.

But in the meantime I’ve been going through some old songs which I wrote and never released. The last few weeks I’ve been going through the loads of old tapes and stuff, and I found some songs, and I think I have never released these songs! So I’ve just been making a couple of videos, finding old pictures and things, and making kind of a video of them which I’m gonna put out on YouTube over the next few weeks so people could see them. Some of these songs are from the 90s. I’ve put like little videos with them that I’ve made myself, just for something to do. So they’ll be coming out. I’m not gonna do anymore of the new stuff yet because I want my album to come out and people to hear it as it should be. And from the end of November I think I’m gonna do some live YouTube stuff or Facebook stuff with maybe a Christmas song every week. So I’m gonna do something so people can see that I’m still alive…

How has it been for you this whole period? Do you think that if you didn’t have your music as a way to creatively express whatever’s going on at the minute, do you think you would have not found it as easy to get through what we’re going through at the minute?

Absolutely, yeah. I mean I’m lucky to be able to create music or whatever it might be in this case like finding older songs I’ve written before and then doing video, all the stuff. I’m lucky to be able to do that sort of stuff. But even so it’s still difficult to fill in the hours and the days. There have been times over the last few months… I mean I’ve done things, I’ve been often done interviews and photograph sessions, TV show special in Germany for my birthday celebrations, and I’ve done these bits of music. But there’s been a lot of days when I’ve been thinking I’ve got these gigs, they are coming up soon and then I get a phone call from my agent saying, they actually postponed that one now and postponed this one now. And you just think, oh no, again… I remember when I first heard about it in the beginning, when it started in February-March, I got a phone call saying the shows in April I was supposed to be doing have been cancelled. And I thought they would be just cancelled for a month or so… But here we are now, looking like it’s not gonna happen anything now, maybe not even by spring, I don’t know. So it’s very frustrating for everybody I think, but from my personal point of view, I can’t wait to get back and start working again, yeah.

Do you think as well that once the world goes back to normal, whenever that is, and you’ll be able to do live gigs and stuff, do you think your fans will appreciate it even more considering they’ve had this long absence of any live events?  Do you think it will be sort of a mutual thing where you’re just like equally thrilled of finally performing again live and do what you love, and your fans around the world all just be so glad cos it’s been so long for any music to come out?

Yeah, I hope that’s gonna be the case in which we’ll go on stage and the people will be so grateful to see us, we only have to just about smile and sort of begin with the standing ovation. That’ll be great. But, you know, I don’t take anything for granted, I’ll work just as hard and get just as many rehearsals with the Band and everything to make sure we are really tight again. I’ve got a bunch of musicians who work with me for quite a few years now. So this is 5 people plus me, 6 people on stage. But we haven’t played together now for months and months and months. So before we start doing anything the main thing for me is not to take anything for granted. I have to get the Band into rehearsals and learn the new songs plus rejuvenate the old ones, get everything tight and back to normal, and then get on and play. Really, it’s like football, when you can’t practice as much as you like. So you need to get on stage to play it before you get back into the groove, like with a playing a real football match. You need to get back in to the groove before you properly match fit. So we’re gonna get back on track and get that together, and if the audience will be finally allowed to come back out and they appreciate the fact that they are out again, then hopefully it should be a stupendous and fantastic occasion.

It worth mentioning that your fans, I mean a special group of people, they follow you wherever you go and they buy whatever you’re releasing and stuff like that. Of course, you get the newer age groups, but you’ve also got the long hardcore group of fans that been there since Smokie days. How nice is it, from your point of view, to be able to look out in the crowds and see such the collection of old and new?

Yeah, it’s really important. I mean it’s essential really being in this music business to develop what they call a fan base which is like your core fans that always gonna be coming to see you whatever. It’s really essential to have that, it’s great that I have that. Yes, I do often look out from stage and see lots of faces that I know. Quite often they come to every show, if I do a tour, like a few weeks long tours in Germany. And it quite often like night after night you see maybe 20-30-40-50 people that are there every night. So that is great. And it’s also great to have people who haven’t been coming before as well. The idea is to sort of have a core fan base and then every year to attract a few more to it, that’s the best idea.

You obviously mentioned Germany there. You’ve had a long affiliation with Germany going back many many years. How special that audience or fan base has been for you?

Well, it’s been great. I don’t know why Germany was always a bigger market and a bigger thing like that than just anywhere really. I never knew why that happened but it did. Which have been great, I mean that Germany has always been a really special market for me. There’ve been times in my career when Germany was the only place for our selling records. So it was very important for it to be that way. I wouldn’t like to only play in Germany, I mean I’m glad to play all over the place, but Germany is very important place and it’s always been that way from the very first hit, so I’m grateful for that.

We’ve talked about all the stuff you’ve done through your career, but if you could go back and speak to younger self now, experiencing what you have done and things like that, what advice would you’ve given to younger self about the future and the way you was going?

I would have been able to tell myself a few things, you know. Probably things like don’t worry so much, don’t take it quite so intensely because it’s not a nuclear science really. If you’ve been doing it for a long time, being on stage and that, you don’t have to be frightened of that. The audiences there love you anyway, that’s why they came, they want you to do it well. And I think my younger self always was a bit more apprehensive than I would be today. And then there’s other things like maybe some records I would not have made.

Oh really?

Yeah, I made some records in the late 90s and early 2000s which I don’t like at all. So I would have probably skip those and tell myself, don’t make those albums. And also I had a chance to have a much higher profile in America in the late 70s. Cos I was asked a lot to go to America when “Stumblin’In” was like number 2 in the charts there, and I didn’t want to go. That was a point in my life when I really didn’t want to be touring around and doing all that stuff too much, so I refused it. Suzi Quatro still tells me about it every time I see her. “You didn’t want to go to America” – “No, I didn’t want to go to America”. Anyway. So I would have gone now, if I knew what I know now, I would tell my younger self - go to America, see what happens! But at the time I didn’t feel like that.

How did that record with Suzi Quatro come about? Was it after you had left Smokie or was about to leave?

No, I was still in Smokie then. We were getting an award from the German magazine called “Bravo”, I think this award was called “Ottos”, a bit like “Oscars”, you know. So we were doing this award ceremony, we were getting the “Gold Otto” for whatever it was. And there was lot of other people on, Bonnie Tyler and other famous pop singers of the day. Suzi Quatro wasn’t on but she was working in Cologne with Mike Chapman and her band doing an album. So they took a day off and came to say hi, you know. And then after the show there was a party, everybody was having a few drinks. There was a little group booked to play. So, of course, as the night went on everybody was getting on jamming with this little group. And me and Suzi got up and sang some rock-n-roll together, “Long Tall Sally” or some of Little Richard songs, something like that. And that’s where it came from, because when we went back and sat down having a drink Mike was there, and he said, why don’t you two come and make a record while we’re in the studio. I said ok. So I went over to the studio and I sat with her and her band, and we made “Stumblin’In” and another song called “A Stranger With You” which was as a b-side, and recorded it there and then in Cologne while she was in, I think it took us about 2-3 days. We recorded the tracks and then we did the vocals actually live, on one microphone, both of us singing into one microphone. And then the record came out and it was a big hit. But I went back to Smokie and did my normal touring and stuff for another 3-4 years before I left Smokie then. So that was just a one off thing while I was still in Smokie and it just became a big hit everywhere.

Was it one of those moments when it was very quick, to get the song out?

Yes, it was really quick. It sort of happened within days. As I say, I think we were 3-4 days in the studio.

While I was doing my research on your career and stuff I’d seen that you’d worked with other musicians yourself either by writing for them or helping on their record. Is it true that you worked with Agnetha from ABBA fame? What was that like?

Well, she was lovely. I haven’t seen her for a long time, I’m sure she’s still lovely. She’s just a really lovely person. We kind of knew ABBA a bit from being around at the same time in the 70s. We kind of bumped in to them now and again but we didn’t know them well. And then we got asked to come, and would we do some harmonies on Agnetha’s solo record which was called “Wrap Your Arms Around Me”. We just went over to Stockholm, went down to the studio and sang some stuff on a few tracks. I played guitar on one of the tracks. That was a great fun and she was really lovely to be around. So she was great and the songs were great and the album was great and we had a lot of fun.

I was thinking that both your and Agnetha’s voices vocally still sound almost the same what they did all those years ago, still sound brilliant. What is your secret, is that of a ritual you do, or it’s just pure luck?

No, there’s no secret.

Maybe there’s a drink that you take before you go on stage loosing the vocal chords or any other remedies?

Before I go to stage, I might have a couple of whiskies, just to give me a kick, you know, before I go on. I mean, going on stage is a bit like going to a party. You know, when you’re going to a party and you think, right, I just start to get ready now, and it gets to 6-7 o’clock and you start to get a shower, get what you are gonna wear and everything else. And you get to a point when you think - ahh, gotta be bollock gone on this bloody party! That feeling. Well, that’s to be like when you’re on tour. Because you’ve spent all day, did a soundcheck and everything, and then you go back and get yourself ready, you get shower and everything get ready. And when you get to the gig, you think - oh, I’m tired, I can’t be bothered now, you know, what time is it, 7-8 o’clock, oh god… And it’s a bit like going to a party. So what I think is a good idea when you’re going to a party is to have a couple of whiskies or something. Loose yourself, get yourself in a mood for a party. And then you go on stage and you feel like doing it, you know. So that’s what I do before I go on stage but it doesn’t make any difference to my voice. The thing about my voice is I’m just lucky so far, touch wood, that I can still sing pretty much similar to what I could when I was young. So it’s just a luck thing really, and I guess with Agnetha it’s the same. She’s just got a natural voice and she still sounds good. I mean one day both of us, in another 20-30 years, probably won’t be able to do it anymore. But now we can.

I didn’t know that you also had a hand in writing some of the music for the Christmas film “The Holiday”. It that right?

No, and I don’t know the film. (laughs)

I was looking through your music last night and I went, that’s the song you did for that, I never heard before…

There might be. Sometimes they put songs into a film and you don’t even know. Sometimes this surprises me. I watch a film and then suddenly in the background or something of the film there’s a song of Smokie’s or mine, and you think, oh, I didn’t know that was in this film. Years ago I remember watching a film with Cher called “The Mask”, I think. And she was in the kitchen and the radio was on and “Stumblin’In” was playing in the background.

What was that like when you find it out that way?

It’s always weird. It happened a few times. There was one with Joan Collins in, called “The Stud”. And they were in the club and a “For A Few Dollars More” by Smokie was being played. And I thought, I didn’t know that was in this film. So it’s always a bit of a surprise when that happens. So I don’t know, there could be something in “The Holiday”. I don’t know, I’ve never seen the film.

Final few ones. You’ve had such a brilliant long career. There’s not really that many that still current and going after 30-40 years. What do you think is the reason for your longevity besides your talent and things like that?

I think it’s just a determination to keep doing what I want to do really. And I’ve been lucky enough for people who still want to come and see me and to buy the records enough for me to keep going. That’s all it is. And the idea of making a new album every couple of years which I try to do. It keeps it fresh for me and for the fans that like me as well. I never did those oldies shows. You know, lot of people go and they do these oldies shows, they just play on a bill of about 6 people known from the 60s and 70s. I’ve done a couple of those in my time but mostly I’ve avoided them. I don’t like to do that, so that’s one thing, I think. I just keep making new material, it keeps it fresh for me. And then, as I said before, I am lucky enough to have people who still want to hear and buy my records, in some of the territories they don’t anymore. As long as I’ve got somebody to play to and to make records for, I can keep going. And there’s quite a few people like that, Bonnie Tyler is another one, I see her now and again.

You’re performing with Bonnie Tyler, on a bill next year, aren’t you?

Yeah, that was supposed to be this year, I think there was 3 gigs that were postponed. I think they’re gonna happen some time the next year hopefully.

And you have known Bonnie for a little while and performed with her before?

I’ve known Bonnie since about 1978. We’ve bumped into each other over the years at some TV shows, some concerts or festivals or whatever. She’s a lovely person, I got on great with her. And her husband Robert is also a great guy. So we’re just knowing each other for a very long time. We did a show together maybe at the end of last year, and it was sold out like almost immediately, with me and Bonnie on the same bill. So obviously the promoter said, hey we can do some more of this. So that’s why I’m doing more, but it’s a pleasure to do.

I wrote a song, me and Geoff wrote a song for her last album, she had this album at the beginning of the year. We wrote a song called “Battle Of The Sexes” which she did with Rod Stuart. So they did a duet with Rod Stuart with this song. So that was fun. Actually I wrote it to do it in a duet with me and she wrote back and said “What do you think if I do it with Rod?” And I said “But what about me?” – “Oh, I know, Chris, but you imagine how big it would be, if I do it with Rod!” So I said, all right. If Rod wants to do it, go for it. And then Rod did want to do it, so they recorded it. So it’s great, and she’s a great girl, yeah.

You’ve performed with lots of people through your solo career. But is there one either from the current generation of musicians or from the previous era that you either loved to perform with or would have loved to perform with?

From the current generation, I think, it would be good to do a duet with anybody who’s a great singer. With somebody like Adele maybe or Leona Lewis, somebody like that. I mean whether it would match the voices, I don’t know. But they probably wouldn’t want to do it, they are a different generation to me, and they probably wouldn’t want to do it with somebody of my age. But you never know. And in from past there’s loads of people, loads, you know. John Lennon, Elvis…

Did you have a favourite Beatle growing up?

Well, it changed depending of what age I was. I mean I like them all really. John Lennon and Paul McCartney cos they wrote these great songs, but eventually I got to like George Harrison just as much with stuff he did. And Ringo is great anyway. I was a massive Beatles fan generally, so I like them all.

And finally, where can people find you in Internet?

Well, there’s my Facebook page called “Chris Norman Official”, I guess. Website www.chris-norman.co.uk. On my Instagram, on my YouTube pages, on most of those platforms there’s something to do with me somewhere. So I guess if you put “Chris Norman” in Google, you’ll find all these different things.

Oh, brilliant. Thank you for your time today, Chris!

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