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Chris Normanís answers to the readers of the website www.chris-norman.ru
 
 
 
Smokie and Kindness times, different recordings
 

Many songs of Smokie were written by Mike Chapman. Did he take part in recordings of Smokie as a back vocalist?

— No, Mike Chapman never sang back vocals on any Smokie tracks. I think he did it with Suzi Quatro a couple of times, but not with us. No, never.

Did he play any instruments on the recordings?

— No... Or maybe on the “Pass It Around” album. I think he played electric guitar as an extra guitar in “I Do Declare”, but that was the only time.

How did he present new songs to the group – what instruments did he use for that? Did you invent your own arrangements to his songs or were they recorded as they were?

— He used to present us songs by just sitting with an acoustic guitar and just singing them to us in a studio. The songs heíd written pretty much had their arrangements, already worked out in his head. So they were already written.

But on that acoustic DVD you told about “Itís Your Life” that he presented it to you, and eventually you did it like reggae?

— Oh yeah, thatís true. But I think again it was by trial, and it wasnít like anyone of us saying “Letís do it reggae”. He had this song like ... (sings).. like a strumming thing. And when we got in the studio, it didnít sound like anything much. And we messed around, sometimes we did that, you know. I remember, once we were in a studio and we did a ... I think it was “You Took Me By Surprise”. Iím not sure if it was that song, but it was something like that. And for fun we did it like all different styles – like Elvis (sings), and then we did like a reggae version of it, and then we did like a rock version of it. Just to try it about and do it for fun, you know.

Where are all these recordings, I wonder...

— Yeah... I donít know if they had recorded them or whether they threw them straight away probably...

But Mike Chapmanís songs had the ideas and arrangements pretty much worked out. And with our songs we did that, too. Because we used to do... if we wrote something like “Think Of Me (The Lonely One)” or “Sunshine Avenue” or whatever, we already did a demo and took it. I think I might have the demo of “Think Of Me” somewhere. It has got the same string lines and everything that was played on it, and we just copied it, so...

Can you say anything remarkable about the recordings of two songs from the “Breathe Me In” album – “No One Calls My Name”, with a brilliant acoustic solo, and the magical “When The River Runs Dry”?

— Iíve the demo of that somewhere. The demo of “No One Calls My Name” is better than the recording. I never liked the recording of that, it sounds too full. That was David Brandes's production and it was too full. It was too many guitars, too many strings – it was just too big. My version was just really simple with like just one guitar. I liked that song, and in the original form it was great. But the way he did it was too much. It was just a song I wrote, you know, “No One Calls My Name”, just a love song. The acoustic solo was by Peter Weihe, who was a famous guitar player in Germany, one of the better session players. And he played on the album, and he played the solo. But again, although it was a good solo, it wasnít what I had in my head. Iíve got a solo on the original demo that I played, which is better, I think, for the song. My one is simpler, itís better for the song.

“When The River Runs Dry”. Actually that was David Brandes who said, I wish we had a song like “Think Of Me (The Lonely One)” on this album. So I said, ok, Iíll try to write a song like this. So thatís what I wrote.

When it starts, it sounds quite like “Think Of Me (The Lonely One)”...

— Yes, I just copied the idea and wrote a new song around it.

Can you tell any details about your cooperation with Cynthia Lennon, the recording of her single in 1995? Have you read her book “John”?

— Well, it was just the reason because she lived on the Isle of Man. And somebody that I knew, whom I was doing a record label with, he knew her. And he suggested it, I think. And then I met her, me and Linda had a dinner in her house. Then she came to my studio. Originally we were going to record “Those Were The Days”, which we did. But I wanted to change the lyrics to make it more... It starts off: “Once upon a time there was a tavern”. And I was going to change it to the “Cavern” :), because of Liverpool. But the people who wrote the song didnít let us change the words. Anyway. So I went in the studio and recorded all the different parts, so everything there is me, Iíve done all – of mandolin and of ukulele and the string arrangements, itís me playing them on keyboards. So yeah, that was that. And we needed a B-side, so I did “Walkiní In The Rain,” which I already recorded. And I just changed it a bit for her.
No, Iíve never read the book “John”.

Can you remember something remarkable about your work and touring with Peter Noone while you were in Kindness?

— There was nothing remarkable about that. At that time with Kindness, we had a record contract, had a couple of records and it hadnít done anything. We were with an agency called Kennedy Street, and he was with them, too, they managed him. And he was looking for a new backing group because he just left Hermanís Hermits. We did an audition, went down to his house – he lived in Denham, Buckinghamshire – and auditioned in his hall. He had a big house, and weíd never been in a big house like that at that time, weíd never seen such a posh house. We got the job, and then we just started doing gigs with him. And he always said, wow, you know, I will use you on the records, when we do “Top Of The Pops,” youíll come on there, too... Nothing happened like that, nothing. It was all talk, none of that happened. So we thought this could be good Ďcos we didnít really want to be backing him, but we thought it might help us to get famous ourselves. But it didnít.

Why the album of 1976 was called “Midnight Cafe”? How did that name come about? Do you remember what cafe you have used for the photo session for that album?

— I donít know... But I think because we just recorded “Iíll Meet You At Midnight” which actually wasnít on the original album, although I think they put it on as an extra later on. Because weíve recorded “Iíll Meet You At Midnight”, the idea of meeting in a cafe at midnight, Jean-Claude... Because we were in England, so we werenít in Paris... And we just found a cafe in London, I forgot which area it was. We went there at night, I think it was November – it was bloody cold, I remember that. And we took some pictures inside the cafe, which was like an English “caff”, where you get egg and chips or whatever, you know, and a cup of tea. It was such a kind of place. So we went in, took some pictures and then took some walking down the street, across the street... I was just freezing, I just remember being really cold.

And this guy on the picture behind you, who is looking like a sleuth? :)

— He was an extra, he wasnít a normal guy, he was with us. Theyíd got him and used him like an actor or something. One point he was standing in a doorway, I think, another point he was walking with this coat and his hat on – just to make it look a bit more real. But actually, if you would have been there, there were lights like on a video shoot, you know.
No, I donít remember the cafe name.

Which artists or groups Smokie were friends with? Maybe have toured together, have recorded at the same places etc?

— We knew all the people that were around at the time really. Like obviously Suzi Quatro, Mud – we were close friends with Mud, they were really great guys, we got on really well with them. And weíd known them from before anyway, before they had the success. So Mud, Sweet, with Showaddywaddy, Glitter Band, a bit later on Racey, and more – all those people that were around, on TV-shows, you know. But they didnít tour with us, we did a tour with Hello supporting us.

Did you were close friends with any of them?

— I think that we werenít really close to anybody. The closest probably was Mud, we were pretty close with them. We had good laughs with them, we used to go drinking with them sometimes, if we were in the same place. We didnít go to each otherís houses, but if they were playing like in Leeds, for instance, we did go down and... maybe not go to the show, just go to the hotel and have a drink with them after the show, something like that, just to say hello. I remember doing that a couple of times – taking all the wives and girlfriends and just having a night with them. They were good lads. And two of them are dead now, the singer is dead, and the drummer killed himself, suicide. I would never have expected that, he was such an up guy, you know.

No one of the original Smokie members ever told anything about staying in the USA in the 70s. But you have recorded almost 2 albums there. Were there any interesting things besides working in a studio?

— Oh, we had a good time, it was great. We went to showbiz parties and stuff like that. And did a lot of photograph sessions for magazines while we were there, and interviews with different things, in Los Angeles on radio stations...

By reason of the albums?

— No, just to talk about, you know, Smokie in town and blah-blah-blah. I remember being on one radio interview. That was the time when punk was just starting out. And on that radio show we were live, there was a guy called Rodney Bingenheimer, who was famous in Hollywood. So we were on his show, and he had callers ringing in. And there were mostly nice questions. One of them was Davy Jones from The Monkees. He said, “Hi guys, why donít you come down in the town, so we can get together, you know, and buy you drinks”. He called the radio station just to say hello. So that was ok. And then a bit later on we had another guy ring up and he said, “Hey Rodney, get this Smokie crap off the air!” (laughs). And we all went, “F*ck off!!” – and this was live on the radio... :))

And we went to a lot of parties. I remember going to a party at Jayne Mansfieldís old house. Jayne Mansfield was an old film star from the 50s, like Marilyn Monroe kind of look. She died, and her house had been bought by somebody else, and it was all pink – pink swimming pool, everything. So we went to a party there once, and everybody was there. Rod Stewart was there, Free, all the stars. And we went to a lot of those kind of things, to a record company for having sometimes an album opening at the studio and with all these stars there. So we went out, we went around clubs, we had a good time.

Alan Silson told about Jimmy Page once coming out from the lift in your hotel on a Harley...

— Yeah, Led Zeppelin stayed at the same hotel as us. Robert Plant, the singer, had broken his leg, so he was going round being pushed in a wheel chair with his leg up. And yeah, Jimmy Page did, they did actually ride the motorbikes on the floor.

It would be interesting to listen to some stuff of your children – is there a possibility to listen to it on CD, publishing in any time?

— Well, I hope so, we are just working on that album. Theyíve got an agent now, whoís working on starting to get them doing some gigs live next year, probably February, hopefully. And then, when they start gigging, then Iíll start to show their album around. Because if I take it now, the first thing a record company is going to say is where are they playing, you know, they would want to go to see them. So thatís the first thing. But theyíve got a name now, they are called Susan Norman band. So itís moving slow, but itís starting – theyíve got an agent, theyíve got the album finished pretty much...

Donít you wish to record your hits with a philharmonic orchestra?

— No, not really. I mean, itíll be fun Ďcos we are doing that thing with an orchestra in the Baltics, thatíll be fun. But to record them – why?

How big is the probability that it will be a hit song if you have got a lot of pleasure while working over it? Is there any interrelation?

— No, thereís no relation to it really. You can have a lot of pleasure recording a song, and it doesnít mean anything at all. It could be good or bad or... you just donít know. I mean sometimes you do a song, and you feel like itís going to be a hit and at the end... But sometimes it is.

Are you able to foretell the fate of a brand new song? Are you disappointed when a song you liked was met by the audience quite in a different way than you have expected?

— Itís the same question. I mean you canít tell the fate of a song, you donít know what is gonna happen to it, you donít know whether people are gonna like it or not. And sometimes you write a song and record a song, and you really think itís great, and then you play it to somebody like a record company, and they donít even like it at all. And then they are wrong sometimes Ďcos later on you find out people loved it. And record company people didnít see it. That happens, and thatís disappointing, yeah – with an audience, if you go on stage and you play a song, and they donít like it. I mean, I remember when we first started playing “If You Think You Know How To Love Me”, it went down really, really bad. People didnít even like it. When it first came out, we were doing it live, we were on a support tour with Pilot, in England in 1975, in May or something. And the record had just come out. And it wasnít selling, it wasnít being played on the radio, and we were playing it every night live Ďcos we had to – it was a single. It was really... Sometimes you just wanted to leave it out Ďcos it spoiled the set. You put the song in and you start doing it, and then people feel bored. And then suddenly it started to become a hit, and it is getting played all the time on the radio. And then when we started to play it, carried on playing it, suddenly people started to cheer it, “Ahh! ..” Itís just... itís a hit, you know. Then we went on TV, it went to number 3 in the charts in England, and suddenly everybody loved it. So, you canít tell it...

What do you think about recording a blues album?

— Iíd love to do a blues album. And I tried once to do a blues album, in 1998. But I couldnít get a deal with it. It wasnít pure blues, there was some different stuff, but it had a blues feel. Some of them were blues definitely. But then I couldnít get anybody to sign it, they all said, yeah, itís good, I like this and I like that, but we donít think it would sell because the public wouldnít buy it. So I didnít do it. But Iíve recorded some of them since – “Sweet Surrender” was on that album, and “All Out Of Tears” was there, too, and then I changed the way, completely changed it.

For the album “Full Circle”?

— Yeah, and there it was a crap version, anyway.

The success of Smokie and your solo career in England wasnít as big as in some other countries. What do you think were the reasons for that?

— I donít know, I mean who knows? We had like 14 hit singles in England, so it wasnít so bad really, you know. And then the punk thing happened, and we just went out of fashion, we split up for a bit and then we came back. But when we came back, the market in England wasnít there for us anymore. And because there was market in other countries, we went for where it was. And then, the longer you stay away from a country, the harder it is to break back in. I think there would be a market, but unfortunately itís a bit late now for that. I donít know why.

“Different Shades” album. How did the name come out and how did it come to working with Pip Williams?

— “Different Shades” album – I thought of the name Ďcos I just wanted an album that showed there were lots of different types of songs on it. So I called it “Different Shades”. Thatís where the name came from.

Pip Williams was a guy who has been working with Status Quo, The Moody Blues and others. He was a guitar player, originally Pip Williams was a session guitar player, thatís where he started. He played in bands, and then he went into production and produced people like Barclay James Harvest, The Moody Blues, Status Quo and that kind of stuff. And I wanted somebody who had that kind of production experience. So when I met him, he was using the studio at that time in Oxfordshire with Status Quo. And I went down and stayed overnight, and they were there as well, Status Quo. And then we talked about the songs, Iíd written a lot of songs for it, and I had some otherís songs, too. So we just decided we would do it, you know.

In his interview for our website, Andy Whelan did mention the recordings he made with you in those days for a singer called Katie Shears. Did they get released?

— It never got released. She couldnít get a deal. I produced that girl called Katie Shears, she was like 19-20, young, long hair, sort of rock-n-roll voice. I just picked 2 songs that I thought she could do. And we did a version of “Wild Angels” and Robert Palmerís “Bad Case Of Loving You”, they were all right, quite good, we did quite rocky versions. But she didnít get a release.

Your song “Love you tonight” is still not on CD...

— I think Iíve recorded it as a part of an album, and a record company didnít like it, or they didnít think it was very good to go on album or... After all that time I canít remember. So it never got released on anything. It is still sitting around. But itís gone now.

Some time ago Iíve found the video of recording the football song “This Time (We'll Get It Right)” written by you and Pete Spencer for the England World Cup Squad. It shows the recording in Abbey Road studios in April of 1982. At 1:05, 1:18 and 2:00 we even can shortly see you leading the process :). Itís a great song and it has reached the 2nd place in English charts in its time! What can you remember of that recording session?

— Firstly, it was in the big studio at Abbey Road where they record a lot of orchestras for films and it's a huge studio with the control room right at the back. I was on the stage with the England team and there were seats in the room for people to watch from.

It was a big media event so there were lots of press, radio and TV people there. Plus they had set up a little bar behind the control room and invited many celebrities of the day.

So it was quite nerve racking for me to have to get the footballers to sing it right and conduct them with all these people watching us. The players were not used to singing really in that situation, so it was pretty hard to get them to do it right. Anyway we managed it in the end and I was glad it was over.

 
Concerts and tours
 

Did you ever play guitar solos on your concerts? May we hope to see anyone once?

— I do a little bit, I mean not if I can help it, I mean occasionally. But I donít want to, you know, I never wanted to because I canít concentrate on doing what Iím doing – singing and doing the stuff and keeping things tight in rhythm – thatís what I do, thatís what Iíve always done, you know. Rather somebody else takes this.

On “Right Time, Wrong Place” you play a little bit, and recently on “Lucille” you had your part :)...

— Yes, I did. I can play, but, you know, itís not my thing.

Do you take part in any charity concerts?

— Yeah, I did a thing for the hospice, weíve done a couple of that. I did one for AIDS last year. So yes, occasionally.

Did you have a concert in your career which you didnít wish to be ended?

— No, not really. I mean Iíve had great concerts which I was enjoying, but Iím always quite glad when itís ended (laughs). After 2 or 2.5 hours or whatever, you are quite happy when itís ended, you know. Because I also know that when youĎre on stage, you couldnít sometimes keep going on and on and on until people get fed up and then you've been on too long.

And the opposite – did you have a concert in your career, end of which youíve waited like a messiah?

— Yeah, loads of times. I think it can be when things go wrong or the audience is not interested. And if I go back to my whole career, there were times when we went on stage and played to seven people or something, you know. And then you wished just it enough and go on at all but you have to... especially when you are starting up.

What may be a reason for you to stop your show and leave the stage?

— I guess if the electric went off, that would be one reason (laughs). I left the stage once because of the security were bashing people about, and we went off until it stopped and came back. Or if that was just a crap, really crap and everything was going wrong, and that was their fault... Iíve done it before, but I try not to do it, itís not a good idea.

What do you feel when at your concert some people from a hot crowd seize you by legs, hands etc. evidently trying to snatch a bit of you for themselves – fear, irritation or quite the contrary – you get a supply of energy?

— It depends. If they are quite friendly about it, itís nice. But if they get a bit heavy, then itís annoying. If they get you by your legs, start pulling you, then I really donít like that. If they just want to touch your hand, thatís great.

Does the audience in Russia differ in big cities and in province?

— Yes. Just because they are more educated, and they know what they are expected to do – in smaller places sometimes they donít. Like last night when we finished the encore after “Oh Carol”, we were ready to go back on, and they thought we have finished, they didnít bother to shout. While in a big city they would, they would shout and shout to try to get you come back on. So I nearly didnít come back on, I only went back on Ďcos it was Georgeís birthday.

 
Music preferences
 

Which groups/singer do you like to listen to at present?

— Susan Norman band (laughs). I quite like Jessy J, quite like Adele – sheís got this huge album called “21”, I like it a lot, sheís a good singer. What else? I like just tracks by people, you know – like from Leona Lewis I like that song called “Run” which is great, really, one of my favourite records for ages.

What is your attitude to the group Eagles, and what songs besides “Hotel California” do you like of them?

— I love the Eagles, I like nearly all their songs. I used to listen to the Eagles back in the 70s, well before “Hotel California”. When they were doing things like “Take It Easy”, “Desperado”, “One of These Nights”, all these different songs. I used to listen to them then, I used to listen to their albums a lot in the early 70s, I loved the sound of them. I mean we did like that sort of sound, too, and that Eagles harmony sound was like a big influence on the first records we made, with Crosby, Stills and Nash – there was a lot of that west coast American thing which kind of we were influenced by, you know. So I liked them a lot.

Whose concert have you attended lately?

— Nobodyís, I havenít been on concerts for years. The last someone otherís concert was Paul McCartney, I think, in the 90s.

Oh, long ago! Why?

— I donít like going on concerts.

Because you know it too much from inside?

— I donít like being on this side, I want to be on a stage side, not on a front side. Iím not very good of being a punter, you know. I find myself uncomfortable, find myself sitting anxious, I want to leave. In fact, I do leave quite often if I go, even a musical or whatever. After about 45 minutes I want to go. I wish it was – Hurry up! Finish! I just donít like it. Itís really difficult for me to sit in an audience. I donít feel like I am in a right place.

Which rock and pop stars you were especially glad to meet personally and make the acquaintance of, after you have become famous yourself?

— Not really of anybody, Iím not that bothered. I donít know, I never remember it, you know... I think, Bing Crosby, heís an old crooner from the 20-30s and a movie star. I met him once. I guess he was like a big thing, you know.

Yes, you have said in one of your recent interviews that you took only 2 autographs in your life – one from Bing Crosby and another one from the footballer Bobby Charlton.

— Yes, I met Bobby Charlton more recently, it was at a radio station, he was doing an interview and so was I. There were different people and we were both waiting to go in. Heís a nice guy.

I donít know, I donít bother about it really... I guess I probably wouldnít mind meeting Paul McCartney Ďcos heís being always the Beatles and everything with the Beatles is a big thing for me. But John Lennon and George Harrison are dead now. I would have liked to meet all the Beatles, but I didnít, never.

What musicians you would like to make a band with, like Travelling Wilburys, and go on tour?

— Oh God, I donít know any! I donít know any musicians that I would like to make a band with. Nobody, nobody. I mean I donít think of things like that, you know... No, I donít know anybody.

Your kids are also musicians. What songs of yours they like most of all and what of them they criticize?

— They like all that songs mainly. Michael and Steven especially love “Danny Code”, but they listen to all. Susan likes “Itís Your Life” a lot. They donít criticize any of them because... theyíd get smack if they do it (laughs). No, they donít really criticize, they just say they like it or they donít say anything at all. Iím sure there are songs they donít like.

John Taylor was once in your band, he played sax/harmonica. Donít you need such instruments on stage since then?

— It was great to have John Taylor in the band. He was great on that saxophone and harmonica, and he also played accordion as well. But it was not much for him to do really, you know. At that time I had like 8 people including me, so there were 8 people in the band. Itís too costly for promoters and everybody Ďcos they have to pay for more flights, more hotels, more everything. And it wasnít necessary really, it was an indulgence. But it was great to have him, yeah.

What strings brands do you use for electric and acoustic guitars?

— Whatever, I donít care.

 
Miscellaneous
 

What do you enjoy doing most in your spare time?

— I like watching films, old films. If Iíve got nothing to do, I really enjoy just doing nothing and watching old films, I love to do it, itís really relaxing.

And you like to read history books?

— Yeah, but not history books that are written by academics, thatís really boring. But like stories set in historical places, I like that a lot.

What is your attitude to cats?

— I just try to keep away from them really. I donít like cats much. We used to have a cat, years ago, and it didnít like me. I must have felt the same – I didnít like it, either (laughs). I mean I donít dislike cats, if I see a cat, it's fine, but Iím not a fan of cats. I like dogs but not cats.

Do you have a dog now?

— Susan has, she got a dog on her birthday in April – a tiny little thing thatís called Bichon Frise. Itís a little white fluffy thing. Great, lovely little thing! It has a lovely character, very friendly.

We all know you've played football when you were a child – in which position?

— Well, in our days it was called “inside right”. And theyíve changed it now – it would be a striker, like a midfield striker. Not a centre forward, I used to play on the right hand side of a centre forward. Nowadays it depends in what form Iíd be playing, I would play just behind that forward, so like a midfield striker. Thatís what I was.

When have you been at a football match for the last time?

— Last time I went to a football match was in World Cup 2006. I went to see England play Ecuador and Germany play Sweden. I was in Germany at that time. Thatís the last time.

What country do you like most, after England and Germany?

— Australia, I think. I do like Australia, itís a good place. And I like America. I like Ireland, Southern Ireland, thatís a nice place. Itís kind of Britain, but it is still not England.

Are there such places on Earth where youíve never been but wanted very much to be?

— Yes, Iíd like to go to India, Iíd like to go to Japan, China, Hong Kong – some of those places in the Far East. Iíve been to all the other places, mean nearly most of the rest of the places, not everywhere but a lot, but Iíve never been in the Far East.

At that moment George, who was beside, starts to sing the lines:
          I've been everywhere
          So many things to do, oooh
          I've been everywhere...

   from Chris and Peteís song “Melody Goes On” :))))

What was the most unusual thing which you have put your autograph on?

— Leg or something, probably. Top of the leg. Or breast.

Is a literature theme close to you – books, writers, poets, classics etc? Do you read much? Do you write yourself, maybe poetry?

— Yeah, books, writers, everything – I like different books, lots of different types of books. Thereís nobody in particular. Charles Dickens, I think, is very good writer. And I read all the time, always reading. I read like 2 books a month at least. Do I write myself? No. Poetry? If you call writing songs poetry, then yes. But – no, I donít like poetry just as an end in itself.

*   *   *
 
 

Thanks for the questions to: Nickolay (Tuymazy), Dmitriy (Ukraine), Simson (Moscow), Annett Honicke (Germany), Tolyanych (Latvia), Natalia (Bratsk), Sasha McCartney (Voronezh), Galina (Kirishi), Lena (Salavat), KATRYN (Perm), ALEX.

 Recorded and processed by Stranger. Special thanks to Annie for her invaluable help in working on the text.
 
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