Chris Norman on BBC Radio 2 – Tracks Of My Years

The Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand”

— I think The Beatles was the biggest influence and exciting thing for me that ever happened. I remember being at school when they first came out. And the first couple of tracks – “Love me do”, “Please Please Me” – I wasn't really quite into it, yeah. Then when this song “I Want To Hold Your Hand” came out, I thought: “This is it, this is the thing!”. And then, you know, in those days, in 1963, I was about 13, so everybody of course at school in those days was just like going crazy about The Beatles, and I wanted to be John Lennon, you know. And when they did “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, that was it for me.

You were caught.

— I was absolutely caught, yeah.

Were you into music before that, were you performing at all?

— Well, not really performing. I mean, I started listening to music when I was a little kid, 'cause I had older cousins. Sometimes we'd stayed at the same house. They were 9 years older than me. So they were listening to the rock'n'roll stuff. They were playing Buddy Holly and Lonnie Donegan and all that. So I got really caught with it then.

And your folks were in show business, weren't they?

— Yeah, my mum and dad were both in showbiz. My mum was a dancer and singer, and my dad was in an act called “The Four Jokers”, who did quite well. They were like a knockabout comedy act, and they did a Royal Variety in 1936. So I was sort of around show business, and by the time I was around, they'd kind of come out of it really. But the rock'n'roll thing was what did me. You know, I mean that was the stuff. My mum and dad, when I was a kid, wanted me to learn tap dancing and I said – you must be joking (laughs). No, I wasn't interested in it at all. But when rock'n'roll came out and I listened to all that early stuff, that was the start of it and then, of course, The Beatles.

Yeah, as we heard. So, next you've chosen, right up to date, who was just in the last couple of years, is Jessie J “Price Tag”.

— I just love good pop singles. I've always been a singles person, you know, I mean obviously there's a lot of albums I like, too, but a great pop single – you can't beat it, I think. And if you turn the radio on and something just jumps out of it, and this I remember hearing on radio, too, and the chorus and the hook for this song it's just fantastic, I mean it's just a great pop song. So that's going to be one of my favorites, of the sort of more recent records. That's just one that every time it comes on the radio I have to turn it up loud and boogie away a bit...

Jessie J “Price Tag”

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The Knack “My Sharona”

— Mike Chapman produced this, who was my producer with Smokie. Then he was getting involved in stuff in America. First of all Blondie and then, just after we'd sort of stopped with him and we'd sort of gone off to different things, he brought out this record by The Knack. If you listen to that record, the sound is so great and it's just basically them playing in the studio. There are no big overdubs, there's a guitar on one side, a guitar on the other side, bass and drums and the vocal. That's it. But the sound, the power of the drums and the guitar it's just great.

As you were saying yesterday, it's about great pop records. It's very simple, very straightforward, but hits you between the eyes.

— And if you're ever anywhere in a bar or a club and that record comes on, it's just so powerful, it's just, you know, the way it starts and the drum riff, the drum feel and everything. Great.

Everybody is on their feet.

Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush “Don't Give Up”

— I just think this is one of the nicest ballads, if you call it a ballad, or slow songs – ever. It's one of those songs that you wish you'd written, you know, because it's got such emotion in it. And the way that it's produced and the sound. I mean that whole album “So” which came out in '86 is great, but this track is fantastic. The emotion and the sentiment in it, about this guy who's lost everything, and his girl says to him: Don't give up. I mean, it just breaks your heart, you know. I can never listen to this record without actually bringing tears to my eyes. It's such a great track. And I wish I had written it.

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Free “All Right Now”

— I used to go and see Free when they used to be a blues band, just a blues band. There were only three guys playing and then Paul Rogers singing, but the sound they made, you know, was fantastic. And then they came out, I think it was '68 or '69, with this track “All Right Now”, which was their first kind of commercial record really. Again, it's a bit like we talked before about The Knack and it's just one of those records, as soon as it starts with the guitar riff and the drums, you just can't help to get up and dance or whatever, 'cause it's a great track. And Paul Rogers, of course, is a great singer and I'm a big fan of good singers, you know, that's what I like the best of all and Paul Rogers's voice is just one of those, you know, just goes.

When did you first know that your voice is being a good rock'n'roll voice?

— Well, when I was first in the group and we used to play clubs and pubs and everything around Yorkshire, we used to try and sing like Little Richard songs. I used to force myself to scream these songs out. I think with doing that eventually I kind of got an idea of how to do that. And it made my voice a bit more croaky than it had been. So I did all that stuff and people kind of liked it. But I never really thought of myself, I still don't, to be honest, thinking of myself as a good singer. It's only when you start recording and you hear people say – I like his voice and stuff. And you think – oh, really? Great, that's nice.

You feel more of a band than a soloist, a band singer.

— Yeah. I mean, I've been a solo singer for ages but I've always had a band, so I'm always the front guy of the band, you know. I did try for a bit to sort of... (laughs) to try to do it without, you know – without a guitar, and I felt completely stupid, to be honest.

You had to have a guitar, and doing something with it, yeah.

— Yeah, yeah, I've got to be rocking, you know. Even if I'm singing a soft song.

Right. Next we've gone for Leona Lewis and “Run”.

— Leona Lewis is for me the best thing that ever came out of any of those talent show and things. And I watched her every week just sort of kill everybody else. I mean, she was such a great singer. The first record I liked, ok, but this, I love this song anyway, 'cause it's a Snow Patrol track and I love Snow Patrol. And quite often I don't usually like somebody doing a cover because often they make a mess of it or something. But I think this is a better version than the original. And the way she sings it, the way it starts, slow, and at the end, by the time she's finished with it, you know, you're left in shreds, really. She's got a great voice.

Leona Lewis “Run”

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ABBA “Super Trouper”

— I knew ABBA in the 70s and everybody sort of said, we don't like ABBA, you know, they are a bit uncool, but they make great records, you know. Let's face it, all those records were great. And I worked with Agnetha after she left ABBA and did some stuff in the studio with her. I could have picked any of them really, but “Super Trouper” was just one of those that came straight out, and again, just knocked your head off, you know.

The way you do with Agnetha, you were doing an album with her, is that right?

— I was doing it with a couple of the other guys from Smokie. We did her first solo album. Mike Chapman produced it. And he called us and said – could you come and do some back vocals on this, 'cause we need your harmony that you do. So we did and we went across to Stockholm and worked in the ABBA studio there. We were there for about a week, had a great time. And she is lovely.

Of course, Smokie sound was quite distinctive. You did have that tight harmony.

— Yeah, we were lucky. When we started the band and found we were trying to do like whatever, Everly Brothers or Beatles songs or whatever, we could just do that sound. And then later on we started to do a bit Crosby, Stills and Nash in the clubs and that. And we just had the sound, we didn't have to work on it. It was just...

..quite natural.

— It was a natural thing. But if you are lucky to get three voices that sound similar, they blend together, then it makes a good sound. We were lucky to have that, I think.

John Lennon is next with “Imagine”.

— Yeah. This is just a great track. John Lennon is one of my big heroes anyway. And then, of course, when he died, this was re-released. It just reminds me of the time when that happened and just gives me a good feeling about how great he was.

John Lennon “Imagine”

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The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women”

— I was always more a Beatles than a Stones fan. And Alan, who was in Smokie with me, he was always a Stones fan more than a Beatles fan. So we kind of like turned each other on to each of the other group. And when this came out, this was kind of like a bit of a departure from the stuff they'd done before. And I just loved it – this guitar riff at the beginning... It's just a really great rock'n'roll boogie, and I love it.

Great. And the last one is Elvis with “All Shook Up”.

— This really is the record that started me off, I think. When I was 7 years old we got a Dansette record player for Christmas in the house. 'Cause we had not had one before. You know the old Dansette with the thing where these records drop. You put like six records and they all drop at the same time, you know.

Yeah, and smash (laughs).

— And then, of course, for Christmas I went out and bought the records that I could have – three records, I think, and this was one of them – “All Shook Up”. It's just a great Elvis song, and I used to stand in front of the mirror, when I was a kid, and pretend I was Elvis with a tennis racket, you know. And when you think how they recorded it in those days – ... they just placed people – you stand further away from the microphone, you come closer...

That was the balance.

— That was the balance, you know. And then the sound comes like this. You couldn't do it now, you know.

You are still out there doing all your tours. We don't see much of you in this country...

— I have had a couple of things out in this country over the years, but not much. When I first left Smokie, I got a big hit single in Germany to start with, which was number one for ages. And then I stayed doing stuff there, so my kind of base was then with the German record company. And that spread into different parts of Europe. And then I keep putting out an album every couple of years. And every time you're trying to get out in England, only occasionally somebody would go yeah, we think so. But they don't do the same kind of promotion, and I am certain, because it's been so long, people don't know who Chris Norman is in England, really. They know, if you say “Smokie, the singer”, they go “Oh, ok”. Hopefully I'm doing some dates, a few dates around Britain. But I don't know how many, we try to work it out. But I'd like to come back and do some stuff here.

Well, yes, because I mean people, you know, love the voice and they all remember the Smokie days. But it's funny because people love these songs and yet somehow the connection isn't made. Maybe it has to do with the German record label and

— Yeah, I think so. There is a bit of that goes on, yeah, absolutely. And when I have done the odd thing, it goes great and there's always people coming up saying: “Why don't you play it more often?” and stuff. And I think, maybe this year, I'm hoping, before it gets too late, you know (both laugh).

Oh, you have years to go yet, man. Years.

— Yes. So I hope so that we can get something. Even if it is just a bit. I'd just like to come here occasionally, do a few shows, put an album out once every couple of years. And just have a slight bit of a profile, would be fine, you know.

We would like to see the show.

— Thank you. Well, if I do, you have to come and see it.

We will. We definitely will.

— All right.

Chris, it was great to see you.

— Thank you, Ken. Been a pleasure to be here.

© BBC Radio 2 (UK)
 Texts prepared by Sylvia Jerjomenko, Annie & Stranger
© 2012  www.chris-norman.ru