Interview with Chris Norman

Chris NormanThis interview was done during Chris Norman's Russian tour in April.
   Due to some long rides in between the cities we had enough time for detailed talks and Chris was kind enough to answer a lot of questions thoroughly. I appreciate his friendliness, sincerity and support very much. I also hope you'll keep sending us more questions for Chris, for his future long Russian travels :)Ö Enjoy reading!

Yours, Stranger

Part 1
“Iím thinking of my kids rather than me now...”

— Chris, knowing your creative nature, we can easily assume that probably you have already written some new songs since the last album release?

— I have a few, but not many, really. Because I know that I'm not going to do another studio album with new songs for quite a while, thereís no real pressure to do that, you know. So the next album is maybe going to be a covers album which I start recording when I sort out some problems with the record company. Thatís going to be probably songs of the people I like and Iím going to make new versions of them. Because thatís what the record company thinks will sell at the moment, you know. Itís a difficult thing – new recordings, new songs for somebody at my age now, because the kind of people who are buying records – most of them – is different. There are obviously exceptions like maybe you or people who like to listen to new studio albums. But the majority of people who are in their 40s or older, they donít go and buy albums so much anymore, they donít go and buy new recordsÖ

— So you have no stimuli for making new songs then?

— There are no more at the moment to do. Although I have written some songs – just for the sake of it, which Iíll keep for later. Itís not a bad thing in a way because it means Iíve got like probably a couple of years before I have to think about doing a studio album with new songs. So it means at that time maybe Iíll have got quite a collection, you know.

But also the other thing is that Iím recording with my kids now. So Iíve been writing songs for them. So a lot of time now goes for writing them songs, and Iím thinking of them rather than me. So Iím thinking of what they can sing, what their kind of direction is, because itís different from my stuff, itís more rocky. And itís more modern, Susanís singing so itís a girlís voice, and rock guitars, itís good stuff. So Iíve been writing for and with them more, you know. Weíve got quite a few songs, some of them written already, some of them nearly written. But itís mostly for them.

A few days later in a tour bus Chris played demo records of 2 songs to us. The songs sounded really great, with very nice singing of Susan and excellent playing of Michael on guitar and Steven on drums. Chris said he was playing bass on one of the tracks. So we can only keep our fingers crossed for the success of this project!

— And as for this cover versions album, when do you think it will come out?

— This album is on hold at the moment because of discussions with the record label.

— Recently you mentioned youíve visited the record company, was it about that?

— Iíve done that, yes. It was their idea, you know. These record companies in Germany and in Scandinavia, they wanted to do a cooperation and do an album with covers, it was their idea. They said, lots of people have done it and you havenít done it and we think lots of people would want to hear it. And then I started to think about if I pick the right songs that I havenít done before. And it might be ok, soÖ I would do that anyway.

— So there wonít be songs you now perform in concerts, like Sledgehammer, Summer of 69, etc?

— No, because Iíve done them on the stage for so long, you know. They are already on DVD or whatever. This to be different. And anyway I want to do different songs on that, you know.

— Is it yet a secret what songs will be on that record?

— Well, yes, itís a secret because mainly I donít know it yet myselfÖ (laughes). But I got a list like this, you know (shows), so far Iíve got about 25-30 songs. I mean, originally when the record company gave me an idea for songs, I had about a hundred songsÖ But now Iíve got it down to about 30, and I need to get it down to about 14, as it will be a single album.

— And getting back to your last album, you had a successful cooperation with Sandy Strmlyan, who is a modern composer and producer from Hamburg. Do you continue working with him?

— Not on this one record. I would like to work with him again. He sent me an e-mail actually because he heard I was going to do a new album soon. He heard it from the publishing company that we booked with. And he wrote to say he would love to get involved in it again if he could. And I rang him to say that basically itís a different sort of things, itís not going to be a writing thing. So it would be great to write together and do some things with him, but Iím not doing it now on this album. Also I might be working with a Scandinavian producer.

Later on, in June, Chris told us that this album recording may not happen because the record company has changed its plans a bit. So, unfortunately, at the moment it all remains undecided.

— Now letís return to “Kindness” times.
        On April, 3 it was 40 years since the first Kindness single was released on RCA. What is your attitude to those Kindness records, do you like them? Havenít you thoughts to perform any of them live or to re-record again?

— No. I mean I like them, ok. I donít dislike them, they are all right. I like them for what they are, you know, like our early attempts of starting to make records. They were in some other way. I mean “Light Of Love”, which was the first one, was very typical of its time. I canít see doing it now. And it wasnít such a great song, it was just ok, you know. If it would have been a great song that was worth re-doing, but it wasnít. It was just a song of its time, I think.
      And we did “Lindy Lou” which was a piece of shit, it was horrible. I mean that nobody wanted to have the name on that at all. Not even us (laughs).

“Lindy Lou” was a thing when we were on Decca Records. And there was a guy called Dick Rowe, who actually was a famous guy because he turned down The Beatles. Brian Epstein came to him with a Beatles demo tape, and Dick Rowe said “No, the guitar bands are finished, itís going to be something new now”ÖSo when we were there, he was like an executive producer. And he was an older guy, I donít know how old he was, he seemed old to me at that time. He was probably not older than me now, I was only about 20 or 21. He went on holiday and he came back with this song, a song in Spanish. It was this “Oh Julie” and it had been a holiday hit in Spain. And he thought it could be a hit in England and he wanted us to record it. We all hated it. The producer hated it and the engineer hated it, everybody hated it, except him. And nobody wanted their name on it – nobody wanted “engineered byÖ” or “produced byÖ”. They said “No, no, thatís ok”. Because they all thought it was horrible. But anywayÖ

What else? We did “Let The Good Times Roll”, that wasnít bad, that was ok. We did “Make It Better”, that was ok.

— Were there any records that hadnít been released?

— When we first signed to RCA, we recorded a song called “And That Is Life”. And another song at that same time was called “Nodnol” which is “London” backwards. We recorded those two songs, so there must be copies or demos somewhere else, but I donít know where.

— What about the record “My Desire” under the name Fuzzy & the Barnetts? Do you remember how that recording was?

— Oh yes, that was Ronnie StormÖ or Rory Storm, which was it? One was Rory Storm from Liverpool, and he was Ronnie Storm from Wakefield.

— So youíve played a Hammond on that record?

— I played an organ, it wasnít a Hammond. It was a cheap little organ. But I have played it, yeah. And I was crapÖ (laughs) It was terribleÖ

— Why?

— Because I wasnít good in it, you know. Iím a bit better now but even now I wouldnít do that.

— But why did you play then?

— They asked me, they wanted me to do it. I donít knowÖ And we did some back vocals on it, I think, too. I canít remember it very well, itĎs been a long timeÖ I havenít heard that for years. Thatís quite a terrible record, I think. It was recorded in a really tiny little demo studio. And then we just all got round and played. He had a band himself at the time. But they didnít do that very good, so he asked us and we played on it. It was our early daysÖ

— Now a few questions about instruments and songwriting.
        Your famous Jaydee guitar – is it the same guitar from 1985 or another one?

— Yes, itís from 1985 or like that. I think, at that time we all got Jaydee guitars. Alan [Silson] got a couple of Jaydee guitars and I got that one. I liked that one because it was like a Stratocaster shaped, but it sounded more like a Gibson. It was neat, I liked the look of it and it played well. So I bought it then because at that time I was playing most of the time live, and I was playing Gibson Les Paul, 55 model. Or a Telecaster sometimes, or a Strat. And I think I got it because Alan got it as well, I donít knowÖ And then I just used it ever since, more or less. I had times when I left it home and brought something else, but I kept going back to it because itís so versatile, it does everything. And itís simple, I donít have to do anything with it, it sounds good.

— Do you repair it from time to time?

— Yeah, itís been repaired a few times, it had holes in it and things gone wrong with it, etc. So it gets repaired and itís ok then.

— So we all wish good life to this guitar because itís just like kind of your symbol now!

— Yes, I hope nothing bad happens to it. Itís like Francis Rossi always is playing the same guitar. If you watch Status Quo, he always playes his little green Telecaster. And you see him on pictures for years, he always has this guitar, he still uses it, itís a great guitar.

— By the way, these days Status Quo will perform in MoscowÖ

— They are a great band. Have you seen them? Great! I love Status Quo live.

— Have you met them or know them personally?

— Yes. They are from the south of England and we are from the north. But weíve met them first about 1979. And then every now and again we met them a few times since then. When I did “Love Is A Battlefield” video Rick Parfittís girlfriend was a dancer in that. So he was a hanging around in his car, waiting for her. It was cold and I just sat in his car in between all that time waiting. And then Iíve seen them a few times in different situations. When I did the “Different Shades” album, Pip Williams, who was a producer, was just finishing their album. When I arrived at the studio they were still there, so. At times we were booked at the same festivals etc. But I like to see them. I donít usually watch groups if weíre playing gigs. Hardly ever. But I always like to watch Status Quo, I go and stand at the side of stage, I just like the excitement, you know. And the sound they make, itís great, I love them.

— For the fans whoíd like to reproduce your guitar sound – how do you choose the sound of electric guitar for certain songs? What guitar effects do you usually use?

— I donít go for effects much, really. A bit, but not much. And on recordings I usually donít have to do it. I donít use recording effects, I usually put it on afterwards, in the mix then I can decide to use them or not. But the guitar sound – itís really quite simple, you know. If you want a kind of a thick, dirty guitar sound, then itís just a case of plugging it directly to the amp, overdriving the amp and getting a good tone. And then how youíre miking up is important, how the sound is in the studio. And the same thing if you want a clean guitar sound, you do different things and change the tone of it, use a different guitar like a Stratocaster which always got that nice, clear, solid sound. And Gibson or my Jaydee got more a thicker sound. And then with acoustics I just use an acoustic guitar which sounds good in a room. Then you have to use a good mike in a right place in the room.

— And what microphone brand do you prefer?

— First of all, for microphones in the studio I usually use Neumann U87 for guitars. Also I got another Neumann mic, which is a tube mic, they are great for vocals. Or any good condenser mike for vocal, you know, like AKG – theyíre doing some ones as well. You can get a good sound on AKG 414, and they are not so expensive, you can get a good vocal sound with that. And with electric guitars I usually use one of those Shure SM57. Iíve tried also other ones while being in studios where engineers bring in all these fancy mikes. Basically you put an SM57 in front of where you get a good guitar sound, it sounds good straight away, you donít have to do anything with it. So itís just right for guitars, you know.
And on the drums Iíve got all kinds of mikes for the drums.

— Do you play drums?

— Me? A bit, not much. I can play but my kids wouldnít say so (smiles). They laugh at me when I play drums. But I can play a bit. Michael and Steven can both play, and Paul.

— Yeah, we saw them playing much in the Youtube videos ;). And, by the way, recently we saw there also the Beatles picture which we have presented to you 2 years agoÖ

— Oh yeah, on the studio wall?

— Yes, on the studio wall. We were so proud, so thank you very much for such an honour!..

— Have you any string instruments besides guitars in your home collection?

— Yeah, I got a mandolin and a ukuleleÖ I got one of those things given as a present in Mongolia, itís like a cello but itís square – but I canít play it anyway. And I got Spanish classic and acoustic guitars, steel guitars, all kinds of guitars.

— A banjo?

— No, I donít have a banjo. Pete [Spencer] has got a banjo, he is used to it. IĎm not really into banjos.
And I've got a clarinet, I used to play clarinet for a bit, but Iíve forgotten how, now so long since.

— On the previous 2 albums you have used a mouth organ, it sounded really good!

— I am not a very good mouth organ player really. If there was somebody else who was good at it, I would have taken him. But if thereís nobody else there to do it – ok, I do it then. For my style is more kind of like a folk style, like Bob Dylan or something, rather than blues harp.

— Donít you plan to use a mouth organ on your future recordings?

— Not really, I never planned to do mouth organ. It always happens just by accident. Like Iím thinking “What can I put on this?” And I think “it sounds like it needs something like aÖ Doesnít want a guitar, doesnít want this or that, I think only mouth organ can do it then”. Or when I needed something like that, something more mellow. And then I played it because thereís nobody else there who could play itÖ

— Chris, would you consider yourself a perfectionist in studio? I mean, do you usually end up by being impressed by what youíve played or sung?

— Thatís a good question. I think, sometimes I can be like a perfectionist, trying to be. And then I get sometimes into a point when I think “Thatís all right” and later on I wished to had done it again. So really I wasnít a perfectionist cos I couldnít do more with it, you know. Sometimes IĎm quite happy with it and sometimes Iím really frustrated, but it never really sounds just exactly how I hear it in my head, you know. So it can be both, sometimes I like it, sometimes I donít.

— So when you re-listen to it next day, you can take a decision to change it?

— Yes, and I do that. And sometimes you change stuff and then you wish you didnít, you wish to go back to the one you did before. Well, itís like mixing, itís one of those things when you can mix it one day and it sounds great. And you come down listen to it – and think “itís not really right, is it?”, you know. And then you do it again, you can end up disappearing up into thin air because you come backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. Some of the best mixes I ever did were just done like on the fly, you know. Cos sometimes I go through it just a couple of times and then go ok, thatís it, and the next day I come and listen to it and think “Wow, it sounds alright as it is, Iím not gonna do something else to it”. Because sometimes you can play with it too long and then it ends up with sounding crap.

— What is the most perfect surrounding for you to write songs – studio, nature, a sofa at last?

— There is no real one perfect place. It could be anywhere. Iíve written songs in studios which have turned out well – maybe in between, when somethingís going on in a control room and Iíve been waiting for them to set something up, maybe I go out and play a piano, and I like this sound of their piano because at a big studio thereís a great sounding piano. And I can sometimes straight grab an idea and then Iíve written a song like that. Or sometimes sitting in the room behind the studio while Iím waitingÖ just being around in between, Iíve written songs like that. Iíve written songs when IĎve been in the bath. Or when in the middle of the night Iíve woken up with a song thinking is that already a song or have I just thought of it? You like have dreamed the song. Iíve dreamed I was in a situation when somebody played a song. And I woke up remembering it. And then I have to get out of bed and sing it on to tapeÖ So it can be anything, you know. Mostly, itís just really when I sit down with a guitar and say – ok, I would to try to write some songs nowÖ

— Have you written any songs while being on tour?

— Yes, sometimes. Not recently, but I had before, yeah. Iíve written songs on planes, when just sitting on an airplaneÖ (shows and laughs)

— Now some personal questions from the fans.
        What is your favourite perfume?

— Iíve already said this once to the German fan club sometime ago. I use Eau Savage all the time, I think everybody knows that now. It has been my favourite for a long time. I donít like everything else that smells always too sweet, so thatís ok for me.

— Do you have a tattoo or did you ever wanted to have one?

— No, I havenít any. I once thought about tattooing some hairs on my chest, but I changed my mind (laughs). No, I was never gonna do that.

— We know you as a singer, as a great artist and very kind and friendly person. But what are you as a father?

— Well, these days itís different now, you know, because they are all grown-up, the kids. And itís not the same thing – being a father as when theyíre little. I think I was a decent father. You know, I was away quite a lot sometimes, soÖ Sometimes I was not with them for everything which is a shame. But there was a period, especially with Michael, Steven and Susan between about 1988 and 1994 when I didnít tour, so I wasnít away much. And I was there for them pretty much for everything – for school plays, for school sports and everything. So I think I was ok then. And I was a loving father, especially when they were little I really adored the kids, doing for them all things. So I was very loving, very sentimental, very soft. But at the same time I could be quite strict and heavy as well.

— And nowadays?

— Nowadays they donít take any notice of whatever I say, take no notice of me at all (laughes). No, now itís different, now itís like they are grown up. Thereís a period with your kids when they get to be teenagers, and they get through this 15-18 kind of period. And then you have a lot of trouble – youíre always: “do this, donít do this, what youíre doing, why youíre doing”. And then it is difficult. And gradually, as they get passed that age, you get to a different relationship, which is different from the one before they became that. So up to be in about 13-14 you have one kind of relationship and after being in 18 and up you have a different relationship, and Iím at that now. So we have a different relationship with more like friends and equals. So I can talk to Michael, Steven or Susan, Paul and Sharon as to equals. And the older they get the more equal you got, you know. I still try to give them advice of my experience Iíve got about things, but I donít know whether they listen, you know. But thatís normal. And I love them anyway whatever they decide to do.

— What was the happiest day in your life?

— I donít know really, thatís really hard to say. Because I could say watching any of my kids get born would be the happiest day, but then itís so many. So itís not like one happy day, you know. And if I was to say the happiest day was watching how Susan get born, but that would be unfair on Michael and Steven. So I couldnít say that. But probably something like that, thatís all was great. Itís nothing to do with music really. I mean I had some happy days with music. But the happiest days would be more to do with personal things.

— Chris, what do you like and do not like in audienceís behavior on your concerts? Maybe you can use this opportunity to make it clear for the fansÖ :)

— Itís different in different places. In Germany, for instance, there's a tendency now for the fans to get up immediately I go on stage. They all come to the front and that pisses everybody who are sitting down, pisses them off. Understandably, because they have paid like 40 euros or whatever it is per ticket, and then they can't see, like from the first minute. So that I don't like really. I like people to get up, don't get me wrong, I love it. But I think it's better if they wait until the show develops, so that everybody is in the mood to standing up.

— So they should wait until you usually give them the signs?

— Yeah-yeah, I think thatís the time. Because by that time everybody could start to get up and dance a bit, so nobodyís going to be sittingÖ I know for me, if I go to a concert, I donít necessarily want to get up and start dancing straight away or whatever, I want to get into it, enjoy it... And then if it starts to get me going, maybe then I get up, play it around and I think thatís the right way to do it. So thatís one thing.

The other thing is, itís annoying when you first go on stage.. it doesnít happen very often but occasionally, if you go straight on stage and you just start to speak the first timeÖ I never speak till I've done 3-4 songs anyway. And then I say “hello, good eveningÖ”. And as soon as you start to talk to the audience, before you can establish some kind of a relationship, somebody shouts something out already!.. And I think – “wait, give me a second!” You can do it later on, I donít mind having a bit of banter, you know. But to do it immediately sometimes!Ö Specifically this shout out as a request for a song straightaway. You've just done 3 songs.. you say “hello, good evening, how are youÖ” and somebody shouts “Living next door to Alice!” , and you think “my God, give me a chance!”. It's usually when they are drunk, otherwise they wouldnít do it.

— I think you are perfect in the way of going well with and leading the audience, you are great in this.

— Well, itís hard sometimes, it gets difficult if you donít get a chance just to settle in and everything else, then itís not simple.

— And what about positive things from the audience?

— I mean most of it is positive. That was just me trying to think for a long time to find things that could be better. But most of it is positive. I mean the fact that they come along, the fact that they are so appreciative of the music, that they listen and they dance and they sing, and they get into it, thatís so great. I mean that whole thing is wonderful, you know.


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