TV & radio interviews digest, autumn 2007
During October-November 2007 Chris Norman often guested on several TV and radio stations in Germany presenting his new album “Close Up”. Here is to your attention the digest of questions-answers made on materials of broadcasts on “Radio Berlin”, “HR 1”, “SWR 1” and “ rbb ZiBB”.

The new album “Close Up” is an acoustic album and surely a surprise for all those, who remember Chris Norman just as the leadsinger of Smokie.

— I suppose it is, although there are still songs, still simple tunes, which is what I always sang. Very much simple tunes, nothing complicated. The difference between this and what I have done before throughout the years is, there are no drums, no electric guitars, no bass, there is no “group sound”. Basically it's an acoustic guitar, acoustic piano, a string quartet and my voice. So that's what makes the difference. This songs are just treated in that way.

My influences are things from the Rock'n'Roll era, the Beatles and all that stuff. But I was also influenced a lot by people like Bob Dylan, Johnnie Cash, Lonnie Donegan, who was a big name in England. So that was more like an acoustic kind of way and this is more sort of representative of that side of me.

So now I take the same instruments on tour with me. I will do a lot of things from the new album, but we also do some old Smokie songs with new arrangements, with strings and it sounds great. You know some old solo songs like Midnight Lady. I do it with strings and it sounds much different. It's really exciting for me and interesting to do that. I play two hours and in that two hours I go really from the beginning of Smokie until the new album and all the things in between.

“Close up” seems to be a very personal album. Do you sharing this impression?

— Itís personal in the fact that I wanted to make it an intimate sounding sort of album. The whole album, itís so simply made and this is a kind of an intimate thing. The album has got an intimate sound, and when I go on the road, it will be an intimate thing with the audience, too. So the whole concept of it was to be close and personal, so I called the album “Close up”.

When I was doing promotion for the last album, which was about twenty months ago, one of the things that I did actually for this radiostation, was a live thing in front of an invited audience, just a small thing with acoustic guitar and piano for about half an hour. And people started to say to me: why donít you do that the whole thing and go on tour with it? So that was the seed of the idea, it started here. And then I started to work on this album. It should be an album that fits with that idea of a personal kind, of close up, which is the idea of the title. This album is just acoustic guitar, acoustic piano – which was like that gig that I did – and a string quartet.

So this kind of intimate concert was the start for the new album?

— Exactly, because before that I would never have dreamed of doing something like I am going to do, with this new album and the tour. Actually a couple of years ago somebody mentioned it and I thought: no, I donít think so. I need a band sort of background behind me. And when I was first asked to do this radio things which just started here, I was a bit worried about what am I gonna do. It was only like 30 or 35 minutes. And I thought, how am I gonna fill 35 minutes? It is difficult to work out such a program. But it was great, I enjoyed it and the audience really liked it. And thatís when people started to say, we like to see more. Some of the fans were saying how much they would like to see that kind of a situation in a real concert tour. So that was the idea. But it took a while, because I thought, if I am going to do a concert tour like that, I am going to have an album that sounds like that, too. Before that I was making albums with drums and guitars and a whole equipment. And then we go out on stage with acoustic guitar and try to reproduce that – we wouldnít be able to. So the idea was then to make an album that fits with that. The only thing that is different from those early concerts was, that I added a string quartet. To be able to do extra things that I couldnít do without it. Now it means that I can do all kinds of stuff on the tour. Itís alright to do 30 minutes, but to do 1 hour and 45 minutes, you have to find more things to do to keep it interesting.

The last album was published just about 18 months ago. There are other artists, who need 4 or 5 years to make a new album. Why is Chris Norman that quick?

— I have always got lots of songs, Iím always writing songs anyway. The writing of the last album was probably 3 years ago, so in a way itís not really that quick as it seems. This songs are a completely different kind of songs than the last writing. So I used some older tunes and the rest of them I wrote more recently.

Your intention is to differ cleary from the sound of your band in the 70ies, but sometimes a little hint of it is still there. The song “Close to you”, for example, reminds me very much of “Living next door to Alice”Ö

— It sounds to me a bit like a mixture between “Alice” and “Mexican Girl”. It has got this kind of slightly latin rhythm in it. A little bit, because you canít really do latin with just a piano and a guitar. Itís just a song I wrote, it just came up. In the period when I was recording with a band I wouldnít have recorded it, because then it probably would sound exactly like “Alice”. The way it would be treated, with bass and drums.. itís the same kind of feeling. I would definetely want harmonies in the chorus, and then it ends up sounding like a Smokie song. So I probably wouldnít record it normally. But because it was just me, I thought I can get away with it. Itís just me singing it on my own with a little bit of backing, so why not.

One song on this album is called “Love not war”. That sounds a bit like the good old times, with colourful flowers and shrieky clothing. Just like “flower power”.

— Itís obviously an old thing from the 60ies and the hippie movement: “Make love not war”. I left out the “make”, because I was not talking about making love but just a little more charity rather than fighting. I think most people would rather have more love in the world than more fighting. Itís what most people feel, that the world would be a better place if there was more peace than hate. A very simple idea which comes back from the hippie movement, but itís actually what everybody feels and itís certainly what I think. Having a family and having kids in the world, you do get sick of seeing the same thing about people fighting each other.

One day I sat down and was just playing on my guitar and then I came up with this little riff, and then it just came: “Love not warÖ”. It was a bit of Johnnie Cash. So I just take it up a couple of notches, so it doesnít sound quite so much like Johnnie Cash.

The current CD contains tracks like “Trying to find my way home” or “Love not war”. To what extent do you allow people to have a look into your soul, into your heart on this CD?

— I donít really know about that, because when you are writing songs all the time, you pick up your guitar and you write down what goes through your head. Itís not really a conscious thing what you are going to be writing about, itís more unconscious. Until maybe a year or two years later, when I listen to the album. Then I think “Ah, thatís what all this writing was about”. I donít know, you have to take what comes out.

The stories I write within the songs – I think itís not conscious. I donít sit down and think I am going to write a song about somebody. Itís the sound of the words as much as anything and the way they flow. And the poetry isnít a bit too pretentious, but if they have got good lines and they say something in a nice way, nice and poetic – thatís what I am trying to do, it doesnít always work. And sometimes it can really be simple. It doesnít have to be deep, it can be simple. Like “Hello Baby” on the album, it has got a line in it: “Letís shout it out loud, shout about love and those kind of things.” I mean “those kind of things” is a very simple thing to say, but I like the sound of it, you know. “I like the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees and those kind of things” – Itís nice to say that, I think. So it doesnít have to be deep, it just has to sound nice.

“Survival” is a song, which seems to be at least a bit autobiographic.

— In a way, yes. Itís the whole idea of being around and surviving. The theme of it is “donít give up, donít give in”. When everything is going wrong, we are still there to fight for the survival. This song really came fairly quickly and easily, which is the best way to write songs. If you sit there struggling, then it doesnít work. Yes, the idea was “donít give up”, because there are lot of times within this business, when you get knocked back and you think “oh god, that didnít workÖ”. But I have always thought, well, next thing. I do another thing.

You will be playing songs from this CD on your acoustic tour and you will be on stage with 4 violinists, a piano and your guitar. Where did you meet this string quartet?

— I recorded this album in London and I have used a string quartet there, because I wanted that flavour on the album. When I came to do the tour, I said why bring this string quartet all the way from London, there must be good ones here. A friend of mine, Martina, who also plays in my old band, my rockband, she knew these girls pretty well. So she suggested, that maybe they would be good for that – and they are great. So I have got a great pianist, Rob Gentry, and the string quartet called “Fiorini Quartett”. They are really great and itís working fantastic with them.

There are a lot of old Smokie songs with string arrangements. So these old songs seem to fit very well into your current concept.

— Yes, although obviously they will be done in a slightly different way, because there will be some things missing. But nevertheless I can still do them and the nice thing is, that we can do all the string parts. When we do for example “Iíll meet you at midnight” and you have the string quartet with the intro (sings it) – thatís just great, you know. And with the strings we have some really nice arrangements for some of the other songs, too, and some songs from early albums from Smokie, with the strings I thought I could do that. And the audience likes that, because they know all the Smokie stuff and it can be a nice surprise for them to hear some of the songs. And I am going to do some songs of some other people. There is a song on the new album called “Catch your dream”. I will do that to lead to some old songs. Because my dream was always to be a singer. Like some of the people I used to hear in the 60ies when I was growing up myself. So I am using this song “Catch your dream” to link into some songs like “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel and a few others from that era, which again is great with acoustic guitar and strings, it works really well.

Why do you playing two gigs in a row in Berlin?

— Well, because the last times Iíve played in Berlin Iíve played in a bigger hall or bigger theatre. This time I wanted to keep all the places I was playing small, so it would be like a sort of intimate feeling with the audience. Since it is just such a small ensemble on stage, I donít want to be playing in big halls. Because I play in smaller ones, the promoter just said we do two, because he was confident we could sell two nights. Itís nice to do two nights in the same place, you know, I can maybe unpack my suitcase.

How important are the lyrics when you are writing songs yourself?

— Very important. I think itís like the difference between a really good song or a song thatís ok. Itís often in the lyrics. Itís nice to have a tune to remember. But to me, when I hear a song, I like it when it has got a great lyric, too. That makes it even better.

In the song “Catch your dream” youíre singing about dreams that can give you strength and everything seemed to be possible when we were young. And what about you, did all your dreams come true?

— Well, I canít complain. I have had a really privileged and fortunate career. But if you asked me, if really every dream came true: not yet. I think when I was 15-16 years old, I wanted to be as big as the Beatles. I didnít want to be as big as Smokie, I wanted to be as big as the Beatles. That was my goal and that didnít happen. I mean, we came so far, we did well especially in Europe, Australia, South Africa and a little bit in America. We have been very famous and had hits everywhere. But we never were considered to be the credible band that we always wanted to be. This dream didnít come true. But as I say, I canít complain. If somebody would have said to the 16 year old Chris Norman what would happen and did happen, I would have been so amazed.. because sometimes when you think about the fact that you actually made it at all – itís so hard! I know so many people from my era, who were good and had talent, who just didnít do a thing. They had lots of missed opportunities and things that didnít quite happen for them.

When you meet the other Smokie members, do you start singing along together, just for fun?

— I wish we did, because I miss that. We used to do that, in the early days especially. We had a tour manager who has been with the band for years and years and the best part of the show was the soundcheck. Because he used to bring his friends to see the soundcheck and that was the best practice, because we were playing everybodyís songs, not only the Smokie songs. And after the show we were often sitting at a hotel bar and somebody was bringing a guitar down and we started singing. So we enjoyed that, and we always did that when we were recording. But of course we donít see each other now very often. But itís a shame, youíre right.

There is a close-up of you on the cover and I remarked, that the haircut is nearly the same as it used to be in the Smokie days. What do you say to your hairdresser, “do it like always”?

— I just say “donít cut it too much”. I mean, I did go through a period where I had my hair shorter. And when you see those 70ies things, I had really hair down here, really long hair parted in the middle. So, you know, itís just hair. Iím just glad Iíve still got something. Soon it will dissappear, so...

And music seems to help you along even in the dark moments of life?

— Yes, absolutely and it always did, my whole live. When I was feeling down, even as a kid coming home from school, I listened to some Beatles record and it was ok. I think that I have always had a case on music and I still feel the same now. You know, if something bad happens thereís a certain thing about music can lift you, I think.


© on the materials of “Radio Berlin”, “HR 1”, “SWR 1” and “ rbb ZiBB” (Germany)
 Transcribed and edited by Annie &
© 2007