This did run on PlayLouder last week, while I was driving around in a flash car with no roof listening to Mogwai and not getting much sun in Mallorca with the PPF. But that goon Jeres edited all the passion out of it, then refused to admit I was right, the vicious Cornish swinemonger. So here, in its original glory, is that legendary meeting of minds, the event of the century…
AKIRA THE DON VS CHRIS DE BURGH!
It’s April, 2007. Perhaps.
“I have to admit, I’m actually rather nervous,” I admit.
Which is true. I am. Chris de Burgh is a legend. Chris de Burgh is a one man Beatles, but good. Chris de Burgh has been speaking directly to my tortured soul since I was five years old. Chris de Burgh is a storyteller, who uses music to illustrate his tales so visually you can see them, so viscerally you feel them right in the pit of your belly.
But I were to hazard a guess, I’d wager you only know him for ‘The Lady In Red’, and you prolly hate it cos it’s the song your auntie and uncle always dance together to at family functions, and you’re a too-cool-for-school-snob who thinks The Gossip are a “soul sensation”. Fie on you, buster! You done got it twisted like a pig’s dick. See how you worship at the temple of Morrissey nowadays? Remember how all the suckers hated on his lily white ass in 91′? That’s you with Chris de Burgh that is. And mark my words, one day soon, you’ll be wearing a ‘Borderline’ T shirt and telling your girl how you’ve never had this feeling, such a feeling of complete and utter love, and she’ll be like, wow, I am so glad you stopped being such an uptight douche-bag and learnt to be real about your emotions, now shut up and let me suck you off. Unless you’re a girl, in which case you’ll be the one getting wowed, and doing the sucking. Or you’re gay. We don’t have time to get into that right now. But gays love Chris de Burgh because he’s a real motherfucker and he doesn’t front. If Chris de Burgh thinks you’re hot, he’s gonna say it. If Chris de Burgh feels like crying, he’s gonna cry. Chris de Burgh is a real man and you are a whiny little bitch. Get to know.
“I have to admit, I’m actually rather nervous,” I admit. I told you that already, but you probably forgot about that when I called you a buster. Pay attention. This is important.
I have to admit, I’m actually rather nervous,” I admit. “I’ve interviewed hundreds of people.. but, um, yeah. I’ve been listening to you since I was a tiny baby.”
“Really?!” beams Chris de Burgh. Chris de Burgh is sat next to me on a sofa in some hotel room in West London. You know, the posh bit, where the big hotels are. Maybe you don’t know. Maybe you live in Alaska. People do. Anyway, it’s nice. I interviewed Altlantan rap sensation TI here last year. He never said, “sit here” and patted the space next to him on the sofa. He’s not a gentleman, not like Chris de Burgh is. Chris de Burgh is taller than TI, too (although he’s not taller than me. If only I’d known that when I was eight. Nice one Dad! All you had to say was “it’s OK Adam, Chris de Burgh is a short man, and he is a world renowned musical genius and ladies man” and my whole life would have been a piece of piss.)
“I think I was rather enamoured with the storytelling and what have you,” I say, gushingly, a bit like a girl, but butch. “I suppose it captures the imaginations of small people rather well.”
“That’s great.” smiles Chris. He has a very honest smile. “Were your Mum and Dad into it as well, were they playing it or was it something you found?”
“Yeah, my Dad was a bit,” I say. “Although he was into punk rock and stuff. But for some reason he had a bunch of your records.”
Chris nods, sagely, and starts talking. He is good at talking. He is obviously a very clever man – his brain moves at three hundred miles an hour, and he often forgets to finish the sentence he started because he’s started another one. His brain seems to work like a pinball machine. No wonder ‘Crusader’ was such a fucking brilliant album.
“The storytelling thing for me, its not like I’m tapping into some ancient Irish root, because I don’t have any ancient Irish root, but having been born in South America, and lived in Africa, I had already had a fairly international background. But I discovered early on that the reason I’m doing what I’m doing right now is because of the place I grew up, which was this old castle, In Ireland, my Grandfather bought… we didn’t have the money but he bought it. And so we started a farm – and I’ve seen the back end of more sheep than I care to remember.”
Chris chuckles. he has a nice chuckle, a warm, musical little thing. Ah ah ha!
“500 sheep and lambs, that was totally hands on, with the family, and the cattle, and the corn, and in the summer months, we turned the castle into a hotel. And in the evenings there was not a lot to do – local pub was a mile down the road. And there was no TV… it was a long time ago… early, mid sixties. And it was the time when Dylan and The Beatles were booming… I was at school Wiltshire, and going there as a boarder, from this exotic – ah ha ha – very cold castle to college was great, because there was guys coming down from London, full of the stories of London and stuff, and had guitars… so I picked up a guitar. My first one cost me two quid. It was dreadful…. but in the summer months, I was the entertainer – I did hundreds of livings room concerts. I was 15, 16. Great way to meet girls.”
Chris laughs. I laugh. Ah ah ha! It is true.
“So by the time I stood on a proper concert stage, I’d really done a lot of that stuff. This is why…” Chris pauses, looks skywards and considers. “Now I’m not at all familiar with the current stuff that’s going on – familiar enough, because I’m in the same industry, but I listen to what my children do.”
“What do they listen to?” I ask.
“Um. Just about everything,” smiles Chris. “But! And it’s nothing to with me, I can assure you… they love The Eagles, The Beatles, um, Aerosmith, um… Jimmy Hendrix… I think what’s happening nowadays, for a number of reasons that could occupy us talking for hours… record companies failing to put long term investment in, for example, the fact that computers have revolutionised the way we make records, and there’s too many safety nets and parachutes available now, and anybody as you know, can sing completely out of tune and can be digitally revised, and they go out on tour and mime…”
“This is true,” I agree. “But you can tell. And I think the things that last are the things that do have, um, some kind of purity to them.”
“Mm,” Agrees Chris, generously.
“However they’re constructed or what have you. Bob Dylan had a terrible voice really, Neil Young had an awful screeching voice.”
“He does!” laughs Chris. “Ah ha ha! But they all put in the time as performers, and I really think that that’s the key. The guys that influenced me, and I imagine not just one generation of song writers, but the next generation too, Lennon And McCartney, they did something like a hundred and eighty live performances before they even made a record.”
“With like, a 20 watt amp or something…”
“Yeah, was crap. Nothing. You know, Hamburg, The Cavern, Liverpool, all that stuff… so there really is no escaping the fact that that’s the best way of learning the trade. Well, any trade. So part of me is exited when I see something like X Factor, suddenly occasionally, seeing a really genuinely talented person emerge, who would never have made it though the A&R nonsense that you get at record labels. Still, I remember going to my label one time, and there was bag, plastic bag, just FULL of cassettes, hundreds and hundreds of peoples dreams and hopes and prayers, and they’d write, “have you listened to my cassette yet”, and it’s, no, terrible… the trouble is, they haven’t put in the ground work, its like being taken in a helicopter from the bottom of Everest and stuck on the top and saying, learn how to climb a mountain – can’t do it. So, you know, half of me is being a boring old fart, and half of me is trying to acknowledge the fact that being in the same industry you do have an opinion, and, really… the music of Lennon and McCartney, which is what I grew up with and so… you know… live performances helped enormously.”
Chris pauses a second, perhaps realising how far his big brain has taken him from his original point.
“So going back to your original question, about songwriting, and story telling, is that, um, I found that, by writing a song that had a story in it, not only were you hoping to grip your audience, but you could also put your ideas in… for example, I wrote one years ago called ‘Spanish Train’…”
‘Spanish Train’ is an awesome song about God and The Devil playing cards to decide the fate of the souls of a trainload full of people. It is a really ill comment on the randomness of fate. It had quite a big part in my rejection of Catholicism as 10 year old. True story!
“Yeah!” I exclaim, instantly forgetting that I hadn’t actually asked him a question about storytelling (although I had planned to. Maybe Chris de Burgh is a psychic as well as a genius). “That was one of the first ones that caught my attention.”
“Well, its a cracking story,” says Chris, correctly. “Even now when I do it, its still a story…and they last forever! A good story, it’s a big story, you know, game of cards, souls of the dead and all that, but once your into the story, once you like it and you’re listening, you wanna know what happens. It’s like, in modern television today, the reason there’s so many competitions, of varying, haha, ability on TV, is because we want to know… I mean the Eurovision song contest is horrible, but everybody watches it because they want to see who wins.”
“It’s about the only one I’ll watch,” I reveal, thrillingly. “I don’t have TV, but I’ll go to the pub and watch Eurovison.”
“Just to hear Terry Wogan?”
“Yeah, and see the crazy Norwegians.”
“I thought Morrissey was going to do it this year, but apparently he pulled out.”
“That would have been most interesting…”
We nod in agreement. I wonder what Chris thinks of Morrissey, but now doesn’t seem like the right time to ask. So I say, “The new album’s amazing! By the way. Um. Apart from one song.”
Which, in retrospect, was quite rude. Or blunt. Anyway, Chris takes it well, and chuckles.
“OK, let me just guess which one you don’t like…”
Go on then.
“Hmm. Probably… the one about the two lovers disappearing at the end of the play?”
“Nah, that’s one’s amazing. The only one I didn’t like was the single.”
“Oh yeah, ‘One World’.”
“No, One World was pretty good.”
‘Raging Storm’ is a really mawkish duet with some woman. It is totally beneath Chris, but we can forgive him for it, like we forgive Scorsese for Gangs Of New York.
“OK,” says Chris. It is fair.
“Bloody, um… what was it?” I gabble. “The first one that caught my attention was ‘My Father’s Eyes’. But, rah, what’s it called, ‘Window Of The Soul’?”
“Mirror Of The Soul.”
“‘Mirror Of The Soul’, even. Yeah. That made me cry on the tube that did. And that sort of stuff doesn’t happen very often. That, I felt was kind of a return to your Crusadery type, epic story telling, music fitting what’s going on with the words and what have you.”
Which it is. ‘Mirror Of The Soul’ is fucking awesome. Go get it and try telling me its not awesome, that its not the fucking most fucking huge, lush, emotional thing you’ve heard all year. See, you can’t.
“What I was trying to get across in ‘Mirror of The Soul’, as you probably gathered,” says Chris, generously, “is that religion has been the case of a tremendous amount of… comfort… for millions, billions, down the centuries, and still is… but it also the cause of most of the conflict that’s happened. It’s either land, or religion. And how people can actually genuinely… without , I have to stress, everybody has the right to believe in what the hell they want. But. They have to ask themselves the question, who wrote that stuff. Was it people who came from the planet Mars? No it wasn’t, it was people like you and me, who have to go to the bathroom every day. These are normal human beings, who for one reason or another – they had a vision, they were high on drugs… no idea what was going on… they… firmly believed, at a time when it was incredibly… um… the whole superstitions dominated their lives… but they were ordinary human beings. That’s so…”
He trails off, intensely, eyes deep in mine, hand clenched in a poignant fist. Wow, think I, Chris de Burgh is a fucking G. That is so true.
“So I just had this idea of… OK, where does religion begin. So this bunch of monks in, er, in a fifteenth century monastery in France really attracted my attention… You read the story [it’s about these monks who find this shining crazy rock thing that fell out of the sky, and they use it to con a load of povs into giving them cash and stuff] They sell everlasting life, that’s two bits of gold, remission of sins, that’s another couple of grand, this kind of carry on… give us all your possessions. And they were exposed, because the only people who could make that thing light up was somebody with love in their hearts. For me, the ending, that last bit… ”
Chris sings to himself.
“Glory of the dead, dah na nah… haha sorry… da da da da….”
Wow! I think. He sounds just like he does on record!
“Da da da… only love can light the mirror of the soul. Yeah.”
Chris looks triumphant.
“I thought it was very prescient,” I say. “Given we have our so-called leaders at the moment selling us all sort of nonsense to take us into these conflicts all over the place.. the current American leader using the Christan God’s name in this a lot, as has our Blair… and now we’re about to go into Iran.”
Chris nods sagely, sadly.
“I mean… Jesus!” he exclaims. “I wrote another song, years ago, called, er, up here in heaven, which was, again, a story, about the viewpoint of soldiers in heaven, dead soldiers, looking down there from every single country you can think of, who’d been fighting each other, and who’ve realised that the God they’ve been fighting for… there is only one God. It’s the God of the world… it’s a fanciful idea, but the idea of saying “My God’s Greater Than Yours”… they’re looking down on a remembrance day ceremony and they see all this carry on, names in stone, and they say, well, if they only realised the God they’re fighting for doesn’t exist. There is only one, and that’s for everybody.”
Chris looks bashful.
“It’s just a fanciful idea,” he smiles, head cocked to one side a little embarrassedly.
I think it’s beautiful.
“If you speak Welsh, you say “caru” when you mean “love”,” I tell him, cos I know a bit of Welsh. I am multi talented. “Different people’s different ideas of God are just different words and images for what’s really the same thing. There are people who claim not to believe in any kind of God whatsoever, but they’ll believe in collective consciousness, or love, or whatever. Everyone’s talking about the same thing, just using different words for it.”
“Yeah. Exactly,” agrees Chris (whoo!) “It’s the same emotion, we’re trying to describe. But this thing that you’re saying about Blair and Bush. Its a question you should pose to your readers: how many people does it take to start a war? Because it’s something that’s endlessly fascinating – why did those people throw children into furnaces… where’s the cut off point of your natural humanity to respond to shrieks of pain… why does that wall come down, why does discipline, a chain of command, you know…”
Chris gets excited.
“This is actually how songs starts begin for me… about two or three years it’ll sit there, festering away, then one day I’ll come up with an idea. For example, if you look to the second war, and how that stared, the whole build up, first war, then Hitler coming to power, there was only about three of them. Only about three people involved. But by offering their underlings also a taste of power, and prestige… that’s how they get it. First war, why did so many soldiers, knowing they were going to certain death by climbing over the trenches, why did they do it? Because they had this thing called disciple, duty, and the chain of command. Its unbelievable. Really, it’s it’…”
Chris shakes his head, mournfully.
“Anyway, coming back to starting wars, the last thing in a democracy that ever happens is anyone listens to what the people say.”
“Well quite,” I agree. “We’re sold a load of dodgy dreams for people to get into power, and they they run around doing crazy things, justifying it with nonsense and distracting your attention with foolishness and bad television.”
“Ah ha ha!” laughs Chris. “That’s a good quote! Keep that one. We like that one.”
That makes me proud that does. Coming from an international superstar like Chris. And I think, yeah! Cos Chris is a man of peace. And they love him in Iran. I mention this.
“I’ve never been to Iran,” he says. “It’s… the strangest thing. On my website, we get so many hits from Iran. It all started, for me, 12 years ago, 15 years ago, I met two guys from Iran, and they just looked at me like I was Elvis, and said, “you and Madonna are the two biggest stars!” I was like, “no!” But its was true. Huge! Its been endorsed many many times since. I’ve just done a version of a song I wrote called ‘The Words I Love You’ with the biggest band in Iran, called the Aryan Band, they sing in Farsi, and they’ve done, wonderful authentic instruments.. I love that kind of music, its really interesting and earthy and stirring. But funnily enough, if you’ve got a a song like that, you have to go to the ministry of culture.”
“Oh yeah, they check the words and what have you.”
“Yeah. So I just learned yesterday, they’ve passed the song, its gone though, and they’ve invited me to go there. I’d love to go. But it doesn’t mean I’m naive politically, I know exactly what’s going on over there, I’ve quite a few friends who were from Persia… but Ive always had this missionary attitude where you will achieve a hell of a lot more by going and talking to people than shouting and waving your arms in the distance.”
“Well, its very easy to peer at something in the distance waving and SHOOT it,” I note.
“That’s it,” agrees Chris.
“If the waving thing comes up and shakes your hand, there’s a bit more of that barrier we were talking about to the through before you gut it,” I say. I am pretty insightful you know. Chris and I have that in common. I call him Chris now. We’re tight.
“I’ve been to South Africa a lot during the repressive days, God…” Chris shakes. “I just felt it’d be more useful to go and tell the people what was going on in their own country, because they had no idea – censorship was so violent… I went there a number of times, without getting arrested, of course, just being there, offered support, saying things have to change, that change will be coming.. and it was great, it was wonderful seeing black people in the audience! It was.. unheard of.”
“Well, go see a guitar band in London. Same thing.”
Chris isn’t just a man of peace. He is also a man of change. That is why he talks to his fans on his website a lot. He is cool like that. And he runs his own recordcompany, Ferryman, these days. He is living in the future.
“I signed to A&M records in ’74,” he explains. “The label’s stable was people including Supertramp, Gallagher & Lyle, Joan Armatrading, Peter Framptpon, Carpenters, Yes, Sting & The Police joined a couple of years later… and it was a long term commitment, they’d take this little seed and they’d stick it on the ground, and it wouldn’t be you got one album and if that doesn’t do anything you’re gone… they just kept on ploughing the money, and they knew, sooner or later it’d come up, and most of the time it did, it would be a forest… my first album is still on sale, you can still get it.
I have to say that during the nineties I was disappointed when A&M got first bought by Polygram, and then by Universal music… and although they discarded lots of artists along the way, 45 million records [sold], they decided I was worth keeping. But towards the end I didn’t want to stay because I felt there was a lot of new young people involved in the record label, some of whom didn’t have a clue what they were doing. And I guess if you’ve been around as long as me and my manger have, we know how to run a record company. We know how we should be treated. You’d see things dying, France, lovely place, big number one record, had big hits there, and they just let it die. So having Ferryman now is wonderful.This is my second release on Ferryman, and if I want to talk to the head of the label I just have to look in the mirror: “you’re doing a rotten job”. And we have an A&R department. Which is alcohol and restaurants, instead of artist and repertoire, ah ha ha.”
“Ah ha ha.”
So how’s that working out?
“Great. It means you can go to any territory – you can speak to the local affiliates, er you can talk to Sony, or Warner Brothers, each of them are better or worse… you see, the trouble is, if you’re Warner world wide, some territories will be better than others. What they all want to do is provide enough information at the twice yearly meetings to say their country’s doing OK. Usually that’s done on the back of very successful, huge acts internationally. And they try to encourage the local acts. But if you’re slightly less on the scale they won’t put money in. So it means, as we have our own label, we can go and meet these guys, and if you have a connection withe head of the local french label, you like whoever it happens to be, you can exclusively do your deal with that label, in that country. It’s more work but its much much nicer to work that way.”
“Have you thought about signing anyone else to Ferryman?”
“We did put out a record by… crikey, that song writer, how embarrassing, what was his name… um.” Chris wonders. “He is actually one of the most successful British songwriters after Lennon and McCartney this guy. Oh, he’s done it all. ‘The Air That I Breathe’, um… I’ve even co written songs with this guy! Its completely gone out my head!
So, yeah, we released an album with him… but yeah, looking for talent. But its thin on the ground.”
Chris looks sad.
“What do you listen to these days?” I ask.
“Well, I hear a lot of what my children listen to… I can’t hear music, I listen,” he chuckles. “If I’m writing or reading, I can’t have music on, because I stop reading and I listen, work out the chords and all that. Um. Old favourites. Sting’s records are always interesting to listen to, Peter Gabriel. I listen to a lot of classical music too. Just across the street here there’s a restaurant called Giraffe it’s part of a chain. You know the music that they play in there?”
I do, my girl took me there and I had a burger, it was great.
“It’s world music. Ive got loads of that. I love listening to African music, music from the Andes… Turkish music… its just… it challenges me. I was thinking about this the other day, what is the problem, and I was wondering, why can’t I listen to modern music and enjoy it as much? Its because I’m not learning anything from it, I have to be able to say ‘god, that’s a clever little clever change’, or, you know. And people say, there’s this wonderful hot new band, and you think ‘right, listen to that’, and you go ‘oh, those are those four chords again’.”
CHURCH Chris! CHURCH!
“Well, that’s the problem,” I say “with guitar music now. It’s increasingly derivative. There is stuff though. There’s still interesting rhythms and stuff coming out.”
“Well, you’re at the cutting edge,” says Chris, correctly. “What’s good? Something not just, good, but something that’s likely to last.”
“Funny you should ask!” I say. And I give him my album. He looks pleased, compliments the artwork, says he’s going to listen to it in the car on the way back to Liverpool. I get him to sign my copy of ‘Best Moves’. We agree to take a photo, but my camera’s battery’s dead. That is typical. On my way out of the hotel, Chris says, “come on, give us a hug”, which kind of throws me, then he gives me a really big warm embrace, and says, “take you back to your childhood. And mine!”
I feel rather dazed wandering back to the tube station. Everything looks brighter. I seem to be floating. Then I remember those news stories about his healing hands, and it all makes sense.
Wow, I think. Touched by the hand of de Burgh. I ring everybody I can think of and scream at them. They seem happy for me.
A little later, I get a phone call from Chris’ PR office. A nice lady tells me that Chris says he really enjoyed meeting me, and the name he couldn’t remember was Albert Hammond. Albert Hammond was in The Hollies, and co-wrote ‘The Snows Of New York’ with Chris de Burgh. That song is awesome. Anyway. How often, in my long and illustrious journalism career, do you think people have done that? Exactly. I told you Chris de Burgh was a G.