MUSIC WRITER IN JAPAN
29th October 2015
Q: It’s been ten years since Voice In My Head (2005) which was your last record of new songs although you did do an Australia – only release called Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow in 2009 containing re-recordings of your classics.
LS: Well the idea behind Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow was from a producer in Australia who used to be in a band called Sherbet (Garth Porter). He basically said he always wanted me to hear me do my songs really quietly to an orchestra so we did it and it was great fun doing it but the only problem was, the audience really love the originals so we didn’t sell that much but we did do two fantastic concerts with Bill Risby on piano. It was a great project but it kind of stands outside the career.
Q: You’re probably a bit over-critical of yourself there. Having been in the business for forty-five years I think you’ve earned the right to do something different.
LS: Yeah you’re probably right and I think whenever you work with different people you lean something. I did get the chance to work with an amazing musician on that called William Motzing who has since sadly died but he was part of Blood, Sweat and Tears – one of their horn players and arrangers – and he did all the charts for the orchestra. Unbelievable charts with beautiful music but I just still love working with four guys in a band. That mixture of Rock and my music which is slightly vaudeville: it’s stripped bare and naked, no effects and everything is open. One of the nicest things here at Billboard is their grand piano so having a wonderful pianist here with me (Bill Risby), we unleash ourselves on that.
Q: Coming to your new release, Restless Years, so what prompted the return to the studio?
LS: Well to backtrack, Voice in My Head came through an amazing opportunity. There was a Danish girl I used to know who was making a solo album and she asked me to go to a studio in Denmark. This guy had built this amazing studio, real state-of-the-art and I went over just to do a couple of tracks playing harmonica and backing vocals. The studio owner and I were chatting away and he said I should come here and make an album. I told him I’d love too but I can’t afford to. He then said ‘Here’s my offer. I’ll give you 160 days in here with my engineers and you don’t have to pay for a thing.’ I said I had to give him something so I gave him 60% of the profits from the album and he said that was fine. He wasn’t worried about that though. He was just a Leo Sayer fan and he knew I needed somewhere to work in because I had just been through a huge financial crash and managerial theft. So suddenly I’m in a position where I can do my dream album and produce it myself for the first time. So that was the story of Voice In My Head so then I started to think about the next time I can get into the studio as I was enjoying making records again. I think after all the years of working with amazing producers, Richard Perry, Adam Faith, Russ Ballard, etc, I learnt so much that I knew I could make records myself. Early last year I was on the road and I had some ideas of what I wanted to do. I talked to Donatella, my partner and I asked if we could afford to do something. She said we could but it’s going to be tight. I then said to the band that I wanted to go back old school and record live with a band and Mitch who is also in the band tonight has this great studio. I had all the songs written and demoed before and it just flew together. We didn’t lose one track; we cut three extra ones that are on the iTunes release and the nice thing is that I’ve just been to England where I’ve been working with a different band and the reaction from the audience and the critics has been ‘A return to form’.
Q: I agree and you mention your financial crisis, you’ve a few of those in your time.
LS: Yes I think what it is, is that I’m indefatigable – you can’t knock me over. I have this built in ambition that always makes me think I can do better work if you just give me a chance. I’ll be on my deathbed thinking I can make Sgt Pepper. (laughs) At this time in my life, I am in control, no one is telling me what to do, I have my own label, I do the website and I think this is how I needed to work. I’m very happy with that and I like being the boss of the elements. I’ve just moved to a new house in the country and built a studio as well which is massive! Big triple doors that open straight out so you can move a Steinway straight in so I have the perfect space to do all this. It’s going to be good.
Q: Plus you’re gigging like mad.
LS: Yeah we’re off to America next year as well. That’s looking good.
Songwriting and Lyrics
Q: You’re another writer whose lyrics are often overlooked…
LS: Yes. When you have trouble in the business, people tend to run away from you so I’ve had to clear the decks but now people are listening to it again and it’s a bit like finding lost tapes. I feel like I’ve been missing and that’s what the opening song Beautiful Year is a little bit about.
Q: Where did How Did We Get So Old come from?
LS: Ha! From looking in the mirror and seeing this fat ugly geezer who I swear is not me. (laughs) I think I’m 21 off with all the chicks and all that. I just don’t accept that life has come on that way but I’ve actually been finding that it’s fantastic and I had a conversation with Jimmy Page about it (points to beatleg 183 cover) look at him – he’s like The Godfather now. It’s great being this age because you get away with a lot of things. Young people respect you and that’s really nice when that turns around but there is a dichotomy in hating being old but loving being old as well.
Q: Is Bells of St Mary’s autobiographical? (1974)
LS: Totally. We used to have a Folk club that I used to run in the Lady Jane pub in Shoreham-by-Sea. Funnily enough, there is a Shoreham Society page on Facebook that I’ve joined. The places that we used to hang around in down there are all sadly no longer but all the old boys are up there. I haven’t seen any pictures of me at the time but they’ll be coming. (laughs) I noticed that when I first went away, you look on things that describe home. I remember being very friendly with Bruce Springsteen when he was playing the Stone Pony early on and he was doing exactly the same as I was which was to immortalize our little towns. For him it was Redbank, Trenton and Asbury Park and for me it was Brighton, Worthing and Shoreham-by-Sea with St Mary’s church in the middle. The idea of the bells of St Mary’s is that whenever you can hear them, you know you’re home.
Q: What did you have in mind when you wrote The Last Gig Of Johnny B. Goode (1975)
LS: Adam Faith made me do a thousand shows, some of them not very nice places and some of them with awful bands. Very low down the roster as well, the kind of places that were unplugging you before you had finished so they could get the main act on. So I had plenty of experience of playing crappy shows and the frustration of that and I was thinking about Johnny B Goode, if he was real and what he would be like if they brought him on one of those nostalgia tours. You know, as much as we love life on the road, the horror side of it is always there. It’s gritty but after a while you find it funny. I must tell you about The Kid’s Grown Up by the way. The steel guitar is me with my mouth because the guy didn’t turn up! I sing the steel guitar part.
Speaking of old…
Q: Looking back at the charts in the seventies, there was a huge diversity with The Carpenters, Alice Cooper…
LS: Absolutely, Wonderful times! David Cassidy, David Essex, Mud…
Q: …Alvin Stardust, Mott, Bowie, The Osmonds, The Stylistics, etc and then you came along and offered something else. Being a singer/song writer and performer, what’s your opinion of the way the Pop song has evolved over the last four decades?
LS: Oh don’t get me started! We made it with our hearts and a band would be like a local gang. A bunch of guys would get together in the evening, walk around the streets thinking of something to do and then someone would buy a guitar, another would by drums, etc and that was the activity – the escape part of our youth. People like Eric Clapton and John Mayall with the Blues and Soul music as well was so instantly accessible and music wasn’t owned by television in those days so if you thought that you could do it, you could do it and it was pretty easy to get a bunch of guys together and start playing. There were all sorts of ways of getting in as well like Melody Maker’s Battle of the Bands contests and the record industry in those days was all about ‘bring us the talent and we’ll try and promote it’. Now it’s dictating what the market will be but in those days there were no marketing people. That was the atmosphere that we came up with and the challenge was all on us but now most artists coming up have to fit a niche. Even for songwriters it’s the same: ‘We don’t want you unless you sound like somebody we had last week’. I admire people like Ed Sheeran, PJ Harvey as well for doing something different.
Your Forrest Gump Box of Chocolate Questions:
Q: 1964, sixteen years old, south coast of England, were you a Mod or Rocker?
LS: I was a Mod. I used to see all that Mods and Rockers stuff going on. I was mostly at that time hanging around because I was between school and art school and I had some friends in Little Hampton and Bognor Regis and we used to go to the Shoreline Club. That was a great Soul club which one night, mysteriously, everybody walked in wearing kaftans and then the next day we were all looking for beads and peace and love. Andy Peebles was a DJ down there before he joined the BBC and whereas the Beatles got all their American records from the docks in Liverpool, we got all our Soul music from the American G.I.’s that were based on the south coast. That’s where we first heard James Brown and The Isley Brothers and I think that’s what got into my head. Even though I wanted to do something different, it still had to swing.
Q: What do you recall of 27th July 1974 and the Crystal Palace garden party with Rick Wakeman?
LS: Oh God! It was horrendous for me because I had decided on the plane three days before coming back from America that I was never going to appear as the Pierrot again to which Adam wouldn’t talk to me for two days. Everything was still very glam though I had to put together some kind of suit because the music was very visually conceptual. There was an element of fear and that’s all I remember along with the thought that as soon as it was finished, I decided I was going to get out of the business because I thought it was the worst gig I had ever done. However, now, I’ve seen photos and I look very comfortable and apparently it was quite good.
Q: Have you read Adam’s autobiography?
LS: I have. It’s full of inaccuracies – a complete mess. It’s an interesting life but there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
Q: In your biography you mention that the first songs recorded for Endless Flight were What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted, Tears Of A Clown and Reflections, only the latter of which ended up on the album. Why was that?
LS: When I first met Richard Perry, I didn’t want to work with him. I actually wanted to work with Jerry Wexler and was due to have a meeting with him but Adam in his sneaky kind of way had already promised the album to Richard. I loved a lot of stuff he had done but it was too middle-of-the-road for me and the first thing he said to me was ‘I don’t like your writing’.
Q: Oh…not a good start.
LS: I said ‘What? I’ve just brought over a bunch of songs.’ but he insisted I should be interpreting other people’s songs and I realized later on it was because he had a vested interest because he had just started a publishing company and all the writers he suggested, he published. He wouldn’t have any of my publishing but he would have all theirs. This is the way the industry works but it didn’t really matter because I ended up writing with those guys and getting some good stuff. The reason we did the Motown songs is because it was the only thing we could agree on. I had a huge argument with him and I left for the airport in a car and then my other manager, Colin Berlin, phoned – it was one of those big old car phones that you could hardly hear anything - and said I had to come back and he put the phone up to the speakers in the studio and in the studio was Larry Carlton with the most outrageous band blasting away. After five minutes I said ok because I knew I was going to learn something. The car rolled up to the door, Richard was standing at the door grinning and shouted ‘Hit it lads! Two! Three! Four!’ and walked straight in and sang the vocal.
Q: So where are the missing two songs now?
LS: I don’t know. They’ll probably never see the light of day.
Q: Roger Daltrey is quite a harp player, as are you. Have you ever jammed together and if so, where are the tapes?
LS: No we never did. I don’t want to be the one to say this but Roger heard me play and in a friendly way said ‘Right, I’m not playing harmonica with you’. We did end up singing a duet of Giving It All Away on my TV show together though. He gave me the biggest break of my career and when he was flogging the album in America, all he was doing was talking about Leo Sayer every day. Lovely guy, smashing bloke and I love him to death.
Q: My Sayer, thank you very much.
LS: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.