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Chris De Burgh sees red

Entertainment | Published:

Chris De Burgh sees red over Coldplay in an exclusive online interview.

"People say to me, 'You should hear the new Coldplay record'. And I listen to it and I think I've heard it all before. It's A B C D, it's nothing new."

De Burgh is unimpressed. Warming to his theme, he adds: "This business is based on chords and we are straight-jacketed by them. There's only so far you can go. It's the serious problem of today. I used to listen to music, to people like The Beatles, with awe. They were doing something new."

Click here to buy tickets to Chris de Burgh at Birmingham Symphony Hall on May 2 and 3

These days, when De Burgh is seeking inspiration, he hunts down Bach, Handel, Liszt or other classical greats. "They worked with melody, rather than chords," he explains. "The people in those days had a different kind of flexibility and freedom.

"I may come across as a boring old fart. But I'm not hearing a lot in the current day that makes me jump up and say 'Christ'.

"The first time I heard Bohemian Rhapsody, I couldn't believe it. I don't think anybody will ever come up with anything like that again. Bands like the Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones.... they all wanted to be better than each other. There was great competition."

In recent years, De Burgh has tried to emulate some of those greats by working with orchestras and choirs.

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He says: "I work a lot with orchestras. If I'm in a studio, I need to perform with them live. I come up with a lot of new constructions and the orchestra leader will say to me 'That doesn't really work'. But then he listens and realises that it does."

De Burgh adopted a similarly innovative approach on his latest work, Footsteps. He holed himself up in a studio for eight days and surrounded himself with people who would breathe life into his music. The songs he selected were, principally, written by others.

So the record features such hits as Blackbird, All Along The Watchtower, Africa, The Long And Winding Road, American Pie, Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Sealed With A Kiss, Turn, Turn, Turn and Nillson's Living Without You.

De Burgh says: "I was choosing from literally hundreds of songs. It was a difficult process to whittle it down to an album's worth. I could have happily recorded four or five records. When I was growing up in my father's castle/hotel, I would sing a lot of these songs to the guests.

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"Polly Von, the song by Peter, Paul and Mary, is one that, probably, gave me some indications about writing story songs. Spanish Train, The Tower, many of those songs from my early days owe something to Polly Von."

The songs that De Burgh eventually selected for Footsteps were all ones with a special meaning. He said: "With my selection process there were three criteria. I had to really love the song, have performed it a lot and have learned something from it.

"Most people hear music as opposed to listen to music. Most people have it on in the background, just enjoying it. But because I'm in the business, I always wanted to find out the nuts and bolts. I love to listen in to the construction."

There is a fascinating story attached to his selection of Living Without You.

He said: "I loved the Nillson song. I thought the Mariah Carey song was a joke. She was missing the point. He meant it. She didn't."

The song had special resonance. De Burgh worked on his first two albums with the engineer who had produced Nillson's Living Without You session. De Burgh had also met Nillson a number of times.

He added: "Nillson loved my voice and wanted me to sing for him. I sang that song a couple of times live. On one occasion, I sang it then afterwards I got talking to a girl. She was the person that the song had been written about. She'd lived with one of the two songwriters in Wales. I was amazed. That's meat and drink to a writer.

"The next time I saw her, she had taken the original book with the original lyrics and had done a photocopy done for me. It had the original handwriting, everything. I've sung it lots since then."

Though De Burgh has been in the music business for longer than he cares to remember, he still loves to cover new ground. He's made 17 studio albums but is constantly striving to do better.

His decision to compile an album of covers follows similar decisions taken by men of a certain age. Artists like Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell all decided to cover the work of other singer/songwriters during the autumns of their career.

De Burgh said: "I know there's a certain point in a lot of guys' careers when they want to look at doing this. Rod Stewart, for instance, embraced the Great American Songbook. I would say I'm slighty different in that I've written my own career path. I'm a different sort of artist to them."

We've almost reached the end of our interview slot when De Burgh mentions that song. He is, of course, best known for the global smash by Lady In Red. He corrects me: "No, that song is more famous than I am.

"People know that I've written 200 songs. But I don't mind that that's the first thing people think about when they think of me. I think it's a bonus. That song hit dead centre. I can't think of any songwriter who wouldn't want a song like that in his cannon.

"I was ready for its success and the effect it had because I was already on the way up. Usually, in the UK, you're nobody until you've had a hit single. But at that point, I had four shows in Wembley Arena and they'd all sold out prior to Lady In Red coming out.

"Now it's amusing to me. You can ask people in China or America whether they've heard of me. Invariably they haven't. But you ask them if they know Lady In Red and they do. The song is still huge. It's bigger than me."

De Burgh is on the road to support Footsteps and will call into the Midlands with two gigs at Birmingham's Symphony Hall. He plays the city centre venue on May 2 and 3.

He added: "I'm very much looking forward to it. I have a terrific UK band that's been together for 12 years. You have to make sure you get along. That's the only way it works, you have to be surrounded by people with whom you can have a lot of fun."

  • Click here to buy tickets to Chris de Burgh at Birmingham Symphony Hall on May 2 and 3

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