An Interview with Leo Sayer

leo sayer singer interview

Music legend Leo Sayer chats to Roger Crow about his life, career, new tour and the horrors of reality TV.

Leo, we’ve missed you. Where have you been, and what can we look forward to with the new gigs?
I live in Australia these days, but I’ve been here for a few weeks. I went to Italy first because my partner is Italian and we’ve already done three shows in Ireland – Dublin, Belfast and Cork. I’m doing the same show that we will be bringing to England, and it just went down fantastically so I can’t wait to get started really.

You’ve crafted so many great tunes. What’s been a favourite track and why?
Well I think ‘Giving It All Away’. It was 50 years ago that Roger Daltrey covered that on his solo album, Daltrey, and sung my praises so much while he was promoting that record. And he’s been singing my praises again on this current tour that he’s been doing. It’s a song for me that never dated. Some can date, like when you listen to ‘One Man Band’: “My cap won’t be large enough to drop a half a crown in”, and we don’t have half a crowns anymore, and I think the fashion of having to get married in Gretna Green for ‘Moonlighting’, that sort of disappeared as the years have gone on. But ‘Giving It All Away’… I still feel the determination of that young guy… he’s not going to give it all away; he knows better now; he’s determined to learn from those early mistakes or missed opportunities, or just bad luck in the song you know? And I still feel that when I sing this song, it empowers me.

Where is the most unusual place you’ve played?
That’s a good question. I played one show in Reykjavík in Iceland; I had a couple of days off there and it is breathtaking, the landscape, all ice of course and rocks. There’s something about the formation of the landscape that’s quite amazing. I played a gig in Alaska and I’ve also played in Saudi Arabia. I went off with a guy who was a rally champion, a Saudi Arabian, and he took us to this hill where we looked down on Mecca. And that was an extraordinary thing. My music has been very lucky for me because it’s taken me all over the world. I go to China. I’ve been there quite regularly because ‘More Than I Can Say’ is massive over there. Apparently ‘When I Need You’ is massive in Nepal. I’ve been to Kathmandu and I’ve seen some incredible places. I’ve been very, very lucky because that’s how the music travels, you know?

leo sayer interview 2022

“Music always came first”

It’s nice to see that you’re playing a lot of Yorkshire venues.
Yes, we’re playing York. We are playing Holmfirth; a lovely place that I love going to; such a lovely vibe. The old theatre there was just fabulous. The audiences, they’re fabulous.

If you could offer yourself a piece of advice at the age of 18 what would it be?
I think trust less people, because I trusted a lot of people early and in the middle of my career that really sort of sent me the wrong way. I still am trusting of good advice, but I’m much more wary than I was then, I think. If I’d been more wary I probably would not have hung on as long as I did with (manager) Adam Faith and would’ve put myself in a better situation financially because I had so much money ripped off of me during my career.

How come?
Because music always came first, songs came first, and I can’t really complain too much because my ambition is still the same and my inspiration is still the same, so here I am still working and still thinking there’s more to come.

Do you have to be 50% businessman and 50% artist to survive in the music business?
I think you’ve got to be 100% artist actually, but there are moments when you need to put a business head on. If you make good music and you’re inspired to make good music and you entertain people, and you make people happy, I don’t think you need to be a good businessman, but the problem is there’s a lot of sharks out there who will take advantage, especially in the short term. Obviously we’re all there for the long term. It’s our lives, it’s what we do, but there are people who will very cleverly rip you off in small moments of your life and really mess you up for the long haul.

I’d love to see a musical inspired by your work. Is that in the pipeline?
I’d love to do that. I reckon there’s a biopic in there, absolutely, but that’s just me being ambitious I guess. Someone might pick it up. It’s been 50 years now and people seem to be recognising what I’ve done. I’ve never had an Ivor Novello for any song. I’ve had a BRIT award in the old days before they were called the BRITs and I think I’ve done enough to warrant some awards like that, but they don’t seem to notice me very much. Hey, it’s not a bad thing. I like going under the radar; I like surprising people. It’s what I get a great kick out of you know? I’ve been underestimated. It’s nice to see that a track like ‘Thunder in My Heart’ keeps appealing to new generations. It’s kind of had two rebirths. It’s doing pretty well in the dance chart at the minute thanks to Armand Van Helden and it got me another number one via Meck in 2005. You know you can lay down some good songs and they can be reinvented; they can have new lives, and this is quite exciting really.

“I can do just about the whole record myself now”

Leo Sayer interview tour posterAppearing on Celebrity Big Brother looked like a nightmare. How was it?
Bloody awful! Worst experience of my career. I’m amazed people are still talking about it, but it was horrible. I found out I was claustrophobic. I went in there with horrible flu and they don’t give you any medication. And I was constantly in the diary room asking “Can I get some Vicks?” (The answer was) “No, no, no,” and then of course they never show that. All they show is the bit of me complaining because I don’t have enough underpants. It’s very silly television. It’s close to the way they treat refugees by sending them to Rwanda. I think it’s a human torture idea and there’s some pretty sick people who put this together, but it seems to be a commonality of modern life that a good percent of the population seem to get a kick out of jibing the rest of the population. You could say the same about Meghan and Harry really couldn’t you? I’m sure they’re a lovely couple trying to do the best thing for themselves; trying to live a private life, and yet here we are all just slating them.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m concentrating very much at the minute on my book which is going to come out soon.

It would be nice to see your work in more films like Deep Water.
Maybe The Leo Sayer Story as a movie, you never know? And maybe there’s a musical coming. I don’t know.

That begs the obvious question, who would play you in a movie?
I kind of like Robert Downey Jr. I’m a great Chaplin fan, and the way he played Chaplin made me think, ‘If he can play that, maybe he could play me’.

And can we expect some new material?
Yes, I’m ready for a new album. At the moment I’ve got a load of songs that I want to work on over the winter. I’m a slow worker. I tend to bury myself in the studio and do it all myself these days as I’ve done with Northern Songs and the album before that, Selfie. But I kinda like working that way and enjoy the fact I can do just about the whole record myself now. I think a lot of us are slow. Kate Bush is another one like me. It’s a case of putting yourself in a vacuum and separating yourself from the normal processes. But I really enjoy burying myself in the process of that vacuum and seeing what comes out. Relying on my guts and my instinct. That’s a very important thing to do.

Leo Sayer’s ‘The Show Must Go On’ tour visits York Barbican 7th Oct; Holmfirth Picturedrome 8th Oct & Bradford St George’s Hall 11th Oct
For full tour details visit:
Top image: Larnce Gold


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