Music: Leo Sayer on touring and reworking music from the fab four

Leo Sayer

Picture: PA
Leo Sayer Picture: PA

As he embarks on an extensive 50th anniversary tour, the British pop legend sits down to discuss the highs and lows of his long career.

He may be celebrating the milestone of 50 years as a recording artist, but Leo Sayer is, in his own words, "chomping at the bit to get going".

The singer, 74, is embarking on a huge UK and Irish tour to celebrate his career, with more than 30 concert dates running to November.

He has already done a few gigs in Ireland and they "went down incredibly well", he says enthusiastically over the phone.

Raised in Sussex, Sayer moved to Australia more than a decade ago and in 2009 became an Australian citizen, but is thrilled to be back in the UK.

"Coming back to the UK, or Europe in general, is a bit of a thrill after being stuck with lockdown, so it's been fantastic," he said.

"The nice thing was that we rehearse the show with the British musicians that I use here. It all worked out, just incredibly, and we put a nice show together.

"It went down incredibly well in Ireland. So now I'm chomping at the bit to get going."

Momentum is something the singer's career has not been short of though.

He achieved two consecutive US number ones with the Grammy award-winning You Make Me Feel Like Dancing and When I Need You (also his first UK chart-topper), and has a string of hits like Moonlighting, Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance) and One Man Band in his catalogue.

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, from his 1976 album Endless Flight, reached number two in the UK, while follow-up single When I Need You hit number one on both sides of the Atlantic.

He appeared on UK TV screens in Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, but quit the show after escaping through a fire exit.

Music-wise he has always been clear on his sound and sense of where he was going, and has some 16 albums as proof, with his latest being this year's self-produced Northern Songs, which sees him offer up his own take on The Beatles songs written and composed by John Lennon, Sir Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

It was a project he started 10 years ago, having recorded four songs as a bit of an experiment to find out if he could make a record by himself.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit and the world paused, it provided an opportunity for Sayer to pick up the project again.

He recalled: "We couldn't play concerts. We had weird rules between the states in Australia, which meant that you could play in one state but you couldn't play on the other.

"So if you were trapped in New South Wales, like I was, you couldn't even get to the other state to play even though that was allowed, so I just kind of escaped into my studio really and decided to finish the project.

"I'd played the first four songs that I'd done to people over the years and they all said you should release it.

"I've got to say I was very nervous about doing it, because I was taking quite a few liberties with the songs, really changing things around and doing different versions and things.

"I thought, 'the Beatles purists are gonna kill me,' but luckily, they haven't yet!"

His own catalogue of albums and songs is equally impressive though, and reflecting on his 50 years he says his creativity has stood him in good stead.

"First off, getting two number ones in a row in America with (the) Endless Flight album was just the most stunning moment, because You Make Me Feel Like Dancing was one of the fastest number ones, apparently, in American history," he said.

"Just to have things leap away like that, it's just incredible. I don't know how you describe it, everything's a surprise."

He adds of his success that "it all happened very quickly".

He said "And then you step on to the carousel and it runs and runs. I've been lucky in my life, but I'm a very creative person. So I never stopped writing songs and never stopped thinking of ideas. So that stood me in good stead."

Does he miss the UK though?

"It's lovely being back here, but my heart, my content spirit is always in Australia, I feel relaxed there," he said.

"I've got a marvellous home with a big studio and I throw myself into there and I really do feel that's my creative base.

"For someone like me who's still being creative, that's the most important, it's more important than a stimulating environment really, is to have a great base where you can feel comfortable and create and write and still feel inspired, and that's what I have in Australia.

"But I think my life has led towards that in a way. I'm not dissing England in any way. But I think it was logical for me to move to Australia... I've always been one of those people who works well in exile. When I lived in America, I felt very creative.

"Because you're pushed into a situation, there's no sort of feeling of ease and contentment, (or) 'Oh, I don't think I'll bother to work today'.

"When you live abroad, you really are pushed to kind of justify your decision and I like being driven like that."

In 2006, his song Thunder In My Heart was remixed by DJ Meck, and the resulting track Thunder In My Heart Again, spent two weeks at the top of the UK singles chart.

More recently, DJ Armand Van Helden also added his spin to the Meck version of the song.

Does Sayer see musicians like Harry Styles and Adele, and think he may want to collaborate with them at some point?

"This kind of sounds strange, but not really," he muses.

"I'm very happy with my own path.

"I think that there's been a lot of new artists and they're really good, but they're all doing their own thing.

"We're all on different wavelengths really these days. It's very tough.

"It's lovely when you see Paul McCartney getting up with the guys from the Foo Fighters the other night and that's what we should be doing when it's called for, we should be tributing people. I think that that's important.

"But other than that connection, what I do, I think, is pretty unique.

"I don't think there's many singer-songwriters like me. It would be a little bit like asking Cat Stevens to join in with The Rolling Stones, when Cat really has his own music. So I do my thing and I'm quite happy with that."

Leo Sayer is appearing in Perth, Edinburgh and Aberdeen next month, details can be found at