Interview to "The Moon Show"

 

Here is to your attention a text version of the interview with Chris Norman in the programme "The Moon Show" of "Islington Radio" internet radiostation recorded on 23 July 2021 by phone. The program is hosted by Jon Moon, the sound engineer who has worked with Chris Norman and Mike Chapman on Chris 's album "Just A Man", which is expected to be released in October. The original audio file is available here and the Youtube version is here.

 

 

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Hi Chris, thank you for coming on the show and welcome, it’s an honour to have you!

Thanks Jon, it’s nice to be here!

We’ve just been listening to “Just A Man”…

Yeah, good. That’s what we are calling the album.

Yeah, I think it’s my favourite, of all the most authentic. It feels new. It’s such incredible album.

Most people know you from Smokie where your roots are from. Did Smokie start in the 70s?

Yeah, 70s, that’s when we started, had a breakthrough, we had hits and stuff.

I remember your voices while growing up, you know, just sort of awakening to pop and rock, just becoming a man myself. Your voice over the years comforted me. Whenever I hear your voice I immediately warm to it.

That’s good.

You know, I buy singles and I buy collection albums, and I always remember… I think it was “A Few Dollars More” on a collection called “Boogie Nights” which had a real rich mix of soul and rock.

Oh yeah, that was that movie with Joan Collins, wasn’t it? And that song “For A Few Dollars More” was in that movie, that’s why it had been on that album.

Wasn’t that “The Stud”?

“The Stud”, oh that’s right, that was it!

And it had “Love Is Like Oxygene” by Sweet.

Yeah, that’s right, that was a great track on it, I love that track.

Mike Chapman produced all of that. What an amazing man he is. You know, we’ve both been working with him, me for about 4-5 years but you for many more.

Well, I mean I’ve worked with him constantly since… I worked with him for a long time through the 70s. And then we didn’t have much contact for a bit. Then I worked with him again in 90s, did some recordings with him.

Was that with Suzi Quatro as well or was that much earlier?

Suzi Quatro was in the 70s period, at late 70s. And we did that just as one off thing while I was still in Smokie. We went to an award ceremony back then, and Suzi and Mike Chapman were there. Mike was Smokie’s producer and Suzi’s producer as well. And they were in the studio recording an album with Suzi. So we were at this award ceremony and there was an after show party. There were lots of people, stars of the day, you know. And me and Suzi got up and sang some rock-n-roll song like “Long Tall Sally” or something. And that how that “Stumblin’ In” came about. Cos when we went and sat down again and Mike said, you two are fantastic together, you know, we should do something. So basically he had this song called “Stumblin’ In” and I went in the studio with them while they were recording an album. We recorded “Stumblin’ In” and another song for the B-side called “Stranger With You”. And then that was it, I went back to Smokie. And when it came out it was a big hit.

He is such a prolific writer, isn’t he?

Yeah.

So how did it come about this time around? Certainly, it was a surprise for me, that particular session. Although Mike had talked about you, I didn’t know quite what was gonna happen at that day (laughs).

Well, what happened was… I was doing a gig in Watford and I got a text message from Mike saying, is it all right if I come with a few people to see you in Watford, can you put my name on the door. I said, yes sure. So he came to Watford, and then came backstage after the show, and we sat and had a whisky or two. And we just started talking about old days and stuff, and he said, well next time when you’re around come down to his flat in London. I think about a week or two after that I went down on his flat and I stayed the night there. We just suddenly came about why don’t we record something, because it’s been a while… And then we started looking for songs, I had some songs written and I played him some songs and he played me some.

 

 

Cos it really is a co-produced project, and it just shines through the music. There were some of Mike’s songs but you really had a good set of songs prepared.

Yeah. I think there were 12 songs in the album, 7 of mine, 4 of Mike’s and another one we did a cover the old Easybeats song “Hello, How Are You”. And we were writing together as well. We started writing about 3 different things, we hadn’t finished them in time to record it into the album, so we actually will do a couple of songs. But nevertheless we had a good bunch of songs anyway. Though it wasn’t that final.

It was a spontaneity. I think we had a magnificent band together with Dale Davis on bass, Alex Reeves on drums, David Tims on keys, Nick Horne on guitar and Geoff Carline who also co-writes with you. What fantastic sessions they were.

 

 

Well, it was great cos we did them like in a good old way of doing it. We put tracks down all playing at the same time, which is just a great way of making an album cos you get a feeling and you get an input of all different people instead of just trying, you know, sometimes when you put down tracks yourself. It goes back to that original way of recordings. And it suggests a certain type of studio managing.

Most definitely, yeah. I mean I prefer to record like that whenever I can. I mean for me that is the most enjoyable way of a coming together and everybody playing together as you are saying. Elements of spontaneity really bring forth really authentic, new set of recordings, a record. And Mike is such a hands-on as well, isn’t he? It’s not like he just sits in the back of the room and doesn’t do anything, you know.

No, no, he’s always been like that, back in those early days as well. He doesn’t just listen and go: ok, do something different. He’s got ideas, why do you do this or why don’t we do this, try this and this. And that was great about him as a producer cos he’s very active about anything what’s going on. I think everybody likes that, all musicians like to be getting a direction. And also the freedom.

And then, the grand idea of strings.

Yeah.

We started this in 2019, just to explain to listeners, and then we were in a finishing stages and almost… God, how long later was it?

We finished basically at the end of 2019 doing pretty much all of the recording, with all the tracks down and all the vocals down. And then we wanted to put strings on, we were gonna come back in a new year and do it, and then we couldn’t. We ended up doing it in April or May.

That’s right. I think we did it the same day Abbey Road also opened the doors after lockdown. We recorded distanced string players in Studio 4.

I got a guy called Rob Taggart, he did the string arrangement. He used to play keyboards in my touring band, so I know him for years and years. He does a lot of string arrangements now, for shows and TV as well. And I knew he could do great arrangements, so I just said to Mike…

He knows your writing. You know, it’s like with Geoff who can understand you without words, and so you all work together so well.

He did some great arrangements for the tracks, I think he put strings on about 8-9 tracks. He did really great arrangements. So when the string players came in, they played them easily and quick. So that string session we did in one or two days.

I think it was like one day tracking and then we mixed it, you and I together.

Yeah, the next day we started mixing it.

And now, a year later, finally we are looking at legitimate release date.

It’s coming out in October, I think. That’s the latest news I’ve had. It’s taking a while because, you know, you couldn’t get anything happening, it’s like everything is on stop. So it took a while to get it together.

And do you have some dates lined up as well with that?

I do, but I can’t be 100% confirmed that it gonna happen because everything from the last year was postponed until this year. And some of the things this year have been postponed until the next year already. I’ve got some stuff starting in September, I’m gonna be doing some stuff in Germany, then I’m going to Warsaw, Moscow and St.Petersburg… I have a few dates coming up in September, and I’m hoping that they all continue to be there.

Wow, that’s only a month away really, six weeks or so!

Yeah. And I’ve got to rehearse with the Band again because… I’ve got to do some songs of the new album anyway, so they all must be learning new songs. But also even just to go with the stuff that we are already doing in set. Cos we didn’t play for year and a half. We need to get together and get tight. That would take about 10 days.

It’s like if you haven’t ridden a bike for a while, it’s not like you forget it, you just can’t get a breath.

Exactly.

Do they do back harmonies with you as well live?

Yeah. I’ve got a girl on keyboards, she sings as well, a girl on acoustic guitar and vocals and a bass player, a male singer. And Geoff who is a lead guitar player, he sings a bit. So yeah, there’s back vocals on there, we’ve managed to get that sort of harmony sound, I need it, especially for the Smokie songs.

You know, you are a true musketeer, you really are.

Well, I love it, Jon. What have would I do if I’d stopped, you know. People sometimes say, why you are still doing it?

Oh, why not? You might as well. If you can, why would you stop?!

Yeah, I like it. Why would I stop doing something I like doing, you know. I don’t like the travelling, I’ve got to say. I bear travelling worse and worse, you know, the older I get. But you have to do that so you can get to the point where you go on stage and play. Because that’s the best thing of everything, you know.

That’s the reward, isn’t it?

No point in recording stuff if you are not able to get a response, that’s what I mean.

During that time period you recorded acoustic version of one of these new songs, “Hey Mr. Musicman”. And you got millions of views!

Yeah. I just put up mike and the guitar and a little video camera, and just recorded it sitting and singing it within acoustic. And it has got so many views, fantastic! And this is a song they never heard before.

You’ve got whole new fan base!

“Streets Of Manhattan”. What’s it about?

The music (laughs).

Tell us a story, is there a story with it?

It’s not a story really. I just had riff. I’ll tell you the story but it’s nothing to do with what is the song about. I originally wrote that song because me and Bonnie Tyler were gonna do some duet stuff. And I wrote about 4 songs. One of them is called “Battle Of The Sexes”, and she actually recorded it with Rod Stuart as a duet. And this the other one, “Streets Of Manhattan”, I was gonna do with her as a duet, but she wasn’t sure in it or what, anyway. I didn’t do it with her, but I had written a song for her. I wrote it as a piece where there could be a place for 2 people to sing, just a bit sliding lower register part and then it goes in this high where there supposed to be her part. I just had this title, “Streets Of Manhattan”, and I didn’t know what the hell it was gonna be about. So then when I started writing it, I just wrote about somebody you’ve met, somebody on the streets of Manhattan, she was alone, so we see her in the end of the hope, you know.

It sounds like it could be from the movie already. It’s a very grand New York sounding track.

Yeah, yeah. And the strings in it… (sings)

So we now are gonna play a track with a cover version “Hello, How Are You” originally by …

… The Easybeats. That’s because… Well, Mike is from Australia anyway. The Easybeats were an Australian band who were very big in the 60s. So when Mike was a teenager he was a huge fan of them. Of course, I didn’t know it. Then, when I was a teenager I was a fan of The Easybeats cos they were played more of a year, and did that “Friday On My Mind” and all these different songs. And one of the songs they had was “Hello, How Are You” and I always liked that. So we were talking about the songs for the album, and we started talking about The Easybeats and that was how about we came to the idea, why don’t we do one of their songs? So we decided to try doing their “Hello, How Are You”. It turned out great.

Well, Mike guided vocal in that, didn’t he?  I love that version. You have a real sort of majestic way of delivering. Your lyrics are majestic anyway. You put all that to that song. And it does sound like one of your songs and anyone who didn’t know it was a cover would think that was yours, I think. Cos you made it your own. This version is almost Bowiesque.

Yeah, I could remember when we were doing a vocal, and we did it a bit lower than the original record, and there was a line: “The water filled hole in my shoe…” and someone said, it sounds like David Bowie (laughs). Maybe you said it? It’s on there anyway, especially on that line, yeah.

Fantastic.

Actually that it is me to say: tell us your David Bowie story.

All right. Well, “Oh Yeah” was a song we recorded at Decca. We weren’t even called Smokie at that point, we were called Kindness. I think it was about late 1972. The song itself is nothing like “The Jean Genie”. But we had a manager at that time called Dave Eager who was a radio DJ in Manchester. And he went to see Bowie and then he went backstage and he played him that song. And Bowie must had liked it because a few months later “The Jean Genie” comes out (laughs). But if you listen to these 2 things, you know, it’s amazing how goes this sound.

Chris, it’s been such an amazing pleasure to work for you and I’m so excited for the sound to come out. Really, I feel like a new adventure with this kind of music.

Yeah, I think we did a good job on it, Jon, with 3 of us, so I’m really looking forward to it.

Chris Norman. It’s been a pleasure and thank you so much for joining me on a Moonshow!

Great to talk to you, Jon.

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