Pop legend Leo Sayer looking to build on his ‘Restless Years’ ahead of tour visit to Leeds

Leo Sayer. (Picture: PA Photo/Kristian Dowling/Lucas Dawson Photgraphy)
Leo Sayer. (Picture: PA Photo/Kristian Dowling/Lucas Dawson Photgraphy)
  • Leo Sayer was a big star in the Seventies but he is still going strong. Andy Welch spoke to him ahead of his appearance in Leeds next month.
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He may be synonymous with Seventies nostalgia, but Leo Sayer still feels like a ‘production machine’.

As you might expect from someone who’s had a 43-year-long career, he’s known ups and downs, huge waves of popularity, and times when he couldn’t even get arrested, as the old saying goes.

Now, he’s probably somewhere in between; far from cool (was he ever?), but around long enough to deserve some respect, with a good number of hits under his belt and fans all over the world.

His new album, Restless Years, is what’s got a few people interested again.

It’s his first new material since 2008’s Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow, which was only released in Australia, the country he’s officially called home since becoming a citizen there in 2009.

As we talk, his Aussie accent becomes stronger and stronger, veering from a native Sussex twang at the beginning, to full-on, Home And Away extra by the end.

He’s excited about Restless Years, which came out in January but, he feels, wasn’t promoted anywhere near as well as it should have been, despite hitting the Top 40 during its first week of release.

Tickets for his forthcoming UK tour are also selling thick and fast, leaving Sayer happy that 2015 is going to see him do “some very good business”.

It’s a bit of a change in fortune since his last tour in these parts, which again, he feels, was under-promoted and led to him and organisers making a loss.

This time around, he’s a got “a terrific team” helping him, has booked some better, bigger venues and, of course, has new music to perform, which adds a new dynamic.

His days of being seen as a relic of the Seventies, when he first appeared, decked out in Pierrot costume and make-up, singing The Show Must Go On, are behind him.

“On the last tour, I was trying to break away from tours I’d done previously with the likes of David Cassidy and The Osmonds. Those Seventies package tours,” he says.

“I wanted to break that mould. I wanted to tell people, ‘Yeah, I’m still recording’, and that I can still sing as well as I could. I still view myself as a current artist. It’s an attitude thing.”

He says attendees on such package tours, unfortunately for him, only want to hear the Seventies hits - You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, When I Need You, Moonlighting, Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance) and One Man Band. But it’s understandable; You Make Me Feel Like Dancing reached No 2 in the UK, and topped the chart in the US, while follow-up single, When I Need You, hit No 1 on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Without dissing it too much, those tours are for people who want to revel in nostalgia, and they’re not really fussed whether an artist has aged or can still sing well.

“I found those shows easy - I’m still in good voice,” he adds, “but it didn’t matter and it got rather depressing. They’d have accepted me if I’d gone up there and rolled through the motions.”

It does rather sound like biting the hand that feeds him, and while the idea of endlessly performing songs from the mid-Seventies pomp of your career is likely to grate after a while, surely signing up to tour after tour of nostalgia trips isn’t the way to get out of such obligations?

On the plus side, being stuck on the cabaret circuit made Sayer want to do something new, and spurred him on to put a band together, consisting of session players he insists are Australia’s best.

“They remind me of the guys I worked with in Los Angeles in the Seventies,” he says. “They can play anything.”

Sayer had recorded Restless Years - a collection of new songs and, in the case of Sometimes Things Go Wrong, old numbers he wrote years and years ago - in his own home studio.

But knowing he needed to do something a little more spectacular, he took his recruited band into a new studio, and they “wisely disregarded” everything he’d done and rearranged the songs themselves.

He’s very happy with the results, and hopes the album will reignite his career.

He talks about wanting to play Glastonbury - “people have told me for years I should play the Sunday afternoon heritage slot” - and is already itching to get back into the studio to record his next album.

“I was touring in Australia last year and I was piling the songs up,” he says. “I’ve just moved to a new place in the country where I’m building a new studio, and I want to get in there to start recording other songs I’ve got stored up.

“I must have 300 songs unreleased or unrecorded, lying around. I’m a production machine, it never stops.

“And I am happy about that, because the moment those ideas dry up, you’re done. I reckon artists only record 20% of the songs they write or have ideas for, so I’ve got to keep going.

“For now, I’ve got Restless Years done, and I couldn’t be more proud of the way it’s come out.

“I’m 67, so very happy to be as lively as I was, and to be as active as I am,” Sayer continues. “To still be a player is great.”

n Leo Sayer’s new album Restless Years is released on August 28.

n He begins a UK tour on September 9. He will be appearing at the City Varieties in Leeds on September 22. Tickets from 0113 243 0808 or online via www.cityvarieties.co.uk

• For more information visit www.leosayer.com

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