Festival preview: Rick Astley at Let’s Rock Leeds

Rick Astley
Rick Astley
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Over the past ten years 80s revival festivals have become big business in Britain. A revolving cast of characters including the likes of Go West, T’Pau and The Bangles have packed out arenas, football stadiums and race courses all over the country, performing a handful of their biggest hits to a crowd of tens of thousands, all full of nostalgia for the decade that gave us the first mobile phone, the internet and the space shuttle.

One of the 80s biggest stars, who shot to worldwide fame with his number one single Never Gonna Give You Up, will be gracing the stage in Leeds this month as part of the UK ‘Let’s Rock’ tour.

Rick Astley has sold over 40 million records in his career. He scored eight top 10 hits and a number one album in the UK, and thanks to the YouTube phenomenon of ‘Rickrolling’, his hit Never Gonna Give You Up has earned him a whole new generation of fans.

Speaking to him ahead of the Let’s Rock tour hitting Temple Newsam, Astley explains that the former rivalry between his musical contemporaries has now become camaraderie. “We all saw each other back in the day, but there was a bit of a competition going on then, as well. We were all after the same chart, everybody wanted to be on the biggest TV show and blah blah, whereas now it’s much more of a grin, really; I turn up in a field somewhere to do these shows and I look at the line-up and think ‘oh great, I’ll hang around and see them’.”

Is the notion of only having time to play a handful of hits frustrating, artistically? “I know that if I’ve only got eight songs that night to sing I think ‘OK, well at least I’ve got eight top 10 singles!’ In its own way that’s quite nice. Then there’s the other side where you get three or four songs under your belt and you think ‘Right, I’m cooking now, I can hear properly, I know what’s going on’. It’s 50/50, swings and roundabouts.”

Renowned for being one of the most down-to-earth men in music, Astley laughs off his award for being the ‘Best Act Ever’ from MTV. “That was ridiculous, really. A lot of it was to do with that Rickrolling thing, and I think MTV just thought ‘what can we do to jump on that bandwagon?’ It’s just preposterous to put me in there, they were being kind of ironic.

“Thankfully, the European public were ironic enough to vote for me and I won it. I have got the award but I didn’t go and accept it. The only reason I’ve got it is because my daughter was a teenager at the time and she liked the idea of the MTV thing.”

Astley retired from the music industry for over a decade to pursue a normal life. But after a series of successful shows in Japan he was once again bitten by the stage bug and says he enjoys working now more than ever. “I’m in a really good position, I’ve been to some amazing places – Australia, Japan, Canada, and I can do all of that, come home, go to Tesco and no one bats an eyelid. I have a very quiet life yet I get to sing in front of thousands of people, it’s a bit odd but it’s great.”

When Astley, now 49, began performing again after 15 years of retirement he often found himself headlining these events. Nonetheless, Rick says, surprisingly, that top of the bill isn’t in fact the best slot. “On the one hand, of course, it’s nice to be last on, but in truth the best slot is second-to-last on,” he laughs. “If you’re last on at a big event like that, chances are there’s a percentage of people – even if Led Zeppelin reformed – the last two songs, people are going ‘let’s get to the car park’. You’re better off being second to last, that’s the best slot to me because everyone’s still in the mood, but wherever I am I’ll just enjoy it, to be honest.”

Let’s Rock Leeds takes place at Temple Newsam on June 21. For details visit http://www.letsrockleeds.com/