One of Australia’s favourite entertainers, Leo Sayer, is celebrating 40 years in the music industry. As he marks this milestone with a massive national tour, Leo tells FOCUS about the show and his career highlights.You’re currently on your 40th Anniversary tour. Tell us about the show.
I’m right in the middle of the tour, actually. We’ve got a great band with about 120 years’ experience collectively! They’re all great Australian musicians who have been around for ages, just like me. It’s a classic show – we don’t use any trickery or effects, and we don’t have a choreographer; we’re not a boy band! The audience is going mad at the minute, because of all the songs and the hits that we’re playing.
Since 1974 I’ve built a very special following here in Australia and now that I live here, I can avail myself of the opportunities and not just play the big shows in the big cities, but come up to the country.
This will be the second time we play Coffs Harbour. There’s always a great audience that comes from around there. I like taking it to the country, because basically in a way I get to meet the people in their own environment – which is great, because people really let their hair down there rather than having to take that long bus trip to somewhere in the city.
You grew up in England but are now an Australian citizen. What are the main differences you see between the music industry in both countries?
England, because it’s a smaller country, is very media driven. The music and show business industry there suffers from a kind of reinvention thing, where it’s got to turn over new talent and new names, rather than build on the talent that’s there and bring them up to hero status. It tends to be an atmosphere of debunking the old to always bring on new names. So basically you’ve got youth culture and youth media being very strong, so a guy who’s 63-years-old like me wouldn’t have much value to them.
Since I’ve come here, it’s very different. We seem to revere the older generation, particularly our Rock heros. We tend to want to keep them going and we look at them as the leaders in Australia rather than the latest young things. Even though there are shows like Australia’s Got Talent and X Factor, they don’t rule the record industry. The music industry has many facets here, and you’ll find a lot of those facets have died off in England. If I still lived there, I would certainly not be doing 50 shows a year. That’s the main difference – here the music of my time and my genre is celebrated, rather than pushed to the background.
You’ve had an illustrious career over the past four decades. What have been some of the highlights?
I think the biggest highlight for me was when it all started. I wrote songs for Roger Daltrey. Well, I didn’t write songs for him … he liked the songs that I was singing. When I came down to record at his studio and after about 4 or 5 days and getting to know Roger in a little way, he turned around one day and said, “I really love these songs – will you write me some?” And we went, “WHAT?!” So we gave him the songs that we weren’t using to record a solo album, and Adam Faith and David Courtenay, my co-writers, both produced that album. When Roger put the album out, there was a single coming off the album and I was going to hear a song that I’d recorded, Giving It All Away, on the radio.
It was the biggest thrill just driving around that day with David, because we HAD to listen to it in the car; it was imperative that we heard it on the car radio. We started off about 6 in the morning and drove around the whole day. You can imagine the crisp packets and empty bottles, with one of us running to use the loo in the garage and the people getting annoyed because the engine was still running while we’re filling it up. In the end, we went and got petrol cans and risked setting ourselves on fire by filling up the tank with the engine running, because that was the only way the radio would keep going. And it wasn’t until 7 in the evening that they played it! That’s my biggest memory … hanging around that day waiting for it. And then when it came on, they said: “This song was written by a young chap called Leo Sayer, and he’s going to make a solo album himself. Have a listen … Roger Daltrey as you’ve never heard him before.” Nothing beats that thrill, and I still get goosebumps at the thought of sitting in that car as we were listening, me and Dave looking a bit like the last scene of Thelma and Louise. We kind of listened with shock and thought, “This is it!” Nothing has ever really been bigger since then. Of course the achievements have been far greater, but nothing beats that feeling.
Have you got any other projects in the pipeline?
I have a new album on the way; I’m just trying to find the time to do it! To me, time management is the biggest problem – trying to fit everything in. But that’s on the way and I’ll be interested to see how it’s received, because I’m thinking very much like when I first came into this business that songs have to do something and have to be some use. I would say a lot of it is quite controversial in some ways, but that’s what songwriters have to do. The world is a bit of a mess at the moment, I think, so it’s very important to influence things for the good.
Thanks Leo. Good luck with the tour.