Chris Farlowe Interview

British blues legend Chris Farlowe speaks to The Merseysider about his incredible career and his upcoming shows in the region.

A great line-up of original Sixties acts hits Merseyside in the coming weeks, with the Solid Silver Sixties Show playing Southport Theatre (26th March) and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (19th April).

Topping the bill are Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, who are reuniting especially for the tour. The group were originally formed in 1958 and famously were signed by Decca Records in preference to the Beatles in 1962. Hits such as Do You Love Me and Twist And Shout followed, before Brian left the band for a solo career in 1966. The Tremeloes then had several further hits, including Silence Is Golden and Even The Bad Times Are Good.

Brian Poole and the Tremeloes

Brian Poole and the Tremeloes

Also on the bill is Wayne Fontana, who with his band The Mindbenders had a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic with The Game Of Love. Other memorable singles included Um Um Um Um Um Um (a cover of Major Lance’s American soul hit) and Pamela, Pamela (written by Graham Gouldman, who later formed 10cc). The great Chris Montez is the show’s American star. He toured Britain with the Beatles in their early days (he was headlining and they were a support act), and had many international hits, including the uptempo numbers Let’s Dance and Some Kinda Fun, and, a few years later, beautiful ballads such as The More I See You and Call Me. Backing the acts as well as performing their own hits are Vanity Fare, whose successes included Hitching A Ride and Early In The Morning.

Chris Montez

Chris Montez

Completing the line-up is Chris Farlowe, widely regarded as Britain’s finest ever blues and soul singer. Chris has always had tremendous respect from his peers and over the years numerous musical legends have played with him, produced his records or written songs for him. Chris recently spoke exclusively to The Merseysider about his remarkable career and the upcoming tour.

Chris began by telling us about his early musical influences, and the first name he mentions might come as a surprise. ‘The first singer I remember hearing a lot of was Doris Day. My mum was a pianist and liked her records, along with singers like Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald. Then rock’n’roll  came along and I really got into that – people like Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Burnette. I remember the Johnny Burnette Rock’n’Roll Trio LP coming out. When I heard that, I just thought, “Wow” – that record was a big influence on me. Then there were the blues and soul singers I listened to, like Bobby Bland and John Lee Hooker.’

Chris is now 73, and his musical career stretches back to the 1950s, when he formed a skiffle group which won a national competition. He started making records in 1962 and his big breakthrough a few years later came of course with Out Of Time, often cited as one of the Sixties’ very finest records. Mick Jagger and Keith Richard wrote the song for Chris, and Mick produced the single and appeared on it as a backing singer. Chris recalls, ‘Funnily enough I didn’t like the song at first. I saw myself as an r’n’b and blues singer, and it seemed too “pop” to me. But Mick said, wait until you hear it with a full orchestra behind it. And he was right – it’s a great song. I’ve still got photographs of the recording session.’

Another song written for Chris was the classic Mike D’Abo composition Handbags and Gladrags. Chris had a hit with it, and in later years there have also been successful versions by the likes of Rod Stewart and the Stereophonics. We ask Chris how he feels about these later versions – have they stolen some of his glory? ‘Well, I’m proud my version’s the original and that Mike D’Abo wrote it for me. And when it’s played my name often gets mentioned anyway!’

A song that slipped through his fingers however was Yesterday. He tells us the story. ‘I was having a drink with Paul McCartney at a London club called the Scotch of St James. I asked him what he was up to and he said he’d been working on a song, which later turned out to be Yesterday. He told me he thought it was ideal material for me and asked me to give him a ring. Unfortunately I got blind drunk, woke up the next morning with a hangover and never did anything about it.’ He did though record the song for an album a year or two later, and also cut another Beatles composition, recording a superb version of We Can Work It Out. ‘I did my own arrangement of the song for that single and tried to do something different with it.’

Another interesting encounter with a musical legend involved soul giant Otis Redding. ‘I was playing a show at the Flamingo club in London and someone told me he was in the audience watching me sing. I thought they were having me on but afterwards I was in the dressing room, the door opened and he walked in. He said, “Man, you’re a great singer, you’re a soul brother”. He told me he was doing a TV show on Friday and asked me to appear on it with him.’ That show was one of the most celebrated episodes of the classic TV series Ready Steady Go (you can see clips from it on YouTube). Otis performed several songs, Chris had his own spot and the two – accompanied by Eric Burdon of the Animals – join forces for a rousing finale. Chris remembers, ‘After that we did some more concerts together and became good friends, so it was a terrible shock when he died.’ 

These days Chris is often to be found on stage with another music  titan, Van Morrison. Again, Chris performs his own set and then joins Van for duets on songs like Stand By Me and James Brown’s It’s A Man’s World. ‘I love working with Van and it’s flattering that he likes me as a singer. We started doing shows together in 2001 and there have been a lot of concerts since. There was a Royal Albert Hall show a few months back and we played the Dome in Brighton just last week.’

Chris at a previous Liverpool Philharmonic appearance

Chris at a previous Liverpool Philharmonic appearance

Chris has of course played Merseyside many times, and his name is on the Wall of Fame in Mathew Street, listing artists who performed at the original Cavern club. ‘I played the Cavern three or four times. Of course it’s only later that I appreciated the significance of it – at the time in some ways it was just another gig. But I’ve played a lot of venues in Liverpool – including the Philharmonic many times – and the audiences have always been fabulous.’

If you listen to Chris on stage or on record it’s obvious why he’s known as a ‘singer’s singer’, and why he enjoys such strong relationships with other musicians. For the upcoming tour he’ll be renewing old friendships and making one or two new ones. ‘I’ve worked with Brian Poole many times, though I don’t think I’ve ever played with the Tremeloes. I also know Wayne Fontana well, and I’m looking forward to working with Chris Montez – he’s really good.’Chris’s career now runs on several parallel tracks – appearances on Sixties tours, his own standalone shows backed by the Norman Beaker band, concerts with Van Morrison and performing as a member of the band Colosseum on their reunion tours (he tells us he’s touring Europe with them in the autumn, though regrettably there are no British shows as yet).

It’s great that there’s no sign of Chris Farlowe slowing down, and give the consistently high quality of his performances no opportunity to see him should be missed.

The Solid Silver 60s Show: Southport Theatre, Weds. 26 March (Tel. 0844 847 2380); Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Sat. 19 April (Tel. 0151 709 3789)