Interview with Chris Farlowe – Celebrating the Swinging 60s in style
We have another brilliant interview for you today with Chris Farlowe ahead of his gig at St David’s Hall on Wednesday 7 March 7.30pm. So get ready to celebrate the Swinging 60s in style with some of the biggest stars from an unforgettable era!
The Sensational 60s Experience is back at St David’s Hall on Wednesday 7 March with a brand new production for 2018, and its best line-up yet featuring three UK chart-topping acts and two other classic bands.
This year’s tour includes Mike Pender (the iconic frontman of Merseybeat favourites The Searchers), much-loved Manchester group Herman’s Hermits, Brummie beat rockers The Fortunes and hometown heroes The New Amen Corner who look forward to performing once again in front of a Cardiff crowd.
Also featured is the wonderfully soulful voice of Chris Farlowe, who is most fondly remembered for the No.1 single Out of Time, and his memorable hit Handbags & Gladrags. Chris famously fronted the 60s groups The Thunderbirds and Colosseum, and has worked with the very best names in the business including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Van Morrison!
Neil Collins chats to Chris Farlowe about the tour and his sensational 60 years in the spotlight.
You’ve performed so many times over the years in Cardiff. Are you looking forward to returning to St David’s Hall?
I always like playing there – nice hall, nice people, great crowd and they like me so it’s all very good.
Talk us through the rest of the bill of this year’s Sensational 60s Experience. There are some top acts involved.
It’s nice to see some of the old names, and they’re all great acts. I didn’t work with some of the Liverpool and Manchester-based bands back in the 60s as I was based in London, but now we’re much older though we can meet up with each other and it’s good to be on the same bill.
Your name is immediately linked with your 1966 No.1 hit Out of Time. Apparently, you didn’t like the song initially. Has your opinion of it changed over the years?
I first heard it when Mick Jagger played it to me on his acoustic guitar I thought “it sounds like a pop song, I don’t know about this.” But he said to me once we get into the studio it will sound a lot different with a full orchestra on it, and I thought “Wow, that sounds like a good record now!” So I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth that’s for sure!
You were signed to (Rolling Stones manager) Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label and were soon rubbing shoulders with Jagger & Richards, who wrote Out of Time for you which became a huge No.1 hit. Were you pinching yourself?
It was No.1 for one week and it was the same week as England winning the World Cup in football, so it was a double celebration for me and something I’ll always be proud of.
The music seemed to perfectly capture the euphoric feel throughout the country. It must’ve been incredible to perform that song again at the 50th anniversary of the World Cup win at Wembley Arena in 2016?
It did yeah, it was perfect timing. The 50th-anniversary concert was really interesting, and it was a nice to be invited. I didn’t know it was going to be with a big orchestra, so it sounded great and the crowd loved it!
I first heard of Chris Farlowe through the Manic Street Preachers’ and Stereophonics’ covers of Out of Time and Handbags & Gladrags. What did you make of their versions?
They’re ok. I don’t mind Rod Stewart’s version of Handbags, but I think mine is the definitive version. A lot of DJs still recognise it too when they say “This is Chris Farlowe’s proper version of Handbags & Gladrags”, so it’s still recognised as the best.
Last question about Out of Time now – you must have performed it hundreds, perhaps even thousands of times since 1966. Do you ever tire of performing it live?
No, never. I love singing, and I love doing my hit records and my newer stuff, so it’s a good combination.
Your parents had quite different reactions to you becoming a singer. Was your mother’s support crucial in that you took your early influences from her records?
My mother was a pianist and very much into her music, so she introduced me to Doris Day’s songs. My father was a soldier in the Second World War, and he wasn’t really interested in any music. He had been through the trauma of fighting in Normandy, so he wasn’t really interested in my music career.
But my mother used to play me Doris Day stuff and Frankie Lane, and then I moved onto Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. I then started gigging, and I learned from those records.
Was there a specific moment that triggered in your mind “this is what I want to do?”
When I was a little kid I saw this film called Blackboard Jungle, and the main theme song was Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets. When I heard that I thought “Oh great, I know what I want to be – I want to be a rock’n’roll singer!”
In this age of instant downloads and TV talent contests, was it a more difficult time to get spotted in the 60s?
You had to be good. Most of them on these shows now like The X Factor just want to be on TV. Their Mum and Dad say “You’re a good singer”, and then it’s Simon Cowell telling them “Well actually, you’re not.”
Some of them are terrible, but when we came up – the likes of Joe Cocker, Steve Winwood, Led Zeppelin – we had to be good, and we were! Now they could have a big hit or win The X Factor, but a year later they could be nobody working back at Tesco’s.
I read that Paul McCartney had tentatively written Yesterday for you. You did release the song yourself subsequently, but do you still think of it as one of those “what if” moments?
He offered me the song when we were in a bar in London, and I said: “I like that.” So he said, “Give us a call tomorrow and we’ll talk about it.” Well, I must’ve got a bit drunk that night and forgot all about it the next day, so that’s history. I was happy with the version I recorded later on though.
You joined progressive jazz-rockers Colosseum in September 1970. How did the association with them come about?
Well, Jon (Hiseman) was looking for a good singer because Clem Clempson – who was the guitarist and singer with the band – never had a strong voice. So Jon got me down there for an audition. I sang two songs and he gave me the job and said: “You’re exactly what we’re looking for.”
I first discovered Colosseum via a playlist from Noel Gallagher featuring The Kettle, which was also used as a sample by Fatboy Slim for the single Ya Mama. Have these endorsements helped you reach a younger audience?
I don’t think so. I just think it’s through the goodness of my own voice and the way that I sing that has created a support behind me.
In recent years, you’ve performed often with Van Morrison. I assume you’re great admirers of each other’s work?
Definitely, and we go back a long way. When he was in Ireland he used to come and watch our band. He was nobody at the time, but now he’s one of the biggest stars in the world so it’s really great to work with him.
Chris Farlowe & The Thunderbirds recently released The Beginning album, which was produced by a 16-year-old Jimmy Page. It was initially recorded in 1961 and has taken well over 50 years to see the light of day. You must be happy to finally have it out?
I knew it would come out one day, and it’s incredible to think it was made even before the first Beatles album came out!
Jimmy was a genius even back then. He had his own little studio in his house, and I was always amazed that such a young guy could have everything together like that.
You’ve had a remarkable career over the last 60 years working with some of the greats in the music business. Have you got any ambitions left that you would still like to fulfil?
(Laughs) Make more money! I would like to have another No.1 but that’s pie in the sky, so I’ll keep performing until I fall down!
Chris Farlowe will be at St David’s Hall Wednesday 7 March 7.30pm are £29.50 (plus an optional £1 postage fee).
To book your seats, please visit www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk or call the Box Office on 029 2087 8444.