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Friday, 18 April 2014

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‘I’d rather die on stage than on my couch’

LEGENDARY songwriter Albert Hammond is best known for penning hits for the likes of Diana Ross and Johnny Cash, but he is also a successful singer in his own right. He talked to KARL STEEL ahead of his first UK tour in almost 30 years.

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ALBERT HAMMOND

IT is often said of Albert Hammond, even if you don’t know the name, you will know his songs.

The London-born songwriter is responsible for some of the best known hits of the last 50 years, racking up more than 360 million record sales worldwide.

A well-known performer in his own right, his biggest successes have come at the hands of other artists; Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time, Johnny Cash’s Smokey Factory Blues, Diana Ross’ When You Tell Me That You Love Me and Tina Turner’s Way of the World are just a handful of the major numbers he’s penned, and even more recently he teamed up with Duffy to help write and produce her 2010 hit album Endlessly.

Even though he turned his back on a career as a pop star shortly after the birth of his son, Albert Hammond Jr – who has also achieved international acclaim as the guitarist in The Strokes – he has never shied away from the occasional live performance given half a chance.

The US-based living legend, who turns 68 later this month, begins his first run of UK shows since 1974 this weekend, calling in at Kendal Brewery Arts Centre next Thursday.

Taking the form of the recent Sky Arts Songbook series, he will be performing his favourite numbers unplugged and discussing how they came about, providing a fascinating insight into one of the greatest creative minds in the music business.

“It’s like the Sky Arts programme where I’ll introduce the songs and talk about my influences and that kind of thing, so it’ll certainly be interesting,” said Hammond, speaking from his home in New York.

“I am used to playing huge venues so I’m hoping this will be like sitting in the living room with my friends, and if people want to sing with me then go ahead. If they want to ask me a question about songwriting, then I’m sure there’ll be a chance.

“This is the first time I’ve done a show like this so I’m quite excited about it all.”

Having been raised in the British colonial outpost of Gibraltar, where his parents originated from, the Latin influence is hard to ignore.

A number of Hammond’s albums have been recorded in Spanish and he penned Cantaré, Cantarás, the Latin American equivalent of We Are The World. His popularity in that part of the world has allowed him to play to stadiums in Central and South America consistently for more than 30 years. But here, in his home country, he is relatively unknown. With this tour Hammond is hoping to remind music fans of his talent, playing the biggest hits as they were originally intended to sound.

He said: “I think of myself a songwriter first, but I love to play live just as much. If someone else is singing your songs, you never get your applause – someone else does. As a performer you get your applause and it feels good.

“I always consider everything I write to be my own, and if another artist has had success with my songs, I’ll sing them as they were when they were written.

“When I hear other versions, I love it. When Ace of Base covered Don’t Turn Around, it sounded nothing like the Tina Turner version.

“A song can be written on just a guitar, and it is up to the artists to fill it up with their own arrangements.

“This is just the songs played as I imagined them.”

With blues, country, pop and rock hits to his name, it is his versatility that has kept him in demand for six decades now.

His desire to work with his son has been well publicised, while there are still a host of younger artists seeking his services – and Hammond wouldn’t rule out anything, because he believes that “music is music”.

“Even when I get asked to write a song I don’t think of the artist, I do it for me and then I make it work for the artist,” he explained.

“I think music is music, so I would be comfortable writing for any genre – whether it is for Enrique Iglesias, Diana Ross or Steppenwolf, it doesn’t matter.

“I don’t sit down and write every day, but whenever I get an inspiration I sit down and put something together.

“I don’t write to sell records, because I don’t think anyone wants to buy my music these days.

“Record companies aren’t interested in an old man like me any more, and the radio won’t play it.

“You have to keep your feet on the ground and realise what you do it for. I just want to go out there and play to people and try to pick up fans wherever I go.

“There’s no point in giving up. I’d rather die on stage than sat on my couch. If I was working in a box factory, then I’d be waiting for the day I can retire, but how can you retire from doing something as beautiful as this?”

l Albert Hammond’s Songbook, with support from Lotte Mullan, comes to Kendal Brewery Arts Centre next Thursday, May 10.

Doors open at 7.30pm and tickets are available from the venue’s box office.

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