Still showing the way

exg oct 15 tony christie

exg oct 15 tony christie - Credit: Archant

Tony Christie has been asking the way to Amarillo for close to 45 years, but his world-wide success has been built on so much more than his biggest hit single. Holly Eells asks him about the latest innovations in his music and why he might soon be asking the way to villages around Saffron Walden

Despite multi-million album sales across the world, Tony Christie is still best known for his classic hit single and double UK chart success, Is This The Way to Amarillo? However, the Yorkshire singer has much more to offer and is making a return to the UK circuit on October 2 at The Cliffs Pavilion in Southend on Sea with an innovative new musical approach.

Over the last few decades he has remained big in the international charts and it was his European success which encouraged him to immigrate to Spain. Nevertheless, moving back to the UK ten years ago, after his successful number one with the re-released single for Comic Relief in partnership with Peter Kay, he is now looking forward to his UK tour with an exciting folk cross-over band, Ranagri, and in particular his date in Essex.

‘I have performed at The Cliffs Pavilion many times over the last 40 years. It is a lovely old theatre with a good atmosphere, which is great. I also like the fact it is in Essex because it gives me the opportunity to visit my daughter, who lives near Dunmow, and it means I can avoid staying in a hotel!’ says Tony.

‘I like Essex a lot,’ Tony continues. ‘It is a nice part of the world. My wife and I have been toying with the idea of moving to the area and to be nearer our daughter. It is far away from the centre of town or the big cities, which we like, and provides great transport links. We have been looking at properties in the area, especially Saffron Walden, and it would make life so much easier.’

The hit singer, who will be performing only five exclusive dates during October and November, recently recorded a collaborative Irish folk album with Ranagri. The end result is an album titled The Great Irish Song Book, which takes Tony back to his Irish roots, and he has dedicated this album to Paddy Fitzgerald, his father who passed away ten years ago. His father and grandparents were part of a travelling ceilidh band from County Mayo and he has recorded some of the songs that he remembers dearly from his childhood.

Tony explains: ‘I said yes to making this album because of my ancestry. I was brought up listening to lots of Irish songs. However, I got involved with Ranagri because I have known the guitar player, Dom, for more than 25 years. He used to be in a band with my son, Sean, and his brother, Tony, used to be the original keyboard player in The Charlatans. I have known them as a family for a really long time.

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‘When Dom founded Ranagri, which my son is now managing, he thought it would be a good idea for us to work together. I had just finished making an album in Nashville, Texas and while I was waiting for the album to be mixed, I wasn’t really doing anything.’

During the tour, Tony and Ranagri will perform a collective set with a selection of songs from their newly-released album, The Great Irish Song Book, which will give the audience a different insight into the singer’s talents and something perhaps they have never seen before. However, both musical parties will perform their own hits and Tony has reassured his fans he will be singing a famous classic or two during the evening.

‘It is good for the audience to see us all singing on stage because it always sounds better live compared to the recording in the studio, it all comes alive. I really hope we will have lots of people appreciating these Irish songs as it is something different,’ says Tony. ‘It also feels great being back on tour because I like working and I hate doing nothing. It helps my voice and keeps it tight, and it also helps to keep me young!’

He laughs: ‘Of course I will be singing Is this the way to Amarillo? and Turn Around – if I didn’t I would be lynched! It is amazing how popular Amarillo has been over the years. It is one of those songs which is very catchy, a real crowd pleaser. Every DJ I have spoken to in the past says if the room is fairly quiet, they put the song on and the dance floor is full!’

Even though Tony has performed the hit countless times, he still enjoys including this particular song in all of his shows.

He explains: ‘It is such an easy song for me. It is one of those songs that I have to do at the end of a show because you can’t really follow it with anything else. Put it this way, I wish I had a good song like that every five years in my career!’

Nevertheless, even though the singer’s career has been a huge success internationally over the last few years, he has had major music achievements in the UK too, including a number one single and album with his Comic Relief success partnering Peter Kay and releasing a record written by Jarvis Cocker.

Tony continues: ‘At the time I had been living in Spain for more than five years and I got a call from Jarvis Cocker who wanted me to record one of his songs. He was from Sheffield and I married a Sheffield girl. I believe it came about because he used to drink in the pub I used to go to and Jarvis was a big fan of my singing, so that is basically how it came about.

‘He sent me a demo and I wasn’t sure at first because it was quirky. However, my son advised me to do it as it could do really well. So I flew back, recorded it and then continued my 50-date tour around Europe. Then three weeks later, it had gone into the top ten. So I had to head back for Top of The Pops during my German tour, however this was the only thing I really did in 15 years.’

In 2005 the Amarillo single was re-released to raise funds for the charity Comic Relief, and spent seven weeks at the top of the UK pop charts. After cutting the theme for Peter Kay’s spinoff series Max and Paddy, Christie closed out the year with a tongue-in-cheek big-band cover of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, which fell shy of the British Top 40. Numerous collections and one-off singles followed, with the full-length Made in Sheffield (produced by long time fans Richard Hawley and Colin Elliot) arriving in 2008. Released in 2011, Now’s the Time, Christie’s 19th studio album, found the singer exploring his Northern soul roots with producer Richard Barrett and Michael Ward.

Tony adds: ‘One minute you are the biggest thing in the UK and the next you are not. Even though I was selling tours in Germany and around the world, in the UK I wasn’t. It is strange because the music business in the UK changes a lot more and it goes in cycles. Amarillo is a great excuse to get into the UK though and this is where I want to be.’

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