The hell-raising days may be long gone, but you still make Leo Sayer feel like dancing
He is one of Britain’s most successful musical exports, and now Leo Sayer is headlining the Holt Festival. STUART ANDERSON spoke to him ahead of the show.
It has been more than 40 years since Leo Sayer became a worldwide household name with hits When I Need You, The Show Must Go On and You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.
Life has been a roller coaster of ups and downs since then, but for the happy-go-lucky singer famed for his bouffant hairstyle, taking the stage has never felt better.
“The hell-raising days are well in the past but I think everybody has to go through that,” says Sayer, now 70.
“I’m working all the time and I’m finding age is no barrier at all. It only makes me enjoy it more.
“I have still got my hair and you get energy from the people you work with.”
Sayer grew up in West Sussex and emigrated to Australia in 2005.
Having first lived in Sydney, he now hangs his hat in the sleepy village of Berrima in the southern highlands of New South Wales.
“I have moments when there’s no-one around and you are in a wonderful community which protects you,” he says.
“I couldn’t live in a city again. It’s nice to get out of that environment if you can.”
But although he enjoys the peace and quiet of his country home, he still regularly ventures out to perform around the world, and has just wrapped up an Australian tour with a fivesome of other classic pop greats including Love Is In The Air crooner John Paul Young.
Indeed, Sayer’s sometimes whimsical and often heartbreaking tunes have proven they have enduring appeal, and he even found himself rubbing chart shoulders with the likes of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran just this year.
A three-disc greatest hits compilation called The Gold Collection reached No. 27 on the UK album chart.
“I was surprised at that,” he says.
Sayer also has an album of new songs in works, called Selfie, which he has had to put off to 2019 because “people mainly want to hear the old songs.”
“I still feel energised to prove I can do something new,” he says.
Over the years he has been able to count everyone from Paul McCartney to Lady Gaga as friends, and it is even said he was the last person to ever speak to Elvis Presley.
The King was a fan of Sayers’ and, when he was in the US, invited him, over the phone, to spend a few days at Graceland. But the day Sayer was due to go was August 16, 1977, the day Elvis died.
Sayer says a career highlight was touring with Bob Marley, who he describes as “mind-blowing”.
“Bob came onto the stage to sing with me at the end of the show and he just shined. He had such charisma.”
He says breaking through to the US charts was something else he’ll never forget: “To be popular in another country feels like such a fantastic achievement.”
Although this will his first visit to Holt, Sayer recalls many gigs around Norfolk from the old days and he says he’s looking forward to the show.
He said: “It seems like it is a happening festival. It’s all coming together and I’m very excited.
“I’ve always had great support in the east.
“I’m writing a book (about my life) at the moment, and when I got to 1977 I think I had already counted more than 1,800 shows. I was a busy boy.
“You really get a picture of the whole country.”
And Sayer says he has no plans to stop performing and loves playing for long-time fans.
“You are faced with these people who have wonderful memories from the old days, and that’s food for us guys,” he says. “That keeps us young.”
Sayer’s gig at the Theatre in the Woods at Gresham’s School, at Holt, takes place on Saturday, July 28 at 8.15pm. The Holt Festival runs from July 21-29. Other performers/guests will include: n Talks will be held by political grandees Alan Johnson (July 23)and Paddy Ashdown (July 25). n Ann Widdecombe feature in an ‘in conversation’ event on July 26 n Zimbabwean singer Anna Mudeka will perform at the Holt Community Centre on July 23. n Italian concert pianist Gloria Campaner will perform on July 27. n The Tom Baxter Band will perform at the Theatre in the Woods on July 27. n There will also be a Sir John Hurt film festival and well as visual arts, children’s events and a programme of fringe events.
For more information and to book tickets to events, visit www.holtfestival.org