Tony Christie has been travelling for the better part of two days when we meet him but he is in fine fettle. Taking in the splendid view from his Hilton hotel room, he forms his first impressions of the island.
By Kaveesha Fernando
Its the singers first time in South Asia, he observes the landscape of Fort and remarks on the juxtaposition of colonial buildings with alongside more modern buildings and construction, commenting in about the protest he observed at Fort railway station earlier in the day (”I saw large crowds gathered in that area”).
For him, keeping active and continuing to perform is vital. “If you retire, you die,” he says, adding that he does in fact know musicians who actually did die upon retirement. He plans to keep performing because his passion for his work is something which keeps him going.
Tony Christie began his career in the mid 1960s, much before his breakthrough hit ‘Las Vegas’ was released in 1971. ‘His famous hit single ‘I did what I did for Maria’ made it to No. 2 on the UK charts, while ‘Is this the way to Amarillo’ surprisingly only made it to the Top 20.
His record company soon realized that many people bought the record in Spain and brought it back to UK with them, the song becoming a fast hit globally. He moved to Spain and performed in Continental Europe around the early 1990s, until his return to the UK charts in 1999 with ‘Walk like a Panther’ written for him by British musician Jarvis Cocker to perform with the British electronic music group ‘The All Seeing I’. He has produced over 40 albums and 70 singles and performed at concerts in many parts of the globe including Australia, Germany, Spain, Singapore and Austria. With success earned over many decades, he is surprisingly down-to-earth. “The pop music industry is a fickle business,” he says, explaining that the darling one moment might be cast aside the next.
Tony feels that his hit singles are timeless, which is why they are still famous today – more than four decades after they were released. He explains that the first time his manager heard ‘Amarillo’, he had commented that the ‘Sha-la-la-la’ riff in the song would make the song appealing to audiences, identifying it as a hit instantly. His more recent concerts will have different music arrangements to keep audiences guessing, a feat accomplishes through his use of his talented backup team who have been working with him for years. However, he makes sure to keep the integrity of the song intact. “When the music plays people wonder what the song is and then when I start singing, they go ‘Oh’ as they recognize it, but I don’t change it too much. The lyrics, the riffs in the middle, those are kept the same,” he explains.
He is happy to be afforded the chance to explain a bit about each song before he plays it in order to help the audience understand and appreciate the song better, something which he wasn’t able to do when earlier in his career when he was a cabaret singer.
Audiences for his concert in Colombo can expect to hear a selection of his songs from the ‘60s till today, including of course his most famous hit singles, and also three songs he has never sung live before, including ‘Release me’. “Concert audiences are there to see you,” he explains, adding that he therefore he makes his performances as intimate as possible. He feels that the main things is that his audiences enjoy his shows, and is working hard to ensure that they do just that – practising with his back-up team in order to deliver a great performance.
He flies back as the concert is over in time to reach home on Monday and then rush to Cambridge for a Christmas show which is set to last five weeks. He says he believes in the saying ‘work till you drop’ and he follows it to the letter, so much so that he feels he spends more time staying at hotels than at home - the worst part of the job for him. He hopes to be home next February for his 50th wedding anniversary but is unsure what he will be doing next April when it will be his 75th birthday (“I probably will be working,” he says). It’s clear that his music has kept him going for the past five decades and will continue to keep him going for years to come.
Tony Christie will be performing at the BMICH this Saturday (November 11) at 7pm. Tickets are priced at 10,000 (VIP), 7500 (Platinum), 5500 (Gold) and 3500 (Balcony – reserved) and 2500 (Balcony- unreserved). They will be available at the venue on Saturday and at the Hilton, Colombo before the day of the show.
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