There are some, albeit misguided souls, that think Tony Christie appeared out of nowhere in 2005 to grace our TV screens and ask the way to Amarillo. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those of us who know better, who appreciate his wonderful voice and his ability to get inside a song, can tell you that over the last 50 years he has recorded a string of great records.
Tony’s career began in the accounts office of a steel company in Yorkshire, while at the same time he was singing semi-professionally in working men’s clubs in the North of England. A turning point came when his boss suggested he had a choice to make, “Either knuckle down and become an accountant or keep trying to become the next Adam Faith.”
Tony Christie’s musical heroes were not Faith and the other rock and rollers, but Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald who he had heard on his father’s collection of 78 records, and just like them he is an interpreter of other people’s songs, and not a recognised songwriter. Having established himself on the working men’s club circuit - a school of hard knocks - he was offered a job as the singer with a band, who also played the clubs. The band that Tony fronted on the club circuit was Tony Christie and the Trackers and in 1966 they recorded, Barbara Ruskin’s ‘Life’s Too Good To Waste’ for CBS, which Tony co-wrote, it failed to chart, despite having Jimmy Page, who would later co-found Led Zeppelin, on guitar. This is available on the collection for the first time in 50 years.
A year later Tony recorded his first single for MGM, the A-side, ‘Turn Around’ was written by Les Reed and Barry Mason, the song writers for Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘The Last Waltz’ that came out that same year, while the B-side, ‘When Will I Love Again’ was one written by Tony; ‘Turn Around’s’ chances on the chart were harmed by the fact that Kathy Kirby also released a version and while Tony got the radio plays, Miss Kirby got the TV, which effectively ‘split the sales’. This single, like the two that followed it a year later, failed to chart, but a listen to ‘Turn Around’ shows that Tony was already developing his trademark ‘sound’.
Tony’s chart breakthrough came in 1971, when ‘Las Vegas’, a Mitch Murray and Peter Callander song made the UK Top 30; it had originally been offered to Tom Jones’s manager, who turned it down. His follow up, in April, was another Murray and Callander song, ‘I Did What I Did for Maria’ that steadily climbed the charts until it made No.2, although on the New Musical Express chart it was No.1.
Later in 1971 his next single was ‘(Is This The Way To) Amarillo’, written by American, Neil Sedaka and surprisingly, it only made the lower reaches of the Top 20 in the UK, but was hit all over the world. The lack of UK success baffled his record company until they found out so many people were buying it in Spain, where it was No.1, and bringing it home with them. However, every song has its day and in 2005 it soared to the top of the UK charts, staying there for 7 weeks, after Peter Kay mimed to Tony’s record for the Comic Relief TV show.
Tony’s next chart success came in 1972 when ‘Avenues and Alleyways’, the theme to The Protectors, a TV show, made the Top 40; following the 2005 success of ‘Amarillo’ it was reissued and this time made the Top 30. It was 1976 when Tony next made the charts, and this time it was with ‘Drive Safely Darling’. In the same year Tony sang the role of Magaldi on the original 1976 album recording of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita.
The UK musical landscape was changing with the onset of punk which meant that Tony’s popularity in Britain waned as the 1980s began, but his career in Continental Europe went from strength to strength. In Germany he is very popular and recorded four albums with German producer Jack White, including, Welcome to My Music that made No.7 on the German charts in 1991 and went triple Platinum; between 1991 and 2002, Tony recorded nine albums in Germany, which includes quite a number of Tony’s own compositions.
Tony, who was living in Spain, returned to the UK Top 10 in 1999 with ‘Walk Like A Panther’ a song written for him by Jarvis Cocker to perform with, The All Seeing I. Tony spent much of his adult life living in Sheffield and Cocker was also from the city; it was Sheffield that gave Tony the opportunity to record what is arguably one of his very finest records. Tony heard a Richard Hawley song on the radio – Hawley had been in Pulp for a while with his friend Jarvis Cocker – and it lead to Tony recording Made In Sheffield. The album, produced by Hawley, includes, ‘All I Ever Care About Is You’ ‘Every Word She Said’ and ‘Louise’, a song originally recorded by Sheffield band, The Human League. It is one of the most beautiful albums of Tony’s career.
This 50-track collection highlights Tony’s ability to reinterpret a song, not merely cover it. There’s a string of classic covers that includes, Jimmy Webb’s classic ‘Didn’t We’, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ and Dobie Gray’s ‘Drift Away’. Tony’s Irish roots, his grandmother and grandfather played in a ceilidh band, are celebrated on the album The Great Irish Songbook that came out in 2015. Collaborating with crossover folk band Ranagri, Tony produces a stunning set of traditional songs that include, ‘Carrickfergus’ and ‘Star Of The County Down’.
‘Early Morning Memphis’, ‘Damned’ ‘Just Like Yesterday’, ‘When All Is Said And Done’ and ‘I Surrender’ are brand new tracks that Tony has recently recorded in Nashville with producer Graeme Pleeth, using the cream of the city’s session musicians.
Over the course of his career, one that includes over forty albums, seventy singles and countless live performances Tony has sung thousands of songs. This collection of 50 songs is Tony’s musical autobiography, one that shows that he is a consummate singer – a singer who always delivers his best. Having worked with Tony I can also say that he is one of the loveliest people in the business – he is the very epitome of his voice. (Richard Havers)