In fame’s avenues and alleyways

15/3/05    Tony Christie  on stage at the Victoria Theatre in Halifax where he performed a concert on his tour of the UK.
15/3/05 Tony Christie on stage at the Victoria Theatre in Halifax where he performed a concert on his tour of the UK.

IF there’s one thing this man who first made his name in the era of big macho male singers should believe in, it’s the voice.

Turns out Tony Christie prefers Britain’s Got Talent.

“I did watch the first episode of The Voice but, to be honest, I switched over to Britain’s Got Talent. It’s like car crash TV; you’ve got to keep looking. I watch it for the giggles.”

Set to be the first genuine pop star to appear in Harrogate’s Royal Hall as part of a new collaboration between Harrogate Theatre, its studio theatre and this stunningly-restored venue, Yorkshire-born Christie didn’t need a TV talent show to fuel his rise to fame.

There were fewer shortcuts to success when he first formed his harmony duo The Grant Brothers as a teenager in the early 60s or toured the northern clubs as part of The Counterbeats when anyone with a half-decent voice and an electric guitar was trying to be the new Beatles or the Stones.

Perhaps that explains why this man, who has sold 10 million albums in total, is as happy playing off the beaten track as playing major locations like the Royal Hall where he appears on Friday, April 20.

“Work is work. The thing is to get your message across. The last tour I did was of smaller venues all round the country. Going to places in Norfolk and Wales and Scotland where people hadn’t seen me live before. It was great fun.

“I don’t like to live the dream the whole time. I’m as happy playing golf with my mates as appearing in any arena. I keep my private life private.”

Of all the melodramatic, open-shirted, big-voiced, beef cake male stars of the late 60s and early 1970s, only Christie and, notably Tom Jones, is left standing in terms of chart success.

What’s amazing to consider is that, since his friend Peter Kay helped him on his way back into the limelight on his Phoenix Nights show on Channel 4, Christie has sold more records than in his original heyday hitting the number one spot again with both the single (Is This The Way To) Amarillo and the album The Definitive Collection.

As well as the famous comedian, there was one other person who played a crucial role in Christie’s second lease of life. His own son.

“Sean’s a manager; he was responsible for arranging my spot on Jarvis Cocker’s Walk Like a Panther hit in the late 90s which raised my profile in Britain again.

“After Peter kindly started using Amarillo in Phoenix Nights, Sean kept on ringing Universal to get them to put is out again as a single. That’s what got me to move back to England.”

Christie’s commercial decline in the UK in the 80s had seen him relocate to Spain to be nearer the European market which was still lapping up his new releases as well as the ‘oldies’.

Across in Germany he was as big as the phenomenon that is David Hasselhoff, sharing a label (White Records) and a producer, in fact, with ‘The Hoff’.

If Christie was tempted to believe that lightning couldn’t strike twice in the same place he was in for a shock when he returned to Britain ten years ago.

“Peter had persuaded me to do a video with him for Comic Relief of Amarillo. I was in York on tour when it was first broadcast. By the time I left the city, the single has gone to number one and the tour had sold out.”

Further hits have followed since then; Avenues and Alleys, collaborations with the likes of Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker, though, surprisingly no re-release for his biggest hit of the whole 70s, I Did What I Did For Maria.

Then Christie appears to feel better in the company of younger musicians that playing to his age even though he will be 69 later this month.

“I like Jarvis a lot but, like me, he’s completely different out of the public eye. He’s very quiet but interesting, highly intelligent and not flamboyant like you would think.

“Jarvis’s persona changes when he’s on stage and so does mine. I like to put on a show.”

With a young band and fire evidently still in his belly, Christie maintains a constant search for new directions and new music.

His most recent album Now’s The Time! Saw him pursue a more soul-based, hyper-cool 60s film soundtrack direction on cool label Acid Jazz.

Still, as one of the last remaining figures from the era of the great singers, he regrets the passing of legends like Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. And he still cares about things like ‘phrasing’ and what jazz singing is – and isn’t.

As we speak, Tony is rehearsing his part in a Tribute to Buddy Rich at the London Palladium where he will be singing two songs, one of them Davis Jr’s classic version of Come Back To Me from 1966 which is possibly his all-time favourite track.

But the days of “macho singing”, as he himself calls it, are not completely over, as fans will see when Christie hits the stage in Harrogate in a few weeks’ time.

His voice remains and that voice is strong. Forget Britain’s Got Talent. Christie’s got the genuine thing.

“I think my vocals are holding up well but I never abused them. I never did the Vegas treadmill of two shows a night.

“I’ve lost a couple of notes at the top but gained a few at the bottom. I’ve got a wider range now and I feel better than ever. The voice is still as powerful. That’s enough for me.”

l Tony Christie plays the Royal Hall on Friday, April 20. For tickets, telephone Harrogate Theatre box office on 01423 502 116 or online at www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk