Interview: Guitarist and singer Chris Rea

Chris Rea142.jpgBack in the 1980s it seemed every rock star worth his salt had some crusade or other to bring to the masses.

It might be deeply unfashionable now, but Chris Rea isn't bothered about that, which is why his latest album, Santo Spirito, includes a powerful film about bullfighting, which he wants to see banned.

He said: "I'd been into it, but never seen what really happens. My daughters took me to Seville for a birthday, we went to a bullfight, and I was horrified. When the guy puts the sword in he goes over to the grandstand and they throw flowers and all that.

"But there's this poor thing on the floor and it's not dead. These guys look like little kids who have done something terrible and don't know what to do anymore.

"I'm going to honour the bullfighters because they are brave. It's wrong to say they aren't brave. People say the bull doesn't stand a chance, but that's not to say it can't kill you. They do get very close to death.

"As one of the lines in the movie says, 'you touch the horn of that that's trying to kill you. They are also economically pinned down to it because they have no other way of making a living.

"The bullfighters are brave, they get very close to death, but they are economically pinned down. They have no other way of making a living, even though none of them seemed to enjoy it at all.

"It'll have to come from Brussels to stop it. If the EU thinks it's alright for farmers not to grow food or pay fishermen to throw fish back, the least they can do is pay bullfighters not to torture animals."

chrisreacd.jpgIt might sound like a rich rock star's conceit, but Rea wants to get his message across, which is why the three cd and two dvd Santo Spirito package will retail for £14.99 - which Rea said was "a bargain".

He said: "To be blunt the record company hate it. They wanted it to be twenty or thirty quid, but I said no. I don't think it's enough to do just cds anymore.

"It works against you the more successful you've been because the punters want what made you successful. So you've got to try and take them into another genre or expand the idea of how you listen to music.

"If you want this genre to happen, if you want people like Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel to take on this concept of looking at something while you're listening, it has to be marketed. It's pointless if people can't afford it."

chrisrea220.jpgRea, 60, is engaging and refreshingly unstarry. His life changed after he came close to death with pancreatitis over a decade ago.

"It gave me a fresh perspective on life big time," he said.

"I'm not a saint and I didn't see God, I just learnt that when you are put in a position of life or death, and discomfort that's worse than death, you realise what is truly valuable and what isn't. You don't need the next Ferrari.

"There's a terrible obsession in Western Europe of buying things. I've done well, but take it doesn't buy you happiness."

Rea also suffers from an affliction he calls "creative condition". He likens it to autism, and it means he derives minimal enjoyment from his work.

He said: "Once I finish something I don't want to look at it. It's done, gone. I did my biography, which was fun, but as soon as I finished it, I went on to something else. Now they are saying I should bring it out, but that was six years ago. I'd have to rewrite it, but then I'd have to write something else.

"It is a problem. Some people take more care over records than I do. And I can't retire. What the hell would I do?

"Unfortunately, as my wife's always reminding me, 'why don't you just drink your coffee in bed in the morning and think isn't life great?'

"She'll say, 'for God's sake, Chris, you've got a beautiful house, you go motor racing.' But I don't actually think about that ever, I just think about what I've got to get finished.

"I was always like that, even working in my dad's coffee bar in Middlesbrough. I couldn't clean things enough. I nearly went potty in there because I had this awful vision that that would be what I'd be doing for the rest of my life.

"Playing guitar helped. I started playing when I was 20 but I didn't have ambitions. I became obsessed with a certain slide guitar playing, gospel slide guitar, not Chicago. Something twigged with me. The voice was like my voice, they were terrible singers and I could relate to that.

"I virtually did the blues thing. I would be upstairs in the store room, hiding from the mess downstairs of drunks - the coffee bar was next door to the employment exchange in Middlesbrough, so what more do I need to say?

"I would play the slide guitar up there. The women in the shop would think I was mental. I'd play and then realise two hours had gone by. I still do it, and it drives my daughters mental.

"You do something new every time and you don't even know you're doing it, that's the whole thing. The guys I know who have survived, who I respect - like Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck - we all know we have this thing.

"We don't know why we do it, and we really wouldn't have a clue what we would do if we didn't have it."

Escaping from Middlesbrough, Rea's breakthrough hit, Fool If You Think It's Over, came in 1978. He hated the record, despite massive success in America.

He said: "What happened to me with that terrible first hit single, when I'm at the piano, was punk and New Wave came along at the same time.

"I'd made this one record and I'm screaming from the rooftops that it was the record company, it wasn't me, or what I do. I'd been duped.

"It took me 10 years to catch up, when Road to Hell came out."

Chris Rea.jpgRea has sold upwards of 30million albums, but is still in awe of his music heroes, despite getting to know them personally.

He said: "I was buying Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton records before I played guitar. Suddenly I'd get a phone call from one of them and they'd know who I was.

"Or being stood on a stage doing a charity gig and Dave Gilmour walks out and says 'Hi Chris'. I'm like 'how the hell did he know my name?' It's very strange."

Rea is touring next year and will play his old hits, albeit reluctantly - another by-product of his condition.

He said: "If I don't do them, they audience would walk out. You have to be philosophical about it because you can't do a five hour concert, but it's hard to get vibed up for them because of my condition. I just want to get on and play new stuff.

"But I like touring. If you're a musician it's just playing music for a day and living in nice hotels. What's wrong with that?"

Santo Spirito is released on September 5.


J.Kantor said:

Although Chris talks down his first number one hit, Fool (if you think it's over), I can honestly say that the song made a huge impact on my life. It is one of those songs that I find myself singing out of the blue for no reason when all alone. I can think of few people with such character in their voice as Chris. I've heard it mentioned that he should be called Sir Chris Rea. I would overwhelmingly concur.