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Roger Whittaker - Life's never boring

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Roger Whittaker - Life's never boring

Beitragvon Maik » Do 9. Apr 2009, 20:45

Roger Whittaker - Life’s never boring

After half an hour of chatting to me, Roger Whittaker pauses mid-sentence and reaches out to tug a strand of hair from my head. ‘Sorry, it was just putting me off a bit. It was kind of waving in the wind.’ Then Roger continues discussing his music, without missing a beat, while I stifle a giggle and the urge to apologise for my wayward hair.

We’re sitting in the bar at Roger’s hotel in Köln, in the afternoon prior to his final concert of the Liebe endet nie (love never ends) tour drinking Darjeeling tea. I seem to be drinking his tour manager George Thornton’s tea, but it looks like George is happy enough with the beer he ordered to replace his Darjeeling sacrifice.

At least we are not surrounded by hordes of fans. I’d been concerned when I showed up at the hotel asking for Roger, that I’d be seen as one of countless fans who’d need to be turned away. As it was, I had to spell Roger’s name out to the receptionist, who hadn’t a clue as to what a great singer the hotel was harbouring. And then it turns out to have been unnecessary anyway, as Roger and George are already sitting waiting for us, with tea ordered and everything. Having decided that escaping the hotel’s massive waterfall in the foyer was my first priority, I ask if we can go and sit somewhere else, which is why we go to the bar. Clinking glasses are a lot easier to put up with than your own Niagara in the background.

Roger finds us a corner where we can sit, while George sits down at a neighbouring table, and the photographer grabs herself a chair further away. The tea tray has managed to find us, despite the move, and Roger says ‘Leave it for a while. Put that in, quick!’, and I belatedly work out that we’re talking tea infusion arrangements, German style. I’m obviously better leaving Roger to be ‘mother’, so I reminisce about the Danish habit of serving cream with tea, while at the same time realising we have no milk. ‘I asked for some’, says Roger. ‘We need some milk, Georgie.’

Close up Roger looks very good, and much younger than he does on stage. I can’t quite explain this, but he does. ‘Natalie, my wife, is upstairs’, he says and looks happy. I say I’d been wondering if she would be here. ‘Yes, she is. For the last night. Oh, yes.’ I try to suggest that it’s a special day for him the following day, too, as it’s Roger’s 73rd birthday. ‘Yes, but tonight’s the last night. I’m very happy about that. Twenty-nine shows. It feels like it’s gone on forever.’

I wonder if he feels exhausted now. ‘I am. Yes.’ It’s hardly surprising as even ordinary travelling can be tiring. ‘Yes. Yes it is.’ Then turns to the photographer and asks ‘Got it?’ And to me, ‘See how she’s grinning away.’

Back to the subject of Natalie, I mention that I’ve admired her hard work for years.’Oh, yes? She’s quite a girl. Yes.’ I read their book, “So Far So Good”, a few years ago, and was so impressed by the amount of work Natalie has done, for Roger and their family.

‘Are you about to have another grandchild?’

‘No, we’ve just had it. Just had it. Born on the 13th of March, and the extraordinary thing is that so was his sister.’ I remember now that daughter Jessica had her first baby during the tour two years ago. ‘Yes, two years and one and a half hours apart.’ I suggest that the children might not want to share birthdays with each other in the future, but Roger says ‘it’s lovely. Lovely,’ and laughs out loud.

‘I’m very pleased for you. Is this one your eighth?’ ‘The eighth, and five children. Big families are great. Though not in this day and age. You can’t afford them.’ I agree. ‘We reckon it cost us a million for each child.’ I laugh and say that’s OK for him. ‘Yes, I know, but they went to public school. I know, I shouldn’t say that in this day and age.’ ‘Oh, I think it’s perfectly all right. You’ve earned the money.’ ‘I didn’t. (attend public school) Natalie didn’t. Neither of us did.’

Recalling that I’ve heard the idea that giving pleasure to millions of listeners with his singing, is more important than Roger having a career in biochemistry, Roger says ‘yes, I don’t know why (I did it), but I had the choice and it’s a case of getting a foothold (in show business). And there I was.’ ‘Well, not all teachers can sing as well as you do. So you decided you were just going to try singing for a year and then give it up. Did your parents ever accept that you didn’t?’

‘No.’

‘No, they didn’t?’

‘My mother more than my father. I actually had a…, I read a letter from her the other day, while going through all my paperwork, and there it was. It was a letter to me saying how thrilled she was that Durham Town was in the top ten. She was quite excited, but he never was. We never got on very well with each other anyway.’

‘Well, I suppose there’s always one parent…’

‘Yes.’

‘What about you? You have two children who have followed in your footsteps.’

‘Yes.’

‘Did you ever want to dissuade them?’

‘No, I didn’t. In fact I did everything I could to support their choice.’

‘You let Jessica sing with you from a very early age.’

‘Jessica sung with me; we made a song, a recording called “A perfect day”, and that was a hit in England. No, I felt if that’s what she wanted to do, that was fine by me. During her school holidays, you know, she would come with me on tour in America and we had a fantastic time. She’s really very good. She trained to be a dancer. She became a very good dancer. We had a lot of fun together on stage.’

‘It’s quite nice to be able to share that, parent and child, doing things together.’

‘It is. Then she went to university, to do English, Communication and American history. She got a very nice honours degree in that. She wanted to be an actress, like her friend Thandie Newton. The two of them were at school together. Thandie made it, and Jessica didn’t make it as an actress, but she does a lot of things, television presenting, voice-overs and that sort of thing. So she’s on the periphery of the entertainment business.’

‘So she really wanted to act then? Because I think her voice is so beautiful I’d expect her to want to sing.’

‘I would have thought so, but she didn’t. Now she’s a mum. But she still has time to do voice-overs. She did a voice-over’, Roger sounds both amused and very proud, ‘when she was due, when the baby was supposed to be there. They asked when it was due, and she said “later today”, and they went “oh, God, let’s get this done quick”.’

‘That’s amazing.’

‘Yes. She is a great girl, and her children are just beautiful.’

‘So what do you think of Guy’s music?’

‘I didn’t like what he was doing at the start of his career very much, a sort of, heavy metal type, grunge type of music. I didn’t like that much, but now he’s doing a kind of blues band thing, very bluesy, and it’s very nice. I like it. We are very similar, not in tune, but in approach, you know. Because there are a lot of people who really love this, especially in Germany and France, South Africa. And good luck to them. He’s a good bass player. Very good, and it’s what counts.’

‘If you hadn’t been born in Kenya but, say, in Stoke,’

‘Yes.’

‘do you think you’d still be doing what you do?’

Thinks out loud, ‘It’s a very hypothetical question, but I doubt it, because all my family there were different, and I wouldn’t have had the same upbringing. I think I’d be inclined to.., and I’d probably be in business like my father. I don’t know. I’m reasonably intelligent, I might have (opened a shop)… but you never know.’

‘Maybe the music would have been strong enough to get out anyway?’

‘Well, I was born at the right moment, if you like. You know, the most exciting time, the years of the 78s. George Formby, Frankie Lane, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra. And the musical influence, not just in Kenya but in England as well. My uncles weren’t quite so strict as my father. Why he was I’ll never know, but he was. I don’t know why, but they never were. My uncles always loved music. Learning to write music; that took years and years. I’ve written over 500 songs. I spent years trying to find the right style, but you have to write your own songs, do it your own way.’

‘I think I’ve heard you say somewhere that your earlier records were very bad records. Are you ashamed of them?’

‘No, you have to start somewhere. I started with a song called The Charge of the Light Brigade, and it was very much how I’d been taught to sing at the time.’ Here Roger begins to sing his first song to us. ‘It wasn’t a hit. Steel Men, was the next, and that was a hit. We picked up from there. And I learnt how to sing in a studio. Singing in a studio is totally different. You sing in a very gentle, relaxed way, and sometimes on the stage you can’t do that because of the audience. On this tour of Germany we’ve had audiences.., especially in the East. Young folks in East Germany have never been exposed to P Diddy and the like, and now schlager music, is kind of the folk music, and I’m the one they grew up with. Every show is packed with 20-year-old people, 18-year-old people, 20, 30, 40, 70-year-old people. In the East it’s like a football match, with fights and really riotous behaviour.’ At this Roger sounds really pleased. ‘And here (in the West) the youngsters should be normal, not want anything to do with a 70-year-old singer.’

I mention how my own six-year-old claimed that Roger Whittaker was his favourite.

‘A lot of people grew up with my music, and they love it. The audiences in England are much older than the audiences here. Because they are fixated against it.’ Roger recounts how someone went into a record shop with a bag over his head; someone who didn’t want to be seen buying his music. ‘Anyway, that’s how you do it.’

‘Is there anything you would have liked to have done, that you haven’t yet done because you’ve been busy being a famous singer?’

‘Well, I often wonder if I might have gone back to working with Professor Charles Evans. Whether I might have found something, or solved something.’

‘Like research?’

‘But then I’d never have done what I did, so I don’t regret it, but I often wonder. I do have a very enquiring mind. I think I’ve done a lot of good things, played to a lot of people. On this tour we’ve had an average of two or three thousand per night.’

‘How many of your really keen fans do you feel you know?’

‘A lot more than you’d think. Yes, there’s a group of them that comes round, follows me round the globe. It’s a very international group. In Hamburg there must have been a hundred people waiting to say hello. And they come from different parts of the world, it’s very interesting.’ I tell Roger I have a greeting to pass on to him from Jan Tore in Norway. ‘Yes, there you are. I did an autograph for him a while back.’

‘Do you ever look at the Guestbook?’

‘Often. Often.Yes.’

‘Because people often post things, expecting you to be there to read it.’

‘Yes, I do see it. We’ve had over a million hits on the website.’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s very interesting. I get questions like “when are you coming to India?” I’ve never been to China and I’ve never been to Japan. I’d like to go to both those countries. A friend of mine, called David Soul, do you know him?’

‘Yes.’

‘He came to rehearse a show with me, and he said “what are you doing?” and I said “I’m preparing my show in German.” In those days I didn’t speak German, and he said “what are you complaining about? I’m doing my whole show in Japanese.” He did the whole show, a whole two hours, he did it in Japanese. That’s something,’ says Roger, sounding thoroughly impressed.

‘Germans love their language, but they like it spoken properly. They don’t like it if you make a mistake. They go “no, no, no! We say it like this” and that’s why I say I won’t speak German on television. I can speak it, but like some sort of taxi driver, I can just make myself understood. I’m getting much better, after all these years, but…’

‘But you have prompts on stage to help you?’

‘Well, I had a prompter if you like, the same sort of thing Reagan used to use, when he made his speeches, and it’s for the same purpose and in the event of me having a lapse of memory, I can flick my eyes to it and remember. You know what I’m saying?’

‘Does it remind you where you are?’

‘Yes it tells me, it does. I used to write it down on a card, used to write down the running of the show, and all the little explanations what I’m supposed to do. And cues; sit down, stand up. I asked the piano player “what’s next?” and of course people speak perfect English and they laughed at me.’

‘These gifts you get; what do people give you?’

‘Amazing things. A lot of sweets and a lot of wine, flowers. Often little toys for the kids. They give me memoirs, sometimes jewellery from around their neck, the most amazing thing you ever heard of, you know.’

‘So if you haven’t got anything, you…’

‘Yes, they suddenly take it off and say “here take this and remember me”. Here in Germany people come to me with tiny babies in their arms, and dump them on the stage, and I go down and I tickle the babies and we laugh. They will put a small child on stage and, it’s the sweetest thing, and sometimes it’s bang on cue and I do think people think “oh come on, you’d planned it,” but I’d never do that.’

‘Who travels with you on tour? Natalie doesn’t travel with you all the time?’

‘No, not all the time.’

‘So are you on your own, apart from the crew and the band?’

‘I have George here. George is an ex police chief. I met him in America. We used to play golf together, and then he retired, and I said “why don’t you come out on the road with me?” How long ago George?’

‘Fifteen years.’

‘Some retirement!’

‘Yes. Great fun. Seeing parts of the world he’d never have seen otherwise.’

‘Absolutely,’ George nods.

‘And his drinking habits are more refined now.’ Here Roger laughs loudly, sounding amused.’

‘Is it a lot harder to arrange to do a single concert, rather than a whole tour? You must have a lot of people to get together. It’s not just deciding what songs to sing…’

‘A single concert can’t possibly be as good as a tour. In fact, the first concert is usually excellent, because you’ve rehearsed, very polished and tight, and you say “wow, that’s great for a first concert”. The second one is always doomed to fall apart as things go wrong. Then it builds up to a very confident musical performance, and you hope that everybody gets it right.’

‘So a single concert is not really the answer if touring gets too tiring? Just the one or two concerts somewhere? How come you manage to get the same people all the time?’

‘I always try. I try and do my best, but this time we haven’t. Our keyboard player, had a baby, his wife had a baby, and he elected not to come. And he was probably the best I’ve had. So we missed him terribly. We have a new guitar player, and our bass player died of a stroke. The drummer is excellent; the two singers I’ve been singing with for nearly thirty years, and Michael Hagel who plays the piano, is our musical director.’

‘Is there anybody in particular that you would have liked to have sung with, that you haven’t?’

‘Presley was one of my favourites. He was coming in when I was seventeen or eighteen. I have practically everything he did. And blow me down, he sang The Last Farewell.’

‘Oh, did he?’

‘Didn’t Howard tell you? Only one of two songs written by English writers he ever recorded. Isn’t it funny? Very exciting, very proud of that. But I never met him. He loved that song. He used to put it on and would say “we’ve got to record that music.” I know, because his drummer came to see me.’

‘That must feel good though, from someone you admire.’

‘Who else? Who else would I like to have met? Er, I met Bing Crosby. And I met Bob Hope. That was another person I wanted to meet. I’ve met quite a few of them. Chet Atkins I’ve worked with. I met, of all things, the country singer, the really old one, Jimmie Rodgers, the original old Jimmie Rodgers, and he was in the audience once in America, and he came to say hello, you know? So I met him. Johnny Cash I met. And who would I have liked to work with? Er, Barbra Streisand. A number of people.’

‘So, is this the last farewell tour?’

‘I’m not saying it is. I said it once. They say “is this your last tour?” I say I don’t know, because if you want to do another tour, they say you said it was the last one the last time, and I don’t want that.’

‘I’ve seen some vague hints that if you did another one, you might tour Scandinavia again.’

‘Yes.’

‘Do you think you might?’

‘Yes, they’ve, they want five concerts in Norway and they want five in Denmark, and two or three in Sweden, so… But they’ve included the Faroe Isles. I don’t know that I want to go to the Faroe Isles, hahaha. We’ll see,’ Roger says, sounding very amused. ‘I’ve never been there. It could be interesting.’

‘I’ve got friends who come from there.’

‘Really? What would you say the Faroe Isles are like?’

‘I have very little idea, really. I’ve seen pictures of whale slaughter, with the sea all red from the blood.’

‘Yeah, yeah, they do that, I know. I don’t like that either, but I don’t like seal culling either. Every nation has its own… Spanish bull fighting should be stopped, for instance. I think in this day and age for people to enjoy the pain of an animal, it’s ridiculous. That went out in the 18th century.’

‘Yes… When you compose songs, do you start with words or music or does it vary?’

‘The best times they come together. “Durham Town” was like that, “I don’t believe in if” was like that, “New world in the morning” was like that. But a lot of the songs start with the words. You have the lyrics and put a melody round that. For example with a German song, if I’d like it for an English album, then I write the… If I like the German melody, you know, if I think it’s a nice song that the British would like, or the Americans would love that. We’re opening the second half tonight with a new song, “Dafür lieb ich Dich”, that’s why I love you, and I did that in English on the tour of Denmark last year, and it’s great. “Irish girl”, we’re doing tonight. I do that in English.’ (well, no, in the end Roger sang it in German) ‘Oh, a couple of other ones. I can’t remember. There are two or three that I like.’

‘What are you doing when the tour is over?’

‘Well, I’m going to do nothing for a couple of weeks, and I’m going to go home and just play with my dogs and relax and drink a little wine. Have nothing to do for a change. Then I’ve got to prepare for an English album, and I’m preparing for a new German album, which is not very advanced. And I have singing lessons three times a week, with an ex-opera star, who lives near us in Ireland. He gives lessons and I go three times a week, and that sort of thing. You know, two hours of singing a day, so it’s never boring.’

‘No, I’m sure it isn’t. I’m just wondering if you can sit down and do nothing?’

‘No, I can’t. I’m hopeless. Nor can Natalie. If I’m watching the news, she says “isn’t there something you could be doing?” “What, I’m watching the news.” “Well, you know, what about those photos you said you’d sign?” “I’ve done those, can I get down and watch the news now?” We’re driven people. We both are. Life’s never boring. I said to her the other day, “do you think in all the 45 years we’ve been married, we’ve had one week of calm?” She said no.’ Roars with laughter. ‘There’s always something happening. Some kid has fallen over, or whatever. All those children.’

‘Have you got anything special planned for tomorrow? Some sort of celebration planned?’

‘Yes, we’ve got the team, George, my manager from America, Natalie and I. We’ll have some fun.’

‘That sounds good.’

Roger has a sound check he needs to do before the concert, so he and George get up to leave. ‘Lovely talking to you,’ he says as they go. I bet he says that to everyone, but it was lovely. ‘Be good,’ Roger says.

I check my remaining hair, and polish off what’s left of George’s tea, while the photographer checks her pictures. A little later we catch a glimpse of Roger and George as we saunter out of the hotel, and pass the waiting Bentley outside.


© Interwiev by Ann Giles

Quelle: http://www.culturewitch.wordpress.com
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