Few artists can lay claim to international success spanning three decades but, beginning with his very first release, Chris de Burgh has achieved precisely that.
The foundations for a remarkable and durable career were laid back in 1975 with the release of Chris’s debut album, ‘Far Beyond These Castle Walls’, featuring a single, ‘Flying’, which spent 17 weeks at No. 1 in Brazil.
Subsequent records, almost in turn, continued to steadily draw in audiences around the world; Scandinavia was early to embrace the vivid story-telling that is Chris’s unique talent, South Africa quickly tuned in to his power as a live performer, North America even demanded its own specially compiled ‘greatest hits’ collection, ‘Best Moves’. In the United States, meanwhile, relentless touring with his management stablemates Supertramp was beginning to establish Chris as a gritty, charismatic stage presence.
Indeed, by 1980, Chris’s global profile had already mushroomed to the point where that year’s album, ‘Eastern Wind’, became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time in Norway. A year later, its follow-up, ‘Man On The Line’, was a Top 30 album in the UK, the US and 20 other countries, while producing the single ‘High On Emotion’, which went to No. 1 in ten European countries.
In many respects, it was this album that opened the door to the enormous success which was to follow and scale new heights with the arrival of Chris’s 1986 album ‘Into The Light’. Chris, by his own estimation, had shrewdly perceived this record to be one which could place him fully centre stage as an artist and, indeed, it featured the song which finally established him as a known singer-songwriter around the world. ‘The Lady In Red’, now undeniably an evergreen classic, achieved No. 1 status in 25 countries, including the UK, went to No. 2 in America – and has now sold in excess of 8 million copies. To this day, it remains one of the most played songs on the planet; in America alone, it has subsequently been the recipient of six annual ASCAP (Association of Composers and Publishers) Awards, presented to acknowledge the track as one of the Top 20 most played records in the United States in a period of 12 months.
By now, Chris’s stature had reached true superstar status in many territories – particularly in Germany, where his sell-out tours were grossing more than any other artist on the road.
Come 1990, Chris’s German popularity was such that he was the only international artist personally invited by then Chancellor Kohl to perform at the historic public celebrations marking the re-unification of East and West Germany. This momentous privilege immediately followed sell-out tours of Australia and Japan.
In the intervening years, and on the eve of the Millennium, Chris continued to add new audiences to his vast fan base – from Moscow to Malta, from Singapore to Sarajevo – and, always, to find and embrace new challenges for himself as a musician and a performer. Specifically, his 1995 album, ‘Beautiful Dreams’, realised a long-held ambition to have his music (both new material and selected highlights from his previous repertoire) recorded in a classical style – with a full, 32-piece orchestra.
Not only did this album breathe new life into Chris artistically, but it also enabled him to embark on a series of open-air shows in some of the UK’s finest palaces and stately homes.
His 1999 album ‘Quiet Revolution’ featured a band for the first time since his ‘This Way Up’ LP, five years earlier. Road-tested as players via tours of Germany, South Africa, the Eastern Bloc, Middle East and South East Asia, a solid line-up of musicians once again invigorated Chris’s approach to making music in a group scenario, a philosophy still very much in evidence on his next studio album, ‘Timing Is Everything’, released in 2002.
In every sense, the record was a current statement of Chris’s craft, easily placing all of the several trademarks he had made his own – vivid story-telling, powerful anthems and heartfelt ballads – against an undeniably contemporary backdrop.
“It was a modern-sounding record, within the parameter of me as a songwriter, because I write in the classic vein. I’m writing in that old-fashioned way, but I think we brought a very new and dynamic sound to it.”
Musically and lyrically, his 16th studio album moved with the times, but on his terms; as always, Chris was content to pursue his own, personal and unique path. It has proven to be the successful route to longevity which, across three decades, has won him a devoted, worldwide following.
All eleven new songs presented on the album were instantly in tune with this international acclaim, reputation and credibility. Each was written and recorded with uncommon ease and speed, factors which infected both the vocal performance and the overall mood of the album. “I found that writing the songs was not a grind and a chore; they came out very easily. I felt so good about the album that I actually recorded four or five full, finished, vocals in an afternoon. That’s unheard of for me! Another day I recorded vocals for four other songs; I just thought ‘Well, I’m in the voice for it – why don’t I just do them?’ It was like I was saying ‘There’s no big deal about this…’
“The speed with which we recorded reflected the fun we were having. That was a big part of it all. When making records previously, there had always been that slightly freaky thing of saying to myself ‘Today I’m doing a lead vocal’. In the past, I have been aware of the need to get my singing, my vocal performance, absolutely right in the studio – because what is recorded there stays with you forever. It’s like taking a penalty in an important football match; you’ve got to get it right.”
There were, and will be, many interpretations concerning the meaning of ‘The Road To Freedom’, the title given to his 17th album, released in 2004.
For Chris, the album name openly identified his enthusiasm about not only producing an intensely individual record but, also, for choosing to be at liberty to make it available on his own, Ferryman Records, label; having been signed to a major record company for almost 30 years, the time had come to do things on his own. For listeners, the album presented a vibrant and emotionally uplifting journey along a path filled with insight, inspiration and, as ever, colourful imagination. And it did so with a lyrical diversity married perfectly against a musical backdrop of truly international appeal; Spanish, Celtic, North American and Eastern European melodies are instantly apparent.
Equally, it was a record which tackled a wide spread of subject matter; the bittersweet life of Queen Elizabeth the First (‘Rose Of England’), a rallying, heartfelt plea for people to make something of their lives (‘Read My Name’), a moving tribute to the late Eva Cassidy (‘Songbird’) and – possibly most intriguingly – a song called ‘Five Past Dreams’, the ‘what happened next?’ follow-up to Chris’s biggest career hit, and one of the most romantic ballads of all time, ‘The Lady In Red’.
Each of the songs, and the other seven original compositions featured on the album, were written with a quite specific aim in mind; the desire within Chris to be able to play them all in the context of solo concert performance, without the need to embellish every track with any accompaniment beyond his guitar or piano. An extensive World Tour, with dates across Europe, the UK and North America, followed to support the album and that intent. ‘The Road To Freedom’ presented an up-beat, positive and hopeful over-view of the world as Chris de Burgh then saw it, viewed in the cinematic proportions which have become one of his unique abilities.
By now recording and releasing albums with more regular frequency than at almost any other point in his career, Chris delivered his next studio LP, ‘The Storyman’, in 2006. Its title alone aptly summed up Chris; imaginative story-making has, after all, always been at the very core of his worldwide success.
Whether his lyrical – and musical – themes have tackled love and loss or been set against imaginative backdrops created from the past, present or future, the telling of tales is his special gift.
Across more than three decades by now, Chris’s extensive repertoire of songs has taken his audience on travels through continents, cultures and centuries – in cinematic proportion – and such was the inspiration behind the concept of ‘The Storyman’.
Each one of the songs was accompanied by stories – also written by Chris and printed in the CD booklet – which set the scene and expand upon the lyrics with detail, colour and atmosphere.
In order to win a place on his next album, Chris de Burgh selected the songs he recorded by applying three critical principles: he had to love them, have sung them many times before – and, perhaps most relevantly, they had to have inspired him.
As a result, and by any measure, the 13 ‘covers’ on ‘Footsteps’ represent a deeply personal and candid appraisal by Chris of songs which have influenced and affected the way he has crafted his own particular musical imprint.
There is little doubt that these songs and songwriters provided solid cornerstones for him to build upon. Equally, there is no attempt by Chris to disguise, in his selection, the creative models and ideals he aspired to – and still does.
Writing and recording his new album ‘Moonfleet & Other Stories’ took Chris de Burgh on the most ambitious, challenging and evocative journey of his long and successful career,
With sales of his albums now approaching 50 million worldwide, his unique, vivid slant on musical story-telling is already clearly established, but ‘Moonfleet & Other Stories’ raises the bar to unprecedented new heights.
It’s entirely appropriate to call ‘Moonfleet & Others Stories’ a tour de force, not merely since it comprises 20 original elements (including an orchestral overture), but because it’s a fully-rounded and realised musical suite based on the book from which the album takes its name.
Yet while the piece – a sequence of songs threaded together by narration – concerns itself with a musical and lyrical interpretation of the classic work (a tale of 18th Century smuggling, treasure, friendship, love and loss) by English novelist J. Meade Falkner, elsewhere on the album Chris tackles an extraordinarily diverse and wide-ranging variety of topics.
Songs which moved and motivated Chris de Burgh to become a better writer himself are at the core of ‘Footsteps 2′. In a variety of ways, the 10 ‘covers’ on the new album each proved influential to Chris in forging and developing his career – and one of the original versions quite literally stopped him in his tracks when he first heard it.
“I had to pull my car over to the side of the road and simply listen,” says Chris of ‘The Living Years’ by Mike & The Mechanics . “It suddenly hit me about my own relationship with my father, which was not the easiest. I couldn’t drive because I was crying. The tears were rolling down my face and this song helped me to build bridges between myself and my father.”
Whereas the songs featured on his successful 2009 album ‘Footsteps’ were selected for being inspirational personal favourites often performed by Chris, the material on ‘Footsteps 2′ was chosen for the “big effect” it has had upon him. “Music is the soundtrack to our own lives,” he says. “These songs, at particular times in my life, were cornerstones. They were the footsteps, like stepping stones across the river, that helped me on my way.”
Chris refers to the driving creative impetus of other musicians on his career in a verse of ‘Every Step Of The Way’, one of three new songs he wrote for ‘Footsteps 2′. They are joined by a reworking of a German lyric in ‘Seven Bridges’, an orchestral version of the ‘Footsteps’ theme, The Beatles tracks ‘Let It Be’ and ‘Lady Madonna’ and the Stevie Winwood song, ‘While You See A Chance’.
While his approach to several of the songs was to produce ‘faithful versions’ of the originals, Chris had an entirely different agenda with others – particularly ‘SOS’ by Abba, for which both the tempo and arrangement was altered, in part. His personal reading and interpretation of particular song lyrics was also a key focus. “With certain songs, I wanted to bring more attention to the lyric than was possibly there initially. I was really concentrating on the feeling of the song.”
As with ‘Footsteps’, arriving at the final tracks for ‘Footsteps 2′ – and their positioning in the running order of the album – was a painstaking process. “I spent a lot of time researching the tracks, going through songs, listening to songs, wondering if I could do a good job on them, whether I could add something to the original, or whether I was just going to do an ‘homage’ to the original.
“There were no definite choices, immediately, but the album began to take its own shape and, as always, it’s very important to have a dynamic attitude to the overall; you can’t just have ten really powerful songs at high tempo, you have to balance – the balance is critical.”
The result is the third new album Chris has recorded and released in as many years; a prolific output by any standards, with the two ‘Footsteps’ projects sandwiching 2010′s hit album of original material, ‘Moonfleet & Other Stories’. “I gave myself the biggest challenge of my career in writing and recording that album,” Chris estimates. “It was very difficult but great, great fun to have done that, ultimately. Meanwhile, let’s not forget that the ‘Footsteps’ albums were of songs that existed already! I didn’t have to put a lot of songwriting into them, which is what really takes the time.”
As always, Chris is set go on the road in support of his latest release, just as soon as he’s completed the final leg of the ‘Moonfleet & Other Stories’ tour. “I’m very much looking forward to going on tour in 2012 with ‘Footsteps 2′. We’ll be performing quite a few songs from it, which I’m really excited about doing.”
And what of ‘Footsteps 3′? “I have no plans to write and record another of my own albums at all at the moment because we’re still very much involved with ‘Moonfleet’ , but ‘Footsteps 3′ is definitely a possibility.
“I think the day will come, as long as I’m still in good voice and, certainly, people who have heard ‘Footsteps 2′ say it’s probably the best singing I’ve ever done. I am very pleased with it. It also comes down to public interest; whether they want to hear it. The material is out there. There are plenty of great songs to record. Maybe we’ll approach it in a slightly different way, perhaps look at a different kind of material. I’ve always been drawn, for example, to classical music and to church chorale music. Maybe an album of Christmas carols. Who knows?”