CHRIS THOMPSON: THE MIGHTY QUINN (2001)
From Manfred Mann’s Earth Band to "You’re The Voice" – and finally out with a new solo album. Chris Thompson is on a mini-tour in Norway and did a gig at Smuget this week. Spot had a chat with him right before it all kicked off.
After being a nervous wreck all day I met a smiling and down to earth Chris Thompson at a hotel in Oslo the 12th of November. As this was my first interview with an international rock star I wasn’t as relaxed as I wanted to be, but when I was invited into the lobby (while he was doing another interview that was running late) I calmed down – at least enough to get the colour back in my cheeks.
WON’T LIE DOWN
I decided to begin with the end: His new album – "Won’t Lie Down" – that’s out in stores now. It’s been a while since the last Chris Thompson album, but why?
- I didn’t want to make an album until I could make it the way I wanted to make it. I’ve made two or three solo-albums that I’m not really pleased with. When you have a record company and a producer saying, "We want an album that sounds like this" while you want to do something else, it’s bound to be a compromise. I like some songs here and there, but I don’t like the albums as a whole.
- On this album I started writing with Mike Slamer who’s the other guy on the album, and after we had written four or five songs together we realised that we had some really good songs that fitted together.
- This is an album I really enjoy listening to, even though it didn’t take all the time in the world to make. We probably worked for about six months all in all within eighteen months.
What was his original plan for the album, I wonder?
- I don’t know if I had this big plan for the finished result, but I wanted to make an album that was full of energy and with songs that I would really enjoy singing. In the end I think we made it, and I think it has some magic moments!
Chris Thompson has been a professional musician since 1973, but how does he really write his songs?
- All songs are different. On these songs I wrote lyrics and melody to ideas that Mike already had, but I don’t always work like that. Sometimes I play the guitar and sing at the same time while I try to come up with lyrics that fit. I try to write the lyrics while I’m working on the melody, as I don’t like having to add the lyrics in the end. On Mads’s record the music was already done, so I had to make a melody and lyrics that would be added in the end. I’m always trying to have an idea of what the finished result will be like, then I’ll fill in the blanks as I go.
Because "Won’t Lie Down" obviously is an album that Chris is happy with, it’s important to promote it in a way that it will reach the bigger masses. The best way to do that is to be where the people are, and please as many as possible with small gigs and even a tour. Mads Eriksen & Co are from Bergen, so that’s why Chris started his little mini-tour there – but also because it was cheaper for him to travel to Norway than it would be for the band to go to the USA. They’ve already done three gigs before Smuget, Oslo.
- I do concerts all the time, maybe 50 or 60 a year, but it’s not as much as the well over 200 we did a year with "Manfred Mann’s Earth Band". I wish I could, because I love touring, but if I did I wouldn’t have time for anything else. The reason why I’m in Norway now is to rehearse the band and hear how we sound together. I’m also going to promote the record and try to get it played on the radio, and to do that I have to talk to people and do concerts.
MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND
From 1974 to 1979 Chris was officially the vocalist in ”Manfred Mann’s Earth Band”. He simply answered an add in the paper where they announced that they needed a singer. Even though Manfred Mann wished Chris good luck with his solo-career in 1979, he didn’t really leave the band until 1987.
- Manfred kept asking me if I could do tours and concerts, and because it always takes him years to make a record I had time to do my own stuff too. The time with the band was fantastic! We played a lot of concerts for a lot of people, and it was an amazing experience to please as many as we did. There’s nothing better in the world!
Everything sounds like a perfect dream, but Chris did after all leave the band. The reason for that was that they weren’t making the records Chris wanted to make – only the records Manfred wanted to make.
- I’m a songwriter and he wouldn’t let me. He didn’t like any of the songs I wrote, and when you are a songwriter you want to do your own songs, not somebody else’s songs. We’re still great friends, Manfred and I, so when he asked if I wanted to sing on an album that was released in ’93 I said yes.
In 1983 he released his first solo album that was called "Out Of The Night", but why was this the right time to do it?
- It’s like with everything else, you just know it’s the right thing to do. I’m a songwriter and an artist, and I found someone who were willing to let me make a record. It wasn’t a very good deal and I had to hold back on a lot of things. The music industry is a terrible business to be in. It’s very, very hard if you’re not successful all the time. You have the audience on one side and the music on the other side, but in the middle you have all these people stopping the music from getting to the audience.
- Today’s music and musicians are perfect examples of that you have to be a certain age, look a certain way, have the right songs, the right band and the right image. All that is just bullshit, people don’t really care about that! he stresses. - Fortunately we have people like you who listen to the music, like what they hear and don’t give a shit that I don’t look like... Britney Spears, he says and laughs. No, no, I’m just kidding. Some people care about this, but most of those listening to music don’t. The distributors are not trying to reach a group of people between 35 and 45, but a group between 14 and 20. They pay the radio stations to play music to the last group, and that’s fine by me. I don’t have a big problem with that most commercial radio stations play that kind of music, but there has to be some radio stations playing other stuff as well.
In 1993 was the big memorial concert for Freddie Mercury held at Wembley Stadium in London. Chris had an important task before the gig, and that was to help all the artists – and the band – to rehearse. For six weeks he went back and forth to make sure everybody were prepared for the big day. He was promised a reward from Queen’s Roger Taylor: He was going to do a song. Only fair, really, but something came up and plans were changed. They were running short on time and had to leave out a song, so Chris never got to sing "It’s A Kind Of Magic" at Wembley that evening.
- It was, to tell you the truth, a real shit day for me. Just because I wasn’t one of the big ones at the time I was cut out of the whole thing. I was really, really disappointed because I’d used so much time and effort to make everything right, and if I hadn’t done it they wouldn’t have been able to do the concert at all.
Even though it wasn’t a very good day for him, he admits that his personal favourite at the concert was George Michael with "Somebody To Love".
- I think George Michael was the person who put the most effort into it. He was definitely the highlight of the day, simply the best. I was very impressed with his commitment and he always showed up to rehearsals early and always stayed late so we could run through his songs once more. He knew the songs and sang them very, very well. He’s a great guy!
In 1995 Chris did a duet with opera singer Sarah Brightman. It was through this song that I discovered that someone by the name Chris Thompson existed. Of course I was curious of how this had happened and why they sang together.
- I was working with her boyfriend at the time, and he wanted her to do a rock song. It was a fun change, and she’s a very nice person. For instance, before we were going to do a TV show together she took me out to buy clothes. I got a really nice coat that I still have, and I think that was a remarkable thing to do.
”YOU’RE THE VOICE”
I think we all remember the John Farnham hit "You’re The Voice" from '86, but I don’t think I’m the only one who thought he had written this masterpiece himself. Surprise, this is actually Chris Thompson’s song! He made a demo of it, but the record company didn’t want to use it as they didn’t think it was a good song and wouldn’t be a hit. (How wrong can someone possibly be?) Instead of leaving it to collect dust, he let John Farnham record it, but how did he feel when it became a world-wide hit?
- It was really satisfying, actually! I was really pleased because the record company were totally wrong! he laughs. It was never a hit in the USA, but in Australia it’s almost like the national anthem, he grins. Around that time I said to people, "I’ve sung a number one song written by someone else and I’ve written a number one sung by someone else. All I have to do now is to write and sing a number one sing and I can retire peacefully."
SAS BAND – SPIKE´S ALL STARS
For all I know this is an unknown phenomenon in Norway, but the SAS band (Spike Edney’s All Stars Band) is a group of musicians who plays their own and other artists’ greatest hits. It all started with a Queen fan-club concert that Brian May and Roger Taylor were going to attend to, but for some reason they didn’t anyway.
- Spike Edney called me and asked if I could do some songs for this Queen fan-club and I said yes. This was after the Freddie Mercury gig. After this we just kept doing small concerts and gigs, and it’s a terrific working environment. We’re having so much fun together! I’ve done "Blinded By The Light", "Davy’s On The Road Again", "You’re The Voice" and some Queen songs. Among others we’ve had Paul Young doing three songs, the other Paul Young from Mike & The Mechanics who sadly died last year, Roger Taylor’s done various Queen songs and many, many others are involved in this project.
He tells me that he’s releasing a single from the album in February next year, will try to make some radio stations play the record and do more concerts. He promises that he’ll be back in Norway in April, maybe even as early as February.
- Germany will be our main target at first... And anyone else who will have us! he laughs.
How does he like Norway?
- I love it! It’s a great country! It’s very nice, but a bit cold. I’ve always enjoyed Scandinavia, and Norway is really good in the summer when the sun is shining – and the sun was up today! You will come tonight, right? he asked and looked at me with hopeful eyes.
I nodded and smiled because, frankly, how could I possibly resist?