Felixstowe Spa-bound Charlie Landsborough on the secret of his success
Success may have come late, but singer Charlie Landsborough is more than making up for lost time. He speaks to entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE about fame, faith and split trousers.
Once he’s finished here, Charlie’s off to the tailor who’s fixing him up with a pair of trousers for the new tour.
Nothing special, just an ordinary black pair.
“With my long lanky legs I need all the help I can get you know. We’ve got a little bit of leeway to get things sorted [before the tour].”
Just in case there’s any alterations needed?
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“I don’t think I’m going to do a PJ Proby [whose career suffered after notorious trouser-splitting in the mid 1960s] or anything though,” he laughs.
For some reason I recount the tale of how, when I was younger, a friend of my mum was taking a pair of mine in; only she sewed them to my boxers.
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Something neither of us realised until it was too late. Anyway, back to the reason I’m calling.
Charlie, who’s won nearly all the awards possible on the UK country music scene, loves touring.
“It’s great fun; I’m travelling the country with I think it’s about 14 of us on the road. I’ve got a great band, sound and lighting outfit and I travel with me wife, me son drives me and plays in the band as well and one of my best friends sells the merchandise.
“We travel in the motor home the four of us, meeting fantastic people and seeing all different parts of the country. We’re doing the thing that we love so it’s great fun.”
As well as touring he’s nipping back and forth to Spain to record. He’s back there this December to start work on the next album for the record company. His two-disc best of should be out by the time you read this.
Fame found Charlie late in life.
“You only have to look at a picture of me to appreciate that,” he laughs.
“I got my break when I was 53, it was a very late start. I’ve been playing all me life. I did all these other jobs; I’ve been a navvy, grocery store manager, worked on the railways, been in the army, was a school teacher, lorry driving, oh you name it.
“All the time of an evening I was going out down the pubs and writing as well when I wasn’t playing in the hope that someday I’d get this opportunity to do what I’m doing now.”
It came after, he says, yet another kick in the teeth.
Friends Foster and Allen had asked him to support them on their spring tour so he decided to pack in the teaching, take the leap and see what happened. Then came a phone call.
“They said ‘Charlie I’m sorry mate but we’re not having a support now’. So I came away from the phone feeling a little bit disconsolate. The next day I thought well no, instead of moping about it what can I do because I’m not giving up.
“I phoned RTE in Dublin and said ‘would you be interested in having me’. They said ‘Charlie, we’ve been trying to get you for two months can you come this week’?”
Armed with just a guitar and set of base pedals which he played with his feet, the following week he was top of the Irish chart. Ironically, while Foster and Allen were doing their tour he was doing his own sell out tour of Ireland.
“They’re great friends of mine and it wasn’t their fault the tour fell through but yeah, it was a bit like a musical fairytale really.”
When he got that call, did he consider sticking with teaching?
“I’m a great believer; I remember in 1995 saying ‘listen Lord, because after years of saying this’ll be a good idea help me out here you know’?
“In 1994 I was sort of saying ‘well all right, I give up. Everywhere I turn I get pack heeled so if it’s your will for me to be a teacher in Birkenhead you’ll have to help me out because I don’t like it very much you know‘? It’s almost as if from that spiritual submission the whole thing was set in motion.”
He only taught another six days after the RTE gig.
Charlie’s faith is important and there’s a thread of it through his music - the song My Forever Friend, written for a little lad called Paddy when he was still teaching for example - but he doesn’t preach on stage.
But there’s no doubt it helped him through the days of dreaming of a music career.
He first found religion as a small schoolboy following a lesson about Jesus Christ.
“I lived in a part of Birkenhead that was a bit rough. You’re sort of questioning what’s the right way to behave and I thought ‘no, it’s good to be good and I’m going to live forever and this is fantastic’.”
The youngest of a large family, none of them were overtly Christian. Teased by his seafaring brothers for laying on the carpet, reading a religious book he wasn’t strong enough to withstand the pressure and his faith was ridiculed out of him.
“Many years later I left a pub in Birkenhead and all these things were nagging at me and I thought I’ll go in every church I come to until I find one with somebody in. I think it was the second one I went in; they were holding a burial service.
“The minister came out and said ‘what is it’? I said ‘well, I’ll confess I’ve had a few drinks like but I’d like to talk to you’. He said ‘come on Friday and I’ll talk as long as you like’. Course Friday I’d sobered up so it took a little bit for me to go there; but I did go and that was it, I sort of found me way back home again.
“I know all the characters in the town, I know all the scoundrels and scallywags who I think the world of. When I first sort of found me faith again all the lads were saying ‘Charlie’s gone round the bend, he’s a religious nut’.
“I certainly wasn’t. They were ‘it’ll be all right, he’ll come out of it soon’. Thankfully that was about 30 years ago and I still haven’t come out of it; and please god I never will.”
Audiences can expect a mixed bag of styles, from folk, country and even a bit of gospel, “I’m a great lover of a vast variety of music. I always said music is a bit like food… chips are great but if all you get is chips it’s not very healthy. I think musically why restrict yourself to chips when there’s all sorts of other stuff on the menu,” he laughs.
His entertaining anecdotes captivate audiences as much as his music. Wary of wasting his best tales on me, he laughs, Charlie shares one story.
“There was this character in the town who’s since passed away and we told this story at his funeral. His name was Terry Connell and he went on a coach outing to Blackpool, got drunk and missed the coach back home so he went to the police station for help and the police phoned his mother up in Birkenhead.
“They said ‘are you the mother of Terrence Joseph Connell? I’ve got some very bad news for you, your son has been stranded in Blackpool’.
“She said ‘Oh no no, our Terry’s been strangled in Blackpool’. The policeman said ‘no calm down Mrs Connell he hasn’t been strangled in Blackpool he’s been stranded. Can you send �10 to cover the cost of getting him home’?
“There was a pause and then she said ‘he should have been bleeding strangled in Blackpool’. So it’s simple daft little stories like that.”
Fans at the Felixstowe Spa Pavilion on October 15 - he’s also in Lowestoft on October 14 and King’s Lynn on October 16 - will be treated to songs they know and some they don’t.
“Some people have the impression that because some of my songs are quite sad that it’s going to be rather a downbeat evening but it’s not because I tell the jokes and the stories in between and do some up tempo stuff. Hopefully they’ll enjoy the sum total of it all.”
With 21 studio albums to choose from, it must be hard settling on a playlist?
“You think ‘if I don’t play that somebody’s going to say well I brought me mother tonight and she’s disappointed you didn’t play that song for her you know’,” he laughs.
“But it’s a nice dilemma to have because when I first started writing I only had a few little songs so it’s great to have a pile to pick from.
“Somebody said ‘you must get fed up of singing What Colour is the Wind’ or whatever it was. I said ‘I certainly don’t’ because I owe the song an awful lot. It’s given me the sort of life that I have now and as long as people enjoy what I’m doing I’m delighted to play whatever they want.”