The night I secretly performed with Jimi Hendrix, by Englebert Humperdinck

He made Hendrix hide behind a curtain, Elvis supposedly stole his look and more secrecy surrounds his new album than Area 51. Entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE talks to Englebert Humperdinck.

NOT many people could get away with asking Jimi Hendrix to play guitar for them at the last minute and behind a curtain to boot.

It’s not as bad as it sounds explains Humperdinck.

Added to the bill to give the legendary guitarist a start in Europe it was an amazing time in the life of the now 75-year-old, who was born Arnold George Dorsey in Madras, India and moved with his family to Leicester when he was ten.

“One day my guitarist didn’t show up and Jimi said ‘don’t worry man, I’ll play for you’,” laughs Humperdinck.

“I said Jimi you can’t come on stage; he said ‘alright man, I’ll play behind the curtain don’t worry’. It was a wonderful gesture.

“He played on every number; it was like hearing three guitarists behind me instead of just one. He put all his own little tricks in there and it sounded great.

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“I only wish it had been a recorded show, knowing Hendrix was on it; what can you do, it’s too late.”

Humperdinck is full of stories like this.

He jokes Elvis stole the whole sideburns and leather jumpsuit look from him; in reality the two were close friends, often performing each others songs and regularly watching each other perform in Vegas.

In the 60s he, Cliff Richard and all The Beatles lived in the same area.

That must have been awkward after his first number one, Please Release Me, stopped the latter notching up their 13th chart-topper with Penny Lane?

“It was a great song. I spoke to Paul [McCartney] a couple of years ago at the Beverley Hills Hotel; he didn’t seem disgruntled he just gave me a hug which I thought was great.”

Most intriguing is his latest CD, but he’s not giving away many clues about it.

I know he’s teamed up with renowned producer Martin Terefe and some great musicians and songwriters.

“The record company told me not to give the concept away, just that it’s a collaboration album,” Humperdinck teases.

Bono and U2 aren’t among them, “I’ve always been a huge fan of the band and watching Bono on David Letterman the other day singing acoustically, I was blown away. So Bono if you’re reading this.…,” he lets slip.

Dave Stewart is, however. The two met on a TV show a few years back and he sent Humperdinck some songs he’d written.

“This is one of his which is really good; I hope people are going to like it.”

Having recorded everything from some of the world’s most romantic ballads to a dance album and the platinum-selling theme song Lesbian Seagull for the Beavis and Butthead movie are there other genres The Hump would like to try?

“I think what you will hear on the next album… I think that question will come to pass,” he says, seeing through my thinly veiled attempt to find out more.

“There are [some big surprises in store] and I’m really thrilled with this particular project.”

Despite describing finding a hit as like finding a needle in a haystack he’s found quite a few.

He’s sold more than 150million records, has four Grammy nominations, a Golden Globe award and 63 gold and 24 platinum records.

And to think it all could’ve ended before it really began when he was struck by tuberculosis in his 20s.

“I went into hospital, into a cubicle where the very severe cases were. I had the last rites and everything.”

He survived but couldn’t sing for a year-and-a-half. Many thought his career was over.

When he returned, Humperdinck knew he had to leave popular music circuit act Gerry Dorsey - as he was known after impersonating Jerry Lewis in a pub singing contest when he was 17 - behind.

That‘s when his then manager suggested changing his name to that of the 19th century composer of Hansel and Gretel.

“It was quite funny actually, I thought it was a group. I got used to the idea and it took a long time for people to be able to pronounce it.

“They used to call me pumpernickle and humpy dumpy. I think it’s quite a feat taking a name as strange as that and turning it into a romantic image,” he laughs.

At a time when most people his age are planning or enjoying their retirement, he’s still touring and brings his new show to the Ipswich Regent on November 1.

Fans can expect all the songs that have got him where he is today, The Last Waltz, Quando Quando Quando and, of course, Please Release me.

“It really established me as a recording artist around the world and is still my most requested song. There isn’t a single concert that I give in which I could not sing it.”

There will also be tracks from Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, some from his last album Released and some from the new collaboration album he’s currently recording.

“Oh God, it’s [performing] my life. I don’t think I could ever quit, hang up my hat, as long as people want me out there I’m ready.”

I wonder, has he played the saxophone since laying it down to enter that singing contest?

“I won and put the sax away. It’s still one of my favourite instruments, I have one but don’t play it but I always do all of my horn arrangements for the show.

“I feel my early lessons as a child helped me with the way I phrase when I sing, it taught me how to breath.”

No chance of him breaking it out on the tour then?

“I’ve been contemplating doing that for years, but it’s never come to pass,” he laughs.