First Published January 2019
“APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE, BUT ALSO WHAT OTHERS HAVE”
I can still remember when Charlie Landsborough first hit the scene in a big way. I was fascinated by the song ‘What Colour Is The Wind’, and the magical question its gorgeous lyric posed. But equally so, I was fascinated by Charlie himself. For a man for whom success had come somewhat all of a sudden (or the kind of ‘overnight’ that is, in fact, many, many years in the making!), everything about him was so relaxed, natural, and genuinely gracious. Not to mention that he was a funny guy back then, too. And he still is. It finally became my pleasure to spend some time in conversation with the man himself recently, as he prepares to tour Ireland soon.
Charlie is a proud Scouser, so there was really only one place to start before we even got to the music. With Liverpool sitting pretty on top of the Premier League and looking like a first title for 29 years might at last be in sight, I put it to Charlie that he has to be a happy man looking at the league table right now…
“Aaw, I’m absolutely delighted! I think Klopp has done a fantastic job, and I think he’s solved the main problem that we had, which was the defence. The team is playing great, I just hope we can keep it together. I think they’ll hang on until May because we’ve got a lot of the harder games out of the way, and we’ve scrapped wins where last season we would have struggled. So yeah, I’m very hopeful we can hang on.”
Charlie will be in Tullamore on February 5th when his tour stops off at the Tullamore Court Hotel. That tour, however, is called the FAREWELL Tour, which a lot of people will be sad to hear. So will it really be goodbye? And if it will, how did Charlie come to the decision that now is the right time to say goodbye?
“Well it is goodbye. I’m not gonna do what so many others have done, where a farewell tour goes on for about five years [laughs]. This will be it. You only have to look at a picture of me to realise that I’m gettin’ on a little bit [laughs]. So I want to quit while I’m still able to sing reasonably well, I don’t want to stick around being an embarrassment to myself or anyone else. I’ve seen far greater performers than me who’ve gone on too long, and you think, oh that sounds awful, ya know. And also your energy begins to reduce. My wife calls me Peter Pan still, cos’ I still think I’m a lad, like, ya know what I mean [laughs]. The music will always still be there. I’ll still write, and record, I think. I’ll fill my life with all sorts of things. I’ll play a few rounds of very bad golf! I’ll do a bit of painting. I’ll get more involved with the church. And I want to do a bit of charity work, and learn some languages as well. It’ll be an interesting time for me as well. But I’ll miss this immensely too, because I’ve met so many interesting people from all walks of life, and I’ve been to places I never dreamed I’d go to, and made friends with lovely people everywhere. So I’m very lucky in that respect. And I’ll miss it.”
Charlie also has a new album our at the moment, ‘The Attic Collection’, a title I love, but where did it come from, I wondered?
“Well in the sleeve notes it says attics are where we keep our old memorabilia and stuff, and this is my musical memorabilia. And some of it was recorded in an attic, about five or six tracks on there that are just me, and my Scottish mate, Jim Donaldson, just the two of us sat in an attic. The rest of it, although some of the songs will be known to people out there, it’s different in that it’s all acoustic. I’m playing guitar the whole way through, and I think there’s only one track I play guitar on on all the albums I’ve recorded [up to this]. So I’m playing guitar everywhere this time. And we’ve got mandolins and fiddles on it, too. There’s some new songs as well. You always release a new album with some trepidation, wondering if it’s going to be received well. But thankfully, people have been sayin’ favourable things about it so that makes me relieved and happy.”
‘The Attic Collection’ features fifteen of Charlie‘s most-loved songs recorded in a brand new way. What prompted him to take them back into the studio?
“They were all recorded quite a while back. Some of the ones we did in the attic, we did purely as demos. But then I listened to them, and I thought, well they’re o.k, ya know! [laughs]. They’re a bit quirky, and give a different slant on some of the songs. My first love is acoustic music, and I’ve played my acoustic guitar all my life. We’ve got a totally different line-up musically as well, and I’m not maligning anyone I’ve worked with before, I just mean that this is nice in a different way.”
One of Charlie‘s greatest hits is a beautiful song called ‘I Will Love You All My Life’, and I remember reading in his autobiography that there was about eighteen months between when he wrote the verses and when he actually wrote the chorus…
“[Laughs] Well, I’m not that successful a songwriter, because I’ve written…it must be thousands, and I’ve got drawers full of stuff in my study there. And most of them should never see the light of day! [laughs]. Because they’re pretty mundane and ordinary. But I see them as sort of like orphan children. They mightn’t be much to look at, but I still can’t bring myself to throw them away [laughs]. I’ve got all sorts of stuff in there, and yeah, sometimes I’ll go back and discover something that I once shelved, thinking it wasn’t much good, but end up thinking now that it’s not that bad, once you hear it with different ears. I write all the time. And occasionally, you’ll write something like ‘I Will Love You All My Life.’ I was driving to a pub – I was playing on my own in those days – not far from where I live, and I just sang the first couple of lines of that song with the words and music intact. And I wasn’t consciously thinking of anything, it just sort of poured forth. So I had the task of trying to remember it all night then. So I kept turning away from the audience in between songs and singing it to myself [laughs]. And as you said, it was about a year later that I added a chorus. But then Foster and Allen heard it. My version you couldn’t buy it, no-one had heard of it. But Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart played it on BBC Radio 2 – I don’t how he got hold of it! – but listening were Foster and Allen. They came to London and a friend of theirs said to them, ‘I’ve got a great song for ya’, and he played them that. They said, yeah, we know it, but it’s been done. That’s when they heard that you couldn’t get hold of my version of it. So they went and recorded it, and after they did we became great friends. They invited me along to see them perform, and invited me along to Ireland, to the midlands, just up the road from where you are, and this love affair of mine with Ireland began. And it all came about through that one song.”
Another of Charlie‘s best-loved tunes is ‘What Happened To Love’, which he’s described as being about things like the old values of honesty, integrity, and good manners that modern life seems to be losing. When Charlie looks at the world today, with all of the division and anger being caused by situations like Brexit and people like Donald Trump, as a songwriter, how does that make Charlie feel?
“Well, a bit depressed, like everybody else, I think. But mind you, I think a lot of those things you mentioned are still more evident in Ireland. And I’m not just saying that. I say that to people over here all the time. There’s always been that sort of generosity of spirit and that kindness in the Irish generally, and that’s why the Irish are loved throughout the world. I don’t know what it is, but some of it is the breakdown of families, and drugs have played an enormous part in this fracturing of life. And not forgetting the Almighty. I’m a Christian. And nowadays, that can mean you’re seen as a bit of a fringe lunatic, ya know [laughs]. It’s unfashionable. I read a book once called World Adrift, and it said, that a long time ago, God was huge in everybody’s life. Like as if you were on a boat, and you’re next to this huge monument. But as you drift out to sea, the monument becomes smaller and smaller. And it’s almost like that with mankind and the Almighty, because we’ve forgotten who created us. And we’ve turned our back on him somewhat. And I think that inevitably brings things to bear.”
Success came later in life for Charlie, when he was in his fifties. Does he think that fact helped him to appreciate it and enjoy it all the more? As well as be able to deal with everything that came along with it, of course?
“Yeah. Now, I think people sometimes have the misconception that I spend my life bemoaning things. But I had the most marvellous time and met fantastic time, even playing in the little pubs, people who are still my friends to this day. And I gained an awful lot of experience through the different people I’ve met and the different jobs I’ve done. It all helps to create the person that you are. You begin to value things all the more. You realise that this life is transient, so you make the most of everybody and every situation. And all those wonderful people that I’ve met, and those experiences, leave some sort of a fingerprint on you. I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for anything. Although you may have been struggling musically, it was still always enjoyable. I think God chose the right time for me. If it had happened earlier on, I might not have written the songs I did! I only began to write out of frustration, ya know. Now, the songwriting is as big a part of my life as the singing is. If I’d have got a break earlier on, because I was a bit of a lad [laughs], I might have fallen by the wayside! I could have been into all sorts that shouldn’t be mentioned! [laughs].”
When it comes to songwriting, titles are a vital part of the process for Charlie. For instance, a card from his sister, Joyce, inspired ‘My Forever Friend’ (she had written that inside the card to Charlie), and an inscription she put on a watch inspired ‘Love You Every Second.’ What I love is that Charlie read those words and immediately recognised the potential for songs. As Charlie often mentions, God plays an important role in his life. Does he believe his ability to see songs where others don’t – and of course to then write them – comes from God?
“Oh yeah, I think so. I mean, I’m a very ordinary fella. People might get the misconception that I’m sort of a saint, I’m not. I’m flawed, like everybody. I wouldn’t judge anybody, and hopefully they don’t judge me. Every night when I go to bed, I say ‘Thanks Lord, for this gift which I did nothin ‘for, for the places it’s taken me, and the lovely people I’ve met, for the songs I’ve written, and hopefully the pleasure I’ve brought to people through the gift you gave me.’ I think he’s designed everything that’s happened to me. In fact, in 1994, when I was beginning to despair of ever doing anything, after years of arguing with the Almighty, sayin’, ‘Listen Lord, don’t ya think this would be a good idea?’, but in ’94 I just thought I was gettin’ nowhere. I was fifty-odd years of age. So I changed my prayer. I said, ‘Alright Lord, I don’t know why you gave me these musical gifts, everywhere I turn I get rejected, but if you want me to be a teacher on Merseyside, I’ll do it. But you’ll have to help me out, cos’ I don’t like it much. So I give in. Your will be done.’ And it’s almost as if from that sort of spiritual submission, that the whole thing began to fall into place and the ball began to roll. I think we’re all blessed in totally different ways. And I get great joy out of seeing the blessings that other people have, while at the same time enjoying the gifts that God gave me. I can sit listenin’ to other singers and think they’re smashin’, ya know. Or I like the way he plays that, wish I could do that! [laughs]. But all you have is yourself, and your ability to do what you can do. You should appreciate what you have, but also what others have.”
During the course of his career, Charlie has performed at the Grand Ole Opry, he’s topped the charts in Ireland, and his songs have changed peoples’ lives. But has there been a favourite moment of them all so far, one from that treasure trove that stands out in particular?
“There’s been so many. Well playing in the Gaiety Theatre, my first night of an Irish tour to a packed house, when I was…well I think terrified is the word [laughs]. Comin’ off after then with a feeling of euphoria and relief that it had gone o.k. and people had enjoyed what I did. That will always stand out because it was my first night in that new situation. Going back to Liverpool then, and playing the Philharmonic Hall. I said it was like attending your own funeral because there was everybody there from priests and nuns to safe-breakers! And that’s true! Everybody was there, from my family to lads who had watched me in the pub, to people I’d gone to school with. So that was great. Doin’ the Opry was great too, I only wish my brothers could have been there to see it, because we had listened to it for years, me and me brothers, when I was a little lad. I remember when I was in Australia, and they said to me, ‘Charlie, you’re playin’ in the Yellow Wool Shed tonight’, and I thought to myself, ‘The Yellow Wool Shed?! Sounds like a right place, that!’But we turned up to it, a big wooden place, and I thought nobody would know me there at all. I thought it was goin’ to be a disaster. But I went in, and there was about three-hundred people there, and nearly all Scottish as it happened! And as we left that night, they were all out in the car-park singin’ ‘Will Ya No Come Back Again’ [laughs]. So if you’ve got an appreciative audience in front of ya, it’s those people that make a place special. And I always remember that night as well, because one of the lads said to me, ‘Did you see that, Charlie?’, and I said, ‘See what?’ He said, ‘There was a huge Huntsman spider hangin’ off your mic-stand!’ But I never saw it! The audience must have thought, aaw he’s cool, nothin’ bothers him! But if I’d seen it, I’d have legged it! [laughs]. Anywhere you play where the people enjoy what you do is marvellous, that can be a little place or a big place.”