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NUNN ON ONE MUSIC Rick Astley, '80s icon talks touring, gay fan base, Boy George
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2018-04-11

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English singer Rick Astley broke out with the 1987 song "Never Gonna Give You Up" and after several hit songs later retired in 1993 before a comeback in 2007.

Thanks to rickrolling he became an internet phenomenon. On a recent phone call, Astley mentioned he has new music coming out in the future, but plans on playing much of his last album, 50, live in the upcoming Chicago show.

Windy City Times: So you started singing in the church choir originally?

Rick Astley: Yes—our local vicar just came to the school and picked out the boys who could sing a bit. We used to get paid for weddings. How good is that?

WCT: Nice!

RA: I don't think I will ever forget the experience of making music literally with your voice. Whenever I am with a choir or a group of singers I still get a bit of a thrill out of it. It is very special. There is no instrument to translate to. It is just humans making a noise. When that works it's amazing.

I always have more admiration for backing vocalists than the lead singers sometimes because they are the guys with the chops.

WCT: How did the producers Stock Aitken Waterman, who did Bananarama and Kylie Minogue, take you under their wing?

RA: They did loads of artists; not so much in America, but in Europe, they were enormous. They had records out every month. It was the early days when I met them. They weren't really known. I signed a deal with them and shortly after that they exploded. I was in the right place at the right time.

The first tune that they wrote was "Never Gonna Give You Up" and, to this day, I feel it is the best song they ever wrote. I got lucky with that one!

WCT: Do you ever get tired of singing it?

RA: I retired for 15 years so it is not like I have been doing it since 1987! [Laughs] To be honest, I have sung it quite a lot and it's been played by so many radio stations, but I have come full circle. It is part of my life, really. That's a good thing. I don't see it as a negative.

That song has been really good to me and keeps being good to me. I sing it now with relish. It's like a nice cozy pair of slippers.

WCT: What made you come out of retirement?

RA: I never planned on coming out of retirement. I would always get offers to do gigs in different parts of the world but would turn them down. I got an offer to go to Japan and they made me do it. It was like doing giant karaoke. I had people sing along. Two or three songs in something snapped and I thought, "I can do this whenever I want to." It is not like back in the day when I was part of a massive machine pushing me through hoops. Something changed in me so I have been doing it again for about 10 years.

It has been nostalgic for me because I have been doing gigs with artists from around the world, bands like The Human League, who I bought their records.

WCT: I saw you performed with the Foo Fighters onstage.

RA: That was nuts. I was in Tokyo doing a festival and they were the headliners. Me and the band went to see them and were standing there. They invited me to sing and I was pushed out on the stage. It was just brilliant.

For a band that makes such ferocious music, they are unbelievably chilled out. They were comfortable so they made me feel comfortable. It was a last minute thing.

WCT: What was one thing you learned from touring with Boy George?

RA: He's one of those people that has been through it. He's had some high and lows. He's had some tragedies. The overriding thing is he's intelligent and he has a sharp sense of humor. He was truly a global star and iconic. Culture Club had great songs, but he as a figurehead broke down so many barriers. He was androgynous in the way he dressed. Everything about him was different. He shook things up a little bit.

He had great songs. I think if the material was not very good that the rest of it wouldn't have lasted five minutes.

WCT: You have played at Madrid's Pride and at England's G-A-Y at Heaven Nightclub. Did dance music contribute to your gay fan base?

RA: I think if you go back to my early tunes they were played in gay clubs a lot. I always recognized that and have known that.

Some people put themselves in a bracket and say they are one kind of artist. I am just someone who makes music and anyone who wants to like it I am all for that.

I take notice that you sometimes get a little cuddle or embraced by a certain audience and it is nice to go with that, as opposed to deciding who your audience is.

It would be ghastly to deny or say that part of society didn't embrace me. I remember how they were to me. When I was invited to do gay Pride, it was a priority for me to do it. It was a good fun, but a little scary as well because it was so massive. The whole city just gets taken over!

It was intense. Madrid is a pretty city and love it. That was a crazy weekend to be there, for sure.

WCT: Do you have a crazy fan story?

RA: Nothing too menacing. I think they are all crazy. When I do a gig and someone is outside wanting me to sign something, I say to their faces, "You must be crazy. Why haven't you gone home?" When someone is losing it and wobbling a little, I usually give them a hug to help them calm down. I just want them to talk to me.

I was never a person that waited around for an autograph. That's not because I didn't love certain artists, because I did big time, but it was not a part of what I did. I find it odd now.

I am happy to sign anything for anyone, but I think it's a bit nuts in a way. I know how I am and I wouldn't be nuts about me!

WCT: How do you stay so young-looking?

RA: Oh, you are a lovely man. When I was 21 and released my first hit song I looked about 11, so I have a few years on my side in terms of that. I probably hated looking that way at 21, but now I am glad I looked younger.

My wife is from Denmark and a really healthy cook. We always eat pretty good stuff. We plan our tours around good restaurants.

WCT: Chicago has some good restaurants for you.

RA: Yes, and I think we have a day off as well so we will be checking some places out.

WCT: Do you have a band on this tour?

RA: We pretty much have the same band with some personnel change but fairly the same unit whenever we play. For me it is just enjoying it really. I appreciate the fact that I can still do it and however small the gig is somebody still wants to come. I treat it like that.

When we are in the UK and some parts of the world I might be doing arenas. Some parts of the world I am not. That is fine.

Most artists want to do arenas, but that is their ego talking. In the little gigs you remember more. The little ones you can hear people shouting things to you. You can have conversations.

WCT: I believe the show in Chicago is almost sold out.

RA: That's good news. I always wonder how people know about it. The internet is such a wonderful thing.

WCT: Have you played in Chicago in the past?

RA: No. I didn't really tour a lot in America. I did tons of radio promos, so I have been there to do radio and stuff like that. I did gigs around there years ago like in Detroit but not there.

I didn't do a lotto touring because I was selling records and that is what they wanted me to do. I would go on the Arsenio Hall show and sell hundred of albums. People didn't want me to play live. I only found out I could afterwards. It is nice to go out and play now!

Be "Together Forever" with Astley at House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., on Wed., April 25, with tickets at HouseofBlues.com/Chicago.


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