The come­back king on his beau­ti­ful life

Rick Ast­ley never felt like he owned be­ing a pop star in 1980s and in fact did give it all up for a while, be­fore hav­ing one of the un­like­li­est re­vivals in mu­sic his­tory. meets the grate­ful singer

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - CULTURE -

Rick Ast­ley cel­e­brated his come­back with a mop and bucket. It was July 17, 2016, and Ast­ley’s al­bum, 50, had im­prob­a­bly reached num­ber one in the UK, the 1980s pop star’s first chart-top­per in 29 years. “It was pour­ing rain,” re­calls Ast­ley, who had been out do­ing pro­mo­tional ap­pear­ances with wife and man­ager, Lena Bausager. “We’re get­ting texts telling us we’ve done it, we’ve beaten the com­pe­ti­tion. It was un­be­liev­able, just the idea that my name would be up there again ahead of big con­tem­po­rary stars like Adele and Cold­play. And then we got home and the kitchen’s un­der four inches of wa­ter.”

Their roof had sprung a leak. So the Ast­leys “opened a re­ally nice bot­tle of Ital­ian red and mopped up”, he laughs. “It was like the uni­verse go­ing ‘don’t get too big for your boots’.”

Ast­ley has en­joyed one of the un­like­li­est re­vivals in pop his­tory and he knows it. “I never felt l could own be­ing a pop star and I still don’t, to be hon­est,” says the 52-year-old in his bluff, Lan­cashire ac­cent. “Go­ing back to the days of Smash Hits, pop stars did it with a lot of bravado, like ‘f *** you, we’re Du­ran Du­ran, and we’re on the front of a yacht with mod­els’. And there’s me, this lit­tle North­ern guy in a trench coat singing ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’.”

Dis­cov­ered per­form­ing with a cov­ers band at a cricket club disco by writ­ing and pro­duc­tion team Stock, Aitken & Wa­ter­man, Ast­ley was 21 when his de­but sin­gle topped charts all over the world. He went on to score a fur­ther 13 in­ter­na­tional hits, and sold over 40 mil­lion al­bums. Then he walked away from it all, in 1993, aged just 27.

“I’d had enough. It was all busi­ness and no mu­sic. And I had a lot of in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plexes, which wasn’t helped by hang­ing out in trendy places where the waiters are bet­ter look­ing than the artists. You’d go to LA to do a TV show and get picked up by a driver who looked like a swimwear model. I don’t think I was cho­sen for my chin, to be fair. I was cho­sen be­cause some­one heard me sing in a club up North and thought ‘we can make a record out of that’.”

But an­other two decades on, Ast­ley re­turned with an al­bum he wrote, played and pro­duced all by him­self and saw it go to plat­inum in the UK. “I get emo­tional talk­ing about it,” he ad­mits, slap­ping his cheeks to stem welling tears. “Be­cause it’s mu­sic, and it makes so many con­nec­tions to things in my life.”

Ast­ley sits sur­rounded by in­stru­ments in his com­fort­ably-ap­pointed, light-filled record­ing stu­dio, con­verted from a garage at his home in Kingston-on-Thames, Lon­don. A strik­ing open-plan kitchen ad­joins, where his Scan­di­na­vian wife sits tap­ping at a lap­top. In the sun-drenched gar­den, their 25-year-old daugh­ter, Em­i­lie (who has an MA), takes a dip in an open-air swim­ming pool.

This is where Ast­ley has writ­ten and recorded his fol­low-up al­bum, Beau­ti­ful Life. “I can get re­ally mis­er­able and down about any­thing,” con­fesses Ast­ley. “I’m a north­erner, at the end of the day. I have to re­mind my­self on quite a reg­u­lar ba­sis how lucky I’ve been. It is a beau­ti­ful life.”

In May, he was at Kylie Minogue’s 50th birth­day party, ser­e­nad­ing her with ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. Ast­ley, Minogue and fel­low guest Ja­son Dono­van all recorded for Stock, Aitken & Wa­ter­man (some of whom were also present) mak­ing brash, bright hits much re­viled by crit­ics in the 1980s and 1990s.

“We were hav­ing a cackle about the old days. Cer­tain mem­bers of the press used to be­have like we were do­ing the whole mu­sic scene an injustice. We were mak­ing pop songs, for f ***’s sake. If you read the NME, you’d have thought we were crim­i­nals.”

The clos­ing track of Ast­ley’s new al­bum, ‘The Good Old Days’, com­mem­o­rates a child­hood spent lis­ten­ing to his sib­lings’ records, ob­sess­ing over artists as di­verse as prog rock star Rick Wake­man and in­die icons The Smiths: “I grew up on some pretty weird mu­sic.”

Ast­ley was the youngest of four in a fam­ily badly shaken by di­vorce. “Home was a bit s***. My mum and dad’s re­la­tion­ship was aw­ful. It’s just no way for peo­ple to be brought up.” As a child, Ast­ley sang in a choir and played drums in bands. “Any­thing to get out of the house. I hate to be such a cliché but mu­sic was lit­er­ally my es­cape.”

Yet even­tu­ally the fame his thick, soul­ful voice brought be­came so op­pres­sive he felt im­pelled to quit. Was he set up for life, I won­der? “It de­pends what kind of life you want. If you want to drive a new Fer­rari ever year, maybe not. But I made quite a bit of money in the 1980s and man­aged to keep a hold of a lot of it.”

It helped that Ast­ley was in­volved in song­writ­ing, com­pos­ing al­bum tracks and his own 1991 US num­ber one bal­lad ‘Cry For Help’. “The mu­sic busi­ness is lit­tered with peo­ple who were screwed over, who had it all and have got noth­ing now. Some man­agers are like vam­pires. I was lucky that I had peo­ple around who cared about me.” His re­la­tion­ship with his wife and daugh­ter was cru­cial. “They’ve got much lighter hearts than I’ve got. They bring out the best in me.”

Ast­ley re­turned to per­form­ing, spo­rad­i­cally, from the mid-2000s, of­ten on Eight­ies nostal­gia tours. “I didn’t see it as a come­back but I was en­joy­ing singing again.”

But the in­ter­net phe­nom­e­non of rick­rolling un­ex­pect­edly put him back in the main­stream in 2007. It was a nerdy vi­ral prank that in­volved cre­at­ing links to some­thing tempt­ing (trail­ers

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