Adam Faith, LSD and am­bi­tion at 69 – Leo Sayer looks back

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

LEO Sayer is a lit­tle b*****d. Now, it’s easy to imag­ine what you’re think­ing: that is a bit of a harsh state­ment. Af­ter all, we’re talk­ing about the nice fella from West Sus­sex with the pasta twists hair­style. We’re talk­ing about the man who ap­peared on Top of the Pops back in 1974 singing The Show Must Go On and look­ing like Casper the Friendly Ghost af­ter he’d been dressed that morn­ing by his wee sis­ter. And didn’t he have a voice that was close to mirac­u­lous?

And we still liked Leo af­ter he took off the Pier­rot cos­tume and makeup be­cause he sang some great songs such as The Dancer and One Man Band and Moon­light­ing. Al­though to be fair, when he switched mu­si­cal track to go all disco with You Make Me Feel Like Danc­ing and sug­ary with When I Need You that tested us to the limit.

But we (sort of) for­gave him be­cause, well, he’s Leo Sayer, and he de­served it be­cause he’d writ­ten ter­rific songs for Roger Dal­trey such as Giv­ing It All Away.

But in fact, it’s Leo Sayer him­self, whose call­ing Leo Sayer a b*****d. Or rather it’s

Ger­ard Hugh Sayer, the man he was be­fore team­ing up with man­ager Adam Faith in 1973 and storm­ing the Bri­tish charts with seven sin­gles straight into the Top 10.

“I can’t be Leo Sayer all the time,” he ex­plains, speak­ing from his home in a tiny vil­lage 65 miles south of Syd­ney, New South Wales. “He can be a lit­tle b*****d. And if I were Leo all the time, he’d want ev­ery­thing.”

He pauses. “That’s why I call my­self Ge-rard,” he says of his real name, em­pha­sis­ing the sec­ond syl­la­ble, and mak­ing the name sound rather la-di-dah. “When I go to the air­port, staff say, ‘Are you Leo Sayer’s brother?’ You see, ev­ery­thing I have, my bank state­ments, credit cards, the lot, have Ger­ard on them. Not Leo. It’s a good way to re­mind my­self.”

The name check comes up be­cause we’re talk­ing about the ef­fects of fame. Or rather sur­viv­ing it. Leo Sayer is 69 in May but he’s fit and well. He emerges reg­u­larly from his Aus­tralian home to tour the world, and he’s vis­it­ing Glas­gow in May. Part of the rea­son Sayer has sung and danced his way through four decades is that he has man­aged to keep his curly head in check.

“I did cross the thresh­old a cou­ple of times,” he ad­mits of pop mad­ness. “The first was in 1974, dur­ing the Pier­rot time. I took an­other heart­beat change when You Make Me Feel Like Danc­ing hit Amer­ica and I be­came a to­tal icon there. Sud­denly, I was walk­ing on wa­ter and ex­pe­ri­enced the sort of adu­la­tion that El­ton [John], Mick [Jag­ger] and David [Bowie] had.”

How did it man­i­fest it­self? “You find your­self ask­ing to be driven around in a pink limo,” he says, “and if the limo turns up and it’s not pink you scream and throw a tantrum.” Did he ac­tu­ally do that? “Ab­so­lutely. What you think at the time is you can get from A to B in a Mini, or a Ford, but it’s so much nicer to get there in a Rolls.”

He laughs at his own folly. “A f****** pink one.” What about drink? Drugs? “There were peo­ple who went for se­ri­ous mind en­hance­ment, like Jimi Hen­drix or John Len­non, al­though I didn’t re­ally need to do that. I was blessed with an in­cred­i­bly fer­tile imag­i­na­tion. I had all my crazy ideas and they went into my songs.”

That’s not to say he didn’t dab­ble. “Maybe I was helped be­cause I didn’t start in the busi­ness too young. If you get into coke and LSD at 16 that could take a toll. I’ve smoked a few joints and popped a few pills over the

I went on one LSD trip but I swore I’d never do it again. I bump into old rock­ers and they’re wheezy and tired be­cause of the drugs

years. I went on one LSD trip but I swore I’d never do that again.

“But dur­ing the qui­eter years in Lon­don it was time to go club­bing and try it out but it didn’t feel that spe­cial. And I didn’t want a heart at­tack. Plus, I bump into old rock­ers and they’re wheezy and tired be­cause of the drugs.”

Sayer found his high on stage. “A lot of the peo­ple who got hung up on drugs had to deal with pun­ish­ment of some sort. Like Michael Jack­son and Ge­orge Michael. There is a sad self-loathing thing go­ing on and in Ge­orge’s case I’m sure it killed him. But that wasn’t me. I was happy when I be­came Leo Sayer.

GROW­ING up, Gerry Sayer wasn’t happy be­ing him­self. A small, shy, dyslexic boy, he was bul­lied at school. He was clever and great at art but couldn’t tie his shoelaces un­til he was 21.

Af­ter at­tend­ing art col­lege he worked as a de­signer. Then grad­u­ally, af­ter start­ing out as a har­mon­ica player, he was coaxed on to the stage and be­gan to sing in a band. As fate would have it, at one gig he met a song­writer called David Court­ney, who de­clared he wanted to write with Sayer and in­tro­duced him to Faith, the former pop star.

“He was an ice-cream freezer, a geezer,” says Sayer, of Faith. “Waitresses would be in his bed in sec­onds. He was a lothario be­yond com­par­i­son. I was a well-be­haved boy when I met him, in fact I had just got married [to Jan­ice, in 1973]. But when I told Adam my plans he said, ‘What are you do­ing, my son? You’re mad. You’re cutting down all your chances.’ But then the ca­reer started, this life­style with this crazy man run­ning ev­ery­thing.”

Sayer re­flects on the man who had a huge hit with What Do You Want (If You Don’t Want Money?). Faith “ripped off” Sayer to the point the man­ager earned way more than the per­former and writer. (He later took Faith to court to re­cover some of the cash in the 1990s, win­ning back £650,000.)

Per­haps as­ton­ish­ingly, Sayer is san­guine. “I don’t re­ally blame him. If I had some guy called Leo who was not that aware of how the world worked I’d have done the same thing. And I can’t hate the guy, even though he ripped me off rot­ten be­cause he put me there. His con­fi­dence in me was the cloak that I wore.

“He’d say, ‘Here’s the cloak, go on my son!’ and I’d put it on. He was a role model. Some peo­ple called him my sven­gali but he never com­manded me or threat­ened – it was al­ways en­cour­ag­ing. He had a feeling about me. He knew who Leo Sayer could be and he was dead right.”

He adds, laugh­ing: “And I’m no longer a very shy chap – not any more. I have de­vel­oped his chutz­pah and I can chat up women as well. He handed over nearly all of his gifts to me.”

Faith brought the busi­ness con­nec­tions and the cloak, but it was Sayer who came

up with the Pier­rot cos­tume. “In those days we were all look­ing for an orig­i­nal look and we were in­spired by peo­ple like Alex Har­vey and El­ton and Ziggy Star­dust. The idea came from a movie I loved when I was at art school, Les En­fants du Par­adis. JeanLouis Bar­rault played Pier­rot, an ac­tor who never came out of cos­tume.”

The get-up helped him be­come Leo. “It was trans­form­ing. Out of the cor­ners of your eye you could see the white makeup and this was a suit of ar­mour. I be­came an ac­tor and played at be­ing Leo Sayer. The look im­bued the con­fi­dence. Yet while this was my con­struc­tion the guy telling me I could carry it off was Adam.”

The cos­tume wouldn’t have worked with­out a clutch of great songs. The hits kept com­ing. “David had the knack of melodies and I had the lyrics, the ideas, so we never felt it would run out.”

They wrote most of Dal­trey’s epony­mous de­but solo al­bum. “Adam would say ‘Keep writ­ing, lads. I’ll deal with the other stuff.’ And we chal­lenged our­selves, fan­tas­ti­cally. Ev­ery song was dif­fer­ent. Long Tall Glasses was noth­ing like The Show Must Go On. We tried to ex­plore, to be edgy. We tried to fol­low in the foot­steps of the Bea­tles.” Sayer gained some very high-pro­file fans, in­clud­ing Paul Mc­Cart­ney, who early on told him to keep his long, curly hair. But there was an even big­ger fan in the back­ground, who Sayer didn’t learn of un­til he fell off stage and cracked his knee. “It was in Alpine Valley, Wis­con­sin, in 1977,” he re­calls of the out­door stage built high on a plat­form. “I leaned against a rail talk­ing to some­one and fell 27 feet and landed on my leg. “I was in and out of hos­pi­tal for months. But the show did go on.” Un­til he got to Mem­phis. “I was in the dress­ing room and my knee went and I crawled into a ball and couldn’t get up. I was car­ried off by a big se­cu­rity guy called Michael who’d once played for the Mi­ami Dol­phins and I heard he had an im­por­tant boss. “He didn’t tell me who his boss was but the next day his boss called me. It was Elvis Pres­ley. He came on the phone singing You Make Me Feel Like Danc­ing, down the line. ‘I love that song, man.’ Then Elvis said, ‘Michael has been look­ing af­ter you. I hear you’re a great guy. And you

Some­times I feel like Leonard Cohen when he went off to be­come a Buddhist

need to come over to the house.’ I was stunned, and got ready to go to spend a few days with Elvis and his girl­friend Gin­ger. But the next morn­ing I heard on the ra­dio Elvis had been taken to hos­pi­tal and died.

“Years later, I be­gan to think I must have dreamt the whole thing. But I met Gin­ger at a din­ner in Lon­don, and she said ‘Elvis had been so ex­cited at the idea of spend­ing a few days with you.’ I had tears in my eyes when she said that.”

Sayer is a sur­vivor in the busi­ness, per­haps be­cause he lives in a quiet cor­ner of Aus­tralia, in a lovely house with his ex-part­ner and busi­ness man­ager Donatella and with a gar­den full of fir trees and par­rots.

“It’s very easy to live here,” he en­thuses. “All the crea­ture com­forts and lots of space. You can’t get away from the right-wing pol­i­tics but that’s the same all over the world. But I do miss M&S sand­wiches.”

He’s cer­tainly aware the pop world doesn’t aid longevity.

“I feel like the last man stand­ing,” he says, talk­ing of the deaths of the likes of Bowie. “I re­mem­ber show­ing Prince around Warn­ers’ record­ing stu­dios. He was the nicest kid. But thank­fully there are still some older per­form­ers out there, such as Boz Scaggs and the Stones. And Rod’s still go­ing and look­ing great.”

Sayer has man­aged to keep a ca­reer go­ing al­though there have strug­gles along the way, es­pe­cially dur­ing the 1980s. “I was avail­able for wed­dings, fu­ner­als, bar mitz­vahs, I’d do any­thing and a lot of it would not be ca­reeren­hanc­ing stuff.”

You’d like to think John Len­non wouldn’t have gone into Big Brother but then Len­non hadn’t suf­fered the same fi­nan­cial losses as Sayer, who made the head­lines 10 years ago when he stormed out claim­ing the pro­duc­ers wouldn’t give him fresh un­der­wear. But look at the YouTube video and he ac­tu­ally comes across as some­one re­belling against the loss of his dig­nity.

“They had been tak­ing the piss,” he says of the show’s pro­duc­ers. “Enough was enough.”

He con­tin­ues to tour and make al­bums in his stu­dio at home. “I’m still driven. I feel I still haven’t made a great record, like Neil Young or Bob Dy­lan.” But he has the best of worlds, the Gemini who can switch from Ger­ard to Leo when the mo­ment calls for it.

“Some­times I feel like Leonard Cohen when he went off to be­come a Buddhist,” he says. “It may not be fame but I think it’s suc­cess. It’s not what El­ton or Mick has but I guard it with my life.”

Per­haps El­ton should check in at air­ports as Reg? “He should,” says Sayer, laugh­ing. “The last time I saw him he was re­ally un­happy. I said, ‘Have you ever thought of go­ing back to be­ing Reg?’ and he smiled and said, ‘Ev­ery day.’

“He said to me, ‘You’re re­ally lucky you can go back to be­ing Ger­ard.’ And he’s so right be­cause Leo can be a b*****d.”

Leo Sayer plays the Pavil­ion The­atre, Glas­gow, on May 5.

‘You find your­self ask­ing to be driven around in a pink limo,’ says Sayer of fame, ‘and if the limo turns up and it’s not pink you throw a tantrum’


Clock­wise from left: Sayer con­tin­ues to tour and make al­bums in his stu­dio out­side Syd­ney; Adam Faith, the former pop star who mas­ter­minded Sayer’s early suc­cess; and Elvis Pres­ley, who proved to be an un­ex­pected fan of the singer


Sayer is savour­ing life on the other side of the world, though he ad­mits to han­ker­ing af­ter Marks and Spencer’s sand­wiches. Op­po­site page: the death of David Bowie, says Sayer, makes him feel like ‘the last man stand­ing’

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