Albert Hammond still searching for his best song yet
PUBLISHED: 10:55 22 May 2014
Albert Hammond has been creating hit songs for more than 40 years and, since writing his first, Little Arrows, at the age of 24, he has been responsible for the sale of around 360 million records worldwide, including more than 30 chart-toppers.
Many of his most beloved songs, such as The Air That I Breathe and When I Need You, have found success with various artists, decade after decade. Tomorrow (Friday), the 69-year-old comes to the Jazz Cafe to play Songbook 2014, a show that celebrates the best of his back catalogue, so we caught up to find out more about his career.
You’ve collaborated and produced hits with countless artists over many decades. Looking back, which have you got on best with – personally or professionally – and why?
I got along with all the artists I have worked with. It’s not difficult to do, as you have to remember that you are there to bring the best out of them, almost like the director in a movie. There are, however, a few that stood out: Tina Turner, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Julio Iglesias and William Nelson, Joe Cocker, Neil Diamond, to name a few. One of the reasons was because I got to them well into their careers – they were totally mature and knew what they wanted. All I had to do was make sure the music was there and that I got a great vocal performance out of them.
More recently, you also collaborated with Duffy. What would be your advice to any new artist starting out?
Working with Duffy was great – she is 40 years younger than me, but very talented and I would love to work with her again someday. My advice to all young artists starting off is to keep going, keep dreaming. They do come true, but you just have to be patient.
Your latest tour is Songbook 2014. Having played Songbook 2013 in Germany, how did it rate as an experience?
The Songbook tour is an incredible experience for me. After not being on stage for over 30 years because I wanted to be a father to my son Albert Jr, I’d have to rate it 10 out of 10.
The idea of Songbook came to me in 2005 when I did a TV show in Ireland with Phil Coulter with a lot of the hits I’d written, and since then I dreamed of putting a show together that represented my career as a songwriter. Then came an offer from Sky TV to do a programme based on my songwriting and they called it Songbook.
So three years ago I decided to tour with this idea and it’s been wonderful. Two-and-a-half hours of hits, live, with a band, and with stories about the songs and the artists I’ve worked with. Taking me and the audience through five decades of our lives – it doesn’t get better than this.
Looking back across your songbook, how do you think your music and outlook has developed over the years?
My musical outlook hasn’t changed. The dream I had since I was eight has come true, but I still dream and still get excited like a child with a new toy when I buy a new guitar or find a chord that leads me to a great song.
I never thought about money when I first started and I still don’t today. Beautiful music, meaningful lyrics, good performances and arrangements, and the idea that I’ve yet to write my best song – all this makes me happy, because once you stop dreaming, it’s all over.
Your son, Albert Hammond Jr, has had quite an impressive career himself, particularly with New York indie band The Strokes. How did you encourage him musically and do you think you share the same ethos?
Because I stayed home to be a father to Albert Jr, I’m sure I must have made an impression on him. Sometimes I would take him to the studio and he would see me work and meet artists like Roy Orbison or Joe Cocker etc. I also played old ’50s and ’60s records at home, so that most likely had an influence on him and I’m sure he picked up my spirit, character and feeling for the music as he grew up. I can say that I’m very proud of who he is – as a person and as a musician – and that I love him.
What is your relationship with London? You were born here during the war, but quickly moved away and have since toured all around the world, so how does it feel whenever you can get back?
Apart from the fact that I was born in London, it’s also one of my favourite cities in the world and it’s also where my career really bloomed. Even though I went to live in Los Angeles in 1970, I returned to London many times to write songs and many of my hits were written there in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
Albert Hammond plays Camden’s Jazz Cafe tomorrow (Friday May 23). Visit mamacolive.com/thejazzcafe