HAVING sold more than 40 million records worldwide, English singer Rick Astley is back performing after retiring from music in 1993, making a comeback in 2007 and seeing his most famous song become the subject of the Internet ‘Rickrolling’ phenomenon. Most widely known for his 1987 smash ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, which went to number one in 25 countries, the 48 year-old is heading to Australia to play a run of shows throughout November and December.
With the amount of success you had at the start of your career, you must have went through some pretty crazy things.
I definitely had a good go at it for a little while, yeah. Compared to today’s stuff, my thing was pretty tame really. I think it’s the bands and the boy bands that get that kind of thing. Obviously there’s Justin Bieber today and various people like that. Mine was relatively quiet, to be honest. There was a bit of a fuss here and there, in certain countries more than others. I always remember that the Latin countries went a bit bonkers and Japan was pretty crazy fan-wise, but I had it pretty tame really. I was relatively recognisable back in the day, because I had a red quiff and all the rest of it, but I think certain people just stand out, you know what I mean? They get out of the car and it’s just like ‘bang’ – that person is a pop star. I kind of shuffled around behind people quite a bit [laughs]. I wasn’t in love with the whole fame and pop star thing really. I know I’ve said that in interviews before, but I was a bit bemused by it and it didn’t suit the way I am. I love being on a stage, I’m a bit of a bighead and I like performing and singing, but being famous didn’t add up to me because that world seems more about fame for fame’s sake, do you know what I mean? Obviously I did have mad moments – of course I did. Even back in the ’80s, there were people who were good at pushing that publicity button, but I did the total opposite to a certain degree. Some people craved it, but to me it seemed ridiculous.
After a long spell away from music, what made you decide to come back?
There were a number of things. We have a daughter, who is now 22, and when she was 14 or 15 I had had lots of offers to go here, there and everywhere. I never fancied it until I got an offer to go to Japan. My daughter was 14 or 15 and was really into art – she’s been studying art for quite a few years – and she really wanted to go to Japan, loved everything Japanese and one of her best friends was part-Japanese. We all went as a family and I went to do these three gigs, treating it as a paid holiday basically – I’ll do the gigs and just forget about it. I did the first gig and just walked off stage thinking ‘why haven’t you bloody done that before?’ I just really enjoyed it. I think because I went with that attitude, it really opened the door for me. If someone had said we were doing some thing where we’re getting a load of ’80s pop stars together at Wembley Arena or something, I probably would have gone ‘uh, no thanks’, even though I’ve done those things since. I got paid really well for doing it, which I’ve never been shy of saying to people as people are either fooling themselves or outright lying if they say they’re not partly swayed by money to do things, even within music-land. I think that in the Western way of doing things, that’s my value – someone will pay me to go and sing those songs or just sing in general, so I think I must be doing something right or still have something if someone is willing to pay me to do it. I genuinely didn’t do that one for the money – although it was a nice sweetener – but it just seemed like a mad thing to do for a week at the time, and that’s how I got started again.
Well, you’re going to be paid to come to Australia very soon.
To be honest, I get paid for the flying and the travelling, but the actual gigs are the best part. I do gigs with a couple of friends – we have a little rock band that’s kind of like our own mid-life crisis, and I still love music and play music. I think most [musicians] think we get paid for the hanging around and the travelling, but the gigs are the fun bit – most artists would say that.
Is it solely a nostalgic thing right now, or do you have plans to write new material at all?
I do tinker with new things, and at some point in my life I would like to make a record that actually got played on the radio – I would love to do that [laughs]. I still haven’t given up that dream, but it’s just about finding something I believe in and am comfortable doing. There’s lots of things I could have a go at, but half the time my heart’s not in it so it’s pointless. The other half the record companies get excited by the fact that I had a big record called ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ and a few others, so they think ‘oh, we must be able to sell something else’. But it doesn’t work like that; you still got to make a decent record, do you know what I mean? When I do gigs now on my own, I still play my hits and have no issue with that, and maybe when I come to Australia I could throw in a couple of new songs that nobody has ever heard before, but I’ve got to be careful with that. People aren’t coming to hear me sing new songs, you know? I went to see Kate Bush last night, and it was absolutely amazing. There’s a part of me that would have loved her to sing some of the old songs, and she did a few, but I didn’t miss the others because what she did was absolutely amazing. That, for me, is on a totally different level because you’re entering her world in that concert. She could have got up there and not played any of her old songs and still managed to make it fantastic, but whether you’re U2 or myself, there are songs that people want to hear you sing, and I know that. I can totally understand that and I’m happy to do it.
Rickrolling: is it just a bit of fun, a pain in the arse, or somewhere in the middle?
It’s not a pain in the arse in any way, because it doesn’t have anything to do with me. It could just as easily be Daverolling or Bobrolling or whatever. I’ve just treated it as something that’s fun, weird and bizarre; all the fantastic things that have been done on the Internet in connection with that song. I can really see the funny side of it and the genius of what people have done, to be honest. Some of the things that have been edited together have been great. The original Rickrolling thing is a little bit weird because after one or two times it’s bound to be a bit too much, but some of the other things are amazing. Someone edited Obama’s speeches so he was kind of talking through ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ – that was brilliant. Too much time on his hands, but brilliant. Someone else did the whole cast of Mad Men singing it – it must have taken forever and is hilarious. Another one of my favourites is from a friend in Boston, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where someone had climbed up on a great big gas tank and put the first seven notes of the song up there – not the lyrics – so you had to be able to read music to understand it. I just thought that was kind of funky and bizarre, but whatever. I’m glad; it breathes more life into that song and it’s kind of nice in that way.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
We go to Japan for a couple of gigs first – Tokyo and Osaka for a few days and we’re having a few days before that to get acclimatised to the time zone. The one thing people don’t look forward to about Australia is the jet lag; there’s nothing worse. Hopefully we’ll arrive in Australia having got over that. The last gig is on the second of December, then we’re going to stroll home with a few days in Singapore and then it’s Christmas. It’s a nice way to finish the year as you’re just coming into your good weather while we’re just coming into our crappy weather. We’ll be ready for it in a few weeks time.
Rick Astley Australian Tour Dates
Wednesday, November 19 – Whitlam Theatre, Revesby Workers Club, Sydney
Friday, November 21 – Tivoli, Brisbane
Saturday, November 22 – Twin Towns Ex Services Club, Tweed Heads
Monday, November 24 – Rooty Hill Rsl Club, Sydney
Tuesday, November 25 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Wednesday, November 26 – Canberra Theatre, Canberra
Friday, November 28 – Chelsea Heights Hotel, Melbourne
Saturday, November 29 – Palais Theatre, Melbourne
Sunday, November 30- Costa Hall, GPAC, Geelong
Tuesday, December 2 – Festival Theatre, Adelaide
For The AU Review