“Maybe I haven’t written my best song yet” says the man who has just shown me an endless list of unpublished songs on his phone. He has three phones full. “I wish I could live for 500 years, I don’t have time to get through all this work”. Even if he doesn’t write any more songs he still has these treasure chests to choose from. The Hammond musical legacy will live on, writes Joe Adamberry.
Third time lucky for me I guess, ‘Inspirational Gibraltarians’ the series where the people from ‘Insight Magazine’ get on their radars and seek out the unsung heroes from our community who quietly go about their daily business, being fabulous here and abroad and yet maybe we don’t always recognise their achievements. Some of these people are too busy to be famous and some are too famous being legends in their own lifetime. I’m having coffee with one such legend.
Albert Hammond is a national treasure we should all be inspired by. In the universal reach of his music which speaks to the heart he has touched the hearts of many millions worldwide. “More than 300 million (a figure which I ventured), closer to 500 million I would say when you include China”. One of the most successful composers of the last fifty years, he has been properly recognised by his peers in the US ‘Hall of Fame’ and in ‘The Ivor Novello Award’ (UK). However he still slings on a guitar for concerts and wows audiences singing his melodic hit songs, some of which rank among the best love songs ever written. That is inspirational.
His songs have been recorded by so many artists that we might forget that this super fit 74 year old singing star is still selling out national theatres and Opera houses of 1500 seats and upwards across the world. When we meet he is fresh back from an eleven date tour of Ireland to where many of his international fans travelled to see him – as they always do. “They come from across Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, the US, Sweden and Gibraltar and on the last night of the tour we all get together.” This guy loves to be loved and he loves them back through his concerts, that’s why he’s so happy doing what he does – isn’t that joyful?
He tells me that during this Irish tour he has taught his audiences to sing choruses and recorded them for a song which he wrote with Leo Sayer called ‘Hey St. Patrick’. By the time you read this he will have edited the choruses which will get onto the final recording of this folk song with an Irish chorus. His record company BMG are eagerly waiting and quietly confident too. Albert is simply chilled about all this because he knows how to groom songs for success. He’s done it before hundreds of times.
He has written for and produced so many top artists who have sung his songs that his anecdotes would fill a book or two. Think Willie Nelson, Julio Iglesias, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, the late Whitney Houston and Joe Cocker for starters… the list is as eclectic as it is inspiring. His hit songs are considered classics, standards which will be around for a long time, as some of them have for the last fifty years. “I really don’t know which of my songs has been the most recorded, but the general rule is that there will be between 200 to 500 covers worldwide from a big hit song. I don’t keep track, I just want to leave something precious behind when the universe calls me.”
The elusive magic of his melody is, I think, the greatest gift with which he endows his songs. After a lifetime of success he has now found himself a niche market as an artist singing his iconic compositions to worldwide audiences. Albert in front of a full symphony orchestra was a hugely successful European tour two years ago and the CD ‘Albert Hammond in Symphony’ put a classical spin on his music and also highlighted his calibre as a top performer. “It’s now being negotiated for touring ‘In Symphony’ across China as we speak and I’m very excited. In Japan some of my songs are anthems already, so China makes sense, but these things take a little time to arrange.”
Recently he was approached by a fan who owns a young racehorse (9 months) who was sired by ‘Camelot’ the famous Epsom winner and also a number of other important races, (you can Google ‘Camelot’ – I did). “I would like to call my horse Albert Hammond, how would you feel about that?” Albert said yes and is obviously quite chuffed. Move over Sir Alec Ferguson and his famous horse ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ because in a couple of year’s time ‘Albert Hammond’ will be in competition with you.
Will his equine namesake win races I wonder? Obviously its owner has been inspired to name it after our famous composer. Does that not tell you something about the fame of this man? Have we as a community been found wanting in our awareness and appreciation of Hammond’s huge international achievements as a songwriter and artist? I think so and it should be reversed. Although he would like to live for 500 years he won’t be around forever.
I point him back to his childhood days: “Happiness, love and compassion is missing in the world now and ever since I was an 8 year old head choir boy here, I loved seeing people happy when they came to compliment my parents. I always knew I wanted to make people happy and if my music still brings people together then that is my mission, I have to share it.” Albert has never worried about the ever-changing trends in popular music as he always reinvents himself and writes in many styles across all musical genres. “By the time I was thirty-something I had hits in the pop, the country, the rhythm and blues and the rock charts.”
“I couldn’t interrupt the creative flow by trying to write only one type of song. Others may have been satisfied to have written ‘The Air That I Breathe’ or ‘It Never Rains’ or ‘Little Arrows’ – I wasn’t. I believe I wasn’t sent here to live off one song. I’m here because I’m meant to be here. I don’t have to drive myself to do anything, it drives me and it keeps me healthy and happy”.
About collaborations with other writers, he says it’s all about chemistry. He sat for two days with Burt Bacharach and nothing happened, then he sat with lyricist Hal David and ‘99 Miles from LA’ was born – a hallmark melodious Hammond hit song. “If I sit to write with Diane Warren we have chemistry and we’re both open to where it can lead.” Starship’s ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ is a classic hit song he wrote with Diane in 1987. “We both write words and music so I guess it’s easier but it can be different, like when John Bettis wrote the words for ‘One moment in Time’ he gave them to me over the phone and I just sat down and wrote the music at the first attempt without having to change a single phrase.” The rest is Whitney Houston and history. “Magic happens when you’re inspired and open to the universe.”
Hammond has songs in three successful musicals at the moment; ‘The Bodyguard’, ‘Tina: The Musical’ and ‘The Matterhorn’ which opened in Switzerland in February and is still playing to full houses there. He has no intention of slowing down – why would he? “Music is my passion. I have to do it because there is nothing greater for me than to give happiness to all those people out there who come to see me.”
Our conversation turns to his pre concert- routine and keeping fit is key for him. “I love to run my 5k every day then eat a little and then do my show. I am totally relaxed and on a natural high. I am going on stage to share my music. My songs are like my children and I feel them. The artists who sang them originally and had hits with them were just making a record. I don’t have to explain that to the people who come to see me in my concerts. They know how I feel and I know how they feel and that makes me so happy and proud.”
Would he consider writing a book about his songs? “Yes I might consider writing a book about my songs, but about my life it would have to be more about my spiritual journey than my life story. I was born in the UK during the evacuation but I was raised at Shakery’s Passage and when I left Gibraltar to seek fame and fortune I never stopped. Everybody else who left in my days came back (me included). I always said to myself… I can’t go back there (meaning back home to the Rock) I wanted to continue to write songs and I had faith in what I was writing, so I carried on working and still do.”
Will we be seeing a new Albert Hammond album any time soon? “My next record will be produced by Grammy winning producer Peter Asher. He approached my manager first and later I spoke to Peter and told him that he has to be the architect to bring together my many styles of songs and put them in an album that’s cohesive and reflects what I have written that
is still unknown to the world, some of those songs will need to sit side by side on the album. I may have to write some new ones to link them in style, but I’m really excited about that.”
Albert Hammond doesn’t need to write any more songs but he can’t help himself.
He says that inspiration may strike in a minute and in an hour he can harness that and work
out a whole song. He can’t pin down how he does it as he doesn’t know. In 1973 Hammond was riding in the US charts with his song ‘I Don’t Want to Die in an Air Disaster’ when a real air disaster happened which killed singer Jim Croce and that ugly twist of fate caused the record company to pull Albert’s record from the shelves. “I was singing that the other week in Cork and it got me so enraptured that when I finished it I said to the audience… wow! I love this song. You know I sometimes think how did I write that? The answer is that I don’t know. I connect with something out there and it just happens.”
Does he have a scripted routine and a set list for his concerts?
“I don’t have a set routine for my concerts but I do have a list of sixty songs from which I can choose to sing depending on how I feel and how the audience is reacting to me. I actually have to remember a lot of lyrics of songs which other people have sung. I never sang these songs until five years ago when I started touring. It’s hard for a guy my age to have to learn so many lyrics.” Over the last 5 years Hammond has averaged 130 shows and 9 festivals per year and from my calculations I reckon that he’s been seen by nearly 2.5 million people!
Does he have many regrets?
“When the universe calls me my first question is going to be why wasn’t I recognised for my achievements by Gibraltar? I don’t have regrets though as I have moved on and always tried to spread love. My advice to everyone is to fill yourself with love and compassion – even for your enemies. Feel good for them when good things happen to them. I’m so grateful for life and for being healthy. I don’t want any more recognition than that which I deserve and that is important to me.”
Recently New York attorney Fearghal de Feu wrote a book/thesis on ‘Self- Determination and Gibraltar’ in which Chief Minister Fabian Picardo writes the forward. “This guy gives me a dedicated book at the end of one of my recent concerts in Ireland. Amid the autograph signing I read his dedication which says that I must be the best ambassador for Gibraltar… did the universe put him there, I mean what are the chances?” Albert has brought the book to show me.
Will you ever come back and play in Gibraltar sometime?
“If they ever build a theatre here I promise that I will come back every year and finish my European tours here. That would be great. You know, when I finish my shows I always go out and sign autographs, chat and take pictures for an hour because my fans expect that and I want to be with them to share their joy.”
That is the real Albert Hammond, the one with his feet firmly on the ground and the one with the energy to keep spreading his music around the world by singing his heart out for two and a half hours in concerts. He sings from a famous song catalogue which he has built up with fifty years of hits.
Songs that have made our world a better place for a few moments, because when they touch our hearts with their melody and words time is suspended and we need that in our lives. Let us once and for all acknowledge that this huge talent is someone we should be proud to call our ‘Inspirational Hammond’.