Category: Older writing


Another old interview

This is an interview with Engelbert Humperdinck done when he toured India in 2005.

As he prepares for his first ever concert in India, evergreen singer Engelbert Humperdinck says he cherishes the memories of his childhood in Chennai, the city where he was born and lived for a decade.

“I”m looking forward to the concerts in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore and wish I could have performed in Chennai as well. I have many memories of Chennai where I grew up,” the smooth-voiced Engelbert, now 69, said in an email interview.

“I remember our large bungalow, all those wonderful monsoon smells and the harbor with its ships and fishing boats. I almost drowned when I was six years old when I fell off a bunch of logs floating on an inlet near the harbour.

“My younger brother saved my life,” Engelbert said ahead of his tour of India next month for a series of concerts to raise funds for Bangalore-based NGO ACTS Trust that is working to rehabilitate victims of the Dec 26 tsunami.

And at an age when most people would be content to retire to a life of comfort, Engelbert — born Arnold George Dorsey on May 2, 1936 as the son of a British soldier posted in India — said he planned to do “more albums, more concerts, more television appearances, more travel”.

“More is the catch word,” he quipped, looking back at a chequered career that has included sales of 130 million copies of albums across the globe and earned him awards like a Golden Globe for entertainer of the year.

He attributed his long career of over four decades to “the grace of god and the fact that I still love to get up there on stage, looking my audience in the eye and give them my very best”.

Engelbert described his latest album “Let There Be Love” as “a bouquet of love songs with classics from Nat King Cole and more contemporary songs from Ronan Keating and Bryan Adams”.

“My executive producer Nick Battle and producer Simon Franglen spent many hours listening to my past albums to work out the feel of the new one. They all have a slight jazz feel and I am happy with the result,” he said.

At the same time, Engelbert was happy that his old hits like “Quando Quando Quando” and “Release Me” had been remixed to dance beats for a younger audience. “It makes me feel relevant and wanted. Most of all, it gives my big hits another dimension altogether,” he remarked.

When Engelbert was 10, his family moved from India to Leicester where he learnt to play the saxophone.
Young Arnold Dorsey discovered his vocal talent at a contest in a pub. He realized he could do impersonations, especially of the comedian Jerry Lewis, and these were so good that he became known as “Gerry Dorsey”.

It was as Gerry Dorsey that he became a hit on the British music circuit until he came down with a severe attack of tuberculosis. He recovered and his manager gave him the name Engelbert Humperdinck after the German composer who wrote the opera “Hansel and Gretel”.

The odd tongue twister of a name caught the people’s fancy and radio jockeys shortened it to “The Humper” when his songs began to climb the charts. Greats like Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens, Tom Jones and Dean Martin have accompanied Engelbert on stage and there was a time when The Carpenters were the opening act for his sell-out concerts.

Engelbert has many colorful tales about those and once quipped that Elvis had “stolen” the long sideburns and flashy jumpsuits from him.

“Those were the days, my friend. Elvis once wanted to steal some of my musicians. Actually he thought they were working for me part-time and since he liked their work, he wanted to take them on his tour.
“When he realized his mistake, he apologized,” said Engelbert, who has performed before Queen Elizabeth, several presidents and many heads of state.

“As for Tom Jones, it was his manager who gave me my stage name and signed me on. For many years people compared and contrasted our styles. But in the end I suppose we both did very well.

“And as for me, I am still kicking, still singing, still wanting to travel around the world. For singing is the only think I do well,” Engelbert said.

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An old interview…

I pay my bills by working as a journalist covering boring stuff like foreign affairs and security issues though I’ve always wanted to write about music more than anything else. So I figured I could use this blog to post some of the stuff I’ve written on music.

Here’s an old interview with Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler when he toured India in 2005.

India is the Shangri-la of the mind: Mark Knopfler      

February 23, 2005

When you”re seeking Shangri-La in the mind, come to India, says legendary musician Mark Knopfler, best known as the voice and guitar of the band Dire Straits.

“India offers a broad spectrum of philosophy and spirituality to those seeking a Shangri-La state of mind,” Knopfler, whose latest album too is titled “Shangri-La”, said in an interview ahead of his first tour of the country.

“India has always fascinated me and I am looking forward to the concerts in Mumbai and Bangalore,” said Knopfler, who will play in Mumbai March 5 and in Bangalore March 7.

India, he said, was becoming a bigger market for music. “I believe there always was a market. What is happening now is that there is a greater openness. Asia, indeed India, can no longer be ignored,” said Knopfler.

The guitarist, whose nimble skills have graced albums by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Buddy Guy, Sting, and Steely Dan, said it was “really thrilling” for him to find out he had a huge fan base in India.

“(Concert promoter) Venkat Vardhan tells me that I have a huge fan following here which is really thrilling. I am looking forward to playing (in India) and connecting with people who have listened to me all these years.”

Though best known as the frontman of Dire Straits, the band he formed in 1977 with his brother David, Knopfler says the solo career he launched in the 1990s has steered clear of gimmickry while focusing on the music.

“I fronted Dire Straits. I wrote most of the songs and the tunes,” he said, referring to the band that sold millions of records and packed huge arenas.

“I continue doing so with new band members. Essentially nothing has changed. The difference is that Dire Straits was a rock act, we thought big, we played in huge arenas with lots of sound and light.

“In my solo career I cut out the gimmickry, sticking to the music…that’s how it is now.”

Referring to his current band that features stellar musicians like keyboardist Guy Fletcher, bassist Glenn Worf and drummer Chad Cromwell, Knopfler said: “I write a song and all the musicians contribute various facets of melody to it. It’s all very dynamic, cathartic…”

“Shangri-La”, Knopfler’s fourth solo album, features several songs based on real life characters like Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald’s chain, and boxer Sonny Liston — an offshoot of the musician’s fascination with history.

“Well, let’s take (the song) ‘Boom, Like That’. I read Ray Kroc’s book and then got fascinated with his character. There was a direct opposition in what he thinks he was doing and what we think he was doing.

“Some people think he wrote the model for American business and did all sorts of wonderful things including bringing affordable food to the masses and inventing a new business model. Now people call burgers junk food and view Kroc as something close to Satan. I write the song using most of his own words….”

The track “Song For Sonny Liston” centres round the great boxer who died of a heroin overdose. “His was a rags to riches to tragedy story that kinda touched me,” Knopfler said. “Moods, stories, they contribute to my creativity.”

Knopfler, who noted he has “lots of projects on the anvil”, said he also enjoyed his alternate career doing scores for movies like “The Princess Bride”, “Last Exit To Brooklyn”, “Wag The Dog”, “Local Hero” and “A Shot At Glory”.

“Oh yes, I enjoy scoring for the movies. I have liked all the directors I have worked with,” he said.

Growing up in Newcastle in Britain, Knopfler started out as a journalist covering music before picking up a guitar. Breaking into the charts worldwide with the anthem “Sultans of Swing”, Dire Straits had a long and successful run till Knopfler decided to go solo.

But Knopfler said there’s miles and miles to go before he sleeps.

“(There’s) plenty (left to achieve),” he said. “As a musician one always strives to reach for a higher plain, another level of perfection. I want to continue reaching out to people through my music.”

“We are all seekers aren’t we? We take different paths, but the goal is the same – meaning and happiness.”

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