Leo was born Gerard Hugh Sayer on May 21st, 1948, to his parents Thomas Sayer and Teresa Nolan at Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, in England. He was the second child of three (an older sister Kathleen and a younger brother Brian) The Sayer family were devout Catholics, and after serving as an altar boy, Leo was inducted into the choir under the educated ear of Father Dermot MacHale, the Parish Priest. To this day Leo attributes “the finding of his voice” to Father MacHale, whose singing instructions to the boy chorister had a major effect when he was just 11 years old.
At secondary school he showed a gift for drawing and painting. He sang with a band at school, mostly the Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley songs he’d learnt from David, his older cousin’s, record collection. David introduced Leo to Buddy and The Crickets and also to the first album by Bob Dylan. These records that had a major influence on him. He was now 16 and it was the year of 1964.
Leo left school graduating into a course for commercial art and graphic design at West Sussex College of Art and Design in Worthing, Sussex. He started listening to Rhythm and Blues, Blues and Folk music, and was soon singing with local musicians. He used to sit and draw on Worthing beach, trying out his new passion – the mouth organ. Here he met a professional harmonica player who taught him the basics of the instrument. Leo used to regularly play along to the sound of the train on his 20-minute journey to Art School, and he soon had enough ability to sit in and jam with local bands.
Leo and some friends formed an Arts and Music club called “The Worthing Workshop” where Leo sang and played with the local house-band “Terraplane Blues”. Leo was meanwhile finding he had a non-conformist streak, rebelling against an uncreative course at the Art School, which he left after completing only two years of the required three-years. His training was good enough to him get work straightaway in a nearby Brighton design studio.
He moved up to London in late 1967, right at that moment when the new youth revolution was changing the world. In London he met like-minded creative young painters and musicians, started writing poetry and was even working on a novel. For design studios and agencies, he designed record covers, newspaper advertisements, also illustrating for top 60’s fashion magazines. He frequented Soho and Kensington folk clubs and sometimes got up to play the harmonica. He went freelance as an artist, but he got into trouble with too much work and not enough money, had a mild breakdown and came back down to Shoreham, his hometown, to start again.
He stayed on a houseboat for a while on Shoreham’s River Adur, licking his wounds. It was now 1969. He got work in a factory that imported German cars and was soon part of their advertising team. Some local friends were playing at night in bands, and he joined them, becoming their lead singer. He flung himself into music and started writing songs, setting some of his old poems to music. He was in many bands but eventually formed a really good band that called itself Patches. Patches started playing gigs all over the south coast.
The Rock newspaper Melody Maker had a “Battle Of The Bands” contest that Leo and Patches entered, narrowly missing winning the local heat. Leo, still known as Gerry at the time, had now decided what he wanted to do with his life. It was now 1970 and he was 22 years old. A local Brighton newspaper, The Evening Argus, ran a small box advert for a talent contest, which Patches entered. David Courtney, who was about to set up a talent agency, held the audition, which took place at Brighton’s Pavilion Theatre. Patches, featuring Gerry Sayer on vocals and harmonica, won the audition. It turned out that David Courtney was not just a promoter. He’d played drums (with 50’s pop star Adam Faith) and was also a budding songwriter.
So began what would turn out to be a remarkable creative partnership. At David’s Brighton flat, the two started writing, Dave’s bright pop melodies fusing wonderfully with Leo’s bruised loner lyrics. They worked separately – David bashing out the melodies on his old Knight upright piano, Leo in the next room, surrounded by books of poems and lyrics that he’d been writing since his early teens. They put everything down in demos onto David’s Grundig tape machine.
Those tapes are still around today and show clearly how songs like “One Man Band” and “Giving It All Away” were originally conceived. After an abortive attempt to get a deal with Beatles producer, George Martin’s new Air Records label, they took the songs that they had demoed to Adam Faith, David’s ex – employer. Adam’s response was immediate and dynamic. Leo’s band Patches were booked into London’s Olympic Studios on that same day. So, less than a week later, Leo, with Patches, was making his first single. David Courtney’s “Living In America” was on the A-side, and Leo and David’s “The Hour Is Love” on the B-side. The session was made doubly exciting as rock band The Who were recording next door and wanting to meet Adam, added their input to the session. Things were happening fast. Gerry Sayer now became Leo Sayer, his head of curls inspiring David to christen him Leo, after a TV cartoon character ‘Leo The Lion’. Leo had a girlfriend at the time, Janice, and soon they had arranged to get married in Brighton.
Patches’ single came out on Warner Brothers in the U.K. It wasn’t a sales success but undaunted by this, Adam became Leo’s manager and David and Adam prepared to produce Leo’s first album. They chose Richard Branson’s Manor Studios in Oxford, as the venue to start the recording. During these sessions, Patches disbanded, with only Max Chetwynd, guitarist, staying on.
The recording of Leo’s first album was a difficult and somewhat experimental process, Adam and David having loads of ideas but no real experience in record production. The writers were inspired however, and the album started to come together with further recording at the home studio in Sussex of Roger Daltrey, the Who’s lead singer, and later at the Beatles’ Apple studios. At Daltrey’s the project really took shape with the team creating, amongst others, the unique song The Show Must Go On. But before the record could be completed an interesting opportunity was put to the team.
Roger had liked the songs Leo and David had written so much that he asked them to write some more for his first solo album. The boys had, by now, created a large backlog of material and gave Roger a number of choice songs they’d originally intended for Leo’s next album. Adam and David set about the production and the album Daltrey was released on Track Records in 1973, to excellent response. The first single Giving It All Away became a hit in Britain and hit the charts in the U.S.A. too. Roger was telling everyone about Leo and soon everybody wanted to know more about him.
The head of Warner Brothers records in America, Joe Smith, came to Brighton that month to witness Leo in performance and duly signed Leo up for a ten-album deal in the United States, Canada and South America. Chrysalis Records in the U.K. signed Leo for the rest of the world.
Adam had masterminded a big publicity build up on Leo’s involvement with Roger, and the stage was set for Silverbird, Leo’s first album release. Roger Daltrey had a cousin, Graham Hughes, who was a well-respected photographer. Leo met with him just after he’d shot Roger’s album cover and was intrigued by some fashion photos Graham had taken. What had inspired Leo was the presence amongst the models in the shoot of Belgian mime artist Julien, dressed in the guise of Pierrot the clown. Leo had found an image that he felt went with his songs, and Graham, Julien and make – up artist Kirsty Climo set about creating the look for Leo. Graham shot the cover with Leo portrayed as himself on the front, and his face made up as the Pierrot on the back.
Leo was on the road continually at this point with Adam always present to guide his young charge. One night on the way back from a gig, Adam had a near fatal car crash. As he lay in bed recovering in hospital all he talked about to the press was Leo’s first single from “Silverbird” – “Why Is Everybody Going Home”. The album had been released in the U.K. and the U.S. simultaneously, and further to Adam’s dynamic promotional work, the B.B.C. offered Leo a slot on their weekly T.V. rock show, “The Old Grey Whistle Test”. Leo came onto the show dressed as the Pierrot and such was the reaction to his performance, the entire music business noted that a new star was born.
Leo went on a British and European tour supporting Roxy Music, now appearing on stage dressed as the Pierrot. His wife Janice made the costumes and applied his make-up, and they were quite inseparable. “The Show Must Go On”, released as the second single, went to number 2 in the U.K. charts and the “Silverbird” album also reached number 2 in the album chart. The B.B.C. filmed a special live ‘Leo In Concert’ performance for T.V., and as the year of 1973 drew to a close, both the The Melody Maker and The Sun newspaper (featuring the Pierrot on the cover of its new year issue) were predicting Leo would be The Star Of ‘74.
Over in the U.S.A., Three Dog Night had covered The Show Must Go On and took their version right to the top of the singles chart there. They had seen Leo on British television dressed as Pierrot and dressed up as circus clowns on U.S. T.V., in their interpretation of Leo. They had ironically changed Leo’s lyric from “I won’t let the show go on” to: “We must let the show go on”, but not many people seemed to notice. This proved Leo’s songs and persona could travel, as Leo was now starting to get lots of attention in all corners of the globe. Soon Leo was preparing for his first visit to the U.S.A.
This first U.S. tour had a big impact on both the audiences and Leo, and many of the biggest names in the music industry turned out to see the boy with the white face and white suit. Amongst residencies at other major cities, Leo played weeklong performances at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, The Boarding House in San Francisco, and at The Bottom Line in New York. The tour was deemed a great success back at home with Leo featured on the front cover of every British music magazine.
Leo had always vowed that he would drop the Pierrot costume and make-up as soon as he became successful. This he did with a decision made on the flight back to England. It was June 1974. Leo played his biggest gig yet that summer at London’s Crystal Palace Bowl, supporting Rick Wakeman and Procul Harum. That afternoon a nervous Leo was highly relieved to find that an audience could readily accept him without the make-up.
By now, Adam, David and Leo had already started work on Leo’s second album Just A Boy, cutting the track for One Man Band, which Roger Daltrey had earlier covered, in the U.S. while Leo was in Europe on tour. More recording took place in London. This time the recording ran more smoothly than Silverbird and the results were quickly accomplished. Some of the songs, like Long Tall Glasses, were written in the studio. “Long Tall Glasses” was all about Leo’s reaction to success in America and was to become his first top ten record there.
The album’s back cover pointedly depicted a group of new Leos giving Pierrot the elbow. Terry O’Neill, who had by now become Leo’s exclusive photographer, took the photograph. The singles, ‘One Man Band’ and ‘Long Tall Glasses’ hit the charts both in the U.K. and in countries around the world. Leo was now gaining popularity in Europe and made many TV and radio appearances there. He headlined in 1975 at The Theatre D’ Champs Elysees in Paris, the venue known as being the home of his hero, the mime artist Marcel Marceau.
In May 1975 the British promoter Paul Dainty took Leo down to Australia for the first time. The reaction was amazing. Two hit albums had really stirred up the crowds there and fans mobbed Leo when he arrived at Sydney Airport. The shows were all sell-outs and “Leo mania” broke many Australian box office records.
Leo was becoming an accomplished stage performer by this time and the second U.S. tour, which followed, underlined this. Leo’s band now included Chris Stainton, pianist with Joe Cocker’s Greaseband, who had famously backed Joe at Woodstock. Leo and the new band returned to many of the venues he’d performed at the first time around, like The Troubadour in L.A., and at The Bottom Line in New York, where he had Hall and Oates as support.
It was now 1975 and unfortunately Leo’s team were starting to head off in different directions. David Courtney, Leo’s co-writer and co-producer of all the work so far, had made a solo album of his own (“First Day”, released on EMI records), and now Adam Faith also was set to release an album “I Survive” in the U.K. on Warner Brothers Records. David was off to America and Adam was concentrating on his own career as an actor. Leo, meanwhile, with the help of a new co-writer, ex Supertramp bass player and pianist Frank Farrell, was busy preparing his third album, to be titled Another Year, Adam co-producing this time with guitarist/pianist Russ Ballard.
Just before this, in February 1975, Leo performed at the Midem music business gala in Cannes and upset the organisers of the international music industry gala by getting such a raucous standing ovation, the next act was almost unable to go on, this being a symphony orchestra conducted by the film director Frederic Fellini’s composer Nina Rota.
Leo was more than proud of the new songs he’d written with Frank Farrell on location in Spain, but the recording of ‘Another Year’ became an unnecessarily rushed affair, with Adam insisting that everything had to be completed within two weeks, giving Leo little chance, he felt, to bring out the epic nature of the songs. Nevertheless, the album was well received, and Moonlighting became a runaway hit in Britain, climbing to number two in the charts. A unique single hit came out of Ireland too with another track from the album, “I Will Not Stop Fighting”.
Leo spent the rest of the year on the road, playing Britain and Europe, then Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, the Far East, all to promote the album. Meanwhile Adam was in America searching for a new producer, as he was obsessed with the idea that Leo now had to make an American record. In December 1975, Leo released a Christmas single in the U.K., this time a cover of the Beatles’ Let It Be. It was not a huge success, yet a year later turned up on Swiss producer Lou Riesner’s movie soundtrack album for “All This And World War Two”. The record was the soundtrack for a bizarre movie featuring various artists singing Beatles songs to footage from the Second World War. Leo also sang “I Am The Walrus” and “The Long And Winding Road” on this, both to the accompaniment of a symphony orchestra.
In the spring of 1976, Leo met Richard Perry in Los Angeles – Adam’s suggestion for the American producer. Richard had had a distinguished reputation in the U.S., having produced such acts as Barbra Streisand, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Art Garfunkel and Diana Ross, amongst others. He’d seen Leo in concert and was impressed. The only problem was that Leo still wanted to sing his own songs and Richard was more interested in “that voice”, thinking Leo should stretch his horizons beyond just his song writing.
The first session between the two was arranged in the summer of 1976 at Richard’s Studio 55, on Melrose Boulevard in Hollywood, where they recorded “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted”, “Tears Of A Clown” and “Reflections” – all covers. Leo was not sure about the direction but loved the all-star band Richard had provided. His voice soared in this new setting, and he rapidly began to think that maybe Richard was right.
Throughout that summer the two worked steadily, patiently putting together the album that was to prove Leo’s biggest success to date. Leo had started writing exciting new songs in this environment, and he and wife Janice embraced L.A.’s melting pot atmosphere with undisguised relish. They rented a house in Laurel Canyon and in their words, “went fully Californian”. During this period, Leo wrote two songs for the album with New Yorker Barry Mann (famous for composing “You Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, and “On Broadway”) and most importantly created You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, which was birthed from a jam session in the studio. The single featured drums by the legendary Steve Gadd and a great guitar riff by Ray Parker Jr. (of “Ghostbusters” fame).
He completed the writing of this song with co-writer Vini Poncia, who had produced Kiss and co-written with Ringo Starr previously. When the result was released in September ‘76 – it became Leo’s first American number one. Leo was now on top of the world and the ricochet of his U.S. success echoed around the globe. The album, Endless Flight, was critically well received everywhere, and though some felt Leo had lost some of his uniqueness in the process, none could deny the instant pop appeal of the album.
Leo now had an ‘all-star’ band on the road too, including Nicky Hopkins on keyboards and Bobby Keys on saxophone (both ex Rolling Stones), Reggie McBride on bass and Steve Madaio on trumpet (both ex Stevie Wonder band), and Don Preston (from The Mothers Of Invention). At the Roxy in L.A. during November 1976, their support act was Randy Crawford, making her debut performance. Leo was now at the height of his fame and just twenty-eight years old.
The second single from Endless Flight, When I Need You (a ballad by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer-Sager), brought even more success. For years in Britain, Leo had been “knocking on the door” of the number one position in the U.K. music charts. He’d been kept at number two by the likes of Rod Stewart, Abba, Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust and Slade, but in January 1977 he finally got a wonderful new year present, and a second number one in the U.S followed that first number one in the U.K. “When I Need You” went on to dominate the world charts, bringing him further number ones in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and many other countries.
By now, Leo and Janice had all but given up on any ideas of a conventional settled down married life, but they were both loving the travelling. In the U.K. offers came in for T.V. series of Leo’s own. In the States he’d been invited on to Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore, Good Morning America, Merv Griffin and all the big chat shows. In February 1977 he got the biggest accolade of all, a coveted Grammy Award for best Rhythm & Blues song with ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’. In Britain, he won various Best Male Singer awards and a T.V. Times readers award for artist of the year. In Canada he got a Juno award, and in Belgium he was presented with the Golden Lion. Back briefly from America in England in March, Leo appeared on T.V. for the B.B.C. with his first solo prime time special. He played in Windsor Great Park during the summer of 1977 for the occasion of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, where Leo had the honour of being presented to Her Majesty after the show.
How Much Love (written with Barry Mann) was picked as the third single release from “Endless Flight” and continued the chart-hit trend. The album went platinum in both Britain and the States, and these were the days when such a rating meant you’d really sold a million copies. The three singles from the album had now sold six million copies around the world too. Richard Perry was eager to put out a follow up album as quickly as possible to continue this momentum.
In late summer and early autumn 1977 Leo and Richard were back recording Thunder In my Heart at Studio 55. From his base in L.A., Leo had already started co-writing with Tom Snow (the album’s title track), with Albert Hammond (who’d written “When I Need You”), and with Michael Omartian (pianist on “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” and the producer of singer Christopher Cross).
The album featured more original material than “Flight”, with Richard yet again assembling L.A.’s finest musicians and arrangers for the project. The album firmly established Leo as a white Rhythm & Blues artist, just as “Endless Flight” had represented his pop side. Though the record bears witness to one of Leo’s best periods in his recording career, Leo, Adam and Richard were to be disappointed that the sales figures didn’t quite match those of “Endless Flight”. Nevertheless, both the “Thunder In My Heart” and “Easy To Love” singles from the album got into the U.S. top forty, and the album reached number thirty-eight in the U.S. charts.
Leo was now becoming a big draw on the U.S. concert scene, headlining big venues such as The Greek Theatre and Universal Amphitheatre in L.A., and Central Park in New York. He was now living as a tax exile, spending most of ‘77 outside Britain, only returning there for selected concert and television performances. This mystique didn’t do him any harm, as British journalists now flew out to Beverly Hills to interview the guy who was gracing the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and headlining big shows. He toured the States extensively that summer, though the tour was briefly interrupted by a fall offstage in Wisconsin, which hit the headlines, and led to an interesting hook up with Elvis Presley – but that’s another story! He got back on the tour and though exhausted and injured the little trouper still didn’t miss a show.
In 1978 Adam brought in a partner, the agent, Colin Berlin, who though Leo’s roots were in rock and soul, directed him towards the lucrative Las Vegas and cabaret market. Colin saw Leo’s talent as an all-round entertainer. Leo was being worked hard, but he started to feel now that he might be headed in the wrong direction.
1978’s Leo Sayer was Leo’s last album to be produced by Perry and showed Leo gamely challenging these changes to his world. Against calls for a more middle of the road approach, Leo got introspective and showed another side of his talent, bringing out his harmonica and putting a country feel into songs like the album’s opener, Leo and Tom Snow’s “Stormy Weather”. Leo had now toured all over the States and was getting in tune with America’s roots as well as his own. The album featured guitars by Lindsey Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac, with backings by members of Linda Ronstadt’s band and members of the rock band soon to be named Toto. Richard was sensitive to Leo’s approach and the delicate production is evident on the album’s biggest hit, Englishman Billy Nichols beautiful I Can’t Stop Loving You.
At this time Leo and his wife Janice were literally homeless – living on the road. The exhausting schedules in 1978 included the USA (a 65-date tour), Canada, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain (a 32-date tour), and he finished the year by playing to 8000 people on one night in Dublin. During the UK tour, over six weeks, you could also see Leo headlining his own show on B.B.C. T.V. every Friday night, and he also guested famously on The Muppet Show, duetting with Miss Piggy on the Tonight Show in New York. Then on his 30th birthday he was sung to by his idol, Fred Astaire on Dinah Shore’s T.V. show in Hollywood.
In early 1979, Leo was looking around for a new producer when his old chum Dave Courtney turned up on his L.A. doorstep. It was just like old times as the two put their heads together. Their first album together since 1974 was titled Here, featuring mostly new songs from Leo and David. They had a great studio band to work with, including Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn from Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Bill Payne from Little Feat and Steve Lukather from Toto, along with veteran Al Kooper from Blood Sweat and Tears (and Bob Dylan’s first electric band). Leo sang a great version of Al’s epic ballad “Lost Control” on the record. The album echoed both David and Leo’s newfound love for the American groove and in that light, Ray Parker Jr. and Leo’s “When The Money Runs Out” was a rocking and very funky first single.
Back in England, 1979 also saw the release of The Very Best Of Leo Sayer, which thanks to an extensive TV advertising campaign, saw Leo breaking his own and the Chrysalis record company’s sales records, the album going straight to No.1 in the UK album charts and being awarded double platinum status, which in those days meant sales of two million units in the U.K. alone!
The British Pop and Rock awards (now known as The Brits) presented Leo with Best Male Artist (of 1978), and Leo and Janice bought themselves an elegant house in Kensington, settling into a briefly comfortable London lifestyle. Yet while it seemed that while Leo had truly arrived at the pinnacle of his success, he was having little time to enjoy it. Cracks had started to appear in Leo and Janice’s much publicised inseparable life together too, and financial pressures meant Leo soon had to go off and work the far-reaching world markets he was now appealing to. He travelled through the Far East: Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. He played in South Africa, performing notably to black audiences in the townships as well as mixed crowds at Sun City.
Following the direction of Colin Berlin, Leo played the Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City casinos, in the US (with a big orchestra added to he and his band), co-headlining the showrooms with comedian Bill Cosby. Though it was the antithesis of his rock roots, Leo found it impossible to dislike the Nevada lifestyle where he was now spending a lot of his time, and while there he got inducted as a Deputy Sheriff of Virginia City.
1980 bought a welcome return to the charts with a hit single, More Than I Can Say, a classic song written by Jerry Alison and Sonny Curtis from Buddy Holly’s backing group The Crickets, and originally recorded by Bobby Vee. It reached No.2 in the US and British charts, also becoming his only No.1 in Australia. The song came from 1980’s Living In A Fantasy, an album produced and co-written by a new partner for Leo, Alan Tarney. Alan created for Leo an entirely new sound, the most surprising element being that Alan played all of the instruments except for Trevor Spencer’s drums. Later that year, along with Alan Tarney, Leo had written the hit song ‘Dreamin’’ for Cliff Richard. That one reached No.8 in the U.K. charts in August 1980. It was at this time (the 80’s) that the techniques of recording were to dramatically change with the advent of new technology. Alan purchased one of the first of the new Fairlight sampling synthesisers. It was on this instrument that the two created the remarkable Orchard Road as a demo, and that same demo was released to become one of Leo’s most enduring singles.
Leo moved back to Los Angeles in 1982, to work with Arif Mardin, famed musical arranger and producer of Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack and The Bee Gees. They recorded the World Radio album in two locations, Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles and at the fabled Atlantic Studios in New York City. A single from the album Have You Ever Been In Love, composed by English writers, Andy Hill and Pete Sinfield, was yet another worldwide hit. Barry and Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees contributed the epic “Heart Stop Beating In Time” especially for Leo, and Dave Courtney and Leo co-wrote (yet again!) four entirely new tracks, including the title song.
While continuing to keep up his workaholic-touring schedule, Leo somehow found time to be all over the media airwaves at this same time. He hosted two more self-titled T.V. series for the B.B.C. during 1983 and 1984, and appeared on talk shows, television specials and music shows with artists as diverse as Des O’Connor, Michael Parkinson, The Two Ronnies, Captain and Tenille, Kenny Everett, Merv Griffin, Glen Campbell, Jack Jones, Les Dawson, Julie Andrews and Perry Como. He co-hosted an episode of Solid Gold in America with Dionne Warwick. In England he even had his own show on Radio 1.
Leo was a big fan of Formula 1 motor racing, and drove John Watson’s F1 McLaren at Silverstone for his BBC T.V. series. Following the Grand Prix circus around the world, he struck up friendships with many leading drivers, from Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda to Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill. But the inevitable pressures of showbusiness were starting to take their toll. In 1985 Leo sadly split up with Janice. The news soon followed that the couple were to be divorced. A year later Leo took up with a new partner, Donatella Piccinetti from Florence, and they are still together today.
By now, Leo had also split with Adam Faith and the British newspapers started to home in on the apparently acrimonious end to one of British pop’s most enduring partnerships. Leo was saying nothing and carried on working, but a new musical direction was to prove difficult to achieve. After years of relying on others, he was now entirely on his own – writing, playing and producing his own music; he had his own studio and was trying to run his own career from his own offices. It was never going to work!
The career difficulties continued. In 1987 he had parted with his long-time record company Chrysalis and was actively pursuing a new record deal. In 1988, now 40 years old, he was touring the UK again, albeit to audiences who became confused by the straight hair and ponytail he was now sporting. The lad hadn’t lost his touch though, new songs revealing a harder edge to his work. The show reviews were surprisingly good, and the tour travelled on to great success in Australia.
Still searching for that elusive hit, Leo returned to the studio in 1989 with Alan Tarney, to record Cool Touch, which was released in 1990 on EMI. The album was a journey into disco and soul, and though it didn’t achieve the success that Leo and Alan had hoped for, the “Cool Touch” single and video introduced Leo to the new “MTV” generation of the 90’s. In 1990 Leo toured Australia again and played two amazing concerts in Moscow. The entire audience sang along to “One Man Band” and “When I Need You” – in English! Leo was totally shocked, having never known of his popularity there before this.
Between 1991 and 1996 his career progressed steadily along similar lines, touring below the equator mostly. In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Leo performed two of the very first public concerts held there since the Vietnam war. There were more tours of Australasia and New Zealand, some recording, some writing and co-writing, but no real big breakthrough. Then in 1997, Leo received an offer for a season of shows at The Cafe Royal, in the heart of London’s West End. There was a press call, and members of the tabloid press turned up to the opening night. A couple of journalists from the Sun newspaper ended up backstage after the show, raving about what they’d seen, and their next day’s edition featured the start of a campaign to “Bring back Leo Sayer”.
A group of Dance re-mixers calling themselves The Groove Generation had meanwhile hit the UK charts with a 90’s style re-working of Leo’s classic ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’, featuring Leo himself singing the chorus. This and the Sun newspaper campaign had opened up an entirely new market for Leo as he started appearing in discos and at university dances and balls throughout the U.K. to a much younger crowd, who now thought he was the epitome of chic. The 70’s revival had started, with Leo being one of the great pace setters. The Sun newspaper kept on flying the flag for Leo and soon the much-awaited comeback of Leo Sayer became a media and music business reality. In 1998 Leo released The Definitive Hits Collection CD for Polygram –Universal, and in 1999 the Live In London concert CD was recorded from a triumphant homecoming concert at Shepherds Bush Empire in the capital during his British tour of that year. His music was now regularly featured in TV commercials for such clients as The Automobile Association and Mars in the UK and his face featured in a hilarious press advert for Pentax cameras.
Leo saw in the new millennium in 2000 with an extraordinary show in South Africa on the famed Blue Train performed at a mystery location in the middle of the African desert, and in February 2000 “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” was featured in the hit movie Charlie’s Angels, with the accompanying soundtrack album to this entering the U.S. charts at No.5 during that millennium year. August 2000 saw Leo and his band returning for a concert to a huge crowd at South Africa’s Sun City. This concert was staged to recognise the 21st birthday of Sun City’s Superbowl venue, Leo being chosen for the celebrations as he was the first artist to have played the venue – way back in 1979.
Still on the concert trail, in July 2001 he made a first visit to Seoul, South Korea, playing two sold out concerts with a local orchestra, also appearing on TV and radio there. Returning to the concert stage in Australia and New Zealand to play a sold-out tour of fourteen major venues, he added an extra special one-off concert at The Basement in Sydney, and from this a ‘Live In Sydney’ DVD was released.
In 2002 Leo gathered together songs he’d been working on in his own studio at home in the UK, and headed off to Jutland in Denmark to record Voice In My Head. The album was recorded at a rural facility called Lungaard Studios, and Leo stayed there at the studio for almost 6 months to complete the recording. It was a big project, his first studio recording in over ten years and the first album he’d ever produced by himself. Strings were recorded in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and the mastering was completed in Devon, England. This album was a truly international production, featuring musicians from all over the world, and was first released on Edel Records in Germany in 2004.
In late 2004 Leo was preparing to fulfil a lifetime ambition, leaving England to live in Australia, when he received a request from a U.K. based DJ to remix his 1977 classic “Thunder In My Heart”. Beautifully re-worked as Thunder In My Heart Again by DJ Meck (and Bimbo Jones) this became a monster dance hit all over the world, so in 2005, having just settled in Australia, Leo had achieved his second official No.1. in the U.K.
Leo flew back to the UK to promote the single, where there was a storm of publicity and attention, with Leo reported to be more surprised than anyone to be lip-synching to a vocal he had recorded 28 years before!
Back in Australia, ABC Records released Voice In My Head and Leo, supported by some of Australia’s top musicians, was soon selling out concerts across the country, in nearby New Zealand too. In August 2006, Leo joined the cream of Australia’s rock and pop acts on the Countdown Spectacular tour of Australia. This was a concert re-enactment of the famous Aussie TV show, on which Leo made had made many appearances from 1974 onwards.
Leo returned to England and Europe in July 2005, performing at big open-air festivals that summer. He finished this visit with a special show at The Pigalle Club in London’s West End. Back in Australia in 2006, Leo guested alongside other Australian artistes on the ‘Let It Be’ Beatles’ tribute tour and continued touring Australasia until January 2007 when he returned to London when invited to take part in the Celebrity Big Brother TV show. It was a disaster and Leo became plainly uncomfortable on the set, breaking out of the house after serving only nine days of what he later called “his ‘sentence’”. Almost as soon as he left there was international controversy after racist taunts between some of the other contestants threatened to see the show taken off the air. It wasn’t his or the show’s ‘finest hour’.
Returning to Australia Leo played a successful stint at The Crown Towers in Melbourne, headlined at the Darwin Cup ball, and made some appearances on a series of “Spirit Of The Bush” interstate charity concerts to aid Australia’s drought stricken farming community. He also made a guest appearance with The Wiggles, the perennially popular children’s TV entertainers. Much like his performances with the Muppets, this was a fun connection, and Leo and the Wiggles performance of “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” became the title track of a DVD and CD.
In November 2007 Garth Porter, best known as the keyboard player with Sherbet, one of Australia’s most successful pop groups, after hearing Leo singing quietly backstage on The Countdown Spectacular, asked Leo if he felt like making an album featuring that voice in a sophisticated new setting. On Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow, released that December, the stylish re-workings of Leo’s most popular songs marked an interesting departure from the rest of his catalogue. On May 21st that year, Leo had turned 60. Later that year, Leo performed concerts at the State Theatre, Sydney, and Melbourne’s Hamer Hall, appearing onstage featuring 25 musicians, including 18 string players. In December he flew to Dublin, Ireland for a live New Year’s performance on RTE TV’s Ryan Tubridy Show.
On January 25th 2009, Leo became an Australian Citizen in Canberra. The occasion was marked by a concert where Leo performed on the lake to huge crowds and fireworks. 2010 continued in dramatic form with Leo headlining a huge free concert for Australia Day on the water in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. His performance was watched by huge crowds and many more on national TV. That year he also took part in an interesting journey into the Australian bush with two close friends driving ‘Leo’s Limo’, an old Holden 60’s limousine from Townsville in Queensland to Alice Springs, all to aid a Variety Clubs’ charity adventure called The Variety Bash.
In 2010 Leo re-visited Britain for an arena tour titled: “Once In A Lifetime”, sharing the bill with David Essex, The Osmonds, and The Bay City Rollers. He ended that year with a big NYE concert in Melbourne at The Crown Casino. There were more Australian dates in 2011 including an interesting concert up in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, at a little-known place called Parachilna, official population – 1. The reason for he and his band’s visit was to play a concert outside the famed Prairie Hotel called Fossil Rock, this being the location of the first recorded living creatures on Planet Earth. People drove there from many hundreds of kilometres away and the funds raised by the show would go a long way to protecting this very sacred place.
In May 2012 Leo was performing with his British band in Seoul, South Korea, also that year performing over in Dublin, Ireland, before flying on to London for a second series of ‘Once In A Lifetime’ arena shows in November, this time with David Cassidy, Hot Chocolate and Smokie.
In April 2013, Leo visited Papua New Guinea to perform solo shows in a fundraiser for the main hospital in Port Moresby, and in October joined The Village People for Cruise And Groove, a boat trip tour in the Pacific Ocean. He also performed at the Grammy Winners Concert in Chengdu, China. This concert, hosted by Neil Portnow of the U.S. Grammy’s organisation saw Leo share the stage with Michael Bolton, Shawn Colvin, Rodney Crowell, Jody Watley, Richard Marx, Yolanda Adams, Patti Austin and Dianne Schur, along with Chinese pianist Lang Lang and assorted Chinese singing stars. The concert, put on in the 80,000 seat Olympic Stadium was a very grand affair, and Leo led everyone in the final with a group rendition of ‘More Than I Can Say’, his most well-known hit in China.
After a year topped off by a concert tour of Ireland, England Wales and Scotland in November, in April and May 2014, Leo joined three other Aussie hitmakers, Joe Camillieri, Russell Morris and Richard Clapton for his first APIA Good Times tour. In Jan 2015 Leo joined his UK band for two concerts in Asia, one in Singapore and one in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which was a fundraising performance for the then Prime Minister’s wife’s charity.
2015 saw the release of a new album, Restless Years, this one recorded in Australia, Leo and members of his Aussie touring band recording live at a studio in Melbourne. The album, produced by Leo, featured mostly songs composed solely by Leo as well as some co-written with Albert Hammond. To promote the album, he was on tour in the UK yet again that summer. While in England he also received a coveted gold badge from the British Academy of Songwriters and Publishers, in recognition for his many years of work as a songwriter.
In June 2016, Leo had teamed up with Scottish legend, Lulu, for a tour of Australia and New Zealand. With both of them being the same vintage and with two strong voices that matched superbly, the tour was judged a great success. It was the first time Lulu had performed down under. The year ended up with Leo performing in Sydney for ‘Carols In The Domain’, a massively popular free concert which annually heralded Christmas into sunny Sydney.
In April 2017, Leo was back in South Africa, performing for a week with a group of South African musicians at the Teatro in Montecasino, an entertainment centre just outside Johannesburg. Then in May and June, he was back in the UK to tour for another big concert tour there.
Back home in Australia Leo was recording a new album, Selfie, now recording in his own home studio. He took his time with this one because he was determined to finish the entire record solo. With the aid of old pal John Hudson as mix engineer, he cut 15 new tracks, performing and singing all the parts of the record himself. Selfie was released worldwide in May 2019.
He performed in April 2018 at a huge open-air concert with Lionel Richie and Chic in Adelaide, Australia. In September that same year, Leo visited Sri Lanka, for a concert in Colombo, and later that year toured the UK yet again, this time performing 23 concerts there. In the middle of this UK tour he also played two concerts in Holland, the first time there since the 80’s, and two concerts in Spain, at Villa Martin near Murcia.
Leo returned to the USA in March 2019, sailing from Fort Lauderdale to take part in that year’s Rock and Romance cruise, playing alongside Foreigner, Boz Scaggs, Orleans, Gino Vanelli and Grand Funk Railroad. He was back in Europe to promote the Selfie album with concerts during the summer over there and finished the year with another trip to South Africa, to Cape Town and Pretoria where he was joining a Christmas spectacular.
Leo’s home these days is a modest country house in a beautiful area called the Southern Highlands, and it has a recording studio attached. This is situated in a small village just off the highway to Canberra, about 120 kilometres south of Sydney. During Christmas 2019 and New Year 2020 this area came under intense threat from raging bushfires, this following a severe draught throughout the southern parts of Australia. Leo and his friend, actor singer John Waters, decided they had to help those neighbours severely affected by the fire, and launched Fire Aid, a free concert held in nearby Bowral. It was a huge effort by these two, inspiring everyone to give their services for free on the day, even the police and authorities. The concert was a great success, benefitting many who’d lost their homes and livelihoods, animal rescuers, care workers and the local fire crews too.
2020/2021 became two difficult years with the Covid pandemic reaching Australia, affecting movement and business across the whole world. Leo used his lockdown and isolation time creatively in his studio, releasing new music online that not only described the situation, but songs that maybe could be used for inspiration in these difficult times. A concert tour of Ireland had to be curtailed in March after Leo and band only got to perform four shows, and in 2021 the APIA Good Times Australian tour (Leo’s third appearance on this) took a whole year of re-scheduling to complete, but in the end, they it got done. Undaunted, Leo used this quieter Pandemic period to create a new album project in his studio, Northern Songs, a tribute to the music of The Beatles, 19 classic tracks by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, all recorded solo by Leo, singing and arranging his versions of these in his own unique style. The album was released in January 2022, being previewed before that with three advance digital single releases.
In 2022, Leo had reached a milestone in his career, as it had been 50 years since that first single by Patches, the recording of his Silverbird album and Roger Daltrey’s recording sessions, singing his and David Courtney’s early songs. To celebrate this, Leo with his British band performed a 32-date tour across the UK from September to November, also finding time revisit the postponed dates he’d missed in Ireland the previous year.
This year he’ll be in the U.S.A. for a long overdue return. There will be some shows over there in March, to be followed up by a much bigger tour towards the end of the year. He’s also planning a new album and will be also performing at concerts in Australia and Britain later this year (dates still to be announced).
For this still healthy, creative and energetic nearly 74-year-old, (turning 75 years old on May 21st) the story just keeps getting more interesting…
© Leo Sayer – Silverbird Limited • 2023