The Air That I Breathe

in Features

Over the last weekend one of Albert Hammond’s greatest songs charted in the UK album charts. This would make it the third time lucky for the composer. I ponder on some special musical memories as I write this. First I am reminded by my phone that it’s exactly six years ago (Nov 7) since Albert Hammond came to play two live concerts here at the now disappeared Queen’s Cinema. 

I remember going with my daughter Vanessa who has just texted me…”What a night that was”. It came up on her FB memories too. Indeed, those two shows were a long time coming and it took a shrewd and brave James Neish, then of GBC and now an established UK journalist and a colleague Chronicle feature writer, a giant leap of faith to have staged the ‘Hammond’ concerts. They were a resounding success.

Albert’s ‘homecoming’ concerts had been long overdue and they were what everyone expected and more because we had never seen the man sing his legendary songs made famous by many other great artists. His melodic and bilingual songs are in fact the soundtrack of our lives. His earliest hit ‘Little Arrows,’ which was sung by Leapy Lee, is now fifty two years old! Yes it was released in 1968 and time flies like a thieving crow! Let’s take a moment to assimilate the hugely successful catalogue of hits written and sometimes produced for major artists by Albert Hammond. 

Last weekend the prestigious UK paper ‘The Guardian’ wrote that Sir Cliff Richard, now 80 “has become the first artist to reach the Top 5 of the UK album chart across eight consecutive decades. His new album ‘Music…The Air That I Breathe’ reaches No 3 this week” (Nov 6). The title of the new hit album is inspired by one of Hammond’s greatest songs and it’s featured on Cliff’s album as a duet with Albert. I spoke to him recently and asked him why he still tours, as he plans to start touring again as soon as the Covid crisis allows. All concert touring has stopped and artists worldwide have been cancelling shows because of social distancing rules.

“You know that I no longer do this for fame or money, I do it for the time when backstage after a concert, a grieving mother comes to collect an autograph and asks me to sign an album which she tells me that she will treasure because my songs remind her of good times and her son. That time that I spend with my fans is my legacy. That’s worth more than an award or chart hits for me. I have earned that reward by putting in the effort to write the best songs that I can write so that I can continue to make people happy.”   

In our privileged chat where many other things were discussed, I picked up on that reply and asked whether I could use it because it struck me that tender moments like these really are the ultimate validation that artists receive. They all want to be appreciated and when someone tells them that they are then it makes everything worth it.

Coming back to the memory of his two concerts here six years ago, I remember being impressed with the quality of his voice which was in peak form at the two ‘Legend’ album sessions, CDs which saw him re-launch his solo career and later take to the road with a full symphony orchestra behind him touring Europe to sold out theatres.  Through live steaming we were able to enjoy a concert from that tour here on TV and it was called ‘Albert Hammond in Symphony’.

If his success at that time ever needed a boost that tour and the ‘Symphonic’ record of his best hits put the gold seal on a career as a solo artist and legendary composer who has now been famous for over fifty years. He doesn’t fall short of Sir Cliff’s enduring longevity but then Cliff has not written the big songs that have inspired so many A-list artists internationally. Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves about a number of major artists who scored hits with songs by Albert Hammond.

Think Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Julio Iglesias, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, The Hollies, Leo Sayer, Starship  and you are in the ballpark of what it means to be the composer whose songs are now considered classics and are destined to be around for a long time. Hammond has no intention of stepping down any time soon and although Covid has put his concert tours on a temporary hiatus, the big wheels are still turning in the background so that when he emerges onto the concert trail again his status as an enduring music legend will not have diminished one iota.

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