The majority of singer/songwriters will be influenced at a young age and will naturally show a flare for writing, Chris Rea, however, didn’t start until he was 21, but boy, what a tomb of work has followed.
Chris was born in Middlesbrough in 1951 and instantly recognisable for his gravelly voice and distinctive slide guitar playing. He explained how he got into the game, “I heard an album by Joe Walsh which was pretty good, I loved his slide guitar work which was producing a lot of energy and emotion. I thought I’d like to have a go at this myself, so I went out a bought a guitar, locked myself a way in my bedroom and taught myself, it annoyed the hell out of my family for weeks.”
He opened his chart account in 1978 with the radio friendly Fool (If you Think It’s Over) which reached a surprisingly low number 30. To date he’s had over 30 hit singles, but only one to reach the top 10 and that was 1989’s The Road to Hell (Part 2).
His first hit to get in the twenties was the 1985 release Stainsby Girls. Well anyone who knows the area will know that Stainsby is a locale in Middlesbrough, but what exactly is a girl from Stainsby like? Chris tells all, “That song is dedicated to the girls I knew at the secondary modern school I went to in Stainsby. They were only about 15 or 16 but they looked about 10 years older and they were very sophisticated,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “Everybody fancied them and we all put them on a sort of pedestal. We didn’t stand a chance with them really so we had to worship them from a distance. They had flashy boyfriends and went to clubs like The Twisted Wheel in Manchester on a Saturday night. They’ve knocked it down now; the good old places always disappear when developers come along.” Did he ever go to the Twisted Wheel? “That was a forbidden place to us, parents thought it was a sinful place but we all dreamed of going there one day.”
In the eighties Chris was cited as being Britain’s answer to Bruce Springsteen, did he agree? “I guess so,” he pondered, “He had similar grass roots, an ordinary bloke with a craggy lived-in face singing about life.”
The parent album, Shamrock Dairies is very autobiographical. “I went back home to have a look around,” Chris remembered, “I didn’t go back as the star returning, I just wanted to observe. I saw a lot of depression and lots of talent going to waste.” The album reached number 15 and spent almost four months on the chart. The next single released from it was Josephine written about his new born daughter.
In 2001, Chris was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but made a promise to himself that if he recovered, he would be return to his blues roots. He did beat the illness and his comeback was Blue Guitars which was an 11 CD set of 137 blues-inspired tracks which he recorded in just eighteen months. The tomb came complete with his own paintings as album covers which Chris considers this his finest work to date.
In 2005 he announced his retirement, but just two years later decided he was going back on tour. One of his best known songs is the perennial favourite Driving Home for Christmas which, since the download era, has entered the chart every Christmas and keep Chris’ name in the public eye. He continues to make albums, his last being 2011’s Santo Spirito Blues, but the big hit singles still elude him.