Leo’s versatility is even more impressive. He dressed as a mime artist for The Show Must Go On, disco-danced on You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, sang many a tender and beautiful love song and wrote a world wide hit for Roger Daltrey’s first solo single.
Leo’s mother, an Irish nurse, gave birth to Gerard Hugh Sayer on May 21, 1948 in the Sussex town of Shoreham-By-Sea. His father, an English seaman engineer, loved motor racing. Leo and his brother Brian followed the sport keenly but it was to art school Leo turned his interest, going on to become an illustrator in London whilst, at the same time, developing a twin interest in Bob Dylan and the Blues - playing harmonica as part of the Terraplane Blues Band and listening to Leadbelly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
As an artist he converted photographs to album covers for the Trojan and Island Record labels and also developed a love of reggae music. Leo had inherited his artistic streak from his Irish grandfather - “I would sit in the background and watch him playing the harmonica or fiddle, I always wanted to be like him”.
Leo supplemented his wages by busking on the streets and playing harmonica in folk clubs, but by 1968, overworked and unfulfilled, Leo suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to Shoreham. He found songwriting therapeutic and his autobiographical lyrics formed the basis of his first albums. He began performing locally in a band called Jester and another called Patches.
Dave Courtney, a former drummer for Adam Faith’s band, was a talent scout for an entertainment agency and had to put an ad in the Brighton Evening Argus asking for local talent to audition for him - he was despondent until he heard the final band, Patches. Courtney signed the band and started writing music for Leo’s words.
Courtney let Adam Faith hear the band. Faith was impressed by Leo Sayer and offered to manage him, securing an international deal with Chrysalis and Warner Bros. in the US. He arranged recording sessions, but Sayer, annoyed by delays, wrote the huge Top Five hit “Giving It All Away” for Roger Daltrey’s first solo album, Daltrey, and went on to write nine of the eleven songs. Rolling Stone magazine wrote “Daltrey is a superb, bubbly written and produced album. It is a triumph for the song-writing team of Courtney-Sayer.”
Leo then went on to achieve instant stardom with The Show Must Go On, hailed by the influential pop weekly Melody Maker as the year’s brightest star. Inspired by a French film Les Enfants du Paradis, he appeared with a whitened face in a clown’s costume based on the Pierrot character. It was a terrific gimmick and the single soared straight to Number Two. That was at a time when Number Two meant a huge number of record sales. For sheer flair and flamboyance, his only contemporary rivals were Elton John and David Bowie.
Touring with Roxy Music, where he frequently stole the show, Leo quickly proved he was no one-hit wonder. “One Man Band” and “Long Tall Glasses” were also substantial world-wide hits and the albums Silverbird and Just a Boy were huge top sellers. The rollicking song “Long Tall Glasses” established Leo in the U.S. Being 5 ft. 4, Sayer was hardly a physical presence on stage, but he made up for it with charisma and dynamics. He was a nervous bundle of entertaining energy.
The Leo Sayer frenzy was building both sides of the Atlantic from London to L.A. His headline tour drew rave reviews from critics and public alike, around the world.
In 1975, Sayer turned to Frank Farrell, formerly of Supertramp, to write his next album, Another Year. This album included “Moonlighting”.
Leo then befriended one of the most stylish and assured pop producers of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Richard Perry, who had an impressive track record with key albums by Ringo Starr, Carly Simon, The Pointer Sisters, Barbra Streisand, Nilson and Ella Fitzgerald. He encouraged Leo to work with American writers and produced the insidious “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing”, which showed Leo with a new falsetto and gave him his first U.S. Number One and a Grammy for best rhythm and blues song.
Richard Perry, who regarded Leo as the Charlie Chaplin of rock ‘n’ roll, stayed with him for three more albums, asking Leo to record songs by other writers. Andrew Gold wrote the title song of his album Endless Flight, while the transatlantic “When I Need You”, written by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer Sager, became Number One in virtually every territory in the world. It was a great song for anyone on the road missing their loved ones back home. From the albums Thunder in My Heart and Leo Sayer, “Thunder in My Heart” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You (Though I Try)” were huge hit records.
Perry encouraged Leo to revive songs from his youth and they had success with Buddy Holly’s “Raining in My Heart”, featuring Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac on guitar.
After working with Perry, who hired the best musicians possible, Leo Sayer turned to Alan Tarney, who preferred to do as much as possible himself. This partnership produced the Number Two U.S. and UK hit “More Than I Can Say”.
Leo’s BBC television series showed his ability to sing soul, country and folk before returning to the charts again with a lesser known, but critically acclaimed song with many regard as his best, “Orchard Road”.
Then in the early ‘80s, Sayer moved to America. When he came back he found himself about as relevant as a pair of platform shoes in a room full of Armani-suited wide boys. At one point he even had his hair straightened and wore it up in a pony tail. By the mid-eighties, it didn’t help that the hits had dried up. His management pushed him into cabaret, playing Vegas.
“Everything was getting a bit too middle of the road, so I decided to fire everyone, clear the decks and start again.”
Leo disappeared into obscurity for a long period of reappraisal and struggle, being shocked to find he didn’t have the money he thought he had. The doors he thought would open for him stayed firmly closed.
But Leo never gave up his dream and belief. He headlined the first public concert in Vietnam since the war, then the dream began to be realized with The Sun beginning a campaign to reinstate this true living legend.
Melody Maker’s “face of 1974” and “the most exciting singer of 1979” (TV Times) who bestrode a decade like an Afro-haired, five-foot, four-inch colossus, encompassing a string of Top Ten singles, six Top Ten albums, sell out tours, and TV specials, now finds himself acclaimed as a legend in 1997.
In 2002 Leo gathered together songs he’d been working on in his own studio and headed off to Jutland, Denmark to record Voice in My Head. The album was recorded at an amazing rural facility called Lungaard Studios, and Leo stayed at the studio for almost six 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. Strings were recorded in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and mastering was completed in Devon, England. The 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 2005 Leo was preparing to fulfill a lifetime ambition, to live in Australia, when he received a request from a UK DJ to remix his 1977 classic “Thunder in My Heart”.
Beautifully re-worked, “Thunder in My Heart Again” by DJ Meck became a monster dance hit all over the world, and Leo had his third official UK Number One.
By this time Leo was settling into his new life in Sydney, Australia, but flew back to the UK to promote the single. There was a storm of publicity and attention, and he was reported to be more surprised than anyone to be lip-synching to a vocal he had recorded thirty years before!
Back in Australia, ABC Records had released “Voice in My Head” and now supported by a superb band of top Australian musicians, Leo was selling out concerts across the country. They recorded a live concert from Melbourne’s Hamer Hall in 2006 and this was added to “Voice” in a limited edition double CD.
In November 2007 Garth Porter came to Leo with a plan for a new album. Best known as the keyboard player with Sherbet – Australia’s most successful pop group, Garth was now a top record producer. He’d heard Leo singing quietly backstage on The Countdown Spectacular and asked Leo if he felt like making an album featuring that voice in a sophisticated new setting.
The two embarked on Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow, starting recording just before Christmas 2007. The album’s lush tones and stylish re-workings of Leo’s most popular songs mark a special milestone in Leo’s long running and continuously evolving career.
The year saw Leo performing on tour across Australia with his dynamic four piece band, culminating in sold out shows at Sydney’s Basement and Melbourne’s Crown Showroom.
The Show Must Go On!