Tony Cummings met up with veteran country music hitmaker CHARLIE LANDSBOROUGH
Charlie Landsborough is one of the best selling artists with a bold Christian faith in the whole CD marketplace. Yet his ongoing popularity gets scant attention from pop historians who presumably consider Charlie's warm country music balladry uncool and from Christian music enthusiasts who remain largely ignorant of Charlie's regular assaults on the British album charts. Yet his following is vast and judging from the high chart position for his latest album 'Under Blue Skies' Charlie's following is undiminished. In an anti-room at Stoke-on-Trent's Victoria Hall where Charlie was due to play a concert I asked this gentle, warm man with his striking shoulder-length silver hair whether he had any theories to explain his huge popularity down the years. He responded, "The wonderful thing is that the people who follow this kind of music sort of put their arms around you and then never take them away. I remember when I got the break in Ireland initially I thought that perhaps my music was initially only for Irish ears. I was a bit apprehensive about coming across to Scotland and then into England. Then I was talking to Tony Allen, of Foster And Allen, who's a great friend of mine and he said, 'Charlie, what are you worrying about; people are moved and touched by the same things wherever you go in the world. And said that if they like you in Ireland then they'll like you in Scotland and they'll like you in England and in Wales.' Thankfully that proved to be the case. Here I am all these years later, still doing what I love most."
Despite his huge Irish following and his strong Scouse accent, Charlie is neither Irish nor Liverpudlian. He was born in Wrexham, Wales in 1941 though is Birkenhead-bred. He was the youngest of nine children and had a musical background. He had a father who was billed as "the silver-voiced tenor" and a mother who loved music from Gracie Fields to Hank Williams. His brothers were seamen who would often return from their travels with presents of records and guitars for Charlie. No surprise then that Charlie has always loved music. He has earned his living working in a flour mill, on the railways, as a telephone engineer, a postman, a grocery store manager, for Vauxhall and the Gas Board. The only constant in those days was his gig sheet! Charlie then went to college, to train as a teacher. After that he got a job teaching general subjects to under 11s at Portland Combined School in Birkenhead.
Charlie developed a deep love for country and folk music. But Charlie was determined to develop his own "musical fingerprint". He said, "You can be influenced and inspired by others but I think you've got to be who you are. I don't think there's anything worse than hearing somebody from Birmingham trying to talk like a Texan or something like that. It loses some kind of authenticity. You've got to be who you are. I've taken inspiration from some American country music singers but I'm a Birkenhead lad you know and that's who I am and that's the way God made me and I must be true to myself and true to him."
Success initially came to Charlie as a songwriter. His songs were taken up by Willie Nelson, George Hamilton IV and popular duo Foster And Allen, the latter recording a successful version of Charlie's composition "I Will Love You All My Life". Then in 1989 Charlie recorded a low budget cassette album of his own songs in Bolton with Christian producer Brook Trickett. I took a moment off from my chat with Charlie to show him the very first issue of Cross Rhythms magazine, published in May 1990, which ran an article on Charlie when he talked about his humble cassette release 'Heaven Knows'. "Looking at the early Cross Rhythms thing you've just shown me I see there's a picture of me with black hair in there," Charlie laughs. "I spent all the money I had on that cassette and my wife said that that was stupid. We can't afford it. And I said I've got to do it. I recorded 11 of my own songs and it proved to be one of the best things I ever did because the songs went on to be recorded by a number of people and it gave me some sort of a beginning. But in '94 I remember arguing with the Almighty, which we tend to do when we're trying our own way. I was saying, 'Listen Lord, tell me why have you given me these musical gifts when everywhere I turn I face rejection?' And I'm 50 odd years of age trying to make it in the business that I said is full of youth and good looks and I had neither. And I said' 'Why have you given these gifts to me if I'm not going to use them?' Finally in '94 I surrendered and said 'Alright' after trying to brow beat him into what I wanted to do. I said, 'Alright Lord, I give in - your will be done. But if I'm meant to be a teacher in Merseyside, you'll have to help me because I don't like it anymore.' And it's almost from that spiritual submission that the whole thing began to happen.
"I got this rejection in early '95, one of many down the years, and I was feeling disheartened to say the least. The following day I said, 'No, I'm not giving up - it's the best gift God gave me and I'm going to carry on.' I thought of something positive to do. The only thing I could think of was to phone a television company in Dublin, and ask rather tentatively if they'd be interested in having me back. I'd done there once before. They said, 'Charlie, we've been trying to get you for a month, can you come this week?' I went and did this show, on my own with an acoustic guitar and the following week I was top of the Irish charts so I believe it began with this spiritual submission saying alright I give up. Your will be done. And his will was done in a mighty way."
A mighty way indeed. In the early '90s during a school lesson conducted by Charlie a blind child, endeavouring to envision a world he'd never seen, asked Charlie a question, "What colour is the wind?" The memorable question so touched Charlie's heart that it became the inspiration for a song. Charlie was signed with Ritz Records, the successful Irish record label who hit big with Daniel O'Donnell, though Charlie's debut Ritz album with Foster And Allen did not sell particularly well. Ritz financed the 'What Colour Is The Wind?' album Charlie recorded in the Midlands and after exposure on Pat Kenny's hugely popular Kenny Live programme in January 1995 quickly found himself at number one in the Irish charts.
Since 1995 Charlie has toured the UK and Eire twice a year, building up a large and loyal audience for his live shows which with their homely atmosphere and Charlie's vast repertoire of jokes and asides, hold and keep the admittedly not-so-young audience. He has performed at most major concert halls and theatres including the London Palladium, Labatts Apollo, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Belfast Opera House, Belfast Waterfront and Dublin's National Concert Hall. Charlie has received rave reviews for his shows, particularly at the prestigious Liverpool Summer Pops festival where the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied him and his band before a sell-out crowd of over 4,000, also his headline slot at Birmingham's sold-out charity night at the Symphony Hall, not to mention playing to packed houses around the globe.
Charlie has enjoyed a long string of best selling albums with 1996's 'With You In Mind', 1997's 'Further Down The Road', 1999's 'Still Can't Say Goodbye', 2000's 'Live From Dublin', 2002's 'Movin' On', 2003's 'Smile', 2003's 'The Greatest Gift', 2005's 'My Heart Will Know', 2005's 'Once In A While' and 2006's 'Heart And Soul' all selling to a legion of fans. 'Heart And Soul' was Charlie's first all Christian project. In the interview in the Charlie Landsborough souvenir booklet sold at his concerts, Charlie was asked the question how important is his faith? His response was unequivocal. "My faith in Jesus Christ influences all aspects of my life and I aspire to serve him and to put him before everything. I cannot begin to imagine my life without him."
Charlie's 2007 release 'The Storyteller' featured Charlie introducing 15 of his compositions and his sometimes poignant, sometimes amusing reflections on the stories behind the songs showed the veteran to be a masterly communicator. Now Charlie is touring the UK promoting his latest release, 'Under Blue Skies'. The album, like several of his previous projects, was produced in Alora, Spain at Pete Ware's The Parrothouse studios. "I really enjoyed recording in the sun," said Charlie. "We did a Christmas comedy record and it was 105 degrees! I enjoy the area where Peter lives and I've now got lots of friends there. I plan to spend more time on the Costa del Sol - to get away from the British weather." Charlie had never been to the Coast previously, though he did visit his wife's sister in Torrevieja. "I came to see Peter and loved the climate. It's all a bit more relaxed and less manic. I met a lot of British people who wouldn't think of coming back."
Charlie has just flown to Australia to begin a tour there. He admitted that he is not an artist who plans a long way ahead. "I just go where the Almighty leads me and I say if he opens the door I'll just walk in, but if he doesn't open any more doors for me I'm already thankful for where he's taken me. I just go where I'm told."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.