Show business is a fickle industry that would try and tell us that musical artists are only as good as their last song, that fame is fleeting, that they have a use-by date. So if you’ve managed to forge a career for 10 years, you own the right to call yourself a star; 20 years you’re a bona fide legend – 30 years – you’re immortal. If you somehow are able to transcend that, then you become the sort of person whose name is mentioned with a quiet awe – like some mythical being to whom due reverence is more than warranted, it’s demanded.
Engelbert Humperdinck is such a person. He’s been in the music business for more than 50 years, in fact, as he told me, it’s been longer than 53 years, keeping The Beatles off the number 1 spot with his first massive hit, ‘Release Me’, in 1967. The song had its live debut when Humperdinck filled in for Dickie Valentine on 2 April 1967, on U.K. TVs then top variety show, ‘Tonight At The London Palladium’, which consequently saw a resurgence in the song’s popularity. Engelbert is returning to the Palladium on May 4, with tickets selling fast for the show. I was privileged to have the opportunity – blessed even – to speak to Engelbert Humperdinck last week.
First of all Mr Humperdinck, I’d like to say thank you so much for making the time to speak to us, because I know that your sister Bubbles has just died, and I want to express my sincerest condolences to you and your family.
It is a rather sad moment in our family’s lives, she was a member of 10 of us, and now I’ve lost my 3rd sister, it’s a very sad situation, but as they say, life must go on. I told them I can’t do anything right now, but what’s the point, I must talk to you – she would want me to anyway.
I was going to say that – she would probably want you to keep on going anyway.
The funny thing is, when I lost my mother, I was about to do a tour of the UK, and I said to my family, I’m cancelling everything, I was in England at the time, and my sisters – as a matter of fact the one I just lost – said “you can’t do that”. Mother said, if anything happened to her, she wanted me to sing for her. So while she was in the Chapel of Rest, I was on stage bawling my eyes out. It’s something she wanted me to do, and I would do anything my mother had asked me to do.
Well thank you so much for making the time still. We’re looking forward to your show at the London Palladium in May – what can we expect? I’ve heard you perform before – but I’ll get back to that later.
Appearing at the Palladium any time is special to me, because the Palladium is where my career started. Way back in 1967, when I performed at ‘Tonight At The London Palladium’, I’d released ‘Release Me’ – it was on the shelf for 3 months before this wonderful show came along, and I went on and the very next day, it sold like 80,000 copies. It went up to 127,000 in a day.
My gosh – was the first performance of that song at the London Palladium?
That was the first live performance. And what a great way to start my career! And the song itself is in the Guinness Book of Records, for being one of the biggest selling records in the world, it stopped The Beatles from having their 13th number 1!
Yeah! And I’m a big Beatles fan – I never thought this unknown would go up against the mighty Beatles – and stop them from having a number one – but it did!
That will go on the set list of course!
Oh definitely! That’s the mainstay of my show!
Do you have fans who go to as many shows as they can – the hardcore who are there all the time?
Oh yes we have the regular faces always in the crowd. Now they come so often I know them by name because I meet them at the stage door, but my career has taken quite a big lift at the moment – because – according to what I read on social media – we also have 8th graders who are among my following, so I have to keep my act very contemporary, to keep these young people interested!
That’s what I was going to say – you and I have followed each other on Twitter since 2012, and you are really up there when it comes to social media. You’ve got Twitter, and you’ve got Facebook with your Tuesday Museday vlog and – do you do your own Instagram, or does someone do Instagram for you?
I pass on the information and another person does that, I can’t do it all but I do my Tuesday Museday, and I inform my audiences what’s happening in my life at that particular week, and it’s very nice and very comforting to read in my quiet moments what people say, and to know that they appreciate my music, and the time I take to connect with them through Facebook, and Instagram and Twitter and so on.
Do you feel all this sort of stuff keeps you young? I can scarcely believe you’re in your 80s, but you’re still touring, you’re still releasing new music – how is it that you remain so active when many others in your age bracket they sort of just resign themselves to it?
I love what I do, I really do. If I thought my career was coming to a standstill, or not many people were interested anymore, I would know to hang up my hat. But at the moment it seems to be blossoming, especially with social media, I want to say that I work very hard to keep my act up to date – for instance, some of my songs are 50 years old, so I take the arrangements and I make them more contemporary myself. What I do is my music director and arranger come over to my house, and we sit and commercialise songs that have been around for a long time, more up to date, so the fans both long term and more recent, have something new.
I was thinking too, in terms of staying youthful and in touch – there’s a song on your latest EP, ‘Reflections’ – ‘Don’t Let The Old Man In’ – and one of the lines is, “Ask yourself how old you would be / If you didn’t know the day you were born”
Oh you’ve heard that!
Yes I reviewed your EP! It was amazing!
It’s a great song isn’t it!
I loved the whole country vibe to it, but that line that leapt out at me, because I thought, that is so true!
It is true! You know, I live by those lyrics! For instance – with my hair – my hair was grey when I was in my 20s – I can’t go into showbusiness with grey hair! So I started to dye it, and I dye it and dye it, and today I’m still keeping some product alive! So therefore I don’t care if people know I dye my hair! A good part of it is that I haven’t done any of that Beverly Hills stuff. I haven’t had my face done or anything like that – sometimes I like coming back to Beverly Hills – to see my old friends…new faces! I love a sense of humour – I had to put that in!
You also released your first ever music video last year…
Yes! A great song called ‘You’, written by a British writer…
I loved it! You’re out there on the grass, spinning around in the video – how much fun was that?
You know where that was filmed? In Houdini’s home!
Oh what! Wow!
I was hoping it was going to create a bit of magic!
Why have you not made any videos before this?
I don’t know! But I know what I’m going to do in the next few days, I’m going to be doing a video for ‘Don’t Let The Old Man In’!
Oh excellent I’m looking forward to it!
When I first sang that, I was rehearsing it in my house, and my daughter, and her husband, and my granddaughter Olivia were there [who sang with Engelbert on ‘I’m Glad I Danced With You’], and my daughter and son-in-law both cried – it really hits home.
The whole EP is really reflective, but at the same time, it’s not just looking back, but it’s looking forward as well…
You’ve been in the music business for over 50 years now…what advice do you have for those already in the music industry or just getting into it?
53 right now! January 13 1967 was when ‘Release Me’ was first released. Time flies so quickly! But advice for those in the business – I knocked on many doors when I started out, I believe that the first condition of communication is the willingness to take rejection, I took rejection many many times. But the mistake I made in the early years was probably not getting good business managers. I think once you start to be successful, money comes quite easily, and you have to have someone who is honest and can handle it in the proper manner, and give you a good account of what you’re doing. I was never given that at the start, and like many people, I was taken for a ride. But with my talent, I’ve been able to make a good living, and God has given me the ability, and I have honest people around me now. So the advice I would give, is that they have honest people controlling their careers.
I said earlier that I’ve seen you in concert before. I saw you at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, I was over in Azerbaijan, supporting Jedward from Ireland – they say hi by the way – what was your whole experience of that like?
I have to say – the publicity of that was exceptional. I was proud to represent my country – but the only advice I would give people for the contest in the future – is don’t be first on the list! That was ridiculous! They put me, someone who is known all over the world, as an opening act! It’s crazy really! They should have left me to the end. It’s such a long show, and by the time they’ve got to the end, they’ve forgotten the beginning!
I was so upset because you put on such a good performance, you were out there promoting everywhere. But I really enjoyed your performance [thank you very much] so I’m looking forward to seeing you in May.
Good! Because I’ve already lost another 30 p0unds, and I look better than I did then, I hope to give my audience a great show, and let them be surprised at how this guy looks today!
I have one more question, and I ask this of everyone I interview, and that is, what question do you wish someone would ask you in an interview but nobody ever does?
Let me think about that for a second…Oh yeah! I sort of answered this earlier, but people don’t know that I’ve been responsible for a lot of the musical arrangements you hear me sing. Although I can’t write music – I can read it to an extent – but I’m not good – so my music director comes over to my house and I sing every part, like the cello part, the strings part the bass part, the guitar…I sing them and he writes them down. I’m so proud of the fact that I’m responsible for a lot of the music that people hear in my songs, and I feel that I’m now able to say, that I’m worthy of my honourary Doctorate Of Music.
Do you get a composer credit for that? Credit for musical composition and arrangement?
Oh yes I do.
That’s incredible – you say that you don’t read music, but you’re able to convey it…
I don’t know where it comes from, but the kind of musical figures I come up with are very unusual, and my music director asks, “where are you getting that from?” I don’t know! It’s inborn, it’s there. I think I’m an old soul.
I think so too. Engelbert Humperdinck will be performing at the London Palladium on May 4. Tickets are available here. Engelbert Humperdinck is online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and his official website. ‘Reflections’ is out now, through OK! Good Records.