Bonnie Tyler Interview: Star Power
Bonnie Tyler is about to celebrate 50 years in the business with a brand new album Between The Earth And The Stars that boasts the talents of three knights of the realm, a Quo legend and one of the hottest pop songwriting talents on the block…
I’ve just asked Bonnie Tyler if, when she wakes up every morning, she considers herself a Living Legend or not. “HAHAHAHAHAHA! I suppose I am, yeah!”
It’s not an entirely unreasonable question to ask a woman whose 50 years in music has seen her release several iconic million-selling singles and travel the world to cement her place as one of the UK’s premier rock lungsmiths.
Born Gaynor Hopkins in Skewen, South Wales, after leaving school and a spell working the club circuit, she was discovered in 1975 performing as Sherene Davis. She changed her name to avoid any confusion with the Those Were The Days songstrel Mary Hopkin, and was spotted in a club in Swansea by talent scout Roger Bell performing with her group Imagination (not the Body Talk hitmakers). Bell invited her down to London to record a demo and, after a few months passed, Bonnie was offered a deal with RCA Records.
Bonnie then burst onto pop’s radar with her 1976 second single Lost In France reaching No.9 in the UK and selling 250,000 copies. It was, however, her version of Juice Newton’s It’s A Heartache that changed everything, reaching No.4 in the UK, No.3 in the US and even topping the charts in Australia, Canada, France and Sweden.
A handful of fallow years followed before songwriter and producer Jim Steinman transformed Bonnie’s career via the Faster Than The Speed Of Night album and his trademark brand of slightly hysterical over-dramatic rock. It steered Bonnie to the biggest hit of her career, the worldwide No.1 Total Eclipse Of The Heart, swiftly followed by Holding Out For A Hero the following year after it featured in the film Footloose. Since then, she’s worked with countless legends such as Desmond Child, Giorgio Moroder and Beth Hart, represented the UK at Eurovision in 2013 and is now busier than ever, continually on the road and even co-headlining festivals with Stormzy and Slayer.
This year sees Bonnie celebrating 50 years in showbiz with her 17th studio album. Between The Earth And The Stars features a star-studded guestlist including Rod Stewart, Cliff Richard and Francis Rossi, songs written by Barry Gibb and Amy Wadge and reunions with some of the people who worked on her very first records – it’s a showcase of what Bonnie does best.
The jumping off point for the record was when former collaborator Kevin Dunn, who Bonnie first worked with in the late 60s, sent her a batch of new songs to consider. Bonnie wasn’t immediately looking to make an album at first. She explains: “I hadn’t worked with Kevin in 30 years, but I rang him immediately after I heard those new songs and went, ‘Ooh, where have these come from? All of a sudden you come at me with these songs!’ and he said, ‘I don’t know where it’s coming from, but you really love them?’ and I said, ‘Fuck, it’s FANTASTIC! I gotta try them as demos at the very least to see what we can do.’”
All You Need Is Cash
The initial plan was to return to Nashville, where Bonnie Tyler had recorded her previous album Rocks And Honey in 2013. “We tried these demos out with Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, so we went to the Cash Cabin, a fantastic place to go and record and a great atmosphere. But it didn’t work out with the producer we chose there or trying to make it country-ish.”
This setback, however, provided Bonnie with her next reunion, this time with David Mackay who’d produced her debut album, 1977’s The World Starts Tonight. “It was Kevin’s idea, as he’d played on all my original hits, so we got in touch with David again and said, ‘What do you think of these songs, would you like to do them?’ That’s how I got back with David, through Kevin. I hadn’t worked with David since It’s A Heartache and my first two albums – it’s been a complete delight to record this album with him.
“He’s such a fabulous guy and a great family man. It was a dream working with him again, and not only that, he’s got a studio in his house and a fabulous wife, Brenda. He’s got a fantastic work ethic – he starts in the morning then works through until 5.30pm when he downs tools. It’s all family after 5.30pm, and I tell you what, it’s the only way to work.”
Some old rock’n’roll habits die hard, though. “I didn’t used to go in the morning – I’m not a morning girl, but I’d arrive in the studio around midday, maybe 12.30 and then work until 5.30pm.” Defending her work ethic and hours, Bonnie reckons this was the way to go: “We’d record a track, maybe two or three songs on some days, then Brenda would make a gorgeous dinner or we’d go out for a meal.
“David’s a wonderful guy and we just love working together. I’ve worked with many wonderful producers in the meantime, like Jim Steinman, Desmond Child and made fabulous albums, but David is a very, very special guy.
“Anyway, that’s how the first demos started off. In the beginning it was only going to be a few songs, release a single and see how it goes.”
Word soon got around that Bonnie was back in the studio with David. “Other songs kept coming in from other songwriters, such as Barry Gibb who had written one that was incredible. It was such a wonderful atmosphere at the studio, it was fun to be back. In fact, we finished so many other songs, we have virtually two albums.
“It’s a complete mixture of songs on there, there’s a couple of duets, some beautiful ballads and Amy Wadge has written me a few songs, Kevin Dunn’s songs are outstanding… and they just kept coming in! When you’re with someone in the studio and the word gets around and everybody is sending the songs in, we had so many to choose from. I’m really, really happy with this album.”
You’d have expected the Barry Gibb-penned Seven Waves Away would be the latest in a line of interactions with the hirsute Sir, but apparently not. “I’d recorded a Bee Gees song [To Love Somebody] in the past but to be honest this came through David who knows Barry. He’d told Barry he was back working with me so he sent me a song.”
Another standout track on the album is Older, one of three written by songwriter to the stars and co-author of some of Ed Sheeran’s biggest hits, Amy Wadge. “I got in touch with her myself,” says Bonnie. “She’s a friend of my brother on social media. I asked her if she had any songs for me. She sent me a few over, and then after I’d recorded a couple of them she came back with another one and said, ‘Bonnie I wrote this last night when I was thinking about you particularly, it’s called Older.’ It’s such a beautiful song, too, and I was thrilled she wrote it especially for me. The musicians all said ‘wow’, too.” Bonnie acknowledges that the words to Older may strike a chord with the fans who’ve stuck with her. “Well, yes. I’m 67. I never thought I’d still be making records at this age, but it’s good to be older and wiser. It’s such a compliment.”
One of the duets on Between The Earth And The Stars is with another Sir, one that Bonnie’s been compared to all her career – it’s only fair he’s the male Bonnie Tyler… “I know! Hahaha. They’ve called me the female Rod Stewart for years!” Again, though, their hook-up wasn’t something dreamt up by A&R. “There was a story running in the newspaper about his tour and how Rod had got in touch with me and we’d done a whole album of duets, which is complete crap. Basically, I asked him would he do a duet with me as I thought it was about time, after all these years.”
It was only by a lucky, slightly odd, coincidence that Bonnie got in touch with Rod, though. “I was in Barbados having a holiday and we were staying with Cliff Richard. I met a lot of friends of Cliff’s over there. One day we went to this restaurant – Sandy Lane – and we were all having lunch. Twelve of us on one table and another dozen on the next, and there was this fantastic situation where everyone’s having fun. The host was a guy called Ricky who turned out to be one of Rod Stewart’s oldest friends from back when he started out and I said, ‘You know it’s been my life’s dream to do a duet with Rod Stewart.’ He said, ‘Send me an email and I’ll forward it to Rod.’ And when I got the song, Battle Of The Sexes, I knew, fuck, this was the best duet for us to do, so I sent it on to Ricky. Then I got an email from Rod himself saying we could liaise together. After hearing the song, he got back to me – it’s a song written by Chris Norman – and he said YES, and that he wouldn’t normally do this, but he liked the track and he likes me.”
Recording it together proved to be an issue, though, as Bonnie Tyler asserts: “The only thing is – I’m so busy, he’s so busy. When he was in the country, I wasn’t, and vice versa – so we had to do it separately and didn’t actually meet. David went down to his house in Essex and did a recording, which was absolutely amazing.” It’s proof that, if you don’t ask, then you don’t get, believes Bonnie. “If it wasn’t for the fact that I asked, it wouldn’t be happening, you know?”
Sir Cliff himself got in on the action and also pops up on Taking Control. “We’ve been friends for a few years as we both own homes in Portugal,” says Bonnie. “We have lunch together quite often. We were doing a radio interview together, Cliff and I, with Sir Owen G who’s a DJ in Portugal, then Cliff said we should do a duet together.
“David Mackay got writers to create a song with us in mind, I sent it to Cliff and he loved it on the first listen. I’m thrilled to have done this with him.”
The other duet is with a man who is no stranger to Bonnie over the years, Status Quo’s Francis Rossi. “We see a lot of each other. He’s a great guy. I did used to love Rick [Parfitt – who died in December 2016], and it’s such a shame he’s gone. Our paths used to cross all the time. I did the vocal for Someone’s Rocking Your Heart at David’s and then went down to Francis’ studio just down the road from David’s again to do some more on it. He’s fabulous. We were laughing all the time and we had good fun.”
The album has a couple of covers, one being Donovan’s Catch The Wind (“I’ve always loved it”), the other is a rockier, more-Bonnie take on 10cc’s 1975 chart-topper I’m Not In Love. The ethereal otherworldly majesty of the original makes it not a particularly coverable song, but as Bonnie explains, that was part of its appeal.
“It was suggested to me by David that I did some covers that hadn’t really been done before. I hope people like I’m Not In Love as I think it really works, and what a beautiful song it is anyway. At first I thought, ‘Oh my god, I can’t cover that, that’s not my sound,’ but David said that we were going to make it completely different in terms of instrumentation.”
Bonnie is, as you’d expect, quite keen on getting out back on Rock’s Lost Highway and taking Between The Earth And The Stars to her fans: “I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed making this album and can’t wait to go out there and do the new material. My audience are right across the board age-wise and I’ve been in the business 50 years. Fifty years! I just fucking love it!
“Of course I’m gonna have to do – and I love to do – the old songs, I never get tired of singing It’s A Heartache, Lost In France, Total Eclipse Of The Heart and Holding Out For A Hero, but it will be wonderful to be able to incorporate some of these new songs.
“I love playing Total Eclipse Of The Heart, it’s my calling card and it allowed me to work with Jim Steinman. AND THAT’S ANOTHER THING!” affirms Bonnie, “I wanted to work with HIM. When I joined CBS I went to the A&R guy there, Muff Winwood – Stevie Winwood’s brother – and he said, ‘Right, Bonnie, we’re signing you for five years, who would you like to work with?’ and I said, ‘I wanna work with whoever it is that writes and produces Meat Loaf because I love it. I know I can sing that,’ and he said to me, ‘Are you crazy?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not crazy, ask him. And if he says no, we’ll have Phil Collins or somebody. You don’t know until you ask!’ So they asked, and what did Jim say? Yes! So you gotta aim high, and that’s what I did with Rod Stewart.”
Bonnie’s confidence in Between The Earth And The Stars is justified. “I honestly think it’s going to pleasantly shock people,” she says, but she’s also aware of how tough it can be out there.
“Obviously, unless you’ve got the radio stations on your side – I can be as excited about anything I like, but without radio play it’s hopeless you know?
“I knew that, to mark 50 years of performing, I had to deliver something really special, and I think with Between The Earth And The Stars, I’ve done just that. I can’t wait to go out there and play it to the fans.”