Bonnie Tyler – Tyler the creator
By Felix Rowe | May 30, 2022
In this interview from 2021, Bonnie Tyler told Classic Pop how she spent the lockdowns of 2020, the key to keeping her voice in check and her eagerness to get back on the road to share her album The Best Is Yet To Come… By Felix Rowe
With spare time hardly at a premium, 2020 was the year of the lockdown project. Seriously, one week, the guy across the road buffed his hubcaps at least eight days in succession. But what does bona fide powerhouse Bonnie Tyler do when 80 gigs and a stonking new album suddenly get put on ice?
“I thoroughly enjoyed the rest, I must say! I was going to be on the road all year… but I haven’t wasted my time,” Bonnie tells us. “I’ve done a lot of sorting out in the house, in the wardrobes, and god knows what, you know?”
Bonnie Tyler probably has a few more gold discs cluttering up the understairs cupboard than most. But as we catch up to discuss her latest plans, the inner diva we might have expected is nowhere to be found. The showbiz anecdotes are aplenty but, delivered with a warm, lilting Welsh cadence that couldn’t be further from the husky tones on record, she’s entirely devoid of flashiness or affectation.
Chatting away over the phone, it’s like having a chinwag with a favourite aunt that you haven’t seen for a while. It’s only the casual bombshell dropped here and there – “so, when I was singing for the Pope, right?” – that reminds you you’re, in fact, speaking to a pop legend.
But her biggest lockdown achievement? “In the Algarve where I’m living, I’ve taught myself to swim!” she says, with one of many big laughs. “I’ve had a pool since 1978, right? Well, it’s a brand new pool now, because we knocked the old house and did a state-of-the-art modern one, you know?”
Again, not a boast; simply a passing detail to flesh out the story. “All these years I’ve been frightened of swimming. I fell off my boat once and nearly drowned, but now I can swim, thanks to Covid.”
There’s another warm laugh, but buoyant outlook aside, she’s keenly aware of the current collective unease and fortune of her own situation. “I’ve been very, very lucky, and I know that,” she says. “I’ve been blessed, you know what I mean? I don’t take it for granted.”
Bonnie’s latest record – amazingly her 18th – was written and recorded long before the pandemic hit, only to have its release pushed back almost a year. A shame really, as one thing we all could have benefitted from in 2020 was such an intense blast of unadulterated fun.
The accompanying press release claims it ‘brings Bonnie’s sound bang up to date’, but that isn’t quite so. The entire aesthetic – from the production to the Miami Vice-style artwork – seems very intentionally, firmly and unashamedly rooted in Bonnie’s mid-80s purple patch. The cavernous drums, the brassy synths, the duelling guitars laced in reverb and chorus… you can almost smell the hairspray dripping out of the speakers.
And that’s no bad thing – with the 20s getting off to a universally shit start, a bit of retro escapism should be something to celebrate. Frankly, let’s all climb into a time machine and set the dial to 1983…
David Mackay, who produced Bonnie’s early records and 2019’s Between The Earth And The Stars returns to the desk. “It’s been an absolute joy working with David again,” she gushes. Along with bassist Kevin Dunne, another cohort from her early days, and Richard and Laurence Cottle, it’s the old gang reunited.
“It’s fate really that we got back together. And you know what, it’s not all about work. At the end of the day, David’s wife cooks a lovely dinner and we have beautiful Champagne and wine, you know? It’s just fun!” Tyler goes up about three octaves on the word ‘fun’.
While her previous effort was a star-studded affair featuring Cliff, Francis Rossi, Rod Stewart et al, this time it’s all Bonnie at the mic.
“Well, they wouldn’t have been busy this year! But every time, if I wanted to invite them to do a show with me, they were always working as well so it’s a waste of a song then! So, I thought, I won’t do any duets on this album. I have the incredible backing vocals of [Stock Aitken Waterman regular] Miriam Stockley. She’s amazing. To have her involved is something I take as a huge compliment. Her credits would take forever to list. She’s wonderful… and it all helps!”
Crucially, though, Bonnie’s armed with an arsenal of belters befitting that voice. The titles alone already sound like jukebox staples.
“Well, I’m a rock girl at heart. And Steve Womack, he just knows what suits me. He’s written some of the great songs on there. The title track as well as Stuck To My Guns and Call Me Thunder. Oh my god! I luurvve singing that song, you know, it’s really powerful. It has a real Bruce Springsteen kind of full rock sound.
“The very first time I heard Call Me Thunder, I do remember saying to David Mackay, ‘I just love this song, but the lyrics are so young and passionate…’ – I thought that it wouldn’t suit me, but it really does. There’s a song on there called I’m Only Guilty (Of Loving You) and, oh my god, as soon as I heard that song, it reminds me of the old Stax records, it has a lot of soul in it.”
Stronger Than A Man was written for Bonnie by Desmond Child, whose modest writing credits include Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer, Aerosmith’s Dude (Looks Like A Lady), Alice Cooper’s Poison and Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca.
“We spend a lot of time on the phone together, and I said, ‘Come on Desmond, you’ve got to write me something really ballsy!’ It’s so powerful!
“Kevin Dunne does a fantastic job of playing acoustic guitar on Catch The Wind, the old Donovan song. It’s one that reminds me very much of my childhood. It’s a beautiful song, and the sound of my voice on that track is very rich, you know… there’s me blowing my own!”
A surprising highlight is Bonnie’s bold reimagining of 10cc’s I’m Not In Love. A risky move to take on a classic that needed no tinkering with. “I’ve always loved that song. But, of course, nobody can… I mean 10cc did an incredible job of it. It was a bit of, ‘Oh my god, should I change it?’ But I think it turned out pretty good you know.” In fact, she owns it so entirely that on first listen it’s a challenge to place the original.
As we speak, we’re back in lockdown facing a second strain of Covid – “a pain in the arse, you know!” – but Bonnie’s not in a rush to follow the trend for audience-less livestreamed concerts. “It’s not something that I’m fussed about, no. Of course, I’ve done the odd video thing, but I can’t imagine doing that!
“It’s been a terrible year for musicians, they have had no support whatsoever from the government. Some of the crew, they’ve had to find different jobs. Most of the band, they’re lucky because they’ve always earned good money and not only that, they produce and make music themselves as well. But the crew, like my lighting guy, I think he’s working for Amazon at the moment! It’s very hard for the musicians and the crew.”
The title track takes on new meaning in light of the current situation…
“It does, yeah. The best is yet to come – and I promise it is! I’m really looking forward to getting out there again and seeing all the fans. I’ve got wonderful fans, they’re so loyal. The band are missing it terribly and the crew, they just can’t wait to get out there. When we’re out on the road we’re like a family, because we’ve been together for many, many years. We just have a ball together.”
And we can expect more new music on the way before too long, as well. “I’m already making plans for the next album. I don’t write my own songs, so when I get sent the demos, that’s quite exciting.
“David has sent me some tracks to see if there’s anything I like. Already there’s a few that Steve Womack has written again. I’m lucky to have these wonderful songwriters sending me tracks all the time.”
Is there anyone left on Bonnie’s collaboration bucket list? Judging by her company on her previous album, her response is not necessarily the first that you’d expect.
“Rag’n’Bone Man is great isn’t he! The other day, actually, there was a thing on YouTube, Miley Cyrus, she was doing It’s A Heartache and it really made my day, that. I got the people who run my Twitter account to send her a message and say I love the way that she did it. She got back and she said, ‘Oh my god, there’s no one girl that I listen to more than you, Bonnie.’”
So that’s the next collaboration sealed then? “You never know! I did say I’d like to do a duet with her one day, but I haven’t got an answer yet.”
Last time Classic Pop caught up with Bonnie, she was celebrating 50 years in the business. Now there’s another
big milestone on the way…
“The thing is, because I love it so much it doesn’t feel like that. And my career has been up and down all the way, you know that, but I think the last years that I’ve been working with David have been the happiest for me, since the 80s. I’m really enjoying it and it comes from the heart – I know it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. When you love what you do, it shows. I’m 69, right? And I started singing in 1969, and… 69 has got a lot to do with me!”
(A scandalous giggle erupts at this point.)
“Anyway, so I’m 70 in June, but I feel like I’m 38. And my voice, you know, it’s stronger if anything than ever.”