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'We'll send you home happy' Rick Astley tells Newbury Racecourse partygoers

Rick Astley headlines Party in The Paddock at Newbury Racecourse on Saturday, September 18.

Jenny Entwistle interviews the singer ahead of his Newbury gig.

You had a very busy 2019 touring with Take That, however 2020 was a slight change of pace…

It was mad really, our last proper gig was in New Zealand in March 2020, which seems a while ago right now! We were so lucky to do those gigs, we did a bunch in Australia and then went to New Zealand. We were lucky in so many ways because it hadn't really taken hold there at all. You wouldn't know COVID existed, the only reason we knew that the world was catching fire was because we were watching the news. So it was a bit of a shock to come home! People have had it a lot worse than myself and people that I work with, but we've all found it I think psychologically quite difficult, it's tough to be robbed of what you do [with live shows]. There's so much invested in what we do by all of us that it's not a normal job. So, when that part of your life goes, it's been really strange for sure.

Touring and playing live is what you do, and fortunately we're now in a position that we can start looking towards your Party In The Paddock headline show on September 18.

We just did our first little gig, a private charity event for Chris Evans and there weren’t many people there, but it was opening that door of going, ‘We're doing a gig!’. So, we had to go and rehearse properly, we had to get all the gear together. We had to make sure that all the gear still works! We had a few tech guys in the crew just to set up and just turn it all on and make sure everything worked… as it's just been in storage spaces for 18 months. That was great, and then actually performing was just amazing. I think we've sort of crossed that bridge of going right, we’re gigging!

So you’ve dusted off the cobwebs and now you're just ready to go.

100%! We're going to have one more rehearsal, as the only way you can really perform live is to just do it. It's a bit like being an athlete, you’ve actually got to go out and do the thing you've been training for. You can train all your life; but you've got to get out there and do it you know. Mistakes are the best part of gigs anyway and the audience seem to think that as well, so if there are mistakes it'll all be alright. I think we just all need to get in a field or in a venue or whatever it is. That's to the audience and the people on stage and the people who make the gig happen and all the crew and everything. We just need to get going with gigs, don't we? And then it'll all come together!

What do you particularly enjoy about playing to a racecourse audience?

I think one of the things I like about any gig like that, is that when people haven’t specifically come to see you, they've come to go to the races, and you just happen to be the dude that's playing that night. Maybe there are some people in the racecourse audience who bought a ticket for me rather than the races, but I never view it like that, I view that we must win this audience over! So, when I look at the setlist, I make sure that we're not playing, say track four from album four. I try make a set that makes sense to somebody who is not a fan of me to try and entertain people. I like doing covers so we always throw a couple of these in, maybe an old Motown classic. I have covered a few songs in my time, and we mash up and reinvent some of my old songs as well. Also the guys and the girls in the band are amazing and I like to give them an opportunity to have a bit of a sing properly, not just doing backgrounds. So we normally try and work it in so that when I'm doing a cover, the girls can come out and sing a bit as well.

Speaking of covers, during lockdown last year you covered quite a lot of current artists online including Post Malone and SIA that had millions of views - were you surprised with how well they went down?

If you're covering a really big artist’s really big song, you're going to get some coverage with that because their fans want to go, ‘Why the hell is that guy singing that song?’. I think I'm like anybody else though, I don't really realise that I'm 55 sometimes, it's not a thought process, it's just a feeling, it's an emotion. I hear something on the radio or I'm in a shop or whatever and I hear somebody's voice and I go: ‘Who the hell is that?’. You find a new voice and you think: ‘Oh my god that guy’s got an amazing voice, he can really sing'. I'm not heavy into rap or anything like that, but there are certain rap records that I really like because they're just done really, really well. I just think I'm going to go home and learn that song and work out how to play it and then before I know it I’m sticking it out on the internet…

Have you found through doing these covers that a different audience have now discovered your own music? Or is it still through ‘Never Gonna Give You Up?’

I think the main thing is that ‘Never Gonna Give Up’ has just got its own life. It's become something else and I'm really grateful for that, it’s fab. I'm not in any way negative about it, but there's nothing I can do or have been able to do for the past 10 or 15 years to control that or influence it. So I just let it do whatever. Various friends over the years have text me and say: ‘Have you've seen this?’ and I usually have, but sometimes I’ll be like ‘What the hell is going on now’! It's great because it's sort of kept my name alive to some degree because there's so much music out there. If you’re discovering new music now, why would you listen to older music - obviously there's a lot of amazing older music as well that young people love, but within the millions of records that have been released if your name even comes up every now and again you are so lucky. I'm really grateful that the internet has kind of adopted it.

These days especially with social media, many artists actively try to go viral, whereas you did that organically in 2007 with Rick-Rolling, so do you feel like you are almost a bit like a trendsetter?

The world is accelerating – not just on the internet but technology and everything moves so fast today. It’s unbelievable and the idea that, one thing could be a big trend today or for a few days but then could change so quickly. I'm aware of it and I do think about it occasionally, because it comes up in lots of conversations, but I think the other thing to do also is be careful not to chase something. We've always took a stance of whatever ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ does on the internet, we just have to let it do its thing. We can't steer it, we can only appreciate what it is, rather than trying to have a handle on it. I think you start chasing it then it just becomes a bit tacky I think, I mean it's cheesy already. Let’s not make it tacky as well!

It’s five years this month since you released ’50’. That album catapulted you back to the top of the charts and gave refreshed appreciation for your music. Did you expect that when you were making the album that you would end up being where you're at now?

Not at all, because to be honest I made that record for myself - I made it because I was turning 50 and I thought, instead of buying a Harley and driving across America as a midlife crisis, I want to make a record in my garage! It wasn't to challenge to myself but it sort of became that to some degree. I write songs as demos but I just don't finish them, and they’re left unfinished. I just thought well this time, I'm kind of happy the way they sound, and I'm going to get someone to mix them then release the record in a slow burn way. I was just going to throw it out on the internet and just say ‘Hey, I'm 50, I'm still alive and that's what I've done!’ Then it turned into an actual proper release, and the guys at BMG who I signed to did an absolutely amazing job. It's like a different game almost once you've made the record. It's what comes after it whether the record ever gets heard or not. There's a lot of luck, and there's a lot of work goes into somebody even having a record known about.

Are working on any of your own new music?

Yeah, I've done a lot of new music but I'm not finishing it. I purposely don't want to finish the production, or even finish all the lyrics. They are just demos at the moment, and I'm doing that on purpose so that I don't get bored of them. I need to go back and listen to a bunch, because I've done quite a lot, but I just thought I don't want to do something that we're not going to play live for two and a half years! I've got 12 new songs, but thought you know what, I'll leave it and I'll just see what COVID does to the world. And obviously that carried on for a lot longer than we all thought!

So finally, with your Newbury Racecourse show and for those that might not have seen you live before, what can they expect from your show?

I try and make them fun. I don't treat it like it's my audience, I treat it like I'm being asked to entertain people. We all view it that like we're there to get people rocking! It's more of a challenge if I'm honest. If it's your own audience and they paid for a ticket to come and see you, you've almost won already. So we just go for it, we try to have a bit of fun, entertain the audience and send them home happy after they’ve had a good night.

Tickets are on sale now from newburyracecourse.co.uk

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