Rick Astley is about to release his new album Beautiful Life, the follow-up to the platinum-selling record that returned him to the top of the charts. Andrew Arthur speaks to the singer-songwriter about his recent success, retiring from the music industry aged 27 and why he will never give up his love for THAT song.
After topping the charts in 25 countries with one of the best-selling songs of the 1980s, you may have thought that success would have gone to many singers’ heads. Not Rick Astley, it would seem.
“I knew I wasn’t cool. I just wasn’t. Look at the videos!” a relaxed Astley, 52, laughs in a small sitting room upstairs from an upmarket London restaurant on a boiling hot day.
The bequiffed singer seems totally at home reclining in an armchair as sunlight pours in through the window next to him.
Throughout our conversation, Astley is friendly and self-effacing as he reflects on how much pop music has changed since his enduring classic Never Gonna Give You Up arrived 30 years ago.
“The sharp end of the business where I made my break still exists today. I think it is slightly different because I think pop is cooler than it was then.
“If you look at successful artists like Adele and Ed Sheeran, they are pretty cool as well.
“It’s not like going back to the days where it was bright and breezy. They can sing really sincere, even dark songs with heavy lyrics and still be the biggest artist in the world.
“In terms of myself and how I would have fared now, I just think it was a very different time.
“I’m not saying that Never Gonna Give You Up is uncool. I’m saying I wasn’t cool. I think there is a distinction there.”
Under the guidance of production team Stock Aitken and Waterman the Lancastrian quickly shot to stardom.
When asked if he ever pushed back from the way he was marketed, Astley replies: “There was no time for that.
“The first time I went on Top Of The Pops, I turned up in a jacket I bought while doing a radio promotional tour in Scotland and found myself on TV in front of 12 million people!
“There was no kind of styling or strategy for how we were going to do this – and that’s true today, folks!”
Astley is currently riding the wave of what many would have thought an unlikely comeback. He is set to release a new album, Beautiful Life.
It’s the follow-up to the platinum-selling 50, his first LP to reach number one in the UK since his debut Whenever You Need Somebody.
On his recent success, Astley again strikes a modest tone.
“One of the main things I learned while touring the last record was people who get to a certain age still want to have a dance.
“It made me feel free to write some more uptempo tunes.
“I was writing the last one to hear it, so I think lyrically I didn’t even give it a second thought.
“It was a bit like my midlife crisis project and then we ended up having a number one album!
“On this one I’ve been a bit more conscious that people are actually going to hear it, hopefully!”
That Astley is still releasing new material is remarkable given that aged 27 he retired after selling 40 million records.
Disillusioned by the business side of the industry, Astley swapped the spotlight for family life to raise daughter Emilie with his Danish film producer wife Lene Bausager.
During that time Astley says he was “happily invisible” as he explains why he turned his back on fame.
“It is a daft and silly business. After doing it for five years I never fell out of love with music.
“I’ve always had a studio to potter about in. But the idea of having a major record deal and trying to have a worldwide hit record, knowing what that takes up of you as a person, I just wasn’t willing to carry on.
“I got sick of it and the business and the public probably got sick of me. It was a good time to stop.”
Astley was inadvertently thrust back into the public eye as the subject of the internet viral sensation known as “Rick-rolling”.
Internet users were sent a link to a video that claimed to be something else but then cuts to the video of Never Gonna Give You Up. Millions of people were tricked by the online prank.
A decade after it caught on, Astley admits he doesn’t understand the craze that helped relaunch his career.
“Quite early on, a friend ‘Rick-rolled’ me. He did it again and again.
“I kept saying, ‘What are you doing, you idiot?’ Eventually we spoke on the phone because I didn’t know what he getting at.
“It was a bit weird. I didn’t really grasp it if I’m honest.
“I discussed it with our daughter and she pointed out that the whole thing doesn’t really have anything to do with me.
“I know it’s my video but it could have been anyone. There’s been some amazing things done with it. I don’t have any hang-ups about it.”
Astley is clearly a serious musician, a description he disputes when it’s put to him.
He wrote four songs on Whenever You Need Somebody and wrote and recorded Beautiful Life and 50 alone in his home studio.
Yet Astley is still wedded to Never Gonna Give You Up. Despite having clocked up eight other UK top 10 solo hits, he doesn’t resent his signature tune.
“I genuinely don’t get sick of it. I didn’t sing it for so long and that’s helped me with it. It may have helped the song too because I haven’t been to the opening of an envelope or hanging out at every this, that and the other.”
While he is disparaging of himself, Astley never criticises the song he says has only ever been good to him.
“If it gets played in a bar here, it’s not like it comes on and it sounds really naff. Well, I’m sure some people think that. But in terms of the general sound of it, I don’t think it’s uncool at all.”
Rick Astley’s new album Beautiful Life is out on July 13th and his tour comes to South Wales 2nd November at Motorpoint Arena Cardiff.