Leo Sayer is one of the headline acts (and there are many) at the final Jazz in the Vines, and he can't even drink.
The irony is inescapable. Ever-youthful Leo Sayer – can you believe he’s 68?! – was diagnosed a few years ago with coeliac disease and as a result can’t drink beer or wine. “Look, I have an occasional little glass of something but no beer or wine. And I don’t miss it, I must say. Since the diagnosis of coeliac I have to be very careful. I look after myself. And I reckon I look OK for 68. Better than a lot of guys at 68!!”
He was on the line from his home studio (all Mac-oriented, for those who know this is important) at Berrima, in the Southern Highlands of NSW.
Jazz in the Vines has been running for many years, marketed on the appealing and successful premise of combining good friends, good music and good wine. Holding it in the heart of one of the famous wineries in the Hunter was a stroke of brilliance and has brought a lot of payoff to the region.
This year’s Jazz in the Vines is on Saturday, October 29, at Tyrell’s Winery at Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley. But why is it the last? “I’m not sure why,” Sayer said. “You’d have to ask James.”
We will. That’s James Morrison, the Aussie trumpet virtuoso and quite possibly the best trumpeter in the world. He’s been one of the lead acts at Jazz in the Vines over the years. We’ll ask him if he knows why they’re ending at a later date. Watch this space. Meanwhile . . .
Has Sayer done many open-air festivals like this?
Yes, James asked me a little while ago to do a Day at the Green and I had a great time. He even joined me on a few songs like You Make Me Feel like Dancing and it was so much fun. The crowd really enjoyed it. He really is the most wonderful musician. Just extraordinary. And a lovely fella.
I’m really hoping I can get him to join me again on a number this time round. I’m not sure how it will work ‘cos it’s different this time, we’re playing at different times, but I reckon I’ve got a good chance of putting a leg-rope round him! I’m on at 5pm to 6pm and James is doing two set-ups later.
Yes, it’s a different sort of venue out in the field. The crowd really gets into it and I’m so looking forward to it.
You know, I just did a series of gigs with Lulu. The crowds there were fantastic. Australian crowds are like that, you know. Lulu is amazing! So fit and on top of her game. And she looks and sounds incredible. We had such fun working together and we slipped into it so easily. She did stuff and I did stuff and we did stuff together. The audience really went with it. It’s like that when we do the songs people want to hear me do, like You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, Long Tall Glasses, When I Need You, stuff like that.
Will we have the slow version of You Make Me Feel Like Dancing at Jazz in the Vines?
You know, we won’t. That really didn’t work for me. It’s not what people wanted to hear.
But it’s such a sexy version, like Bette Midler’s awesome slow version of Cliff Richard’s Do You Wanna Dance?
Thank you, but it didn’t go down with audiences. We didn’t even extend the tour for that album [Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow, named after the title track], just a couple of shows with the full orchestra backing. I loved doing them but they were very expensive and at the end of the day it wasn’t what people wanted to come and hear. They want to hear the high-energy numbers, the way I originally did them, really happy and upbeat.
People liked the slow versions but they didn’t necessarily favour them over the originals. You know, the album didn’t kick off the way it was intended. But it’s all right, that happens. I kind of admire the public for maybe choosing the original versions and that’s what we’re doing on stage at the moment. And it’s real fun to do them. But I’m very proud of the song Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow.
It’s nice to have success, it clears the path and brings in the money for you to make records. But other than that it’s bloody useless, really.
To be quite honest, it’s a real shame the record didn’t lift off. But I’ve gotta say in a very truthful way it is now a past record and I’ve moved on.
I’ve had plenty of people with vested interests come up to me and tell me, yeah, but the record wasn’t a hit because you chose that unusual title. So there you go. I’ve fought marketing people all my life. I could kill the lot of them, quite honestly. They’ve got nothing to do with music. I just wanna make good music, you know. The rest of it is irrelevant.
It’s nice to have success because it clears the path and brings in the money for you to make records. But other than that it’s bloody useless, really.
Looking back, you know I was really lucky to get those songs when I did. They did so much for me. You Make Me Feel like Dancing, Long Tall Glasses . . . I remember getting an award for Make Me Feel Like Dancing and I was about to go on stage and one of the headliners of the day – an African American group – came up to me and said “We thought you were black! We love your song, but we thought you gotta be black!” You know, to me it was the greatest compliment.
You Make Me Feel Like Dancing was used in Charlie’s Angels (2000) and When I Need You was used in The Sopranos (2002), and the list goes on. It must give you a buzz when producers ask to use your music on their soundtracks?
Yeah, it is good! It means the songs have longevity and life. You always hope, as a songwriter, your songs will be covered by other artists or used elsewhere like that and as it happens my songs don’t often get covered because the style of my songs is more personal, the subject matter is very autobiographical. Roger Daltrey did Giving It All Away and had success but no one else has given that one a go.
You Make Me Feel Like Dancing was used in the movie Slapshot  and I got a really nice message from Paul Newman which was a real knockout, saying “Love that song, man!” And that’s really cool. I met Cameron Diaz in a store and she said: “I shower to your song.” And I thought, hell, that’s great, isn’t it! But it’s flattering when your songs get used, and especially when they use your voice to sing them.
Do you always say yes?
You kind of have to. If I said no, they’d get very angry with me. You’d have to have a bloody good reason. There was a commercial for ladies’ sanitary pads that wanted to use one of my songs in Canada. It might’ve been You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, I can’t remember. I was finally able to turn that down but I had to come up with a million reasons before they’d throw it out. There was $75,000 on the table, you know, and when people have got vested interests and they’re gonna pick up a big percentage of that, and also my cowriter on that song, Vini Poncia, he’s relying on that towards his living, you know what I mean?
You’ve done a lot of TV, mostly appearing as yourself. Did you have second thoughts about doing Celebrity Big Brother?
I just shouldna’ dunnit! Reality TV, on that kind of scale, is not reality at all because they manipulate what’s goin’ on in the show. They kind of twist the knife every now and then to make some person’s life murder and that’s what they did to me. The only way to win in that show was to act completely and absolutely dumb! And I’m sorry, I can’t be that, it’s not me, it’s not my character. I just wanted to find out what the experience was like and make some good money for charity. But, you know, I should’ve said no!
- The final Jazz in the Vines is on Saturday, October 29, at Tyrrell’s Winery, 1794 Broke Road, Pokolbin, in the Hunter Valley, 10am to 6pm. General entry $89 (groups of 20 $79 each), picnic hampers $60, Alfresco jazz club $160, VIP jazz club $275. Details here.
- Local wineries Tyrrell’s, Drayton’s and Tamburlaine will have wines by the bottle and Peterson’s Champagne House will have a bubble bar. Sorry, Leo! Beer, soft drink, water, tea, coffee available. No BYO alcohol.
- This interview was conducted over two sessions.