Non Stop DancingPosted on: 25 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
James Last, the legendary musician and bandleader, talks to 50Connect.
James Last, the legendary musician and bandleader, talks to 50Connect.
The most successful bandleader in the world, James Last has sold over 100 million albums worldwide, only just behind artists such as Elvis and The Beatles. His music has been featured on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill as well as the film Oceans 13. Now at 78 years of age and still going strong, his new album Live in Europe is out next month, and he has been touring the UK.
When I asked him how the James Last Orchestra's visit to London was going, he enthused about his British fans.
"The audience in the UK is very special. The Albert Hall is the best concert house in the world - everybody was crazy, in a good way."
Despite James being at an age when many would be retired, it's not necessarily a farewell tour.
"Again on this tour so many people are coming to the shows. We have seven thousand people in Birmingham and three nights packed out at the Albert Hall. This is unbelievable - I'm 78 years old, yet people like the music."
After 40 years on stage, the joy of touring has not worn off for James, because that's when he can perform his work in front of an appreciative audience.
"I write down music in the studio, we play film music or whatever, then we come out on stage and people go crazy. We have so many friends. My fans are the best fans because they like what I'm doing - I cannot cheer for myself! It's an amazing feeling, when we have a concert with so many people coming to watch us and enjoy what we are doing. There's no difference between the band and the audience - it's like one big party, it's good."
James has devoted fans all over the world. He is popular in over 150 countries, and it is predicted that 93 per cent of Europeans know James Last and his music.
"They follow us - the English fans go to Germany, China and everywhere we are playing. They say, "without you we would only stay at home, but we go to other countries in the whole world and have friends everywhere," so it's a big set of people coming together."
The band itself is rather like a large family.
"It's very enjoyable working with them. The discipline in the band is unbelievable. There are forty of us and I can't remember one day when one guy was late. One guy has been there for the full time from the beginning, others for ten or twenty years."
James believes keeping up such a level of activity is the way to continue enjoying life.
"If you sit down and watch the TV then you just get older. You have to be fit. I get up at seven o'clock every morning to swim and then I work out, so I feel good and love my life."
190 albums since his first release in 1965, James returns with a new album Live in Europe, released on 19th November 2007. Almost seven decades on from when he first picked up the bass guitar, you might expect James to be set in his ways, but Live in Europe features renditions of songs we all know and love from Abba songs such as Mamma Mia and Gimme Gimme Gimme to classics such as Lean On Me and Hound Dog, even managing to squeeze a calypso version of Outkast's Hey Ya. James is open to new music, while sticking with his own style.
"All the stuff that's coming from young musicians is great - James Blunt or Timberland, Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, there's good arrangement and it's good music. You can put three differen wrlds together because really it's all music. Up on stage I do all the old tunes of course but I also like to know what's going on in the music world and to show this to people."
Digital technology has also been embraced by James in his work.
"I like it very much. Some people say computer music is not ok, but they are wrong. You can do the best things with a computer and keyboard - it has to be done by somebody thinking about music, just pulling out their fingers and doing something, working it out, then you can make music with a computer. I like to do this because sometimes after thirty years musicians don't have the feeling anymore for that kind of thing, and so it's fantastic that you can learn with the new digital stuff."
James had his first piano lesson in 1939 in his hometown of Bremen. During the Second World War being the youngest son of the Last family, instead of following his older brother to work in armaments factories, 'Hansi' was encouraged to study music instead. When he began to experiment, the 'fab four' were an early inspiration.
"The first thing really was the Beatles, because they were doing different stuff to all of the other guys at the time. They did all their own music and lyrics - nobody was telling them "do this, this way," which companies do sometimes. The way to become a success is to be yourself."
James' first taste of musical success came as an orchestra leader in 1965 with the LP Non Stop Dancing, which proved to be a massive hit, opening the doors to his global success.
"It was 1965, there was nobody recording the new songs, until we played Beatles stuff and so on to give people something new for party music at home, not all the same tunes again and again - so that put us in front of all the other groups who all played always the same songs. I like to do the newest stuff."
As for the 'party' sound, featuring clapping and laughing, this was inspired by listening to the radio as a boy.
"What happened in the beginning was my father would listen to live music from Radio Copenhagen and we enjoyed it because it was lively, like going to a party. We could do a new kind of music with a bit of party noise - like as you come to a party and open the door - so you might say, "oh, he is live.""
In 1967 James had four LPs simultaneously in the top chart positions in the English hit parade. In between tours he finds the time to record up to twelve records per year, arranging and composing in every spare moment. His composition Games That Lovers Play is recorded in 100 different versions throughout the world. Musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber calls his version of Don't Cry For Me Argentina the best arrangement of his song "that was ever written". Rather than making music to try to appeal to a certain audience, James pleases himself.
"I have always made music, which I liked and then I realised that lots of people like what I like. I play only what I like, otherwise I would lie to myself and lie to the audience. I must enjoy what I'm doing and then there's a good feel on stage and if people come to the show they can say, "oh yeah, they like what they are doing, it's fun." We enjoy what we are doing on stage and that's why the concerts still sell out. The audience can see that we enjoy what we are doing then it goes over to them as well."
James has been awarded numerous prizes including the "Goldenen Europa", the "Goldenen Kamera", the "Echo Life Award 1994", Midem Award and Country Music Song of the Year to name but a few. In 1969, 1970 and 1971 the German music poll named Last and his orchestra the "most popular orchestra" of the year. He has 7 platinum and 206 gold discs, though the record industry award has changed over 40 years.
"Everything's changed. The first time I got a record it was pure gold and now the records are just metal and plate gold. Years ago for a gold record you had to sell 250,000 and now it's gone down - you get gold records for 20 or 25 thousand. It's only a sign that people like the music, but I see that they do, and that's the main thing."
Before saying goodbye, James had a few final words of good advice.
"Take care of your life, make the best of it, and enjoy music."
You can purchase James Last Live in Europe from all good record stores or online at Amazon.
By Cherry Butler
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