GLOBE columnist Peter Grant talks exclusively to Smokie legend Chris Norman about his Wirral roots, a new greatest hits album and a much-awaited Liverpool gig in May.

His voice WAS Smokie ... husky, semi-gravelly, croaky and as distinctive as the vocals of superstar contemporaries Rod Stewart, Paul Young and Bonnie Tyler.

Chris Norman, born in Redcar, West Yorkshire, was the charismatic lead singer with a band who were never off the radio or Top of the Pops in the '70s with the pop classics of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn.

Chris was with the band for 20 years.

He left the group - formed in Bradford- band in 1986 after 14 global hits and he went on to enjoy solo success, starting with the single Midnight lady.

Now, twenty solo albums later, this well-respected singer-songwriter continues to enjoy a massive following across the world.

He said: "We were all good friends in the band but, like most groups, you eventually part company.

"I wanted to spend more time writing and recording.

"I worked on a single for Kevin Keegan called Head over heels in love and for the England Football team - This time (we'll get it right)."

Chris has always been much-in-demand for his concerts and musicianship.

He was called upon to work with such global figures as Agnetha from Abba and '60s icon Donovan.

He also helped Cynthia Lennon - John's first wife - when she recorded Those were the days in his studio on the Isle of Mann.

Smokie were the masters of three-part harmony who were once compared to The Bee Gees.

But his unique voice certainly established what became known as the 'Smokie sound.'

He says he has always loved his job and is hugely proud of the hits.

"You never forget the early days slugging around in a van playing in working men's clubs and Air Force bases. We all loved it."

Now multi-successful, across Europe and America, he is looking ahead to 13 UK dates in May and June.

He said: "I am looking forward to performing at the Olympia.

"I have played across Merseyside but never at that particular venue before.

"I never played the Cavern but I have been in there."

And Chris told the Globe that he has more than a soft spot for Wirral.

"My dad was from Birkenhead.

"I have many great memories of going there and seeing him and the family and seeing all the old places on Merseyside."

On his first UK tour in a long time Chris is going to be giving his a fans a treat.

"It is pretty much structured like a Bryan Adams gig," he says, "a lot rockier than you might expect with my 12-piece band."

It is a wide ranging set combining Smokie - acoustic and electric - and all those audience favourites from his solo career.

He has a new album to promote The definitive hits - Smokie and the solo years.

And now he is raring to go and perform a genuine greatest hits showcase including Living next door to Alice, I'll see you at midnight, Don't play your rock and roll to me and Lay back in the arms of someone.

There will also be his universal hit with Suzi Quatro - Stumblin' in from 1978.

"That song came about by accident after we did it during an after show party. People said Suzi and I looked and sounded good.

"We went into the studio and recorded it with both of us singing into just one microphone. You couldn't do that these days," he laughs.

Chris is clearly a man who has one foot in his hugely successful past and one in the future.

And he praises his fans for their loyal support over a sparkling career spanning more than five decades and selling 20million albums.

"I remember when I first heard our first hit on the radio - If You Think You Know How To Love Me.

"It was a sunny Sunday in 1975 and about three o'clock in the afternoon and I heard the opening bars of our song while driving around in my mini car.

"It was a magical moment.

"We had made it ... we were pop stars at last."

Chris Norman The Original Voice of Smokie is at the Eventim Olympia, West Derby Road , Liverpool on May 10.

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