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Thursday, June 9, 2016
Rick Astley: 'I didn't mind being called Dick Spatsley'
Eighties pop star Rick Astley sold millions of records but became a figure of fun. As he releases his first album in 10 years, the star says his love of singing always kept him going.
He's no stranger to love... but he's no stranger to ridicule, either.
At the height of his fame in the 1980s, Smash Hits christened Rick Astley a "singing teaboy" and consistently misprinted his name as "Dick Spatsley".
In recent years, his name has become synonymous with an internet meme: Rickrolling - where users are duped into watching Astley's gawky dancing in the video for Never Gonna Give You Up.
But the singer takes it all in good humour. He's described Rickrolling as "brilliant" and "funny", and frequently checks into hotels as Dick Spatsley.
"I even credited one of the songs I'd written to Dick Spatsley," he says. "So Dick has earned quite a bit of publishing royalties over the years, actually."
Mr Spatsley doesn't make an appearance on the star's new album, though. Called 50, it's a deeply heartfelt collection, inspired by soul and gospel, with Astley playing every instrument himself.
The dynamic first single, Keep Singing, gives younger artists like John Newman and Sam Smith a run for their money; while future release Angels On My Side is dedicated to his wife, film producer Lene Bausager, and their 24-year-old daughter, Emilie.
Astley talked to the BBC about making the record, what it was like to work with Stock Aitken and Waterman, and why he quit music at the height of his fame.
Your new album's called 50. Does that mean it's twice as good as Adele's 25?
Haha! I hadn't thought of that before… It is a play on the Adele thing, for sure, but turning 50 is just one of those milestones in anyone's life. You can mark it in different ways and I was just fortunate that I was making a record.
Is Keep Singing your personal motto?
It kind of has been. Even from being a small child, it's put me in a good place, singing.
My mum and dad divorced when I was very young and I was the youngest of four kids. I just wanted to run away sometimes and not be in that in environment. I think getting into school plays, the church choir, all those different things, it was just a way to escape.
What was the first record you owned?
It was the Jungle Book soundtrack, funnily enough. But I just loved music. Whether it was the Jungle Book or listening to my sister's Bowie records, which I didn't really understand, there was something in them that I loved.
When did you discover you had a voice of your own?
I always got picked out to sing in all the school plays - although I wasn't a baritone at that point.
But I actually started out by playing drums in a couple of bands, and then I wanted to write songs because we were just doing covers. Because of that, I ended up being the singer. I wasn't reluctant but I wasn't craving that "I need to be at the front" thing.
Pete Waterman discovered you when you were with a band called FBI. Why did he not sign all of you?
We did a showcase for Pete, and he just liked my voice and thought he could do something with it. He wasn't really interested in signing bands. He signed solo artists, really.
What was it like being part of the Stock Aitken Waterman "hit factory"?
They would just say, "Look, we write the thing, we produce it, and you just fit into what we do." Which is what Motown did, really. They just forgot about trying to find Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.
Kylie was their Diana Ross, though.
You could say that! But when you look back at Motown and what it was, you could never recreate that. You could try to emulate it, but you're not going to get close because the artists they had were just incredible.
There are songs on your album called God Says, Angels On My Side and Pray With Me. Are you a religious person?
I'm not really religious. I've got a faith but I'm not exactly sure what it's in. It's mainly in human beings, I think.
But when you do gigs, there's definitely an emotion you have in contact with other people - and it does come close to religion, if I'm honest. There's a real joy in it. There just isn't a negative moment.
Did that make it especially hard when you decided to retire? [In 1993, Astley broke down in tears on the M4 and decided to quit music].
Ha! I've just set myself up there! But it wasn't that difficult because I'd really had enough. I didn't perform that much. I did a lot of TV and a lot of interviews, but it wasn't about doing live gigs. I did do live gigs, obviously, I played all over the world, but that wasn't the main thing. It was about doing the promo.
Why was that?
In those days you sold millions and millions of records. You toured to support a record. Whereas now, people put out a record because they want to go on tour.
It's amazing to think you outsold Simply Red and The Rolling Stones in 1987.
Yeah, but I think the Stones did alright at different times. I just got lucky that year! Particularly lucky, because I was one of the few artists from the Stock Aitken Waterman stable who did well in America.
Can you clear something up for me? Were you were approached to record a Bond theme in 1988?
No! There was a rumour but I was never asked to do that. I would love to do it, though… I'm a big fan of the Bond films. And I think with Daniel Craig it's better than it's ever been. Even better than some of the Sean Connery ones, which I loved.
Do you have any pseudonyms apart from Dick Spatsley?
I met Nick Ashley, the fashion designer, years ago and we realised that both of us get mistaken for each other. Especially in Japan - because his name is pretty hard to pronounce there, and so is mine.
I've been called "Lick Ashtray" in Japan.
Rick Astley's album, 50, is released on Friday 10 June by BMG.