One of the most immoral reasons that dragged people like myself into the ill-paid and dangerous job of journalist is the hope to meet, someday, one’s childhood heroes.
But, as a matter of fact, you end up surrounded by pretentious and assuming pseudo-celebrities all the time in this profession, and it doesn’t happen very often to meet somebody who was on your I-must-meet-him list since you were a kid.
I wasn’t even born when Christopher Hamill, aka Limahl, joined the new wave musical group Kajagoogoo as their lead singer in 1981 before being kicked out of the band brutally and unceremoniously – nor was I on this planet yet when he reached number one in the UK charts with the smash hit Too Shy in 1983, but his sweet still powerful voice has always felt like family to me.
Limahl sang the theme song of one of the three movies I grew up watching: for those who may be too young or too old to remember, The NeverEnding Story is a marvellous 1984 fantasy movie that made our summer days as kids all throughout the 1990s together with Back to the future and E.T. and is still loved and treasured all around the world – even though the country that produced it, West Germany, doesn’t exist anymore.
The original 1984 Giorgio Moroder soundtrack hit performed by Limahl, which is titled The NeverEnding Story like the picture itself, portrays just perfectly the film’s magical and adventurous atmosphere, and, ever since I can remember, it is and will always remain one of my all-time favourite songs.
This amazing ballad has recently known a sudden explosion of interest, fortune and online downloads thanks to a Netflix series called Stranger Things, whose season three final episode sees the two leading actors Gaten Matarazzo and Gabriella Pizzolo singing the piece acapella. Such as an unusual and unexpected comeback of his most famous piece of work has given Limhal new energy and inspiration to release something new after a break from music that lasted 8 years.
His latest single, titled Still In Love, was published on the 5ᵗʰ of June 2020.
I was so overly excited to speak with this lovely man that I didn’t know how to start the conversation and I run out of things to say like ten times before I could eventually found my words.
And I had to become a child again to be able to.
I’m so excited to meet you, Chris. It feels like I’ve known you since a was a kid. The NeverEnding Story will always be one of my favourite songs.
Oh, thank you!
Your new single Still In Love is out in June. How does it feel to make this big comeback after 8 years?
Well, as we say in English, I was tempted to dip my toes back in the water after my music was used in the big American TV shows last year, including, of course, The NeverEnding story in Netflix’s Stranger Things. So the Spotify streams of the song when went up from 300,000 downloads each month to 1.5 million, and so I thought that people might be interested in some new music. You know, in life, opportunities don’t come very often, and as the Americans would say “hey kid, grab it by the balls!” So I just thought I had to try because you know, the other thing is that writing songs and taking something out from your head and from your heart and collaborating creatively is something you never forget. It’s like riding a bicycle or learning to swim: once you learn it, once you’ve been through that process you never forget it, and it’s very easy. In a way, it’s like putting on a comfortable old pair of slippers when you go back into the studio.
What kind of music are you listening to, these days?
Can I get my list? Because I wrote a list of some of the things I’m enjoying at the moment, I have a playlist on Spotify at the moment, and it’s called Current. Do you use Spotify?
I don’t. I only use YouTube.
Okay, well, Spotify is fantastic because you can have a playlist for the evening, a playlist for your workout in the gym, a playlist for your morning or whatever, and so one of my playlists right now is called Current. I’m going to say the song titles because I don’t like all the songs by these artists. You know, for me it is always about the song. So I’m listening to Bust This Town by Stereophonics – that guy’s voice is just magic! Mother by Charlie Puth – he’s American, I think. Counting Stars by OneRepublic. No Roots by Alice Meron. Strong by Mark Kingswood. Nice To Meet Ya by Niall Horan – he’s from Ireland, I think. Colors by Black Pumas. Candlelight by Jack Savoretti. Don’t Start Now by Dua Lipa, of course – I’m sure you know that one!
It’s quite a big playlist.
And it’s not finished yet. There are also two songs from Michael Kiwanuka, Rolling and Hero: fantastic kind of 60s vibes – almost like a little bit of Led Zeppelin with the guitar. Do It So Well, a dance track by Example. Tongue Tied by Earl, she’s a girl from the Netherlands, it’s a little bit swingy and really, really nice. Circles by Post Malone – oh my God, I love that song, he’s an American artist. I love the new song by Chaka Khan, which is called Like Sugar and Rag’n’Bone Man, Calvin Harris’s Giant, of course, is fantastic!
What about The NeverEnding Story? How do you feel when you hear it? How do you feel about it in general?
Well, it’s very special. It’s very special to me because, first of all, it was important for me to prove myself as a solo artist after Kajagoogoo fired me in a phone call – do you know about that?
Sadly, I know.
So, meeting Italian composer and producer Giorgio Moroder in Japan in 1984, was a blessing. And then he asked me to fly to Munich to try my voice on the song, and of course, it went to number one all over the world. And here I am, 35 years later, and the song is having this resurgence because of Netflix’s Stranger Things, so I have nothing but respect for the song. And of course, I’ve got many great memories. What keeps it fresh for me is people’s reaction: I know that people have memories, important memories attached to this song. They think of their first kiss or their first holiday, or their first dance at a wedding – I’ve been told all this. So it just keeps ticking the boxes of good things, you know.
Do you believe new wave music still has something to say, nowadays?
Well, um, you know, nothing is more out of fashion than when it’s just out of fashion. So, in the 1990s, nobody was interested in the 1980s. Everybody was interested in the 90s, you know: down music DJ sampling, and the artist almost became less important. Around 1998, the whole interest in the 1980s started again and, in many ways, I feel like I’m like an old piece of Murano glass: I have gained more value with age, and this is the same. I have some Murano glass here I’ll show you.
That’s a nice Murano glass.
I bought it in Venice, and we’ve both gained more value! 80s music is being valued again today, you know – when they’re using it in important TV shows, when they encourage radio stations to keep playing it. And of course, we see 80s events happening all over the world at festivals and shows on radio stations, and 80s themed parties for a corporate event or something – all these things I get asked to go to today, so I’m not complaining… I’m happy!
What was your dream job as a child?
Well, from the age of 10, really, I just became obsessed with music and you know, I would work. My parents had no money, I was raised in government housing, I had two brothers and one sister. My mother, my crazy mother, had three children by the time she was 21… but no money. And then she had four kids by the time she was 22.
That’s very British.
Well, by the way, I find it very funny when now I hear her saying to the grandchildren: “don’t get pregnant when you’re too young!”. So, I would work, you know, I did gardening for local people, I would deliver bread, I would deliver newspapers, and I would save my money to take the whole day to make enough to buy one single vinyl record at the local record shop. My dad thought I was crazy. I was the music nerd really, you know, even though that word “nerd” didn’t really exist, back then. Today, most people who are called a nerd are related to computers or computer games. But I was really a music nerd. On Tuesdays and Thursday nights, I would go to my youth club, my local youth club. It was for 13 to 16-year-olds only. And we would play pool and darts and card games and we would play music, we would dance, we would interact. And I always took the records. I was the DJ!
And what sort of music would you buy, back then?
I loved the idea of arriving at the youth club with something that was current in the pop charts or on the radio. It was almost like a fashion statement, it was my trophy, like “hey, I’ve got the latest!” You know, people choose to spend their money on all kinds of things – it’s sport, cinema, holidays, cars, you know, and for me it was music. And when I arrived at the youth club with my music, it said something about me, that’s what I thought. The records I bought were in the charts, and I liked Motown Records, a recording company from Detroit which published Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5… you know, their list of hits was incredible. And it was kind of R&B pop.
Did you have any plan B in place if you didn’t make it into music? What would you be doing right now if you weren’t a musician?
Did I have a plan B? No, of course not! If I was sensible, of course, I would have had a plan B. And so I did what actors do in Hollywood: I worked in bars. I worked in cafes and restaurants – but actually, that worked for me because I was working in a very fashionable nightclub in Old Bond Street in London, called the Embassy Club, and that’s where I met the keyboard player from Duran Duran, Nick Rhodes. The nightclub work helped me, you know, it gave me some money and then it gave me an opportunity, as well.
So, no plan B. I love that.
I don’t know, Silvia, to be honest. If I hadn’t done music I’ve no idea what I would be doing right now. I did hear some people say “yes, I was going to be a doctor” or something else, but that would never happen to me. My family just didn’t have that background. And I’ve never been asked that question before. Did I have a plan B? Really. Never been asked this question in my life.
Seriously? Nobody ever asked you this question?! I ask this question all the time.
No, I don’t think so. Yeah, it’s a good idea. I should have had one and I would recommend a plan B but I didn’t have one!
Where did you get the inspiration for your cool hairstyle?
Well, well, I love fashion. But really, the hair came about because I got a job in as a singer and actor in a theatre show called Godspell. It’s quite a famous show from the 1970s. There were two hit songs from that show, and the writer is actually the same writer of the current hit show called Wicked, Stephen Schwartz. He wrote Godspell which was kind of a biblical story and there were six girls and six guys and all the girls had different hair: a redhead, a blonde, a brunette, wavy hair, straight hair. The guys all had like dark brown, slightly wavy, exactly the same. So I went to the director and I said: “We all look the same!”. I said that I really, really would like to try to play around with my hair, and I quite liked Rod Stewart’s blonde hair. So I went to the local hair salon in this little town called Westcliff-on-Sea in the East of the UK – it was a small salon and they did a good job! And that’s really where “the hair” has started. Yeah!
You weren’t born in London, weren’t you?
I was born in the North of the UK, in between, equally between Liverpool and Manchester: if you’re looking at the UK map, you’ve got Liverpool here and Manchester there – and then just in the middle there is a small town called Wigan.
You don’t have that kind of accent.
Oh, I can do it if you want… just like that! Do you know who else is from Wigan? The actor Ian McKellen from The Lord of the Rings and X-Men. And we had a very big black and white British movie star in the 40s and 50s – and also 30s, actually: George Formby, you can look him up on Wikipedia, he was the highest-paid entertainer in the UK at the time. And in Wigan, they have a statue of him. Also from Wigan is The Verve. Do you know The Verve?
Yes, the guy banging shoulders in the street in the Bitter Sweet Symphony video clip.
Ahaha, yes, exactly. That attitude.
Your real name is Christopher Hamill, and Limahl is an anagram for your surname – how did you come up with this idea?
I like my name: Christopher is nice – my mother calls me Christopher still, you know, but everybody else calls me Chris. But I thought that for a pop star, you know, maybe something a little bit more unusual or different would be good. I liked Sting, I thought “that’s a cool name, no one is called Sting!” And then I was an ABBA fan, of course, we were all massive ABBA fans, and I remember reading about how they got their name from Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny, and I started looking at the letters of my real name, Hamill, and then I just switched them around. And hey, presto!
Are there any artists you’d like to collaborate with, at this stage in your career?
Boy, oh, boy. I think if I collaborated, it would be really fun to do something with other 80s artists. Because the radio seems obsessed with all the youth, you know, that makes me a little bit angry because we’re still valid, we’re still creative, some of us still feel like we have a lot to give. So that would be really exciting if I could put a project like that together, basically calling all my old mates, my old friends that I’ve worked with over the years, you know? Yeah.
What are your plans for the future?
Well, it’s very tough at the moment with COVID-19. I did have many shows, many live shows this year. Everything, of course, is postponed to 2021, and so far this year, I don’t know what’s going to happen Personally, I don’t know how comfortable I would feel getting on a plane, a small environment and closed, breathing the same air, you know, with with the virus. I’m 61 and don’t want to get this virus, I don’t know if I would survive. I used to smoke until I was like 35 years old, so I don’t want to take that chance and I’m not getting on a plane until I know it’s really safe. But this is a perfect time to be creative with songwriting and recording. I mean, we have to find things to do. You know, I’ve already tried to do some tidying up in the loft and gardening and trying to stay away from the chocolate in the fridge and social distancing from the food, hahaha. But yeah, I’m very happy if I have to stay at home for the whole year. If we can go out still, that would be great. And we hope that they find some treatments very soon, or even a vaccine.