Albert Hammond smiles as he recalls midway through tonight’s show: “I often have people come up to me and say ‘I enjoyed the show. But why so many cover songs?”. During the current Songbook Tour though Hammond is able to put the record (literally) straight before each song. “Here’s one I wrote that Julio Inglesias had a hit with (‘All the girls I’ve met before’), here’s one I co-wrote for Leo Sayer (‘When I Need You’) One I co-wrote for the Hollies (‘Air That I Breathe’). Roncalli Platz in Cologne was a chance to remind people just how prolific a songwriter he is – and he took his chance well. An evening of familiar songs that, if they didn’t stretch back in time as far as the Cathedral towering behind the stage, still had a long and very successful history.
Maybe, to quote the biggest hit of tonight’s guest, it never rains in Southern California, but it does rain in Cologne – and begins to do so precisely fifteen minutes before the concert begins. The only cover available is a slight overhang from the stage-roof. This could be the best reason of all for buying front-row seats – being first in a race for cover. Miraculously though, just moments before the umbrellas or (metaphorical) stage curtain go up, the rain stops. Albert Hammond waves a greeting and some 1800 or so poncho wearers wave back. Hammond promises that if it rains again he will come down and join us. In the course of the evening, it doesn’t, but he joins us anyway to sing, shake hands with male audience members and give a hug to female ones. By this time he’s delivered some great songs and even has a red garland around his neck – a fans gift, and proof that he really is royalty where song-writing is concerned.
Yes, that songwriting theme again. I knew Albert Hammond had written his own hits. ‘It Never Rains In Southern California’, ‘Free Electric Band’, ‘I’m a Train’… I knew of Leo Sayer’s ‘When I Need You’ and The Hollies ‘Air That I Breathe’. I didn’t realise how far back the hit songwriting started though. ‘I’m a Train’ was actually first released in 1967, albeit in French, by Les Troubadors. ‘Down By The River’ is from 1972 but as a rallying call against pollution has still never been bettered:
“A silverfish lay on its side, washed up by the morning tide, wonder how it died? Down by the river”
It’s not all brilliant lyrics and topical themes though. There are some ‘suspicious’ hits in Hammond’s musical treasure chest from times when a snappy tune and fun nonsense brought in the bucks. Remember The Pipkins? No, I thought not. Remember ‘Gimme dat Ding’? If you do, you probably wish you didn’t. It’s an Albert Hammond hit song though and he delivers it with a wry smile and even finds the required falsetto voice when needed despite his ageing vocal chords. Not that age is an issue for him. After a quick dance mid-song, he enthuses “Not bad for a 75-year-old, eh?!”
The songs are the thing though, and clearly, they always have been for Albert Hammond. He knows when they’re good, and is willing to wait for the right moment and singer to come along if need be. He remembers giving ‘To all the girls I’ve loved before’ to both Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck without success before finally finding the right outlet for his (and lyricist Hal David’s) genius through Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson almost ten years later. Quality will always out – even when it takes time. ‘Brand New Day’ is not so famous, but it’s the favourite of Albert’s Mother and he uses it as a wake-up call not to waste time. “What’s the first thing you do when you wake up each morning? heasks. Wash? Brush your teeth? It should be, to be thankful that you are still in this world to enjoy it!”
Hammond himself clearly is very happy to be in this World still and enjoying the applause his classic songs have earned him. There have been many hits in Albert Hammonds long career, but we have to wait for the shows end for the real big ones. Given the nature of Albert Hammond as a songwriter though it all makes sense. He introduces a couple of numbers mid-set that were not hits but are, he considers, amongst the best songs he has written. Had they come after the hits and had it rained again who knows how many of the audience would have headed for home happy to have heard ‘It Never Rains In Southern California’?
To my lyric-loving ears, the final trio of super hits was the cream on the cake sure, but the whole 90 minutes spent in Albert Hammond’s company flew by. Laughing to ‘Gimme Dat Ding’, joining in on “I’m a train, I’m a choo-choo train yeah!” (‘I’m a Train’). It was all as magical as finally holding hands with fellow concert-goers to join in on ‘When I Need You’ at ten o’clock.
This was an evening in front of Cologne Cathedral bookended by two sold-out super shows by Chilly Gonzalez and Paolo Conte, but Albert Hammond was the one I most wanted to see. The Art of Singer-Songwriter isn’t dead for sure – A certain Mr Sheeran is very much proof of that. Is there anyone around writing and playing with such a wide range of styles and themes like this today though? Frank Turner perhaps? For sure there are very few who manage to write great songs that stand the test of time like many by Albert Hammond has. Time will tell with Ed Sheeran I guess. Me? I’m still ‘Down by the River’ when it comes to anti-pollution motivation and I still sometimes want to “Give it up for music – and the free electric band” Thank you Ernst-Ludwig Hartz for putting on this excellent concert and thanks to God too for ensuring that it never rains during an Albert Hammond concert in Cologne.