Tony Christie was once hailed as the new Tom Jones, but when his crooning began to sound distinctly out of date he hung up his flared suit, moved to Spain and took up golf. Now, at the age of 61, however, the lounge singer is enjoying a cult revival, with DJs the length and breadth of Britain campaigning to get his 1971 hit "(Is This The Way To) Amarillo" back into the charts.
For that the singer must thank the somewhat tongue-in-cheek patronage of the Northern comedian Peter Kay, who has recorded a charity version of the single with the singer for Comic Relief. Christie, who moved to Spain 15 years ago after his star waned in the UK, said yesterday that he was "over the moon" about his success, marked by his first major tour of the UK in 20 years.
"It's absolutely sensational," he said. "I'm enjoying every minute of it. One of the reasons I went to live in Spain 15 years ago was that nothing was happening here and nobody was interested in me. I was flourishing on the Continent, but I was very disappointed because it's nice to be recognised in your home country."
Christie's resurgence was sparked by a scene in Kay's comedy series Phoenix Nights in which two bouncers from a Northern social club play "Amarillo" to a bus full of devout Muslim elders on their way to a prayer meeting, in the hope of starting a sing-along. When Kay wrote a spin-off series, Max and Paddy, Christie was asked to write the theme tune.
Christie is grateful to Kay, who first heard his music when his mum played it to him as a baby to get him to sleep. "He could have used anybody I suppose, but I'm eternally grateful that he chose me. He apologised and said it wasn't meant to be derogatory and that he is a huge fan."
He added: "A lot of local radio stations took up the cause to make 'Amarillo' number one. It's 34-years-old, that song. It was always a great song; it's just hit a new audience that had never heard it before."
The new charity CD and DVD of "Amarillo" features Kay lip-synching and Christie singing together with a gaggle of stars ranging from Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor to Keith Harris and Orville the Duck. DJs including Radio 1's Vernon Kay and Radio 2's Jonathan Ross have since championed the track, while in Glasgow, Radio Clyde has encouraged listeners to down tools on Friday afternoons and dance the "Slosh" - a Scottish wedding-disco-style dance - to the tune of "Amarillo".
Northern football clubs including Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Wigan, Falkirk and Chesterfield have also adopted the song.
Universal has signed Christie to its record label and Tony Christie - The Definitive Collection, a compilation of the singer's recordings as well as four new songs, was released last month, shooting into the top 10 within a week.
It is all music to the ears of Christie, who is touring the UK on a schedule covering more than 30 venues from Worthing to Whitley Bay. He is about to begin work on a second album, and there are plans for an autumn tour in larger venues.
No stranger to the scene portrayed in Phoenix Nights, Christie started his career singing on the club circuit fronting various bands, most notably Tony Christie and the Trackers. He said: "That's where I learned my trade, in the social clubs. It was a hostile environment; you had to go out there and prove yourself."
Born Anthony Fitzgerald in Conisborough, South Yorkshire, in 1943, Christie recorded his first single "Life's Too Good To Waste" in 1966, and three years later was signed by MCA records. He did not achieve success until 1971, when he enjoyed a string of hits with "Las Vegas", "I Did What I Did For Maria", "Don't Go Down To Reno" and "Amarillo".
"Amarillo", written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield, was an international success, topping the Spanish charts for nearly six months. More hits followed, including "Avenues and Alleyways", the theme tune for the television series The Protectors.
In 1976 Christie was approached by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice to play the part of the lounge lizard Magaldi in the original album recording of Evita.
At the peak of his fame Christie was compared to singers such as Tom Jones and Tony Bennett. He said: "I think it was the strong voice. People have to put a label on you. At one time they were calling me the Tony Bennett of club land."
He has continued to tour in Europe, the Far East and Australia and now he believes that the popularity of singers such as Jamie Cullum and Katie Melua has revealed a renewed appetite for old-fashioned songs.
Until the latest renaissance he has had a couple of brief comebacks - teaming up with Engelbert Humperdink's producer Jack White in 1990 to produce a hit single "Kiss In The Night" and entering the top 10 in 1999 with the song "Walk Like A Panther", written for him by Jarvis Cocker. He hopes this revival will be longer lasting.Reuse content