02 August 2010

Chris de Burgh


Ah, Chris de Burgh. Born as Christopher John Davison in 1948 in Argentina. Currently living in Ireland and with British nationality. Personally thanked by Princess Diana for writing his greatest hit, Lady In Red, and almost unavoidable in the UK at Christmas time because of A Spaceman Came Travelling, which is played only slightly less than Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody. De Burgh has sold over 45 million albums worldwide, and managed to sell 8 million copies of his hit, Lady In Red, which is initially surprising since most people profess to loathe it. Which also makes it interesting to hear that it reached number one in 25 separate countries, including the United Kingdom.


So where did it start? Well, Chris de Burgh signed a contract with A&M Records in 1974, at which time he was touring as the support for Supertramp. His early releases were a kind of folksy seventies pop, and didn't do particularly well. Neither did the next album, or the next. By 1981 there was enough material to release a best of collection, although the best of a not terribly successful bunch was hardly destined to do tremendously well in the charts. And yet, although there wasn't much UK or US chart success, de Burgh continued to improve his global profile, clocking up reasonable sales in many a far-flung corner of the world. Regardless, the greatest hits collection served as a nice introduction to The Getaway, which produced the single Don't Pay The Ferryman. And, at last... a US hit.

Don't Pay The Ferryman, a peculiar song with a mythology-influenced feel, helped the album to get to number 43 in the US charts. The album did slightly better in the UK, reaching number 30. The album Man On The Line followed, with increased success. Riding on this success, as record companies are wont to do, a further greatest hits album was released, achieving de Burgh's highest chart position so far. And then... Into The Light.

Released in 1986, Into The Light hurtled up the charts, carried (not literally) by The Lady In Red. The album reached number two, and the single, Lady In Red - well, you'll need to be some sort of hermit to have avoided hearing it so far. Similarly with the next single, a re-release of A Spaceman Came Travelling, which was originally on de Burgh's 1975 album, Spanish Train And Other Stories. Into The Light, despite containing The Lady In Red, has a lot going for it. Vaguely progressive, vaguely 80s synth in some places, there are hints of an interest in the events of Revelations - in fact, for the eagle-eared, there are a fair few Biblical references dotted throughout Chris' career. (The Risen Lord on Flying Colours is a pretty big hint, and The Leader and The Vision are clear references to Revelations.)

His career sort of took off from there, actually. Although not exactly well-loved by the common man, there are enough people out there to buy his records, watch his concerts and generally adore him for Mr de Burgh to be an enduringly popular artist. Having your own record label helps, though I doubt we'll ever see Chris clamber up the charts again, unless it's some sort of re-release of an old hit at just the right time. And his career continues - there's a general descent into release after release of greatest hits collection, cashing in on earlier successes, but he continues to tour and, indeed, was apparently the first Western act to perform in Iran after the 1979 revolution.

A Small Note

I may be alone in this, but I have to stand up and point out that by all accounts and being reasonably charitable, Chris De Burgh is actually pretty successful, and (although it may come as a shock to you), not all his work is as maudlin and downright soppy as Lady In Red. There's plenty of soft rock in his back catalogue, yes, but there's also elements of prog, plenty of lovely 80s synth stuff, a bit of concept-album-tinged stuff and a fair few groovy ballads, out-and-out pop hits and even some rather saucy stuff. Well, Patricia The Stripper, anyway.

Bill Bailey is prominent amongst de Burgh's detractors, pointing to his wildly uncontrolled eyebrows, picking on the undeniable cheesiness of some of his songs. But then I love Bill Bailey's work, too, at least once he's managed to get started. His first five minutes of any set usually consist of him going 'ooo' and 'hello' and 'I look like a klingon'. But regardless, the Cockney medley of Chris de Burgh songs speak true love to me, and giving him pride of place as the top spot in the scale of evil is surely a veiled worship attempt. And what's so bad about Lady In Red? Don't we all have off days? Didn't Kraftwerk produce The Hall Of Mirrors at one point in their career? Did they not ever think of getting a guest vocalist? Does Marillion's Kayleigh not still haunt them, even as children dance around under sprinklers in the park? But do we judge Kraftwerk by their reedy vocals? Do we blame Marillion for Kayleigh... well, maybe just a little. Er... do we not listen to Toyah because of her lithp? Um... isn't Chris de Burgh much, much richer than us and aren't we all just a teeny bit jealous? Perhaps. Or it might be his recent claims to be able to heal people by laying on hands, or the alleged affairs of the early nineties. Or is it, perhaps, that some people are just naturally annoying? Whatever it is, you can't deny his success, however much you may wish to join with Bill Bailey and describe him as a 'mono-browed purveyor of ultimate filth'.

Oh, and he's 5 foot 6 inches tall. Just in case you were wondering. His website's an endless treasure trove of such snippets...

(Mostly Complete) Discography Note the increase in collections as time passes...

Far Beyond These Castle Walls, 1974
Spanish Train and Other Stories, 1975
At the End of a Perfect Day, 1977
Crusader, 1979
Eastern Wind, 1980
Best Moves, 1981
The Getaway, 1982
Man on the Line, 1984
The Very Best of Chris de Burgh, 1984
Into the Light, 1986
Flying Colours, 1988
Spark to a Flame: The Very Best of Chris de Burgh, 1989
High on Emotion: Live from Dublin, 1990
Power of Ten, 1992
This Way Up, 1994
Beautiful Dreams, 1995
Live in South Africa, 1997
The Love Songs, 1997
Quiet Revolution, 1999
The Ultimate Collection - Notes from Planet Earth, 2001
Timing Is Everything, 2002
The Road To Freedom, 2004
Live In Dortmund, 2005
The Ultimate Collection, 2005
The Storyman, 2006
Gold, 2007
Now and Then, 2008
Footsteps, 2009
Moonfleet, Coming in 2010