Chris de Burgh tells Jo Walker why he reckons people find him boring
After more than 30 years in the music industry, Chris de Burgh has a confession to make.
"I'm pretty bored with the profession I'm in," the singer-songwriter admits.
"Not my part of it, but certainly I don't feel connected with the youngsters' part of it.
"Partly because I'm probably construed as a boring old fart, but also I'm an experienced songwriter. I've been at this for 32 years and I kind of think I know what quality means and I'm not hearing a lot of it."
Enter Chris's new album The Storyman - a remedy, he says, against the repetitive tone of modern music and its sausage factory attitude to new talent.
Each album track comes with a short story in the liner notes, designed to be read along with the song. The stories range from current times to Soviet-era Leningrad, first century Italy and medieval France - a collection of images that form an old-fashioned virtual reality experience for listener and singer alike.
"I want to allow the listener an interactive feel where you can close your eyes from the moment The Storyman theme begins at the beginning of the record.
"Almost imagine that the lights have gone down at the cinema. You have the story if you've read it, if you want to, and then you can visualise what's going on."
As Chris explains it, the storyman concept goes back to his hit 80s song Don't Pay The Ferryman. "It was an idea of this weird figure, almost out of a Hammer horror film, pounding through the night on horseback with his cape flying behind him.
"I remember trying to explain this to the band, and they were looking at me as if I was from a different planet. So I decided what I would do is write it down and for every subsequent album when I worked with the band, where it was relevant I would write out a short story."
Now with The Storyman fans can share the tales as well. The record is the 18th studio album for the 57-year-old art rocker - not bad for a guy who can't read or write music. Chris says his ignorance of the finer points of musical notation has never caused him any problems, though it's occasionally confused the musos he works with: "I keep doing things that they say you shouldn't be doing and I say, well it works."
"I remember playing (The Mirror Of The Soul) through to the musicians in my band in the recording studio and they were looking completely puzzled. It was funny to watch those kind of professionals write it down and they were arguing amongst themselves and saying, that's a 7/13 bar, and the other guy said no, it's an 8/12 bar. And they all turned to me and I said, don't ask me - it just works, that's all."
Touring for the new album started in late September, with a full band show in Killarney, Ireland. With over 3,000 concert performances under his belt, you'd be forgiven for thinking this latest round of shows might bring out something of a here-we-go-again vibe in the singer. Not so, Chris says: "Do you know, it's never really felt like work... Being onstage for me is a natural form of expression."
Chris stays in top form for his stage antics, and while his daughter might be a bit embarrassed by her old man's moves ("she says I look like a homosexual doing aerobics"), fans can't get enough. "Night after night people are screaming at you and women falling at your feet and telling you you're wonderful," he says.
"If that's your drug then it's a very, very powerful drug. I remember in the early years thinking, this is wonderful, and then I became a bit more mature about it and realised that you're just offering the dream, that's all. The person you are at home has to be who you are."
Keeping in contact with fans is "critically important", Chris says - these days he's doing it through his website, answering questions from de Burgh buffs from across the world. And they are an international lot. While he has enjoyed top ten hits in the UK and US, his biggest territories are Germany, Austria and Switzerland - then South America, Canada and, surprisingly perhaps, the Middle East.
"What just happened in Lebanon broke my heart," Chris says, "because I was the first international act to go in there after the end of the last war in '93. We did two shows - 10,000 people a night - and you could have spent the whole evening crying just looking at these people and their response to thank you for coming here."
And his next big market? Iran. "I suppose it started about ten years ago," Chris remembers.
"I met two boys from Iran and they looked at me as if I'd stepped out of a space craft - Elvis returned from the dead. And they said, do you realise the two biggest stars in Iran are Madonna and Chris de Burgh? And I said, I had no idea."
One of Iran's biggest bands has recently contacted Chris to work on a collaboration, and he says the prospect of visiting the troubled nation is appealing, though he understands not everybody would be happy to see him go.
"Certainly if I were to go there and perform no doubt I would get flak from certain quarters," he says.
"But I remember when I went to South Africa during the Equity and Musicians' Union ban during the mid-70s, I found extraordinary things happening.
"Because of the censorship down there, South Africans didn't have a clue about what was going on in their own country. I felt much more like a missionary - bringing information about their own country from the outside. And I actually felt that I was doing much better things going there than not going there,
and the same I actually feel about Iran."
* The new Chris de Burgh album The Storyman is out now. The singer's only UK performance on his current tour is the Birmingham NEC on November 18. Bookings: 0870 909 4133 or 0121 357 0000