Bonnie Tyler: Back after two decades, with new songs and old

Bonnie Tyler – yes, she of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Holding Out For A Hero” – returns to South Africa after twenty years with new songs and old, a passion fro performance – and a wonderful sense of down-to-earth humour.

Rocks and Honey

This interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” section of 2013/09/01.

“Doing the old songs?” echoes Bonnie Tyler from her suite at Emperor’s Palace before flying to her Cape Town shows. “Honestly, I love singing them, and hearing people sing along. Do they do that in Cape Town: sing along?”

Being offered an interview with Bonnie Tyler is a bit like securing a slot with that other big-haired, gravel-voiced vocal legend, Rod Stewart. What do you ask? Anyone who’s a Bonnie Tyler fan is just that: a fan, and they’ve already got the obvious albums and the “Greatest Hits“. As for anyone who feels that les artiste does not stand up to, say, robust dialectical materialism – well, sure, but no-one’s ever said she did, it’s just that “Holding Out For A Hero” has been on more-or-less permanent rotation since 1985, hit the Top 100 singles charts three times, in three different years, has featured on more than a dozen soundtracks and been covered by artists from Serbia, Japan, Czech Republic and Iceland, and by power metal bands from both Greece and Spain.

She’s no fool, is Bonnie Tyler and, based on my fifteen minutes of hotel talk-time, she’s also a nice lady. She didn’t ever think she’d win that last Eurovision for Britain but, what, are you going to say no when asked? She’d love to sing more off her new album, “Rocks and Honey“, when she tours South Africa but the album hasn’t been released here yet and, what, you’re not going to sing what they want? She weathered the rumours since her last album, in 2005, happily because anyone who knows, is aware that good songs aren’t always easy to find and, what,  who can argue with No.4 on the Amazon sales charts, and some solid critical reviews. Also, since her first chart success in 1976, at 25 years of age, she knows what works for her, and where not to tread.

“It’s the BBC asking. Am I going to say no, and then they’ll never play my record?”
– Bonnie Tyler, “International First Lady of Rock“, on saying yes to “Eurovision 2013
“I’ve already told my manager than I only want to perform every two weeks,” she says. “I want to spend more time in Portugal; we’ve got a house there and I love it. But I love performing, and I could never say no to that, completely. I love the live work. Things like Eurovision: I have to be honest and say I did it because of the new album. It’s the BBC asking, after all. Am I going to say no, and then they’ll never play my record? It’s a bit of a strange one, is Eurovision. We knew we were never going to win – since Russia split up, you know that all those countries will vote for each other, so you haven’t got much of a chance. But I quite enjoyed it – it’s a very different experience, and the amount of press I got for my album… You can’t buy that sort of coverage.”

I could have been cheeky, or investigative, and asked Ms Tyler whether she was going to sing “Believe In Me“, the song that finished a disappointing 19th at Eurovision despite being written by “Songwriter’s Hall of Fame” inductee Desmond Childs (70 Top40 hits to his name, 300 million albums sold and the pen behind “If You Were a Woman and I Was a Man“). But what would be the point? Instead, here are some things that, perhaps, you didn’t know about “The International First Lady Of Rock“.

“I know where my food is, and that is interpreting other people’s songs.”
Bonnie Tyler on being a songwriter
With all the hits, and the compilation stalwarts Bonnie Tyler has sung, does it every bother her that the songs she’s written herself aren’t in that pantheon?

“Oh, I’ve given up on that,” she laughs, her voice every inch the Welsh lass, born Gaynor Hopkins in 1951 and first finding her voice in talent shows around Swansea. “I know where my food is, and that is interpreting other people’s songs. Frank Myers, who wrote ‘All I Ever Wanted‘ and Desmond Child, who writes for Bon Jovi and Aerosmith. I was working with my band in Europe and doing the live shows and everything, and it wasn’t until I got all the songs together that I was ready to record a new album. I went to Nashville last year, and met with all the different song publishers and I was amazed at the quality of the songs they were giving me. So it took, not eight years to record those songs, but I didn’t find the material for eight years – and now I’m really pleased with ‘Rocks and Honey‘.”

What about awards? “Oh,” she says, a bit like a young girl discovering a pleasant keepsake she’d misplaced. “When I got home last time (to Britain), I got… oh, I can’t remember, but they presented me with a gold award in London. It’s lovely to have all these awards, although I don’t put them all up.” She has been nominated for three Grammys, two Brit Awards, and two American Music Awards, and been capped as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and with a DLitt Honorary Degree from Swansea University – as well as netting a BMI “Million Air Award” for performance totals greater than three million on US radio and television.

Bonnie Tyler is known for her duets and collaborations – “A Rockin’ Good Way” with Shakin’ Stevens, “A Kiss Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” with Meatloaf, “Tears” and “Save Your Love” with Frankie Miller, “What You Need From Me” with Vince Gill, “Islands” with Mike Oldfield and  “Heaven Is Here” with Giorgio Moroder, to name a few. Which is her most treasured ever?

“‘Tears‘ with Frankie Miller,” she says. “He was one of the first bands I went to see when I was quite young, and he was amazing. He was fantastic on stage, and his voice was really good. When I was working with Jim Steinman in New York,  came across this duet, and I thought about Frankie straight away. It wasn’t long after that, and it’s quite sad for him, that he had a brain haemorrhage and can’t sing anymore. He’s doing rehabilitation now, and it’s getting better, but I’m involved in an album at the moment where we’re doing all Frankie’s songs from the past. I’m doing a duet, with a version of Frankie’s voice recorded before he had the haemorrhage. It’ll be out in 2014, with so many people playing on it, like Ronnie Wood; Simone Kirke and Andy Fraser from Free, and Spike from the Quireboys.”

This interview by Evan Milton originally appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” section of 2013/09/01.

Bonnie Tyler performs at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 September (8pm, tickets R550 to R640 from Computicket.com) after shows at the Callie Human Centre in Bloemfontein (Sunday 1 September) and after sold out performances at Emperor’s Palace (on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 August).

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