Christopher Anton Rea (born 4 March 1951) is a singer-songwriter from Middlesbrough, England, instantly recognisable for his distinctive, raspy voice. Rea has sold over 30 million albums worldwide.
Rea had not played the local music scene around Middlesbrough much, and had no real history of playing with any local bands. However, under the guidance of local club owner, and promoter John B. McCoy he managed to gain a record deal with Magnet Records Whatever Happened to Benny Santini?
was Rea's debut album, released in 1978 (see 1978 in music
). The first single lifted from the album, "Fool (If You Think It's Over)
", is his biggest hit in the United States, peaking at number twelve on the Billboard Hot 100
and reaching number one on the Adult Contemporary Singles
chart. "Fool (if You Think It's Over)" was nominated for a "Song of the Year
, losing out to Billy Joel
's "Just the Way You Are
". Unlike most of Rea's other singles, "Fool..." was not a great success on the UK Singles Chart
, failing to chart on its first release and only reaching number thirty when re-released in late 1978 to capitalise on its U.S. success. U.K. singer, Elkie Brooks enjoyed greater success with 'Fool..' in 1981 when she charted a single at No17. It was also the first record played by Radio Caroline
, after a long period off the air. A cover of "Fool..." by Kenny Craddock
was used as the theme for BBC sitcom Joking Apart
The title of the album is a reference to a name Rea's UK record label (Magnet) had considered christening him with to make him sound more attractive commercially.
Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? was produced by Gus Dudgeon. Rea was reportedly dissatisfied with the final mix of the album; he later went some way to supposedly rectify this to his satisfaction, starting with 1988's greatest hits compilation New Light Through Old Windows, which featured a re-recorded version of "Fool..." and several other of his back-catalogue tracks. Dudgeon went on to produce Rea's next effort, Deltics. It is rumoured within the music-industry however, that this 'dissatisfaction' was merely a clever way of dispensing with royalty, or contractual, payments on the original recordings that would have been due under an agreement with his first Manager John McCoy, whom Rea had subsequently dispensed with.
Rea began to focus his attention on continental Europe
, releasing eight albums in the 1980s. It wasn't until 1985's Shamrock Diaries
and the songs "Stainsby Girls" and "Josephine" that UK audiences began to take notice of him (on 5 July 1986 Rea played in front of 95,000 people at Slane Castle, Ireland, as a supporting act of band Queen
on their "Magic Tour"). Follow-up albums On The Beach
and Dancing with Strangers
became big UK hits before the New Light Through Old Windows
compilation album in 1988 brought Rea success.
His next full album was to be his major breakthrough. The Road to Hell (1989) enjoyed massive success and became his first number one album in the UK. This success could not be mirrored in the U.S., however, where it only reached #107. The follow-up album, Auberge, also enjoyed massive European success, reaching the top spot in the UK.
, Rea released God's Great Banana Skin
, which managed to reach Number 4 in the UK. The album returned Rea to the rockier sound of Road to Hell
, and the single "Nothing to Fear" gave him another Top 20 hit. A year later Espresso Logic
hit the Top 10 and "Julia", written about his second daughter, gave him his 11th Top 40. A period of ill health meant his next album did not appear until 1998.
Despite no singles being released and little promotion, The Blue Cafe still made the UK Top 10, though it proved to be Rea's last. In 1999, 10 years after Road to Hell, Rea released The Road to Hell: Part 2. Many felt Rea had begun to lose his way; the album received no promotion and never made the Top 40. However, it didn't get Rea down - in 2000, he released King of the Beach, receiving critical praise and a healthy Top 30 placing.
In 2000 a remix of Rea's 1986 "On the Beach" single by York was released and enjoyed moderate success on the dance floor.
Fighting pancreatitis and back to the blues
Following a severe bout of pancreatitis
, and a predicted 50% chance of survival after an operation called a Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy)
in 2001, Rea promised himself that if he recovered, he would be returning to his blues roots. This near brush with death was the catalyst for a complete change in musical direction and motivation. The resulting Blue Guitars
11 CD collection of 137 blues inspired tracks recorded in just 18 months, completed with his own paintings as album covers, is seen by himself as his finest work to date. In an interview with the Britsound
Radio Show, Rea revealed that "it’s not until you become seriously ill and you nearly die and you’re at home for 6 months, that you suddenly stop to realize that this isn’t the way I intended it to be in the beginning. Everything that you’ve done falls away and start wondering why you went through all that rock business stuff." So, in 2002, Rea returned to his blues roots, releasing the album Dancing Down The Stony Road
following recording sessions in France and the UK. (An abridged version of the album was later released with the title Stony Road
.) The album was followed by a DVD of the same name, comprising a "Making Of" documentary and footage from a concert in Cologne. Rea set up his own JazzeeBlue label in 2003 to free himself from the pressure of record companies and their expectations. Since then he has released the blues albums Blue Street (Five Guitars)
(an instrumental jazz-blues album) and then The Blue Jukebox
(another jazz-blues influenced album released to critical acclaim). He has worked with David Knopfler
for two albums, Wishbones
(2001) and Ship of Dreams
Blue Guitars and Retirement
Chris Rea released his final box-set album, "Blue Guitars" in 2005. Consisting of 11 CDs and 1 DVD (Dancing Down The Stony Road), the album is Rea's testament to blues. Each album contains self-compositions, played and performed in a specific genre of the blues. The box-set includes a book containing reproductions of colourful paintings by Rea. In an interview with the Britsound
Radio Show, Rea declared that this box-set album is a result of his love for the blues; "it’s just my first love. You know if you take music as romance, then blues was my first love you know, it’s my wife. And it’s with me all the time, and I just adore it." This album closes the final chapter of Chris Rea's solo career as he does not intend to make any further solo records. He has stated that he would continue to make records with some of his favourite players under the name "The Memphis Fireflies". A double DVD set and a separate double CD set was released in 2006, including live selections from Rea's farewell tour titled "The Road To Hell & Back".
In November 2007, Rea announced a new tour and a new album featuring 38 new tracks on three CDs and two vinyls which included a hardback book in the style of a slightly tatty 12" vinyl sleeve. "The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Blue Notes" (a dedication to the iconic 60's guitar of the same name) was released in February 2008. In writing the album, Chris dreamed up a band that had never existed – a pastiche instrumental group from the late ’50s called The Delmonts.
The release of the album was followed by a European tour. The band was introduced as "The Delmonts featuring Chris Rea", and played in various venues across the UK, including the Royal Albert Hall in London. The concerts consisted of a mixture of blues-orientated instrumentals and new songs as well as several Chris Rea classics.
The consequences of a serious illness had forced the always reserved and modest performer to adopt a different lifestyle; one that could not be made to fit in with the usual touring business. Together with Robert Ahwai (guitar), Neil Drinkwater (keyboards), Colin Hodgkinson (bass) and Martin Ditcham (Drums), Chris Rea lends his songs a bluesy trace of the Sixties, which is also to a certain extent a tribute to his idol BB King. In talking about the new band and album, Chris explained “That is the music that I have always wanted to play: real, genuine guitar music”.
His song "Driving Home for Christmas", which originally reached number 53 in the UK charts when first released in 1988, re-entered at number 33 nineteen years later in December 2007, making it the first time the song had made the UK Top 40.
According to an article by film director Michael Winner published in The Times on 17th August 2008, Rea is currently working on a new collection of Italian music.
Rea is the son of Camillo Rea, an immigrant from Italy
and Winifred, of Irish
descent (died Sept 1983). He has two brothers, Nick and Mike, and four sisters, Catherine, Geraldine, Paula and Camille.
He is married to wife Joan, with whom he has two daughters (Josephine, born September 16th 1983, and Julia Christina, born March 18th 1989). He used to live at Sol Mill in Cookham
. This property also contained the Sol Mill Recording Studios where he produced some of his later albums. He also produced albums for other artists such as Sylvin Marc, and Robert Ahwai on his Jazeeblue label. The property was sold in 2006.
The name "Rea" (pronounced "Ray-ah") was well-known locally thanks to the chain of "Rea's Ice-cream" shops owned by Camillo Rea. In later years the chain folded except for one shop operated by Camillo himself. He played his son's music constantly inside the shop. He holds a season ticket with Middlesbrough football club to be near his birthplace in Linthorpe, Middlesbrough.
In August 2008, it was reported that Rea had donated 25,000 pounds to the Conservative Party.
Rea has also been an actor, playing lead in the 1999 comedy Parting Shots
opposite such notables as John Cleese
, Bob Hoskins
and Joanna Lumley
. Somewhat ironically, Rea plays a man who is told that cancer gives him six weeks to live, and decides to kill off the people who've done him wrong in life. He also had a 'walk on' role in the 1996 Film 'La Passione' for which he wrote the soundtrack music.
Local references in Chris Rea's lyrics
Chris' lyrics contain references to growing up in Middlesbrough, a town which, at the time, had much heavy industry around it, including chemical processing, steelmaking, and shipbuilding. Perhaps the most famous of these references occur in the song "Stainsby Girls", a tribute to his wife Joan, who attended Stainsby Secondary Modern School, now known as Acklam Grange Secondary School
Other references easily recognized by Middlesbrough natives occur in "The Road to Hell".
- I'm standing by a river, but the water doesn't flow
- It boils with every poison you can think of.
This lyric refers to the appearance of the River Tees in the 1960s, when it was at its most polluted. The song "Steel River" compares the old polluted Tees with the later clean river, there being salmon, but no industry. "Windy Town" is a memory of Middlesbrough from the viewpoint of a touring musician.
- "So Much Love" (1974)
- "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" (1978) UK #30, US #12, US Adult Contemporary #1
- "Whatever Happened To Benny Santini?" (1978) US #71
- "Diamonds" (1979) UK #44, US #44
- "Raincoat and a Rose" (1979) UK #??
- "Tennis" (1980) UK #??
- "Dancing Girls" (1980) UK #??
- "Loving You" (1982) UK #65, US #88
- "Every Beat of My Heart" (1982)UK #??
- "Let It Loose" (1983) UK #85
- "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat" (1983) UK #60
- "Love's Strange Ways" (1983) UK #??
- "I Don't Know What It Is But I Love It" (1984) UK #65
- "Bombollini" (1984) UK #??
- "Touche D'Amour" (1984) UK #86, Ger #46
- "Ace Of Hearts" (1984) UK #79
- "Stainsby Girls" (1985) UK #26
- "Josephine" (1985) UK #67, Ger #31, NL #3, France #7 (August 1987 - remix version known as "la version française)
- "Ace Of Hearts" (reissue) (1985) UK #78
- "It's All Gone" (1986) UK #69
- "On The Beach" (1986) UK #57, France #48
- "Hello Friend" (re-recording)(1986) UK #79
- "Let's Dance" (1987) UK #12, US #81, Ger #19
- "Loving You Again" (1987) UK #47, Ger #43
- "Joys Of Christmas" (1987) UK #67
- "Que Sera" (re-recording)(1988) UK #73, Ger #71
- "On The Beach" (Summer '88)(re-recording) (1988) UK #12, US Adult Contemporary #9 (in 1989)
- "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat" (re-recording) (1988) UK #74
- "Driving Home For Christmas" (1988) UK #53 (Re-entered UK chart 2007, #33)
- "Working On It" (1989) UK #53, US #73, US Mainstream Rock #1
- "The Road to Hell" (1989) UK #10, Ger #35, France #30
- "That's What They Always Say"(1989) UK #83, France #35
- "Tell Me There's A Heaven" (1990) UK #24
- "Texas" (1990) UK #69
- "Auberge" (1991) UK #16, Ger #20, France #46
- "Heaven" (1991) UK #57, Ger #94
- "Looking For The Summer" (1991) UK #49, Ger #51
- "Winter Song" (1991) UK #27
- "Nothing To Fear" (1992) UK #16
- "God's Great Banana Skin" (1992) UK #31, Ger #59
- "Soft Top Hard Shoulder" (1993) UK #53, Ger #54
- "Too Much Pride" (re-recording) (1993) UK #??
- "Julia" (1993) UK #18, Ger #40#
- "Espresso Logic" (1993) UK #??
- "Johnny Needs a Fast Car" (1994) Fr #??
- "You Can Go Your Own Way" (1994) UK #28
- "Tell Me There's a Heaven" (re-issue) (1994) UK #70
- "Girl in a Sports Car" (1996) UK #??
- "Disco La Passione" (with Shirley Bassey (1996) UK #41
- "Only to Fly" (1997) Ger #??
- "Girl In A Sportcar" (1997) UK (re-issue) #??, Ger #91
- "Let's Dance" (with Middlesbrough FC and Bob Mortimer) (1997) UK #44
- "The Blue Café" (1997) Ger #53
- "Square Peg, Round Hole" (1998) UK #??
- "Sweet Summer Day" (1998), UK ??, Ger #71
- "Thinking Of you" (1998) Ger #91
- "New Times Square" (1999) Ger #??
- "All Summer Long" (2000) UK #??
- "Who Do You Love?" (2001) UK #??
- "Driving Home For Christmas" (2003) Ger #73
- "Driving Home For Christmas" (2007) UK #33 NOR #6