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Monday 1 September 2014

Steve's still winning nine lives later

Steve Winwood has had the sort of career that would make any fantasist green with envy. Fresh from being turfed out of school, at 15 years of age, little Steve joined 60s Brit blues band hopefuls The Spencer Davis Group. Two years later, he was at No 1, singing Keep On Running.

Soon after, the music-loving Winwood was indeed running. From one historical recording to the next.

Shortly after forming the seminal English folk-fusion outfit Traffic, Winwood orchestrated the first of many collaborations with fellow blues hound, Eric Clapton, and then ran off to record organ on his mate Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile, before popping over to Joe Cocker to add another powerful organ performance on his cover of With A Little Help From My Friends.

And this is all before forming Blind Faith in 1969, alongside Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech.

And a long, long time before becoming an unlikely chart favourite in the early Eighties through the likes of While You See A Chance, Talking Back To The Night, Valerie, Back In The High Life and Higher Love.

Winwood's latest album, Nine Lives, has just given him his highest debut entry in the US charts. So, you know, there's life in the old, eh, cat just yet. . .

PAUL BYRNE: Nine Lives just about wraps it up -- you've been there, and done just about everything, over the last 45 years. Aren't you supposed to be sitting on a beach these days. . .

STEVE WINWOOD: Well, absolutely. I didn't intend Nine Lives, the title, to mean that I was wrapping it up.

As long as people will want to listen, to buy a CD of recorded music, or want to come and see me live, I'll probably keep doing it.

Were you surprised at the high US debut for Nine Lives?

It did surprise me, but it's a slightly hollow victory, because, obviously, the record business is not doing very well.

I'm not signed up to Sony, as it were; it's a, eh, record lease. But they did a good job.

I'm not sure what the future holds for big record corporations like that. Times are changing rapidly for them, but it's all really for the better for music, I think.

You had your first No 1 hit at the age of 17, with Keep On Running, back in 1965. Ever feel like it was all a little too much, too young?

Back in those days, there wasn't quite so much of the celebrity culture that there is today. So, when I was getting success at 16 or 17, it just meant sitting in the back of a van more, as the tours got bigger and wider. It was just driving greater distances. Obviously there was a little bit of excitement attached to that success, but it generally meant it was just harder work.

That second wave of success in the 80s -- was there any vertigo then, because were now old enough to enjoy the trappings of fame and fortune?

[Laughs] Yeah. You mean, like fine wine. . .

And even finer women. . .

. . .and Cuban cigars.

Or, better still, some fine Cuban women. . .

I don't know about that [laughs].

Obviously, it was a great time for me to actually get that kind of recognition at that time, after probably 25 years or more of being in the business.

It was a bit of a renaissance for me, and I did get a lot of recognition in those days.

I've always tried to combine jazz with ethnic music with rock and folk, and what would now be called world music, I guess.

I was still really doing that in the mid-80s, but I think it was probably just given a production treatment which probably made it, in some people's minds, more of a pop sound.

Songs like Valerie, Higher Love and Talking Back To The Night have been covered again and again, and that wasn't because of the production sheen. . .

Yeah, that's true. . .

Have you made it back to Ireland lately? You recorded Far From Home in sunny Kilcoole with Traffic back in 1993, and played a gig in Dublin a few years after that. . .

Yeah, we came over and played in Dublin -- some time ago; probably eight or nine years ago. We did a show in Dublin, and we went down to Dan's Bar, in Greystones, after, then caught the early ferry with rather sore heads.

We've talked many times about coming over and revisiting.

Got to get my Kilcoole fix again. . .

Steve Winwood plays The Tripod on October 3 www.tripod.ie

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