The dates stack up ahead in a year to remember for (Is This The Way To) Amarillo singer Tony Christie - his 50th year in showbiz.
“I date the 50 years from the first date where I got paid,” explains Tony, whose dates this year include The Brook, Southampton (April 20), Bunn Leisure, Selsey (May 1) and Worthing’s Assembly Hall (July 2).
“It was just me and a mate used to sing. We didn’t have a name. It was just Dave and Tony. We were offered a gig opening a show at a working men’s club and we did our four songs and that was it.”
The pay was probably a couple of quid which probably disappeared on beers straight away - but Tony was up and running, though not quite yet Tony Christie. That came later, by which time he was with a band The Counterbeats.
“I was the lead singer. I was doing all the work. The manager said this is ridiculous; your name should be at the front of the band. It’s cool now, but back then Fitzgerald wasn’t really a suitable pop name. It wasn’t really hip enough.”
One afternoon in 1965, before a show in Leicester, he popped to the cinema to see the film Darling, starring Julie Christie.
“I needed a stage name. Like every young man of the era, I was smitten with Julie Christie and so I became Tony Christie.”
Still, he wasn’t quite there yet. A long slog in the clubs was to follow.
“I flogged around the clubs for years and years. There was a very healthy cabaret circuit in the UK at the time. If I wanted, I could have worked 52 weeks a year, and it was a great standard of entertainment.”
At one point, the preceding act was Louis Armstrong; the following act was Shirley Bassey.
But it wasn’t until 1970, that he got his break. Soon he was winning awards and, at one such ceremony at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, he met Harvey Lisberg, the manager of Hermans Hermits and, eventually, 10cc. “I’ll make you a star,” he promised.
After a false start when the anti-Vietman War song God Is On My Side was banned, Lisberg was right. Once Las Vegas sped to number 21 at the start of 1971, the international hits flowed: I Did What I Did For Maria (number two), (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, the theme to The Protectors, Avenues And Alleyways, etc, etc.
“That year was phenomenal for me. It was a bit bonkers after years of struggling. I had a young family, I was working, not being able to afford the rent. And then suddenly I was being thrown around the world, propelled into a different league. It was hard in a way on the family, but in early years they were young enough to take them with me.
“I didn’t have time to think about it all, to be honest. After flogging around, scraping a living, I finally started to earn something and we moved out of the flat into a proper house. I was touring around the world, and to be honest, it all became a bit of a blur. I did two tours of New Zealand, three or four weeks each time. Somebody asked me ‘What is New Zealand like?’ I said ‘I don’t know!’ I just didn’t get to see it.
“I didn’t have time to enjoy it. I was working 52 weeks a year, seven days a week. I was forever on the road, forever away from my family.”