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Neil Sedaka

November 2014

 All photos: Kevin Cooper

NEIL Sedaka was – and still is – a huge fan of Elvis Presley but he stands by his criticism of the King’s version of one of his classic songs.

“He did it wrong, he did it off beat,” says the 75-year-old New Yorker of Solitaire, which was one of Presley’s standards during his live shows in the 70s.

“I’ve had much better versions – Shirley Bassey did it beautifully and there was Karen Carpenter’s and Andy Williams’ versions.”

He adds: “Although I certainly was a fan of Elvis. He was a phenomenon.”

Sedaka and his wife saw him perform the song in concert in Las Vegas in 1975, two years before his death at the age of 42.

“We went backstage and he told me he used to play me on the jukebox when he was in the army in Germany. He admired the high tenor male voice – he was a baritone.”

Adds Sedaka: “He was sick and very bloated but this was a legend so it was very exciting for us.”

Solitaire is among around 25 of his 700 songs that Sedaka believes will outlive him.

Others include Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Calendar Girl, (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, Love Will Keep Us Together, Oh Carol, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen and Little Devil.

“They have become standards and I do them all in concert, of course,” he promises, talking about his latest tour which comes to the Royal Concert Hall next week.

Songwriting has earned Sedaka millions during his six-decade career, which started when he was just 13. He’d shifted over 25 million records before he was 23 and more than 50 years later his songs are still selling – (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, sung by Tony Christie, is the best selling single of the 21st century thanks to its re-release for Comic Relief in 2006 (and the Peter Kay video).

It took him six years to become a recording artist and he feared it wouldn’t last.

“My second record was a flop and RCA were going to drop me. It was called I Go Ape. Although it was a top ten record in your country because you have good taste,” he laughs. “In fact, it was a hit in many countries but because it flopped in the US I was about to be let go. Then the third record was Oh Carol, which sold three million copies. And there were ten top ten records in a row after that.”

The UK has been important for Sedaka during his career for a number of reasons.

“I had a remarkable comeback the 70s when I was living in England, thanks to Elton John. I’d been out of work for 13 years – I was a family man and did a limited amount of performances.

“Then I met Elton John and he turned out to be a big Neil Sedaka fan. He signed me to (his own label) Rocket Records and I came back to No. 1 with Laughter In The Rain.”

It has been ten years since he last played Nottingham, so what has he been doing?

“Twiddling my thumbs,” he jokes.

“I’m still writing, recording and performing at 75 years old,” a birthday he celebrated in Los Angeles with his children and grandchildren.

“I’ve been doing this for 61 years and I could have retired but I love what I do. There’s something about being in front of an audience that shoots adrenalin through you.”

This tour follows the release of a new album King Of Song, which plunders the demos he made in the early 60s.

“I made them in a small studio in New York and we’d make the demos hoping we could get a big artist to record them. Some of them became big hits but others I refer to as my forgotten children because they were never recorded.”

As well as Elvis, Shirley Bassey and The Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, Cher and Petula Clark enjoyed hits with Sedaka’s songs.

Who would he like to record one of his songs these days?

“Snow Patrol. I love that song,” he says, referring to Chasing Cars, the band’s only US hit. He also likes John Mayer.

So how does he write a hit song?

“I’m like an interior designer. I take different textiles, different fabrics, I listen to people I admire.... and I put all these fabrics together and make them Neil Sedaka.

“I usually start at the piano with a tune. It’s a little more difficult to write the lyrics but I’m fascinated with lyrics. They are like puzzle pieces and they make me work but I like a good challenge.”

Lyric writing is only a more recent pursuit having had the likes of Howard Greenfield and Phil Cody co-write most of his hits.

“It’s more real when I write my own lyrics because it comes from me,” he says.

“It’s like a look into my soul. Nobody puts words in my mouth anymore.”

Neil Sedaka, Royal Concert Hall, Tuesday November 4, £45 and £50, 0115 989 5555,

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