“THIS summer has been absolutely great, it’s been a bonkers few months.”
Over lunch in a restaurant near his Surrey home, Rick Astley is recalling how his recent shows at Electric Picnic, Hampton Court and Glastonbury proved him to be this year’s festival favourite.
The likeable singer nailed this year’s Glasto after opening the Pyramid Stage at noon with his own set before playing the Woodsies tent with Blossoms, performing covers of The Smiths for only the third time ever.
“F**king hell Rick Astley is absolutely killing it at Glastonbury,” posted one onlooker on social media while another announced, “Who’d have thought Rick Astley won Glastonbury 35 years later?”
The singer, whose new album Are We There Yet is out on October 13, says: “The amount of people who have come up to me and said, ‘I saw you at Glastonbury — it was amazing’ has been something else.
“I never expected it to go off like that and I still find it a bit weird.
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"It’s not false modesty, it’s just reality.
“I’ve always been super realistic and when someone suggested I play Glastonbury I thought, ‘Are you kidding?’
“It’s better to be like that rather than go, ‘I want to play Glastonbury and you should have me on after whatever band’.
"Then you are digging a hole for yourself, to be upset when it doesn’t happen. ‘The tour opened my eyes in a lot of ways’
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“When things come to me, it’s double the joy because I’m not expecting it to happen anyway.
"That was certainly the case with Glastonbury.”
Astley had been enjoying a revival since returning to music in 2016 following the Rickrolling internet sensation, playing with Foo Fighters, enjoying a No1 album and sold-out live shows.
As popular as ever, Glastonbury earned the former Eighties star even more kudos in the cool stakes.
He admits: “There were plenty of nerves at Glastonbury — it was stressful. We’d been there since 9am.
“I looked out at the audience before my slot and there was nobody there.
"I said to my wife Lene, ‘This is going to be the most embarrassing thing we’ve ever done!’
“Our daughter Emelie was steaming my suit and had to calm me down. She’s been to Glastonbury loads of times.
“She just sees me as Dad and jokes about my pop career. She niggles me like a daughter does with her dad.”
Astley says that downing shots of Jägermeister with his band helped settle his nerves and the field filled up quickly for his first show of the day.
He recalls: “The adrenaline, chemicals soon rush through you — it was a treat.”
Astley’s afternoon slot with Blossoms performing The Smiths’ greatest hits has gone down as one of the festival’s legendary sets.
He says: “I was a very, very big Smiths fan when I was young.
"But people remember me as a Stock Aitken Waterman singer (production trio Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman).
“I love Highway To Hell by AC/DC. It’s what I learned to play drums to, but people can’t get their head around that.
“But singing Smiths songs was just natural to me. And I’ve met Morrissey, but very briefly.
“I’ve not met Johnny Marr but I met Morrissey when he was doing his solo stuff.
“He wanted a photograph with me at Top Of The Pops. I thought it was a bit weird.
"I thought he was taking the p*** but he wanted photos with everybody.”
Sadly, the collaboration might be short-lived as Astley does not think there will be more gigs with Blossoms.
He says: “It’s been great meeting them. But it’s time for Blossoms to get on with being Blossoms.
“I’m 57 and I’ve had a career and sort of another one. They are a really good band and growing.
“When you see them live, they are immense.
“Maybe I’m being Uncle Rick when I say it, but I do feel protective of them.
"They are young guys and are still in the heat of moulding who they are.”
Astley too is focusing on the present and the release of ninth studio album, Are We There Yet?
He says: “I wrote quite a few of these songs during Covid.
“For me, it wasn’t so bad, because I have a studio at home, so I could just jump in there whenever I wanted.
"Then after that, we went to America.”
In 2022, Astley toured for three months with New Kids On The Block, Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue, which he said was enjoyable as well as a learning experience.
He says: “The tour opened my eyes in a lot of ways.
"It’s very different to going out and doing your own gig, being the headliner.
“I did it on my own, was the only solo act and everyone else had choreography.
‘I felt my age by the end, I was knackered’
“It was tight — you can’t mess about — well, I did. I messed about a lot, but in a fun way.
"It’s important to me to bring humour into the show.
“It’s not like laughing at yourself, but it’s just acknowledging I’m older and the audience is older but we are here for a good time.
“I didn’t know any of them before and everybody got on really well.
"Which is good as we did 56 gigs in a stupid amount of time and often five shows in a row. The travelling was tough.
“It was a New Kids tour really and they were so welcoming.
“Donnie Wahlberg is like a force of nature. He’s amazing.
“He is married to (TV star) Jenny McCarthy. We went to their house in Chicago and had dinner.”
America plays an influence on his upcoming record Are We There Yet? and first single Dippin My Feet has an Americana feel to it.
He says: “There’s definitely a lot more twangy guitars on this record than before.
“I brought some of that back and it has ended up on the record.
“I wrote some songs on the road and as soon as I was home I wanted to get in the studio again. I’d go in there all day, almost every day.
“Are We There Yet? as a title also relates to being the age I am. I felt my age at the end of the tour, I was absolutely knackered.
“We did 22,000 miles in all and covered so many places. We even went through a tornado in Wisconsin, which was pretty scary.
“When we got home, we went on a ski holiday with friends and our daughter and her boyfriend.”
Other standout songs on the new record include the catchy Take Me Back To Your Place and Waterfall, which Astley says “is about life — we are always under a waterfall.
"Life is either great and lovely. While at other times it’s literally drowning”.
The song also namechecks Bill Withers and Martha Reeves while Golden Hour and new single Never Gonna Stop shows off Astley’s power pop-soul voice and was also influenced by his heroes.
He says: “I’m not shying away from the fact that loads of my childhood artists have stuck in my brain and heart.
“Never Gonna Stop is influenced by Marvin Gaye.
“I’m not getting anywhere near Marvin Gaye by the way — I’m just a boy from Newton-Le-Willows (in Merseyside), but he’s played a part.
"I can’t completely go down that road because part of my DNA is that I was signed to Stock Aitken Waterman. I know what my audience want.
“When I met Stock, Aitken and Waterman, I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing or wanted to sound like. I’d never really been in a studio before.
‘I’ve absolutely loved these last few years’
“I also knew that I wasn’t going to go against Mike Stock. If Mike wanted me to sing like that, that’s the way I was going to sing.
“Don’t get me wrong, I have got an ego. And I want to try and carry these new songs off.
"But I also know I’m 57 and I’m not a new artist today.
“And of new artists today, I like how Harry Styles has found his way as a solo artist.
“He’s got great songs and has the whole thing going on. And I think he’s underrated as a vocalist.”
Album closer Blue Sky is a special track that is stripped down and a more vulnerable sound that we have heard from Astley before.
He says: “The first time I did a vocal on Blue Sky it was really early.
"I’d just had a cup of tea and gone in the studio and didn’t sing it in the normal octave I usually do.
“I played it to Lene and she said she loved the words and a friend told me not to change it as there was something in my voice.
"There’s a lyric in there about birds and that’s because everything sounded sweeter and greener in Covid.
“It was a real appreciation of nature in the back garden.
“Everything smelt better and looked better in that horrible, terrible time.”
Astley’s renaissance means he is enjoying every minute of his current popularity and success.
He says: “The rest of the year is fairly full-on, but that’s how I want it to be.
“There’s no point making a record and going, ‘I don’t want anyone to hear it’.
“Maybe that’s somebody’s bag but it isn’t mine.
“I’ve absolutely loved these last few years playing gigs or playing new songs.
“I make sure we play the old ones too and that it’s fun.
“I’m doing two nights at the Royal Albert Hall in November and then there is a big tour next year.
“We had a rehearsal recently, for no other reason than I wanted to hear how the new songs sounded live.
“I’m excited to get out there and enjoy it all.
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“Having done the Glastonbury set and the Blossoms thing, it has put me on the map a bit more.”
- Album Are We There Yet? is out October 13. Rick Astley plays London’s Royal Albert Hall on November 1 and 2.
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