'I have yet to write my best song,'

Songwriting legend Albert Hammond speaks to the Galway Advertiser

Albert Hammond.

Albert Hammond.

Albert Hammond owes a lot to a man who had a barber's shop in Gibraltar. As a child the world famous singer/songwriter used to sweep hair off the floor in exchange for guitar lessons.

"He would teach me some chords and he'd let me practice on his guitar. I learned a few songs and then I started writing," he says. Before this Hammond, who is famous for his 1970s hits "Down by the River", "It never rains in Southern California","The free electric band","I'm a train", "99 miles from LA" "The air that I breathe" and "When I need you", sang in a church choir.

He was seven years of age and after the service the congregation would tell his mother that her son had a wonderful voice. "I used to see the smile on my parents' faces and I felt fantastic," he recalls.

His was not a musical family. His father, who died when he was aged 65 and his mother, who is now 95 and in great health, were not musical. No-one even sang in the bath in his house.

However the young Hammond was determined to succeed. The man who has been described as arguably the world's most successful singer/songwriter and who plays at the Town Hall Theatre on Monday night as part of his Irish tour, says perseverance was the key. And a generous sprinkling of genius? He laughs off the compliment. The 71-year-old's songs have been responsible for the sale of more than 360m records worldwide, including more than 50 chart topping hits.

Albert Hammond was born in London on May 18 1944. His parents had been evacuated there from Gibraltar during World War 11. Shortly after his birth they returned to Gibraltar.

He attributes his success to his guardian angel. He mentions him (he feels his angel is a he ) a number of times. "I'm doing this [singing/songwriting] for over 55 years successfully. Is it talent or my guardian angel? I know there is something there. But I'd rather leave it a mystery. The day whatever power it is will let me know something, it will."

You get the feeling that he believes he is merely a conduit for a great energy in the universe. That he is privileged to be the one to pass this on and that he must respect and appreciate his ability to connect with people, often in a very meaningful way, through his music.

During our telephone interview he comes across as immensely likeable and extremely patient. He sat in his hotel room in Dublin for nearly an hour on Tuesday evening waiting for this writer to call (there was a mix-up over the time ). Yet he was very polite and charming when I eventually rang and apologised for having to cut the interview short as he was performing that night.

He has written hits for Whitney Houston ('One moment in time' ), Leo Sayer ('When I need you' ), Starship (Nothing's gonna stop us now ), Diana Ross ('When you tell me that you love me' ), Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson ('To all the girls I loved before' ), Chicago ('I don't want to live without your love' ), Ace of Base, Neil Diamond and Aswad ('Don't turn around' ) - his wife went shopping on the strength of that song's success - and of course the late Joe Dolan (You're such a goodlooking woman and Make me an island. (He visited Joe's grave when he played in Mullingar recently and was proud to see the names of his two songs inscribed on his headstone ).

He has experienced writer's block. He says this happens when his guardian angel "goes on vacation". Once he went for over a year. Was Albert worried he would never pen another song? Not at all, he says. "I did at the beginning but not now."

He can write songs in minutes. Once he wrote a song while he was asleep. He even got out of bed to accompany himself on the piano and press the record button on the cassette player. The next morning he told his wife that he had dreamt that he wrote a song in his sleep. She suggested he check the recorder. And there it was! It became successful in a Spanish musical.

Albert never lusted after fame or fortune. "I never wanted the fame part. I wouldn't have given my songs away if I did." For him it's all about the music.

He is an "extremely happy person". "I am thankful that I am still around. I'm healthy and I bring joy to people." Healthy is an understatement. He looks supremely fit and has the energy and vitality of a man half his age. He is the same weight now as he was when he was 18. He laughs when I ask what punishing exerise regime he follows. It's all down to good genes, on his mother's side, he says. She was born in Gibraltar but her family, the McCarthys originated in Cork. She still lives in Gibraltar and when Albert finishes his Irish tour he will head home on Tuesday to see her. He lives in California but spends nine months a year touring.

He thinks he has yet to write his best song. "Deep down inside I really feel I haven't written it. I feel I haven't had my biggest success. That keeps me going."

He is glad to be touring again. He gave it up over 30 years ago to spend time with his children. He is glad he did but missed the lure of the road. "Now that I'm touring again I wish I'd carried on," he says. "But then I look back and say maybe I wouldn't have written the songs I did and met the artists I met and produced what I did if I hadn't come off the road."

Rehearsals for his Dublin concern beckon. With that the songwriter with the Midas touch, who is responsible for creating a galaxy of stars worldwide, leaves Room 320 at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire. But not before he has kindly promised to autograph an album - when he gets to Galway - for the journalist who kept him waiting by the telephone for an hour.

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