Tony Christie — in his own words

Tony Christie — in his own words

BACK TO HIS ROOTS Tony Christie with Irish band Ranagri in 2016 in Germany (Stefan Brending, Wikimedia Commons)

All the way from Mayo to Amarillo

ANTHONY Fitzgerald, better known as Tony Christie, the singer of (Is This The Way to) Amarillo has always been proud of his Irish roots.

His grandfather, Martin Fitzgerald left Mayo to work in the mines of Yorkshire, a well-worn path for Irish emigrants. The Fitzgeralds settled in Yorkshire, and Tony was born near Doncaster in 1943.

At the age of 80 he has been diagnosed with the onset of dementia, but has vowed not to let the diagnosis interrupt his career. His new album We Still Shine, (January 2024), goes back to his love of country music.

Tony will be playing three gigs in Ireland in January before his The Legend Lives On Tour continues in Britain.

(See below for gig details)

Tony Christie — in his own words

I started in music in my teens, in a double act with my best mate Dave. We played the working men’s clubs in the north, mainly Yorkshire. We called ourselves the Grant Brothers — we got the name by flicking through the phone directory and sticking a finger on a name.

The first songs I learned were Buddy Holly hits and some of the Everly Brothers hits. The first record I ever bought was Walk Right Back. Sounded great on our red Dansette record player!

One of the concerts that stands out for me was at the Albert Hall. I was performing Amarillo with Neil Sedaka who co-wrote the song. He wrote it with his writing partner Howard Greenfield who died aged only 49. Together they wrote Calendar Girl, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen and Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, all massive hits.

My hit Las Vegas in 1971 was a huge surprise to me. It kick-started my international career and worldwide success. I’m eternally grateful to the late Gordon Jenkins, Tom Jones’s manager, for turning it down for Tom.

My family roots are in Co. Mayo. I’ll be visiting the county next month when I’m on tour in Ireland. It will be great to catch up with friends and family. My favourite Irish song is Sweet 16; I can’t sing it without crying. I recorded it on my collaboration album with Ranagri called The Great Irish Song Book. I’m in the middle of recording Volume 2. Look out for our version of The Wexford Carol.

My most treasured possession is my grandfather’s melodeon. He played it in a céilí band with my grandmother who played the fiddle.

My cousin Eileen, who lives in Tuam in Co. Galway, but who was born near Rotherham, tells me our granddad Martin came from a hamlet called Carrasteelaun near the town of Claremorris. She says he was lame because of being trampled by a horse and cart and that he had been a gardener in a convent in Claremorris.

I still get a kick out of singing Amarillo. Neil Sedaka is a great friend. The last time we met was for lunch on Sunset Strip in LA while I was recording at Capital Studios. He told me once that his song Amarillo was originally going to be called (Is This The Way To) Pensacola. I’m glad they changed it to Amarillo. I visited Amarillo in 2005 and enjoyed meeting the mayor Trent Sizemore Junior III who gave me cowboy boots and a Stetson!

When we were all together as a family, the Fitzgeralds, things regularly turned musical. At family weddings Star of the County Down and The Parting Glass were always favourites

Amarillo was a big hit in Germany, Austria and Switzerland before it became a hit in Britain. I toured in Europe a lot in the 1980s — I love the audiences in Germany, and I’ll be back there in May to do ten gigs. It was great to work with Jarvis Cocker and Roisin Murphy on Now’s The Time album. I always like working in a number of  genres. This ranges from ballads to rock ‘n’ roll to country to traditional Irish music. Music is music at the end of the day.

I have many memories of appearing with other artists, but working with Al Martino, Les Dawson, Howard Keel and Shirley Bassey really stand out. I also met John Lennon once. I was in a recording studio in Los Angeles  when the Beatle walked in. I was delighted and amazed. John then asked: “Who’s got the brown Ford in the car park?” I said it was mine. “You’re blocking me in. Shift it.”

I was on stage, singing Stranger in Paradise at Greasbrough Working Men’s Club in Yorkshire in 1967 and Sue walked in. I turned around after we had finished the first two songs and told my bandmate, “I think I’ve just seen the girl I’m going to marry.” I was still waiting for my big break when we married in 1968. I’d left school ten years earlier, aged 15, to train in the wages office at the local steelworks. I took Sue to Rome for our 50th wedding anniversary, and we loved the beauty of the city. We were in awe of the Sistine chapel. I think it is this world’s greatest work of art.


January concerts

January 25 — Cork Opera House

January 26 — The Helix, Dublin

January 27  — Ulster Hall, Belfast