A LITTLE more than six years since Dorset singer-songwriter Gordon Haskell came within a whisker of topping the charts with his single How Wonderful You Are, he is leaving his home county for the tranquillity of a Greek island.
He hasn’t spoken to the media for more than a year, but before he left he agreed to meet the Magazine at the home he shares with partner Sue in Sturminster Newton. As warm and hospitable as ever – despite putting his back out lifting coal into the boot of the car – he is looking forward to their Aegean future. It’s the happiest I’ve seen him in years – certainly since way before his late-flowering chart success – his eyes twinkling again with possibility.
“I’ve found where I want to be. This isn’t me running away, or giving up, it’s a celebration of living how it was intended man should live – simply, according to need, not greed,” he explains.
“I’ve been doing this for well over 40 years, but I will really miss the audiences at places like the Thomas Tripp in Christchurch. They were the best days – and the most creative. I used to have a problem with being described as a pub singer, but now I think that’s a noble profession. It takes guts to play a pub, but not the Albert Hall.”
In truth, Gordon wasn’t keen on giving an interview at all. He’s had his high days – in the 1960s he shared stages, tables, drinks and thinks with the rock and pop glitterati from Jimi Hendrix to Otis Redding as well as various Beatles and Stones. In the 1970s he joined fellow Bournemouth old boy Robert Fripp in King Crimson (and hated it), before going on to tour a decade later with Cliff Richard, among many others. He would have preferred to slip away without anyone really noticing – log on to his website and you’ll find a simple message: “Gone fishing. May be some time.”
However, there are things he wanted to say before he goes.
He’s had his detractors since he was held off the Christmas number one spot by the combined might of Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman (and, he says, the music industry at large). It was bandied about that he had been given millions of pounds (he hadn’t) and considered himself above playing the venues in which he’d honed his craft (he didn’t). He was effectively hounded out of the home he loved, and has since lived in various Dorset towns and villages, without ever settling in any of them.
“I’m still tied to Dorset in that my mum is still living here, but the Greek island reminds me very much of the Verwood I grew up in. You see something different every day and you don’t need very much to be happy.
“It’s a choice we’ve made, and we feel very privileged to be able to do this, to start again, but we’re doing it all on a shoestring. This is a place (Greece) where if you want to build something you must hew the rock from the ground. There’s a restaurant near us where you sit in the garden in which the vegetables are grown. The man who owns it was told by his accountant that he could fit ten extra tables in and make more money – he thought about for a while, then took two away.
“I’m nearly 62 now, I want to live as simply as possible and not feel I have to sit shackled to the computer answering emails for two hours a day. I’ve had it with angst. I want to be open to a new tune – and a good one at that.”
He says there may well be a new record out within a year, and his second book, The Impertinence of Salmon – the follow-up to his effortlessly entertaining autobiography, The Road To Harry’s Bar – is under consideration with a major publisher. But first he is making a surprise cameo appearance on the eagerly awaited fourth album by The Streets, the nom-du-pop of UK rapper/raconteur Mike Skinner who clocked up massive hits with singles like Fit But You Know It, Dry Your Eyes and When You Wasn’t Famous.
“I have contributed one vocal. It’s about an old man (me) trying to save a younger man (Mike) from suicide – The Samaritans are using it apparently. What I’ve learned, though, is that less is more. The work only comes alive when the motivation is right, and I want to write songs about beauty and love and truth. This isn’t Cloud Cuckooland, the world goes on, but we’re hitting for happiness from here on in a place that’s mind-blowingly beautiful and friendly and fun and real and true.”
We drink tea, listen to music – including a live recording of Gordon clearly having the time of his life on a good, old-fashioned rock n’ roll tune – and watch The Beatles on DVD. Seeing the I Am The Walrus clip from their Magical Mystery Tour film, I remind Gordon that shortly before his belated brush with fame he was holed up in a cold, damp, bug-infested bedsit behind Harrods wearing a bear suit to keep warm.
“That’s what I felt part of in 1967, when we were having fun. The fun’s gone now, but the bear suit is packed and coming with me. In fact, there’s a rabbit suit as well and the mayor said he’s going to wear that when we get out there. How could we be anywhere else?”
• First published in the Bournemouth Echo.