Chris Rea Biography

Christopher Anton Rea, 4 March 1951, Middlesbrough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England. Rea is a singer-songwriter and guitarist with a wide following throughout Europe. Of Irish/Italian parentage, he grew up in the north-east of England where his family owned an ice cream parlour. Rea’s first band was Magdalene, a local band in which he replaced David Coverdale, who had joined Deep Purple. As Beautiful Losers, the band won a national talent contest in 1975 but remained unsuccessful. Rea went solo, signing to Magnet Records where Gus Dudgeon produced his first album. With a title referring to a suggested stage-name for Rea, it included the impassioned ‘Fool (If You Think It’s Over)’, which reached the Top 20 in the US and was later covered successfully in the UK by Elkie Brooks.

With Britain in the grip of punk and new wave, Rea’s earliest supporters were in Germany, and throughout the first part of the 80s he steadily gained in popularity across the Continent through his gruff, bluesy singing and rock guitar solos, notably the instrumental track, ‘Deltics’. His backing group was led by experienced keyboards player Max Middleton. Rea’s most successful record at this time was ‘I Can Hear Your Heartbeat’ from 1983’s Water Sign. In Britain, the breakthrough album proved to be 1985’s Shamrock Diaries. Both it and ‘Stainsby Girls’ (a slice of nostalgia for the northern England of Rea’s adolescence) reached the Top 30 in 1985. Two years later, Dancing With Strangers briefly went to number 2 in the UK charts and ‘Let’s Dance’ hit the Top 20, although the gritty ‘Joys Of Christmas’ was commercially unsuccessful.

In 1988, WEA Records acquired Rea’s contract through buying Magnet, and issued a compilation album (New Light Through Old Windows), which sold well throughout Europe. The album reached the Top 5 in the UK and suddenly Rea was fashionable, something that this unpretentious artist has been trying to live down ever since. A series of minor hits during 1988 included a re-recorded version of an earlier song ‘On The Beach’, and a Christmas EP featuring one of his most endearing tracks, ‘Driving Home For Christmas’. In late 1989, Rea released his first UK number 1 hit The Road To Hell, one of the most successful albums of the late 80s. The powerful title track told of an encounter with the ghost of the singer’s mother and a warning that he had betrayed his roots (it also served as a critique of the notorious M25 ring road). Like its predecessor, 1991’s Auberge topped the UK chart while its title track reached the UK Top 20. ‘Nothing To Fear’ and God’s Great Banana Skin enjoyed notable success the following year, while ‘Julia’ a track from Espresso Logic became the singer’s twenty-seventh UK hit in November 1993.

Rea remained loyal to his roots, refusing to join the rock cognoscenti, but seriously overreached himself with 1996’s misguided film project, La Passione. He sensibly returned to easily accessible, crafted MOR on The Blue Cafe (1998). The following year he took the lead role in Michael Winner’s black comedy Parting Shots, and released the disappointing The Road To Hell Part 2. In summer 2000, Rea enjoyed an unlikely club hit in Ibiza with José Padilla’s remix of ‘All Summer Long’, taken from King Of The Beach.

The following year Rea underwent a life-threatening operation that removed his pancreas and duodenum. After recovery Rea fulfilled a vow he made on his sick bed and returned to his blues roots on Dancing Down The Stony Road, an acclaimed and sincere 2002 recording on which both his voice and slide guitar were in exquisite form. The album was released on Rea’s own Jazzee Blue imprint. A prolific glut of releases over the next five years paid testament to the artist’s renewed passion for music. Blue Street (Five Guitars) (2003) and The Blue Jukebox (2004) steered Rea towards jazzier territory, while in 2005 he released an impressive box set featuring 137 new songs and an 80 page book of his paintings. Rea also recorded two albums under the Hofner Blue Notes moniker, the latter an impressive 3-CD/2-LP package.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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