Albert Hammond was born in London on 18 May 1944, an evacuee baby. From an early age he showed a precocious talent for music and at nine was the head choirboy in his parish church having at eight told his parents that his ambition was to be a singer/songwriter. Aged twelve, he wrote his first song and started a band with his lifelong friend Richard Cartwright.
During his teenage years, he was influenced by Spanish, English, Moorish, local and other kinds of music such as classical, Jewish, religious, flamenco, zarzuela and the rhythms of North Africa.
“Gibraltar was and remains an inspiration for me as a singer and songwriter. I just hear melodies in my head and then on my guitar play what I hear and then construct the ideas into a song,” he said.
He and Richard Cartwright formed the Diamond Boys in 1960 but split in 1963 with Albert and Richard becoming a duo. They made their first television appearance on ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’. They parted company in 1965 and Albert returned briefly to Gibraltar. He then went back to London and joined Richard at the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane. They were underpaid and always hungry. “The band members used to hang around the kitchen in the hope of being given something to eat. It did not matter what, anything would suffice”, said Albert.
Whilst playing at the hotel, he met Mike Hazlewood, the lyricist, and a partnership was formed. This was to launch them into the big time on both sides of the Atlantic.
At the start of the economic siege by General Franco, Albert wrote ‘Make Me an Island” which sung by Joe Nolan was a number one hit in 14 countries.
Mike and Albert flew to the United States with the maximum £50 each allowed by the exchange controls. A contract was eventually signed with Hal Lander and Bobby Roberts for the new Mums label.
Albert’s first gold disc ‘It Never Rains in Southern California’ was presented to the Mayor of Gibraltar to be displayed in the mayor’s parlour.
The Epic Spanish label asked Albert to record in Spanish. In 1985, Albert produced Lani Hall’s album ‘Es Facil Amor’ which won a Grammy for best Latin album.
Throughout his career, Albert has always been in contact with his family and friends on the Rock and his love for Gibraltar remains as strong as ever. “After my death, when one of my standards is played by some young band, I hope that it will be said that this song was written by a Gibraltarian”.
Albert recently signed a contract with the record label, BMG, and ‘AH in symphony’ was the first album of the partnership.
In April, BMG organised ‘An Evening with Albert Hammond’ at the Regent cinema in London to launch the album to the media which will be on the 16th of June for the UK market. In Germany, it has already reached Number One in the album charts. Albert is currently on a 50 show tour which started in April in Denmark and finishes in December in Germany. He is one of the few artists who is a singer, songwriter and producer.
Senior executives from the record company welcomed the journalists with drinks and tapas. After they moved to the cinema, Johnnie Walker came on stage to interview Albert about his life, his music and the album.
Johnnie Walker, 72, is a veteran disc jockey and broadcaster who started his career in the 60s on the pirate ship Radio Caroline where he enjoyed an audience of over 20 million Europe-wide. In 1969, he moved to Radio 1, in 1976 to San Francisco and upon returning to London, worked for Radio 1 followed by Radio 2. He now presents his Sounds of the Seventies on Radio 2 on Sunday afternoon.
Albert appeared on stage to loud applause. Within the first two minutes, Johnnie established that Albert was a Gibraltarian and had learnt to play the guitar on the Rock. His questions enabled Albert to talk about his large catalogue of hit songs and during the half hour he was on stage, he played three songs from the album accompanying himself on his guitar. He played ‘The Air that I Breathe’, ‘When I Need You’, and ‘To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before’. Before each song, he gave an amusing account of its history. Albert’s voice has mellowed with age and has never been better. He collaborated with composers such as Mike Hazlewood, Diana Warren, Hal David, Carole Bayer Sager and John Bettis. On some of his songs, he writes both the music and the words.
There followed a 15 minute film showing extracts from a concert with the 70 strong Leipzig symphony orchestra. He sang ‘Don’t Turn Around’,’ The Air that I Breathe’, ‘It Never Rains in Southern California’ and ‘Nothing Going to stop us Now’.
Eleven of the songs are Hammond compositions, the exception being ‘Estrellita’ by the Mexican Manuel Ponce. This is included because Albert, aged eight, was recorded by his uncle singing this song. Somehow, the recording survived and on this album, Albert sings a duet with his younger self.
The album was recorded at the Abbey Road studios with Albert singing in front of the 70-strong symphony orchestra.
Show over, Albert mingled with the guests, answered questions and posed for photos.
Incredibly, Albert has been writing hit songs for over 50 years and has had a hit during each decade. He has sold an incredible 360 million records world-wide. 1987 saw ‘Nothing’s Going to Stop Us Now’ nominated for an Oscar and the following year Whitney Houston sang ‘One Moment in Time’ which became the theme song for the 1988 summer Olympics. In the same year, he won an Emmy award for the same song. There is an impressive list of international awards which in 2008 included the award of the OBE and his induction into the Song Writers’ Hall of Fame. In 2015, he won the Ivor Novello award for the outstanding song collection. This year, he received the German Steiger award for his service to music. On Mother’s Day, he sent his 95 year old mother a Facebook message saying ‘This award is for you Mum’.
Albert was a founder member of the successful group Family Dogg.
His first hit was ‘Little Arrows’ in 1968 aged 24. The singer was Leapy Lee. Since then, his songs have been recorded by artists such as Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Elton John, Joe Cocker, Diana Ross, Johnny Cash, K.D. Lang and Julio Iglesias. He also taught Julio how to speak English which resulted in Julio’s international hit ‘To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before’. Albert also produced Julio’s first English album. This millenium has seen two albums released ‘Legends I’ and ‘Legends 2’ which were huge hits when he dueted with super stars such as Cliff Richard, Julio Iglesias, Al Stewart, Bonnie Tyler and his son Albert Hammond Junior, a member of the Strokes group.
His albums have enjoyed huge hits in the markets of Spain and Spanish speaking Latin America.
14 tracks were recorded and twelve are on the album. These are ‘It Never Rains in Southern California’, I’m a Train’, ‘When I Need You’, ‘Give a Little Love’, ‘To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before’, ‘Estrellita’, ‘When You Tell Me that You Love Me/One Moment in Time’ (Medley), ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’, ‘Don’t Turn Around’,’The Free Electric Band’,’ The Air That I Breathe’.
It is a powerful album and the songs are given a new lease of life. Albert admitted that never did he imagine that he and his songs would be recorded with a symphony orchestra. It was his musical dream come true.
words | Mike Brufal