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Rick Astley: Inside the home studio where he masterminded his comeback

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Media captionMusician Rick Astley talks about the success behind his music

“We’ve tidied up a bit,” says Rick Astley, welcoming us into his recording studio. “Well, my wife has… I don’t really like it.

“I don’t trust anyone who has a tidy studio, do you know what I mean? Sometimes you go in and you feel like you’re messing the place up just by being there.”

This is definitively not the case in Astley Towers™, a generously proportioned family home in the leafy suburbs of Surrey.

The singer immediately makes us feel at home, throwing open the front door as we pull up on the driveway and welcoming us inside.

Barefoot and be-quiffed, he beckons us into the kitchen for a freshly-brewed cuppa, demonstrating skills that must have made him invaluable Stock Aitken and Waterman’s tea boy back in the 80s. We are even presented with a choice of mugs to complement the various blends on offer.

Caffeine administered, Astley shows into the studio, which leads immediately off the kitchen at the back of his house (the vocal booth even doubles up as a wine cellar).

It’s as cosy and familiar as any parent’s home office, centred around a computer balanced on an Ikea workstation, the assembly instructions still tucked under the keyboard, and his spare glasses resting next to the monitor.

Except this home office also happens to have a baby grand piano and a dismantled drum kit shoved in the corner. Oh, and it’s here that Astley wrote, sang and recorded his comeback album, 50: A soulful, revealing collection of pop songs that put him back at the top of the charts, 23 years after he quit the music industry.

“I honestly didn’t envisage it that way,” he says. “When I made 50 I was doing it for me. I thought I’d release it in a very home-grown way, like where you just put it on the internet somehow.

“I wasn’t necessarily anticipating going to a record label and trying to get it on the radio. I didn’t think that was possible, if I’m honest. I’d given up that a long time ago.”

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The singer has sold more than 45m records worldwide

50 went on to sell more than 300,000 copies, knocking music icon Paul Simon off number one, and easing Astley out of retirement. Not bad for someone who’d spent the preceding decade as the source of an internet prank – “rickrolling” – where users would be tricked into clicking a link for his 1987 pop smash Never Gonna Give You Up.

Like his dancing in the video, the song was awkward and gauche, but it charted all around the world.

Within seven months of its release, Astley was a millionaire, but you always got the sense the material was under-selling his voice.

“I’m not so sure Stock, Aitken and Waterman were focused on finding people who were going to be legendary vocalists,” he says, semi-diplomatically.

“As the singer, you came in, you sang the song, you went. And I was okay with that – they were creating their sound, and we were going to be put into that.”

“Pop music is very different now,” he adds. “If you look at Billie Eilish, she’s as much a part of her records as anybody, and I think that was harder in the 80s. You were a bit more a product of the machinery.”

Despite what you might think, he’s not ashamed of those songs. Hits like Together Forever and Whenever You Need Somebody are “ingrained in my DNA,” says Astley, and he’s never gonna give up playing them live.

“I’m probably hyper aware of not betraying the audience,” he admits. “The people that come to my gigs, as a whole, have got families and lives and all the rest of it, and they’re giving up something to come out for the night. You just can’t take that for granted.”

Not a ‘true artist’

So he won’t be doing a Bob Dylan and reworking Cry For Help into a croaky folk dirge?

“Well, artists have every right to do whatever they want to do, and he’s the epitome of that,” says the singer.

“But I’ve heard so many people who are massive fans of Bob Dylan, who’ve gone to a gig and don’t even know what songs he’s doing ’til half way through verse two.

“I always feel obliged to please my audience, if I’m honest. Maybe that means I’m not a ‘true artist’, and I’m all right with that.”

It’s a typically modest response. Astley is cautious of ego and hyperbole and showbiz shenanigans, although he recently told Q Magazine “there were a few curtains pulled down and a few oranges thrown at wall,” at the height of his fame.

As he shows us round the studio, he’s humble about his musical abilities (“I make simple records”) and says he still finds it “weird to meet people you admire”.

And while his house is full of expensive artwork and extravagantly feathered light shades, the only award he’s ever put on display was for the Lion King soundtrack – on which he was persuaded to sing backing vocals after being discovered “hanging out” at the studio with a friend.

“That’s pretty much the only platinum record I’ve ever had on the wall,” he says. “It was in our daughter’s bedroom because, obviously, she was a massive fan of that movie… as we all were.”

Reimagined hits

Still, you can’t hide your light under a bushel forever, so the singer is celebrating his resurgence with a Greatest Hits album that, for the first time, combines both phases of his career. Even so, he’s not going to do the hard sell.

“If I’m being brutally honest, doing a ‘Best Of’ in this day and age is a bit weird, because every piece of music that’s ever been recorded is already out there somewhere on a playlist,” he says.

To make the package more attractive, he’s added a new song, Every One Of Us, alongside a second disc that presents pared back, acoustic versions of his biggest hits.

“I was very aware of not wanting to take the sparkle out of them, because they’re very sparkly records,” he says.

So the melodies remained intact, even when the arrangements became “lower and darker”, as on the pianoforte rework of Never Gonna Give You Up.

He thinks of the new recordings as “alternate universe versions” of the originals – which makes us wonder what sort of album an alternate universe Rick Astley would make?

“I think it would be a rock record, if I’m honest,” says the singer – who regularly covers AC/DC’s Highway To Hell in his live show; and who’s become an occasional guest vocalist at Foo Fighters’ gigs.

So could he ever envisage a full collaboration with Dave Grohl and company?

“They’re a pretty amazing, ferocious live band and I think anybody in the world would want to make a record with them,” he laughs.

“But I think it’s nice that we get together sometimes and it’s like ‘Boom!’ and then it just drifts off…

“It’s been lots of fun, but I don’t want to ever get into a situation where I take that for granted, do you know what I mean?”

Instead, he’s content just to pootle around at the back of his house, making simple, heartfelt records that just so happen to sell in the hundreds of thousands.

“I guess I feel really comfortable here, in my own little way,” he says, gesturing around the room.

“I’ve got all my toys here and the things I understand. And if I turn the lights down low enough, and I’ve got enough time, I can make a record.”

Rick Astley’s hits collection, The Best Of Me, is out this Friday.

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Disney culls ‘Fox’ from 20th Century Fox in rebrand

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The 20th Century Fox logo will lose a word but retain the same look, according to reports

Disney executives have cut the word “Fox” from their 20th Century Fox film studio in an apparent bid to distance it from operations of the previous owner, Rupert Murdoch.

US media suggests Disney does not want to be associated with the media mogul’s highly partisan, right-wing Fox News network.

However, Disney has not clarified its reasons.

It bought the studio, with other media operations, in a $71bn deal last March.

20th Century Fox is known for producing some of the biggest films of all-time, including Avatar and Titanic.

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Variety magazine, which broke the news about the name change, said it had spoken to an unnamed Disney source, who said: “I think the Fox name means Murdoch, and that is toxic.”

Hollywood is known for being liberal, unlike the Australian tycoon.

Disney has also renamed Fox Searchlight Pictures, the arthouse arm, as simply Searchlight Pictures.

Staff emails were changed on Friday, from @fox.com to @20thcenturystudios.com or @searchlight.com.

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Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News has been a cheerleader for Donald Trump

The original 20th Century Fox company was formed in 1935 following a merger.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought it in the mid-1980s, and the Fox News channel was created in 1996, growing to become most-watched in the US.

News Corporation was later split into News Corp and 21st Century Fox – which Disney acquired as the parent company of various film and television studios, including the renowned 20th Century Fox.

The Murdoch family retained the news outlets in a spin-off company, Fox Corporation, which is run by Rupert Murdoch’s son Lachland.

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Variety says the 20th Century Fox studio’s well-known fanfare theme and searchlight logo will be retained.

Disney also runs 20th Century Fox Television and Fox 21 Television Studios. Any changes to their names have not been announced.

Disney is already a dominant force in US news, as the owner of the ABC network. It is also hoping to challenge Netflix with its own streaming service Disney+, which launched in the US last year.



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Jack Reacher author Lee Child passes writing baton to brother

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Lee Child has written 24 Jack Reacher novels

The author of the best-selling Jack Reacher novels is handing over the writing duties to his younger brother.

Lee Child, 65, reportedly considered killing off the 6ft 5ins vigilante hero, who is played by actor Tom Cruise in film adaptations.

But the writer said: “I love my readers and know they want many, many more Reacher stories in the future.”

His brother Andrew Grant, 51, who will write under the pen name Andrew Child, is already an established author.

Child, whose real name is James Grant, said he felt he was “ageing out” of being able to produce more of the books.

He said: “So I have decided to pass the baton to someone who can.”

He described his younger sibling as the “best tough-guy writer I have read in years.”

“We share the same DNA, the same background, the same upbringing,” he said, adding: “He’s me, fifteen years ago, full of energy and ideas.”

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There have been two Jack Reacher films starring Tom Cruise

The Coventry-born author said they would work on the next few novels together “and then he’ll strike out on his own”.

Child started writing after being fired from his job as a presentation director at Granada Television in 1995.

His first Reacher novel, Killing Floor, was published in 1997.

He has since sold more than 100 million books and Amazon has announced it is adapting the series for TV.

The novels, which are set in the United States, have been translated into 40 languages and adapted into two movies starring Cruise.

The protagonist of the book series is a former major in the US Army military police who roams the US investigating suspicious and dangerous situations.

Grant said he had been “blown away” by his elder brother’s first Reacher novel.

He said: “The more time I spent with him in each new adventure, the more I craved the next. So I know what it’s like to wait for the new Reacher novel.”

He added: “I understand what Reacher fans want – because I am one. And I’ll do my best to deliver for them.

“I’ll have to. Because my big brother will be watching.”

The Sentinel, the 25th Jack Reacher novel, is due to be published on 29 October 2020.



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Jazz musician Rex Martey signs record deal aged 82

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An 82-year-old south-Londoner has had his lifetime ambition come true by getting a record deal.

Rex Martey suffers from prostate cancer and needs dialysis three times a week.

He wanted a deal so he could leave a legacy and has been signed by record company The Animal Farm.

One of the songs on his album is dedicated to the cancer nurse who’s treated him for the last few years.

He has pledged a quarter of all sales will go to Guys Hospital.



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