Many people feel nostalgia for certain eras of music, and for many that era is the 1980s. Chris Hamill, who also goes by the moniker Limahl (a rearrangement of the letters of his surname), is one such artist who has enjoyed a steady and successful career over the past 2 decades. Hamill started out early in his life as a theatre actor, touring with ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. He later joined the band Kajagoogoo, who were catapulted to stardom with their hit single “Too Shy”. In 1983, Limahl embarked on a solo career, landing at number 16 on the UK charts with “Only for Love”. His big solo break came in 1984 when he recorded the smash hit “The NeverEnding Story”, which reached number 4 on the UK charts, for the hit movie of the same name. Reaching moderate success with his subsequent solo albums, Limahl briefly worked as a producer for a small record label from 1992 to 1998. With a resurgence of the music of the 80s in 1998, he has stayed busy since then with appearances on musical reality shows, a brief reunion with Kajagoogoo in which the band performed at several music festivals, and has performed as part of many retro based tours across the world. He recently experienced a resurgence in success when “Too Shy” and “The NeverEnding Story” were featured in the hit US television shows Black Mirror (Episode: “Bandersnatch”), American Horror Story (Season 9: “1984”), and Stranger Things (Season 3). On June 5th, Limahl released his first new solo release in 8 years “Still In Love”. “I thought I might dip my toes in the creative waters again so to speak,” he says about his new song, a bittersweet love song that tackles the hardships of being in a relationship and sticking with it. “The song doesn’t beat about the bush,” he explains about the meaning of the song. “It deals head on with that painful, dark side of love that most of us have experienced”. He wrote the song with renowned German producer Miro Markus (Culcha Candela, Graham Candy) and sympathizes with his protagonist. “Dark days, unable to get out of bed with curtains staying closed… I have definitely been in the same place emotionally with the protagonist though I don’t currently relate,” he explains. “However, what a great feeling it is to have when you get through to the other side and start learning to love yourself again.” Limahl also released a video for the song that features professional dancers Cameron Anthony and Eliza Simonelli, who act out the passionate and emotional story of unrequited love through the art of dance, like poetry in motion. Although the song portrays a troubled couple, Hamill is now far removed from that heartache and is blissfully happy with his partner of 26 years, Steve. Trying to stay positive in the current time of social distancing, he plans to at least release another single and an EP, with a wait-and-see approach beyond that. With a surge of new fans and a rise in Spotify streams, he is definitely enjoying this next phase of his career. You can follow Limahl and stay up-to-date with all upcoming news and music, as well as purchase and stream his music, via the following links:
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You released your new song “Still In Love” on June 5th, which explores the darker side of love and getting crushed by it. What led you to want to explore the darker side of love and what can you tell me about your experience of getting through to the other side and learning to love yourself again?
When I started this collaboration with my German musician friend Miro Markus, we were swapping files and ideas via email, using technology. We kind of settled on the verse first, and kind of liked that feeling. It felt quite moody, you know, and sultry. I don’t know why, but the music just led me there and the first line came- “at night I can’t sleep because I’m thinking of you”. And then, of course, I’ve been there. I’m of a certain age and we’ve all experienced it. It’s not the best place in the world to be, but I think it’s part of the rich tapestry of life, getting through that stuff. It’s great of course when you come through to the other side and you start recognizing yourself again, you know? I know this guy in the song very well, but I wasn’t there at the time of writing it. I’ve been in a great relationship for 26 years and thank god I’m out of all of that-dating and looking for mr or mrs right. What I love about the song is that I liken songwriters to the people you see on beaches with those metal detecting machines, looking for treasure, you know? With songwriting, we’re looking for that treasure and it’s hard because there’s a hundred years of melodies and lyrics. How do you find something new? It’s very hard.
Love is definitely a very universal theme and I imagine it can be hard to find a fresh perspective on it!
Exactly! What we look for really is sometimes accidents. The accident in this song is that although in the chorus it is lyrically a lament of unrequited love, it feels optimistic and hopeful, and that’s the thing that blew my mind. I was like ” Wow!”. I love it as a piece of work, to come back to songwriting after quite a while, and recording and checking out the old pipes.
What was that like for you, to start writing original music again after almost a decade? Did everything flow pretty naturally?
It’s really like putting on a pair of comfortable old slippers. Once you’ve learned to ride the bike, you don’t forget how. I’ve been through that process. It’s still very exciting to have an idea in my head and take it through the process and then suddenly you have this finished piece of work. It’s a lot quicker than making movies. I’ve seen people on the Oscars going “It’s taken us 10 years to bring this movie to fruition” and I think “Oh my god! That’s like half your life!”.
What can you tell me about the music video you did for “Still In Love” and your love of dance as an art form?
Yeah. I tried dance and I’m not great at dancing! I can move, you know, but dancers work so hard. They give the best years of their life to the craft. I’ve seen ballet. In London, we have a very famous contemporary dance performance. I love tap, as well. It’s epic. I suggested to the directors that we try dancers to get that more visceral, sultry, even sexy feel. The blonde woman, Eliza, I’ve worked with before in live situations and she brought Cameron on board and that’s how it came about.
So what got the ball rolling for you was having “Too Shy” and “The Never-Ending Story” featured in three hit US tv shows. What has it been like to gain a new audience for those songs after all these years, because aside from your older fans, you’ve gained a new younger audience, especially with Stranger Things.
Last October, I did a gig in a county called Hertfordshire…well I live in Hertfordshire. This was a private show for a company and there were some children there, of the people who worked for the company. When I got to the end of the set and was talking about “The NeverEnding Story”, a bunch of kids came running in and they all stood at the front. They were like 10, 11, 12, 13 years old and were so excited about this song coming up, “The Never Ending Story”. That’s when I realized…I mean, I knew all of the stats from online and saw the streams go up from 300,000 a month to 1.5 million and all of that, but when it really hit me, was when I saw all of these kids right in front of me with excitement in their eyes. It was just delightful. It’s amazing and I’m just glad I’m around to enjoy this new resurgence and to ride this crest of a wave, if you’d like.
Was writing new songs something that had ever crossed your mind before the resurgence of “Too Shy” and “The Never Ending Story” or was it the re-emergence of those songs that inspired you to want to start writing new music again?
It’s good to have an incentive and that was my incentive, but another important thing here is that technology has changed everything. Now I don’t have to go begging the record companies to sign a 61 year old 80s artist to a record deal. They’d just slam the door in my face! New technology allows us to get directly to consumers and music lovers. I guess there’s already a fanbase, in the sense that they know…I mean, we’re talking a lifetime ago with a different image and a different era. I feel in a way that I’m having to re-prove myself.
I know you had a lot of festivals and events lined up for this year, but everything has obviously been cancelled now. How have the shutdowns and social distancing measures changed your plans for the year? How have you gone about promoting “Still In Love” and what have you been doing to keep busy?
Just before there lockdown, I drove 300 miles to a place called Lancashire, to a small town called Wigan between Manchester and Liverpool, and collected my mother and brought her to stay with me and my partner for 10 weeks because I didn’t want her to be alone. She’s 82 and absolutely lovely. She drives me crazy sometimes, like mothers do (laughs)! We didn’t kill each other, so that’s main thing. So she was here and it felt really nice for me as her son to take care of her. I’m having a hard time staying away from chocolate, for some reason!
Me too! Chocolate and cookies!
I like dark chocolate. Do you like dark chocolate or milk?
Yeah, dark! That’s the one! Everybody’s put on a bit of weight. It’s like Christmas (laughs)! Comfort eating. Otherwise, the lockdown has been interesting. In moving to the countryside, I’ve been cycling a lot. We had beautiful weather here in April and May. Hardly any rain and sunshine every day. It broke all records. It was weird! If we’d have been going through all of this and the weather had been really bad, as well, I just think it would have been so much tougher.
It’s like the universe decided to cut us a little bit of slack and gave us some good weather!
Exactly! It’s not been too bad, but you know, you have to take care of your mind. At first I was watching the news a lot, and it started to affect my dreams and my mood. So I just started rationing how much news I would watch, because I realized that whatever is happening out there, I can’t change it. Me being terrified at home and feeling negative and having all of this negative energy is not going to change anything. I think it’s very important for your mental survival to filter a little bit, you know?
I saw that you recently started an acapella-songs-of-optisim-challenge! What can you tell me about that idea and will it be ongoing or was it a one time thing?
Well, nobody really rose to the challenge! I think there was like one guy. So, if the demand isn’t there…
Maybe word will spread and you’ll have a better response next time!
I try to keep my social media news free and more music-oriented. In the three years that I have had my social media platforms, I have never discussed the news because there’s enough of that available everywhere. I did do the black out Tuesday for social media, but apart from that I try to keep it fun and light. The acapella challenge was me trying to be light, even though it was slightly related to singing songs of optimism in the current climate.
What has the atmosphere been like in London, with the protests and what not. It seems like the whole world is coming together in solidarity. What has been the general atmosphere?
Yeah, I’ve seen it all on the news and heartily support it, of course. I’ve had black friends all my life. I was listening to Motown artists in the 60s. I didn’t go to the protests because I’m still nervous about COVID-19. Eventhough the death rate has fallen, it’s still out there. There’s no treatment and no vaccine yet, so I’m staying at home and I’l tell you why. I’m 61 and I’ve worked in night clubs and there was a lot of smoke and I smoked cigarettes until I was 35. I just don’t know if I’d survive it and don’t want to take that chance!
June is Pride month! What can you tell me about Pride in London over the years and what has it been like to celebrate Pride in the age of Coronavirus, without all of the parades and celebrations?
Yeah, I would imagine that Pride is cancelled in that respect. Large gatherings are not allowed. Of course I love Pride! I’ve been to and have performed at many Pride events. It’s wonderful to perform to your own people and your own community. I remember my first Pride in London. I was a young gay guy and was 20 and was so excited to realize that there were thousands of people like me and I wasn’t on my own. There were no role models in my small hometown growing up. They said words like “queer” and “fag” and it was negative. When I realized I had these feelings, I was absolutely terrified. There was no one to talk to. So from 15 years old to 20, it was a tough time and when I went to that first gay Pride, it was such a liberating feeling. If I’m at Pride now as an older gay guy, performing or just being there, the memories come rushing back. It’s very important.
You have talked about when you lived in London, how eventhough you and your partner had been together for 25 years, you felt nervous holding hands while walking down the street. What strides you feel the gay community has made over the years and what challenges do you feel still exist?
Oh boy! Where do I start? We have the same fight that black people are having about racism. What was it, 2 years ago? The shooting at the gay club in Orlando. There are still so many places in the world where being gay is, even if it’s legally allowed, it’s still socially very difficult. Even in the UK where we can legally get married…my partner is my civil partner and we’ve been civil partners for 11 years…I just don’t want to draw attention on the street. Just 2 years ago, I read in the gay press where 2 guys came out of a gay club in Soho, which is the equivalent of The Village in Manhattan, and they were bashed at like 3:30 in the morning. I think you have to choose your time and place. Yeah, I feel comfortable holding hands at gay Pride, but not when walking in certain areas. I think there’s a long way to go. In many respects it feels like it’s gone backwards a little bit, because of Al Qaeda and right-wing Islam across the world and places like Nigeria and other places where it’s just not tolerated. Even president Putin says this kind of thing doesn’t exist in Russia. I’m like “Who is he kidding?”.
You started out in theatre and then transitioned into music. In recent years, you have taken acting lessons and did a play, so how did it feel to be back on the stage? What is it you especially love about theatre?
Because it’s where I started. I was 18/19 and did a tour of ‘Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat’ and then did ‘Godspell’…that’s where the hair went blonde by the way, for Godspell. You know, the two theatre capitals of the world are Broadway in NY and West End in London. I’ve been going to the theatre all my life and have seen the most amazing shows, with tourists from all over the world. Many Americans, of course. It’s in my DNA. What happened was, when I moved to Hertfordshire, which is nice and quiet, I read a local website 5 years ago that said “Free acting class on Tuesday night”. I thought “Well, I’m not doing anything on Tuesday” so I went down and I met some great people and I wasn’t the oldest. There were actually a couple of people older than me. Then I signed up for a 10-week course and after that course, I signed up for another and went on to do acting lessons in Covent Garden, Pinewood Film Studios, etc. Eventually, I got cast in my first play, last October and I’d never been so terrified. I’ve played to, like, 40,000 people at a music festival, and here I am in a fringe space, what you’d call Off Broadway, with around a 100 seats and sold out. I’m in the wings thinking “Don’t forget your lines. Don’t forget your lines. Whatever you do”. The adrenaline is kind of addictive. The fear is kind of addictive. My first love is music, but I would love to explore acting more because it’s really interesting. The telling of the stories and studying of the characters and psychology…these really appeal to me.
You toured for a while in recent years with retro based festivals playing 80s music. Why do you feel that era in particular is so nostalgic for people compared to other eras?
Basically, these songs for people have important memories attached to them. They are the first record they bought, it’s the first kiss behind the school bike shed, it’s the first dance at a wedding I’ve been told. It’s like if you have a vase from the 1950s or 40s or 30s, it’s now a valuable antique and that’s really what these songs have become and what I’ve become. I’m actually an antique. I’ve gained more value with age, which is very cool (laughs)! I think that’s why the 80s have got this value, especially the early 80s. It was a very strong period musically and visually.
Between 1992 and 1998, you were a producer for a small record label. Was that the first time you had stepped into a more behind the scenes role in the industry? I read that with “Still In Love”, it was the first time you had self-produced your own music.
In a way, you’re kind of producing when you’re involved in the recording process. You are watching and learning from the producer. I had watched Nick Rhodes produce “Too Shy” and the White Feathers album…this is Nick Rhodes from Duran Duran. Their producer was c0-producing…Colin Thurston. I’ve worked with Georgio Morodor and saw how he produced. You learn your craft along the way and in a way you are like the actor that goes on to direct or the footballer who goes on to become a football manager. I felt very qualified to produce. I’ve been making recordings and writing songs and trying to make the jigsaw pieces fit for quite a while. It just felt like a very natural course. I actually thought that would be the rest of my life, being behind the scenes as a producer. I was very comfortable with that because I thought “Well at least I’m still involved with music”, which was my great love. But that wasn’t to be! The 80s revival came in 1998, and I haven’t stopped working live for 22 years.
What’s next for you? In read that you are hoping to release an EP.
Yeah. I have some other new recordings ready. Everybody wants an album and that’s a huge commitment. I wanted to see how the first song went and see what the reactions were and kind of get a feeling for it and slowly put the gloves back on. But there will be another single and EP at least, and then beyond that, I don’t know. I’d like to fly in space, but I don’t think that’s going to happen!
Do you think you’ll do another Christmas song?
No. I wouldn’t dare, I don’t think. It was a lifetime kind of ambition, and every year I used to think that when Christmas came and I heard all of those gorgeous Christmas songs that I love, that I wanted to write a Christmas song. Now I have done that and I love it. What I might do…what I’m quite tempted to do, even for this year, is to remaster it or just play around with it a little bit, because I think there’s a whole new value in that lyric. In the lyric, the story of the song is about a couple traveling to London to go to the theatre and stay in a hotel and take a boat trip on the Thames and go shopping and have cocktails in a bar. These are all things we can’t do at the moment. Obviously by Christmas we hope things will be different, but even reminiscing about these things during this COVID time will have some value. It just feels like the right thing to do, so I’m thinking about that at the moment. We’ll see!