“I love the area with its hidden wonderful villages’ - Leo Sayer on returning to East Anglia on his latest tour

Undated Handout Photo of Leo Sayer. Picture credit should read: Kristian Dowling

Undated Handout Photo of Leo Sayer. Picture credit should read: Kristian Dowling - Credit: Archant

Leo Sawyer moved to rural Australia in a bid to rediscover his love for music. As he returns to the region on his latest tour he tells Simon Parkin how the move has given him freedom he last enjoyed in the 70s.

One of the most memorable Top of the Pops images of the early 1970s was a melancholy Leo Sayer appearing in a clown suit singing The Show Must Go On.

Amid the glitter and brashness of glam rock it struck a chord — the song reached number two and it is still an integral part of his show and is sure to be performed when he appears in the region next month as part of his latest UK tour.

The ever-energetic Leo, with his trademark high-pitched twang, is looking forward to being back, two years after he last visited in support of Restless Years, his comeback album that recalled those early days of his career. Semi-autobiographical, it conveyed the feeling of excitement and anticipation of a performer awaiting the arrival of fame and stardom.

Four decades have passed from when he achieved two consecutive US number ones with the Grammy-award winning You Make Me Feel Like Dancing and When I Need You (also his first UK chart-topper).

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After struggling through some financial difficulties with management and his old label in the years that followed, he began to struggle for work in the mid-Noughties.

Prompted by a request to appear on a tribute show wearing a wig, he upped sticks and moved to Australia, a decision he believes reinvigorated his songwriting and drive for music.

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'Leaving England at 55 was a real kick in the pants, it was a real challenge and I think you need those challenges,' he says over a mug of green tea.

'Everybody who moves to Australia has reinvented their lives, health wise I feel great, I feel physically better, I feel younger,' he adds, sweeping a hand through his hair with a squeal of laughter. 'I would've gone to seed if I'd stayed here, most of this would have dropped out.'

He delights in talking about life in his 'Midsomer Murders-like' village of 400 where 'everyone knows everyone's business' and he and fellow celebrity, Australian-Scottish musician Jimmy Barnes, are the talk of the town.

'You walk over to the post office to collect your mail and post-mistress Kathy knows everything', he jokes fondly, before adopting an unintelligible accent, 'Ooh, did you hear what Jimmy and Leo got up to the other day?'.

But the move was never meant to be a retirement plan. A studio has been constructed in his barn and a follow-up to 2015's Restless Years is on its way, with the working title Selfie. Sayer is playing everything on the record, and the freedom to create without interference is how he likes it these days.

'No one is telling me what to do, it's a lovely position I'm in. Nobody is coming up with ideas, only me. If people suggest things, I just run away,' he chuckles.

'When I got to 55, I'd go for a record deal and they'd say 'we can't help you Leo, you've had your time.' But I would have new material and they would say 'nah, we need something different'. And they had all these new artists but some of them have failed and had their careers almost. They have come and disappeared and here I am still going, isn't that weird?'

Although he's excited to be back in the UK and will celebrate his 69th birthday later this month, just before he stops off in Hunstanton and Bury St Edmunds, he admits feeling like a tourist and feels a lot more motivated in Australia.

'In some ways I have bad memories of the UK where I got ripped off and some of that pushed me towards leaving but really I just realised I work better when I'm in exile.

'The records I made when I was in America in the 70s when I lived there were fantastic. I found myself being really pushed to work but if I'm in the UK I get lazy. I've got to be a long way away to work well. That's what inspires me in Australia I have to earn my keep.'

He does though have a soft spot for East Anglia. He has friends in Norfolk and regularly visits the county when back in the UK.

'I love the area with its hidden wonderful villages and stately homes and fantastic rural hotels,' he adds.

One high-profile return from Down Under included an infamous appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007. Its arrival in the conversation draws Sayer's sole expletive.

'Reality TV? No ******* way. I was really set up on Big Brother - it was awful,' he says.

He was recently forced to relive the clip of him busting down the show's set with a broom before shouting at a Channel 4 producer to let him leave.

'They played the whole tape and I thought I'd be embarrassed but actually I didn't sound too bad. I was swearing like mad and really dissing the programme.'

The only positive from the experience was forming a friendship with Russell Brand, then the host of CBB's Bit On The Side and, in an intriguing twist, he also counts Julian Assange as a pal. A tale that makes sense given the singer's child-like energy and an in-built desire to show off.

'I make friends everywhere,' he recalls with boyish glee. 'Just before I left South Africa all the staff at the hotel wanted a group photo. They implored the manager to let everyone take a moment off, they all gathered in this great room and we had a picture. They said 'we've never had a guest like you'. I don't know why.'

• Leo Sayer will be at Hunstanton Princess Theatre on June 6 and The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, on June 7. He is also at the Palace Theatre, Southend, on June 11.

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