Limahl talks about his career and new music

UPDATE 6/5/2020: Limahl is back with another new single, “Still In Love.” The video is below, and the track and be streamed/purchased here. Read on for our December 2019 interview where Limahl discusses his previous single (“London For Christmas”), his time with Kajagoogoo, “Stranger Things,” and more.

The music of Limahl and his former band Kajagoogoo has recently received renewed interest thanks to TV soundtrack use, and now the UK-based singer is bringing listeners new music with a Christmas single. “London For Christmas” is a collaboration with Jon Nickoll celebrating Limahl’s love for the city and long-time desire to create a holiday song.

Having released a single under his own name (Chris Hamill), Limahl joined Kajagoogoo and experienced massive success with “Too Shy” (1983). Kajagoogoo’s first album “White Feathers” also contained the UK top 20 hits “Ooh to Be Aah” and “Hang on Now.” But Limahl was fired from the band, who continued for a time with bassist Nick Beggs on vocals, and went on to launch a solo career. As a solo artist, he is best known for the title theme to the movie “The NeverEnding Story.”

Limahl has continued to record and perform over the years, fully embracing retro 80s festivals and tours. 2019 saw the song “The NeverEnding Story” used in a pivotal scene in “Stranger Things,” as well as “Too Shy” used in “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” and “American Horror Story: 1984.”

What was the motivation behind doing a Christmas song? What was the creative process behind it like?

Limahl: I have had a long-term goal to tackle a Christmas song, which I really thought would be an impossible task. It had to be a very organic process of just chucking ideas around, throwing them out, putting them in the washing machines, spinning them around, and seeing what came out. If you’re a big artist, you have a conglomerate banging at your door, saying, “We need the album. We need the album.” That pressure can give you a sort of unrealistic creative process because there’s that deadline, that deadline, that deadline. I think with creativity, any creativity, deadlines are really more of a guideline. Otherwise, it’s very difficult if you’re doing something creative. Maybe if you’re editing a film, the product’s already there, and you’ve just got to chop it about rather than it being literally coming from the brain, as it were. The other thing is that every angle about Christmas has been done. Every melody has been done. I just knew it was going to be a mammoth task. Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether we could achieve anything. But the wonderful thing that happened was, I’ve always had this desire to write a song about London. I love London. I’ve lived in London all my adult life. I was looking at this sort of tapestry of popular songs over the last 70 years about all of these places I’d never been to, like Georgia. And there’s San Francisco, New York, Galveston, San Jose, Amarillo, and a few more. And I thought, well, there are hardly any songs about London. That’s crazy. There’s Paris, you know, “I love Paris in the springtime.” “I left my heart in San Francisco.” So, we combined the two and lyrically that opened up a whole new area, and that was important in tackling Christmas. I love it. I’m very proud of it.

The Christmas songs I love are “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which I think was started by Judy Garland and has obviously been covered over the years. And the other one I love is, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” I think there’s a few versions, and the one they play a lot is Andy Williams. Lovely. So, I just thought, these sort of almost sound like jazz standards. They’re not really pop. I know a keyboard player and singer [Jon Nickoll] who’s a resident, three or four nights a week, at the Savoy Hotel in London; it’s a famous hotel. He’s got a great voice, and we’re friends. He lives around the corner. That made it easy, and it was just one of those things. “Why don’t you come over tomorrow and we’ll just jam around.” And that’s really how it started. Later on, when it started taking shape, we worked with a UK producer and arranger called Ian Curnow. So, we are the three writers.

You mentioned ‘chucking ideas around.’ Are there unused ideas that you think might make their way into new material?

Limahl: I hope one day I’ll be able to release some of the initial ideas, because I’ve got them all. You know, George Michael used to talk about working that way. You just hit record, and of course these days, it’s very easy on your mobile phone. In the old days, it was a cassette or something similar. Before mobile phones became smartphones, I used to have something called a Dictaphone. So, you just record everything.

I would say that always happens in every songwriting process. You might do eight bars or something and that just doesn’t work. Then you put that aside and you remember it. I will have another single coming out on Valentine’s Day, and to follow up, there’s an EP, and everything is ready. In terms of the songwriting ideas during the Christmas song, I’ve actually written one other song that I really like with Jon Nickoll, the co-writer. We would love to see what happens, if that sees the light of day.

I’ve interviewed many artists who emerged in the 80s and are still actively performing live, and a common opinion is that with the changes in the music industry, it’s sometimes hard to justify putting a lot of time and resources into new releases. What are your thoughts on this?

Limahl: Well that’s a very interesting question. One of the hardest things to do as an artist from the past is to get a record deal. With the internet and TuneCore and Spotify and iTunes and everything that’s happened in the last 10 years, everything has changed for artists, whether you’ve had hits in the past or whether you’re a brand-new band. If I had gone to a record company looking for a record deal, I think they would have laughed me out of the door. It would have been like stories I remember. I saw interviews with Bette Davis, the actress when she was making the movie, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. The story had been going around the studios for a while, but nobody wanted to employ Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. They were past their sell-by date.

That’s kind of how it is. I’m sure that nothing’s changed. What has happened that’s very important is with the three big popular TV shows in America using my old music this year; it seems to have created an opportunity. I just thought, well, I’ve got these great recordings. I had them ready in case an opportunity came along and, and there it was, and I thought, okay, let’s, let’s see what happens. I mean, I would love to do new material. I’m in a different place emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. I’m not 23 anymore. I’m 60, but I’m very lucky. My voice has held up; the pipes are still working. I’m healthy and I’m actually right now feeling 25 again. I’m really excited about it all.

You’ve had some high-profile television placements of your music, such as “The Neverending Story” in a pivotal scene of Stranger Things. Were you aware of these before they aired?

Limahl: I didn’t know anything about them. And that’s kind of the way it works when your work is with a major publisher. In my case, “Too Shy” is with Sony/ATV now, who bought EMI publishing. That’s where it was originally and then “THe NeverEnding Story” is with Georgia Moroder’s publisher. They have a very active department and they’re talking to people about syncs, use in movies, TV shows, commercials, whatever. That’s what they do day in, day out. And it really depends what you sign in your contract, but it’s the standard way to do it, and I’ll tell you why. Can you imagine if you’ve got five guys in Kajagoogoo and we’re like 35 years on and one could be in Australia, one could be in Timbuktu and you need a very quick decision about such and such a product wanting to use 30 seconds of your song? It would become a logistical nightmare. So really, it’s better if you just hand over the decision. I believe the Beatles catalog can’t be used in commercials, and that’s something that they did a long time ago, which is interesting. But then again, they don’t need to. I think most writers of music and songs are very grateful to have their work exposed, to be used to be enjoyed and to earn a little bit of extra money.

What did you think of the Stranger Things scene when you saw it?

Limahl: Oh, I thought it was cute. I don’t know the show or the characters. I haven’t been watching Stranger Things. I do watch some TV. I’ve seen some big series. I’ve watched Breaking Bad. I’m currently watching The Politician on Netflix. But I’d not seen Stranger Things, but of course, what happened was my nephew who’s 22, my sister’s son, was going absolutely crazy about it. He was very excited for me and for the song. So, then I went online and watched. It’s as simple as that.

Could you talk about how you initially got into music, before Kajagoogoo?

Limahl: I was the kid at the back of the class listening to the radio with a mono earphone in a tiny radio instead of studying, and I don’t recommend it. But that was me, the crazy kid, and I just escaped in music so much. I took sort of the typical jobs you did as a young teenager, delivering newspapers or delivering bread or gardening. I’d save all my money; it would probably take me all week. Then, I’d go excitedly to the record store. From there, it progressed. I was the kid who had the records at the youth club, which was twice a week in my area where I lived. And everybody kind of knew that I would play. Nobody bothered about the record player because they knew that I would be playing the music. I’d get a thrill out of seeing people enjoy what I was playing. So, that’s where it started. Really, most of the stuff I liked was Motown.

You put out a single of your own, before Kajagoogoo, under your own name. What was it like?

Lim Limahl Oh my God, it’s so different. You know, I was just a young guy fumbling in the dark, looking for a direction, looking for an identity, trying to make something work. Starting out, I actually performed in theater for two years. I was in a tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. Then I played a part in Godspell, which was written by Stephen Schwartz, who today obviously has written Wicked, which is very successful. The theater stuff was brilliant for learning vocals and just breathing and all that stuff that you’ve got to do to preserve your voice in the long run. I was recording demos in and out of bands, and around all that time, I got signed by this independent sort of record label. I did that record as Chris Hamill. Of course, it did absolutely nothing because they had no money and no connections. It’s a real collector’s piece. I think they only printed about 500.

How did it feel to do the Kajagoogoo reunions?

Limahl: I think it’s a bit like when you break up from that really major first love, the one that hurt you, the one that you will always have sort of a morbid fascination with, even though you may be angry and you may be hurt. You always sort of wonder what they’re doing. It was like that getting back together with them. I also thought it was an interesting opportunity for me to get my side of the story across, because I didn’t want people to think that the singer had a huge ego and he’d left the band. I wanted it to come out that I’d been fired in a fucking phone call!

How did you feel about the music they did after the split?

Limahl: I loved it, and I just thought, I should have been on this, and if I’d been on this and we’d toured it and everything else, the album would have been as popular as the first album. I was gutted. I just thought, fuck, this is why I joined the band. I could hear the quality of musicianship. And of course, they now realize years later that it was a mistake. You know you’ve got a winning formula and you’ve only made one album. And I mean, in time, everyone can go off and do their solo projects, and to be blunt, crawl up their creative ass and do something that is artsy for art’s sake. But you know, we had a huge record company behind us. We had masses of fans, we had radio stations waiting to hear the music. It was crazy to throw it all away and raise a question mark over me and also over themselves.

What do you think of the retro festivals and tours?

Limahl: Well, the, the 80s festivals, are huge all over the world. It’s gives a chance to artists like myself, who perhaps don’t have a huge following per se, who don’t have masses of catalog that I can play in venues and sell tickets that way. The audience gets a day of hits they grew up with. There’s a fairground and there’s food and the weather’s nice. It’s a great day out. So, it’s a win-win situation really. Of course, the other important thing is that—and I’ve had this said to me so many times, especially on the American retro tour that I did last year; people come up and they say, that was the first record I bought. They say, that was my wedding song. That was the song that reminds me of a certain holiday when I fell in love. So, I’ve got songs that make me feel very nostalgic. I think there’s a real validity in doing those, performing at the festivals and letting people feel and remember where and how they felt and where they were 35 years ago. So, you’re talking like probably people in their 40s.

How do you tend to pick your setlist, besides the obvious hits that people are coming to see?

Limahl: Obviously, the two requirements for me are always to do “Too Shy” and “Neverending Story” when I do the retro events. I think it’s a swear word to say, “Here’s a new song.” You can almost hear a groan from the audience. They just want it to be nostalgic, and they want to go back. So, I try to pick some covers. I’ll do covers of songs that I love, and I try to find songs that are not quite everywhere. So, one I love to do is a song called “Steppin’ Out” by Joe Jackson. I love that track. I’ve never seen any of the act do it. And I do it and I see the joy on people’s faces.

And another point I’d like to make about that song is on the actual record, it was a fade-in intro. When we were promoting “Neverending Story” in America back in 84, we got some resistance from top 40 radio saying, “We’re not sure about this fade-in intro.” There was this big debate at the record company about the fade-in intro. There’s been three or four big hits over the years, and that’s one of them, and the Joe Jackson song is another. It’s rather nice, actually.

For “The NeverEnding Story,” you worked with legendary producer Georgio Moroder, whom you proceeded to do an album with. What was he like to work with?

Limahl: When I flew to Germany, I knew exactly who it was. I flew to Munich to record “The NevereEnding Story.” He had a studio there. I was very excited, and I liked all his work with Donna Summer. And of course, the iconic “I Feel Love.” Brilliant. “Love to Love You, Baby” was huge in the UK because it got banned. As soon as anything gets banned by the BBC, that’s it; everyone rushes out to buy it! They don’t like big brother telling them what they can and can’t listen to. Georgio—I just can’t say enough nice things about him. He was charming, enthusiastic, and talented. He had a great team. He was very efficient, you know. When I got there, I was 23. I’d been out all night partying. I’d been smoking cigarettes, I was drunk, and I barely made the flight. I got there like at three in the afternoon, and I couldn’t even sing the song because I was basically a fucked-up mess, and the song is quite high for me. I just couldn’t get it, you know; singing is an evening thing really. To sing at three in the afternoon didn’t connect with my brain and my body. But he said, “Hey Limahl, don’t worry.” He’s got an Italian accent. He goes, “We have some wine, some food, so relax, and don’t worry.” But looking back, he was worried. He was probably thinking, this kid is not going to be able to do this. Because, I was a kid, really. He would have been about 40 at that point. But, we had some food, I relaxed, my voice woke up and it went fine. And then the next day, I got the call that said, “We’re going to use it.”

And then I did a whole album with him. It was exactly the same. It was fun, we laughed a lot, but we worked. There was a real kind of knuckle down. I’m sure that Georgio must have had a list of projects waiting to be done. Because at that point, he was winning Academy Awards for movie soundtracks. So, it always felt good. And the thing that thrilled me the most, and I used this idea years later, was when I was leaving Munich after we’d done the album. His driver arrived in a fancy car with a bag for me that was gift-wrapped. In the box were about 10 individually gift-wrapped items. They were all like the top brand colognes, and he put a nice card in. It said something like, “Limahl, it’s been a pleasure. Don’t ever change,” or something like that. I was really touched.