Robert Palmer

Publié le par olivier

Robert Palmer

Robert Palmer lives in paradise. While we shiver in chilly Britain the singer who brought you You Are In My System spends most of his time splashing around off the coast of the Bahamas.

"For three months of the year the humidity is so high you have to spend a lot of time in the water," says Palmer. He moved there with his family a few years ago but he admits there are disadvantages to residing in the Caribbean.

"It's difficult to get matches, soft cheese and loose booty." Loose booty?

"Yes, vacationing secretaries are as close as you can get," he says. "It's no problem for me. But when the band come to work for a couple of months they can get very wired."

He shares his home with his wife Sue, children Jane, 3, and Jim, 5. But life hasn't all been easy. "It really is a jungle here. It was a pirate isle. They used to leave the lighthouses off so that ships would wreck and so get people to come there - now they just advertise.

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"There's hardly any law and order; that means a lot of burglaries. We've been robbed several times. There's not much point in calling the police because the guys hide in the bush and you'd never find them.

"Nothing valuable ever gets stolen - they're far more likely to raid your fridge. They don't have a market for stereos and videos.

"They recently found a guy who had kids' toys, packets of smarties, half a bottle of soda - he was living from thieving. The problem comes if you disturb them in the act. People have been shot. It can be worrying."

Palmer claims that the community of musicians, based around Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell's studios, have been largely immune to the crimes. Palmer himself lives next door to Tom Tom Club and Talking Heads husband and wife team Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth.

But don't think that Palmer is totally oblivious to the ways of the world in this tropical paradise. He has his finger spot on the fads and styles. A postal network of contacts throughout the world keeps him up to date.

"It all started when I didn't see members of my band for six months. They'd phone me up and ask did I hear so and so. I never heard anything so they'd send it to me on tape. It's become a regular thing."

Robert Palmer

It even started a productive liaison with Gary Numan.

"I heard Cars on a tape. I didn't know who it was by but I loved it so much that I started doing it on stage. He came backstage and I didn't know who he was but we got on great.

"He dropped in to see me in Nassau and we just hung out. He played me some demos of his album and we decided to go into the studio."

Gary Numan's I Dream Of Wires appeared on Palmer's Clues album.

"He's very misunderstood," says Palmer. "He's very shy and delicate - he gets a lot of flak that's not deserved."

Aside from the obvious reasons of sun, sea and sand Palmer has a far more practical reason for living in the Bahamas. "I haven't got the discipline to ignore city life," he admits. "If I want to write I can't leave the phone off the hook or say no to invitations. Let alone refuse the movies, the clubs or the events that make up a city."

He says he travels for half the year and uses Nassau for putting his experiences into perspective. It works out that more than half his life has been spent away from Britain. He grew up in Malta since he was part of a naval family and has been away from Britain now for the last 10 years.

In between he carved out a successful niche in this country as a soulful vocalist with Vinegar Joe, a teaming up with Elkie Brooks in the early seventies.

His subsequent solo career brought him a chic image that had him marked down as the rich man's Bryan Ferry. His album sleeves reeked of style - a fantasy of rich living and sex. The playboy image gave him a lot to live down.

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"My original sleeves were supposed to have humour - but you can't afford to be subtle in this business. They were supposed to be like film stills but the fantasy of my lifestyle was created by the media. My audience is too broad for that limitation."

With only the occasional album, a new picture or a rare tour Palmer knows he's left himself open for press abuse. After 10 years away does he think Britain still has style?

"It's definitely healthy," he says. "You go anywhere and people are either naturally stylish like the Italians or they haven't got a clue - like the Americans.

"Britain is inventive and thrives on pressure. In America, as soon as they get pressure they dig their heels in - look at the US music scene today."

Palmer's turned to the postal system for his inspiration.

"There's so many limitations to scratching some strings or blowing down a tube - now I can make all those sounds with my synthesisers. If I can't get a sound I just ring up the manufacturers and describe it. They send me a micro-chip in the post and it's usually spot on.

"The manufacturers have no idea of the practicality of the things they invent so they are happy to hear from you."

Don't get the idea that Palmer's new album Pride is filled with Star Wars zings and boings.

"I've tried hard to disguise the fact that the sounds are electronic. The idea is to get an organic feel to it. Every instrument is played rather than just programmed.

"I went to see the band The System, who did the original of my current single. It was in a New York club called The Garage. There's no bar and it's predominantly black and gay - but it has the best sound system I've heard.

"The atmosphere was really hot until the band came on. There's two guys - one just pushes buttons and the other pretends he's Michael Jackson. It sounds great if you close your eyes. But there was no vitality from the stage.

"I'm really into the physical aspect of music making - the groove. You can do it by post - but it defeats the whole object."

 

Mike Gardner (nc - avril 1983)

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