By Jeremy Miles Originally published April 4th 2006
HE'S been a hitmaker for nearly 50 years and travelled millions of miles around the world. It is hard to imagine now but legendary New York singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka - described by the Guinness Book of Hit Singles as the man who put the tra-la-la into '60s pop music - was so scared of flying when he first came to Britain that he brought his mother with him. (Apr 8)
She had to keep the terrified 21-year-old singer calm as their prop-driven airliner chugged across the Atlantic.
"I was a very frightened flyer," admits Sedaka. "That journey seemed to take forever."
Needless to say the man who made an indelible mark on popular music in the 1950s and 60s, has long since conquered his phobia. "I had to get over it. I had no choice," he says.
With hits like Oh Carol, Calendar Girl and Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, the young Sedaka was hot property. He still is today and has been responsible for more than 1,000 songs, dozens of which have been hits for himself and other artists. Intriguingly they include Tony Christie's recently revived Is This The Way to Amarillo? Although, true professional that he is, he shows no shame.
And why should he? There have been plenty of others and, hey, business is business.
As he prepared to leave his home in New York and board yet another plane to bring him to the UK and his latest tour, Sedaka who plays the Bournemouth International Centre on Saturday told me: "I've travelled extensively as a musical ambassador of goodwill. I was one of the first American singers to go to many foreign countries and I have actually recorded in five languages.
"I must have travelled millions and millions of miles." He admits it seems "a very, very long time ago" as a Brooklyn teenager studying classical piano at Manhattan's famed Julliard Music School, he discovered that he that he had a talent for writing songs.
Better still, one of his neighbours was Howard Greenfield, a budding poet and lyricist. Together they would write more than 500 songs.
On that first trip to England in 1961 the young Sedaka was a new singing sensation. He had been invited to guest on TV's Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Topping the bill were Adam Faith and Helen Shapiro.
The young American made his mark, stunning audiences by opening with an impressive performance of Chopin's Fantasy Impromptu before segueing into Happy Birthday Sweet 16.
He was used to having to make a quick impression. "Growing up in Brooklyn, I was pushy and wanted to be noticed."
He started a Doo-wop group called The Tokens and wrote for Atlantic Records providing numbers for Clyde McPhatter and Laverne Baker. But the turning point came when Connie Francis recorded his Stupid Cupid. RCA Victor signed him as a singer-songwriter. The rest, is history.
Sedaka, 67, says he still gets a thrill when he hears his music. He chuckles as he tells me how on a recent trip to Beijing, he and his wife took an excursion to The Great Wall of China.
"At the end of the trip the tour guide said he was going to sing a song in English and he suddenly started singing Oh Carol. I was absolutely floored. I went up to him afterwards and said: 'Did you know that's my song?' He looked at me and said: 'No it isn't, it's Neil Sedaka's.'
"I love it when things like that happen."
Neil Sedaka plays the Bournemouth International Centre on Saturday playing songs from 1958 to the present day. Tickets: 0870 111 3000.
His latest album The Very Best of Neil Sedaka: The Show Goes On is out on Universal.