Tony Christie

Made In Sheffield

People forget that before Rick Rubin captured the sound of Johnny Cash embracing his own mortality, the Man In Black was a fading figure of fun who fought ostriches and made cameo appearances on Columbo, rather than the monolith of cool he’s become today. Icons of an older generation turning to icons of the new when the credibility crunch hits is hardly an innovative idea, but it’s one that more often than not works; recent memory alone throws up records such as Loretta Lynn’s collaboration with Jack White on ‘Van Lear Rose’ or Neil Diamond’s Rubin-produced ‘12 Songs’. The problem with Tony Christie pulling the same trick, of course, is that the man has never had any credibility to speak of, let alone reclaim.

Which is what makes ‘Made In Sheffield’ such an unexpected delight. It is – and we never thought we’d say this about a Tony Christie album – a genuinely great record. Brilliantly co-produced by longtime fan Richard Hawley, it’s as far from the beery karaoke of ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo’ as you can get; a wistful paean to his hometown’s musical heritage featuring songs by artists as diverse as Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and The Human League lavished with sumptuous strings and Christie’s own world-weary pipes. Not only that, but in the wake of The Last Shadow Puppets’ recent orchestral manoeuvres, it even sounds weirdly contemporary. Opening Arctics cover ‘Only Ones Who Know’ is a case in point, with the combination of Hawley’s lush production and Christie’s ghostly voice turning the song into something otherworldly.

Whereas Christie could have gone for novelty kitsch and covered, say, ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, the songs are remarkably well-chosen; Pulp’s ‘Born To Cry’ gets the grandiose treatment, The Human League’s ‘Louise’ is spectral and heartbreaking and Richard Hawley’s ‘Coles Corner’ sounds like it was written especially for him, which it practically was

But it’s the songs by some of Sheffield’s lesser-known songwriters that really surprise; Martin Bragger’s clutch of offerings – the spiky, Walker Brothers-esque ‘Danger Is A Woman In Love’ and the simple but beautiful waltz of ‘Paradise Square’ – are both standouts, and Christie’s own ‘Going Home Tomorrow’ – a bouncy, electrified slice of melancholy country – suggests he gets a bad rep as the quintessential karaoke crooner and nothing else. Believe us, we’re as surprised as you are by all this, but ‘Made In Sheffield’ is a surprising record, lovingly conceived and beautifully executed. Thank God Peter Kay didn’t get anywhere near it.

Barry Nicolson