Born Gerard Hugh Sayer, “Leo” Sayer fronted The Terraplane Blues Band and Phydeaux while a Sussex art student before moving to London, where he supplemented his wages as a typographic designer (during this time he designed three of his own typefaces) by street busking and via floor spots in folk clubs.
In 1971, he formed a group called Patches in Brighton who were managed by Dave Courtney, to whose melodies he provided lyrics.
Speculating in artist management, Courtney’s former employer, Adam Faith, found the group ultimately unimpressive and chose only to promote Sayer.
During initial sessions at Roger Daltrey’s studio, The Who‘s vocalist was sufficiently impressed by the raw material to record some Courtney-Sayer numbers himself. These included Giving It All Away, Daltrey’s biggest solo hit.
After a miss with Why Is Everybody Going Home?, Sayer reached the UK #1 spot with 1973’s exuberant The Show Must Go On but immediate US success was thwarted by a chart-topping cover version by Three Dog Night.
Seeing him mime the song in a clown costume and pancaked face on BBC television’s Top Of The Pops, some dismissed Sayer as a one-shot novelty, but he had the last laugh on such detractors when his popularity continued into the next decade.
After One Man Band and Long Tall Glasses – the US Hot 100 breakthrough – came the severing of Sayer’s partnership with Courtney in 1975 during the making of Another Year. With a new co-writer in Frank Farrell (ex-Supertramp) from his backing group, Sayer rallied with the clever Moonlighting.
Though the year ended on a sour note with an ill-advised version of The Beatles‘ Let It Be, 1976 brought a US million-seller in You Make Me Feel Like Dancing just as Disco sashayed near its Saturday Night Fever apogee.
Sayer and Faith parted company shortly after the Let It Be release. Taken from 1977’s Endless Flight (produced by the fashionable Richard Perry), the non-original ballad, When I Need You, marked Sayer’s commercial peak at home – where the BBC engaged him for two television series.
However, with the title track of Thunder In My Heart halting just outside the UK Top 20, hits suddenly became harder to come by, with 1978’s I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You (Though I Try) and telling revivals of Buddy Holly‘s Raining In My Heart and Bobby Vee‘s More Than I Can Say the only unequivocal smashes as his 1983 chart swansong (with Till You Come Back To Me) loomed nearer.
Nevertheless, even 1979’s fallow period for singles was mitigated by huge returns for a compilation.
By the late 80s, Sayer was bereft of a recording contract, having severed his long-standing relationship with Chrysalis Records and was reduced to self-financing his UK tours.
A legal wrangle with his former manager, Adam Faith, resulted in Sayer receiving a financial settlement and the ownership of his masters and song publishing.
His recording career recommenced in 1990 after signing to EMI Records and being reunited with producer Alan Tarney.
Indications of a revival in his chart fortunes remain to be seen, however, this artist has been written off twice before, in 1973 and 1979, and critics should not be so quick to do so again.
He undertook a major tour in 1998, buoyed by a bizarre UK media campaign (led by The Sun newspaper) to reinstate Sayer as a living legend.
An excellent reissue program was undertaken by RPM Records and Sayer’s Silverbird label in 2002. Each album has an audio section with Sayer giving great detail to each album and his life.
The quality of his songwriting was further enhanced later in the year by a cover version of I Can’t Stop Loving You (Though I Try) from Phil Collins.