Back in the headlines
Huey Lewis and the News are touring to mark 30 years since they first stormed the charts, writes Robin Lynam
"We have a great new song - it's called While We're Young," singer Huey Lewis, 63, chuckles over the phone from his hotel room in the US state of Virginia.
Young at heart, perhaps. Huey Lewis and the News, who are the headlining band at the Foreign Correspondents' Club's annual charity ball on October 5, are touring to celebrate a significant anniversary: it's 30 years since the release of Sports, their biggest album in the US, which produced four top 10 hits and went platinum seven times.
Sports has been re-released in an anniversary edition as a double CD, comprising the original album remastered and the same songs recorded live at various concerts between 1983 and 2012. The overdubbed studio tracks sound very much of their time, but the 1980s live performances sound as though they could have been recorded last year.
Despite their chart success, Huey Lewis and the News have always regarded themselves primarily as live performers. They swiftly tired of the method of multi-track recording that served them so well on Sports and reverted to a simpler "live in the studio" approach to making records.
"We've always played shows and it's really what we're best at. Making records is a fun thing when you are capturing performances, but creating them piece by piece is not that much fun for me. I'm impatient that way. I'm much more of a performance guy," he says.
Lewis' performer's instincts have also been channeled into a parallel career as an actor, which began with a 1985 cameo in Back to the Future. He has made regular stage, film and TV appearances since.
Also a fine harmonica player, Lewis also guests periodically as an instrumentalist on other artists' records, and has recorded with the likes of Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Dick Dale and Brenda Lee.
These days, however, "Huey Harp", as he was credited on that album, plays relatively little harmonica with his own band. "Unfortunately we have such a stellar group that whenever there's a solo to be thrown out its hard for me not to give it to one of the saxophone players who've been playing [arranged] parts all night long. I don't play a lot of harmonica in the show, but I do get asked to play on other people's records from time to time, and I'm always keen to do that," he says.
Although there have been personnel changes over the past 30 years, four of the six band members who played on Sports, including Lewis, will appear in Hong Kong, the others being guitarist and saxophonist Johnny Colla, drummer Bill Gibson, and keyboard player Sean Hopper. The band, he says, now play better now than they did at their commercial peak in the '80s.
"We threw the machines in the wastebasket and just started playing, and we got better at our craft. Most of our tunes are now just cut live in the studio. It's easier to do that. If you do it live, there's going to be a flaw or two in there, and it's easier to embrace those flaws when, number one, there's not that many of them, and number two, you are not making a record to be a top 40 pop hit being played every five minutes on the radio. We approach things completely differently than we did back in the '80s."
During the US shows on this tour, the band have been playing Sports in its entirety, but as Lewis notes, that only takes up about 43 minutes of a two-hour show, and there is plenty of time for the other hits, and a few lesser-known songs.
"In America we've had 19 top 10 hits, or something like that, so we don't have to play them all," he says. "We can rotate them, which is nice. We usually play The Power of Love. We've been around for so long that we could play three different shows without duplicating the material. We try to mix it up and keep it fresh."
Foreign Correspondents' Club charity ball featuring Huey Lewis and the News, October 5, 6pm, HK Convention and Exhibition Centre Grand Hall, 1 Expo Drive, Wan Chai, HK$2,388 (including dinner and unlimited drinks), FCC office. Inquiries: 2521 1511