Ahead of Hong Kong gig, Air Supply co-founder Russell Hitchcock talks of his delight at lasting so long
The beloved band are coming on their 40th anniversary world tour, and vocalist Hitchcock tells us how it feels to be making music that touches a nerve for decades
“We just always wanted to play our music wherever and to whomever we could,” he says. “And if people continue to like our music, we are just going to keep doing it.”
Here in Hong Kong it’s been less “like” and more “love” for that music over the 40 years that have now passed since fate brought Hitchcock and his partner in pristine pop, Graham Russell, together backstage during rehearsals for the musical Jesus Christ Superstar in 1975.
Neither had made an impact on the Australian music scene at that stage – it was Hitchcock’s first serious gig while Russell had jobbed around in bars and in bands. But backstage at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney they bonded over a love of The Beatles and were soon turning out songs that would top the charts across the globe throughout the late 1970s and the 1980s.
And the affair Hong Kong has had with the duo since has bordered on a dangerous obsession. Lost in Love went gold here in 1980, The One that You Love did the same in 1981 – the year Canto-pop icon Alan Tam commandeered the duo’s All Out Of Love, gave it a few tweaks, and had a hit here of his own.
Needless to say, Air Supply numbers continue to ring out every night from the city’s karaoke bars (for better or worse), while the duo have been regular visitors here since their 1982 debut. Such is the bond the band feels with the city that it was chosen as the venue for the Air Supply Live CD-DVD package in 2014.
Today Hitchcock is sitting in a hotel suite in Las Vegas, having played a sold-out show the night before as the band prepare to swing their “Air Supply 40 Years” world tour through Australasia and into Hong Kong for a concert at Kitec on June 19.
When talk turns to our city, he immediately suggests that audiences in Hong Kong always just seemed to get the band’s tunes, and their sentiments.
“We’ve been to Hong Kong many times,” says Hitchcock down the line. “It’s one of our favourite stops because the fans have always supported us there, and they’ve always appreciated our music. Right from the start I think the romance in Graham’s lyrics touched a nerve with audiences in Hong Kong.”
As they have around the world, to the tune of around 30 million album and single sales. Hitchcock says he still sometimes has to pinch himself when he looks back on how things began – and how the Air Supply story has panned out.
“You know we never had any idea that we’d be together for this long,” he says. “Once we started talking about working together we thought we’d last maybe two or three years. We’re just grateful and very proud that we’re still standing – as Elton John sang.”
Hitchcock says in those early days the pair just grabbed any opportunity they could to play – and that most spare time was spent recording their songs on tapes they would later hawk around to music labels.
“We were both new to the music business,” says Hitchcock. “I’d played drums as a kid with friends of mine. But Jesus Christ was my first entry into ‘the business’, as they say. Graham and I were just sat next to each other and found out pretty quickly that we had a lot in common, including our sense of humour.
“It took two weeks for us to start singing songs together, backstage and stuff, and Graham started writing songs for us almost immediately. We’d record them and play them for friends and then shop them around everywhere. We knew when we started working together that we’d have some kind of future but we’d never imagined 40 years.”
Hitchcock can still vividly recall the feeling of first hearing one of Air Supply’s songs on the radio in the United States. It was a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles in 1980 and the singer was cruising down Sunset Boulevard in a hired convertible.
“Lost In Love came on the radio and I had to pull over,” he recalls. “It’s summer, in the US, and that’s me on the radio. I was shaking. That really blew my mind.”
Hitchcock puts the pair’s longevity down to mutual respect and the fact their roles in the outfit were defined early on.
“I don’t write songs. Russell doesn’t want to be the lead singer,” he says. “We respect each other’s privacy when we’re not working together but when we do – and we’re still doing 120 to 130 shows a year – we just love what we do. We have a fan base all over the world and people just love the songs.”
If he has one regret, it would be how quickly the band seemed to be dropped by radio stations – in the US in particular – shortly after the peak of their success in the mid-1980s. It hasn’t stopped the band touring, of course, but the sense is still that Hitchcock feels slighted.
“One of the sad things has been that after 1987 really radio – certainly in North America – just stopped playing anything we have done that was new,” he says.
“Other markets – Latin American and Southeast Asia – we’ve had amazing success all the way through and we’ve also recently had some success on the dance charts [last year’s I Want You peaked at No 35 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart], which is great. But people in radio have told me, ‘People don’t want to hear your new stuff.’ And the thing is you can’t fight City Hall.”
So the trick has been to focus on the success – and on the fans.
“Yeah, we don’t worry about it any more,” he says. “We’re not doing this for the money. We have fans who come to see us everywhere we play, we love playing – there is no better feeling in the world. So we just keep on doing it and I couldn’t be happier.”
“Air Supply 40 Years”, June 19, 8pm, Star Hall, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$380-HK$1,880, www.hkticketing.com. Inquiries: 3188 1519.