In his late teens, Astley was a member of a band called FBI. One of his fellow members was David Morris, now a Conservative politician. “We went around the clubs just doing what we were doing,” Morris told the BBC the year after winning the Morecambe and Lunesdale seat in the 2010 General Election. “Rick was the drummer – we knew him as Richard. I was the guitarist. I got on with him very well.” As indicated, Astley wasn’t the band’s first singer, but when the opportunity came up to sing, he did so; at this time, he was also starting to write songs that the band could perform. Astley’s extraordinarily mature voice was completely at odds with his appearance: a confident, rich baritone from a rather ordinary, shy-looking young Lancashire lad. As fate would have it, one of those evenings when FBI were ‘just doing what they were doing’, producer Pete Waterman was in the audience, heard Astley sing, and decided he could work with him.
There was no specific role for Astley at PWL, but officially he was a tape operator in the studios. (The later story that he was the tea-boy was an exaggeration: there was no such person, although Astley did make drinks for visitors from time to time for something to do.) The first time his vocals appeared on a record came when O’Chi Brown, another PWL artist, released her album O’chi: the song Learning To Live (Without Your Love) was a duet, but Astley was un-credited. The next duet was When You Gonna, this time with Lisa Fabien, and then first solo single, Never Gonna Give You Up, was finally released in July 1987. Various promotional appearances Astley made for the song featured his former band mate Morris, pretending to play keyboards in the background; Morris was at this time also working at PWL as a guitarist and songwriter.
Among the countries where Never Gonna Give You Up topped the chart were Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and even the United States. To cash in on this success, O’Chi Brown’s record company issued Learning To Live (Without Your Love) as a single, some time after promotion of the O’Chi album had finished. Fair enough, as he did kind of owe her: the title track of his debut album, Whenever You Need Somebody, had been the first taster from O’Chi back in 1985. His version of the song was his second solo single and it was a Top 10 hit; O’Chi’s original had peaked at #79 and remixes issued by her record company following Astley’s success didn’t help to improve on that chart placing. Also, despite the now very prominent credit for Astley on the sleeve of Learning To Live (Without Your Love), this single too sold poorly.
NEW SINGLES on sale from May. 5
SIMPLY RED (Mick Hucknall) Holding Back The Years [Re-issue] (WEA YZ70)
RICK AND LISA (Rick Astley) When You Gonna (RCA PB41285)