Who remembers jon lukas woodenman’s classic CAN’t AffORD to LOSE? The man needs no introduction. He had shaken the foundations of Maltese music back in the 70s with this track, released by EMI Colombia. He won ‘Most Popular Artist’ from 6 Effigy Award nominations in 2008 when he was in Spain, and in 2010, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Malta Music Awards. He was the first Maltese pop star to make it big on an international scale with his distinct sound. We caught up with the legend himself to see what’s been happening.
What is your earliest memory of being on stage?
It was a Beatle-haircut competition during an I.C.E. Teen Club event at the Valletta University in St. Christopher Street back in 1960!
Do you have any backstage stories which have stuck with you?
Well, so much stuff went down on tour in the 70s that is neither permissible nor appropriate or politically correct to talk about nowadays! However, a mild but memorable experience comes to mind. It was in Beirut’s then famous and exclusive club, Les Caves du Roy. I had walked in with my entourage, by special invitation from the Excelsior Hotel, when suddenly and to my total astonishment, the orchestra started playing the first riff of CAN’t AffORD To LOSE. The crowd got up to cheer and clap. The manager came over to us. We were greeted and ushered to our table where waiters were placing large champagne bottles. I was asked by the manager to get up on stage for a quick rendition. I couldn’t refuse under such warm hospitality. When I went backstage to prepare, I found a quarter bottle of scotch next to some cosmetics. I grabbed it and downed it, hoping for an instant warm up. In the meantime, the orchestra leader had come in for a chat. Then all of a sudden, a guy came out of the loo and started swearing and shouting in French. It had been his whiskey bottle! I asked him politely to chill and I explained to him that I had downed the scotch. I would have easily arranged for a bottle of champagne as a replacement, but he maintained that he hated champagne and he was inconsolable. I asked others why he had to be such a prima donna about it. I found out that he was none other than the great French legend Gilbert Becaud. After my short gig, Gilbert performed an immensely soulful French set. Amidst an audience roar, Faye Dunaway and Michel Le Grand stood up from a nearby table to applaud him.
Where do you think music is heading nowadays?
Production wise and within each separate genre, I think we’re going great places. There’s a healthy explosion of indie and a fresh change of direction, but unfortunately, I’m still waiting for something that merits a tag for innovation. I feel that it’s sometimes hard to differentiate between female and male artists, and there are some vintage sounds being plagiarised. I’m not saying we had done it better in the good old days. What I’m saying is that I long for something new and innovative to wake me up and smack my ear. I still source to play fresh but credible stuff as I’m not stuck in the past, and I’m mega aware of what’s going on. Check out my quirky woodenman’s jukebox!
You’ve performed alongside some legends throughout your career. Is there anyone who hasn’t ticked the bucket list?
I’ve performed with Italians such as Mal, Mudugno, Patty Pravo, and also with Maltese Marc Storace, Ivan Grech and William Mangion. There’s also been Level 42, Bob Geldof, Midge Ure, Lisa Stansfield. However, a close friend and mentor who I had missed the opportunity to perform with due to his early death was the global soul writing god Marvin Gaye.
If you had to be president for a week, what would you choose to tackle and resolve?
If I were the President of the USA, I would try to restart serious dialogue on the legislation of a better gun law. If I were the President of Malta, I would rush to organise weekly seminars set by local councils on education regarding racial discrimination. I’d summon a personalised and unbiased full lecture through the supervision of a UK based human rights officer to address both local monopolising political parties to overcome the immigration culture shock. There’s a lot of sensationalism by cheap TV shows who just confuse vulnerable locals even further. The two parties simply dismiss what’s happening, and they only intrude to score political points on each other, while confusing the public.
What advice would you give to young aspiring musicians?
Keep doing what you’re doing! From some of the recordings I’ve heard, I believe local talent is starting to sound good. Do leave Malta for at least a few years to experience working with the standards of British musicians. This’ll help you get out of an ear rut that’s present on the island. I’ve never been able to put my finger on what causes it, but it’s still there.
What’s been the biggest perk you’ve ever received from being a musician?
Wow! There’ve been so many, especially at the height of my early success. A perk that had impressed me in the 70s happened while I was on tour in Iran. I was appearing at the Miami Hotel in the same bill as Patty Pravo and Googoosh. The then King of Persia, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was a big fan of Patty and asked her to perform privately for him and his family in the palace gardens. Googoosh very kindly roped me in as a guest. What I saw and experienced at that sit-down tea service in those luxurious gardens would take a bit more than a few pages to describe. Patty had made the charming and stylish king drool throughout her hard rock chic act.
woodenman’s latest single, Secrets, has just been released. Check it out here.