When talking to American R ‘n’ B legend, Alexander O’Neal, one thing becomes very clear: His enduring affection for his British fans.
Perhaps this is why, at the age of 60, he is again flying in to these shores from Minneapolis to perform a tour, including a forthcoming date at The Deco in Northampton (March 21).
Alexander said: “ I’m really looking forward to it. I enjoy coming to Northampton. They can expect vintage Alexander O’Neal stuff. It will be a good night with really good music and a good R ‘n’ B band.
“Coming here to the UK, my fans have been so loyal to me over the last 30 years, it has been so special. I always want to give the best of Alexander O’Neal. My fans know I give 150 per cent, and that is the best of me, every night on stage.”
Alexander will be well known to fans for his long career in music which has seen him record a string of hits such as Never Knew Love Like This, If You Were Here Tonight and Criticize.
But music was not always going to be Alexander’s path in life.
He recalled: “I started off, when I was a young man, wanting to be a professional American footballer but ended up quitting. I then thought if I could find my niche in life I wouldn’t be a quitter again.
“I gave myself 10 years to get a record deal; that was when I was 20. On the ninth year I lived in Chicago and was working in different factories and jobs, but I moved to Minneapolis. I talked to my uncle (I was living in his basement apartment) and I told him I was getting a Greyhound bus to Minneapolis.
“I have always been adventurous and have always felt I needed to keep going until I have found more.”
The move proved to be just what Alexander needed to launch his musical career. His first big break was joining the band, Flyte Tyme, which later changed its name to Time and was signed by the singer, Prince.
But a disagreement led to Alexander being forced to leave the group. Yet the end of one career avenue only proved to be the opening of another.
He said: “I ended up getting a major record deal so sometimes good things can come out of bad.”
I ask him what he thinks of the number of people who now use shows like X Factor and The Voice to launch their careers, instead of starting from the bottom.
He said, generously: “I’m not going to begrudge anyone, I don’t care if they win a contest, all power to them. I haven’t seen anyone not deserving of winning, there is so much talent out there.”
Looking back on his career, it is clear he is thankful for still being able to perform to large crowds and he seems to have no plans to slow down or retire any time soon.
He said: “I’m really thankful for being here and still being on stage; I’m still performing all over the world and still enjoy it.
“I think my best time was probably the six sell-out gigs I did at Wembley. They certainly were the pinnacle of my career and the fans came from all over the world, from Europe, France and the whole of the UK.
“I will retire when I die. I’m working on an R ‘n’ B album and some dance tracks; I have some big projects on right now. It feels really good to be my age and still recording. It is best to take things one day at a time.”