Chris Rea

Christopher Anton Rea (/ˈrə/ REE; born 4 March 1951)[1] is an English rock and blues singer-songwriter and guitarist. Born and raised in Middlesbrough, he is of Italian and Irish descent. He is known for his distinctive, husky-gravel voice and slide guitar playing,[2][3] and the Guinness Rockopedia described him as a "gravel-voiced guitar stalwart".[4]

Chris Rea
Chris Rea performing in Congress Hall, February 2012
Background information
Birth nameChristopher Anton Rea
Born (1951-03-04) 4 March 1951
Middlesbrough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England
  • Singer-songwriter
  • guitarist
  • record producer
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
Years active1978–present

British Hit Singles & Albums stated that Rea was "one of the most popular UK singer-songwriters of the late 1980s" and "already a major European star by the time he finally cracked the UK Top 10 with the release of the single 'The Road to Hell (Part 2)'", which was his 18th chart entry.[5] Two of his studio albums, The Road to Hell and Auberge, topped the UK Albums Chart.[5] Rea was nominated three times for the Brit Award for Best British Male Artist: in 1988, 1989 and 1990.[6][7][8] His other hit songs include "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat", "Stainsby Girls", "Josephine", "On the Beach", "Let's Dance", "Driving Home for Christmas", "Working on It", "Tell Me There's a Heaven", "Auberge", "Looking for the Summer", "Winter Song", "Nothing to Fear", "Julia", and "If You Were Me", a duet with Elton John.[9]

In the United States he is best known for the 1978 song "Fool (If You Think It's Over)", which reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. This success earned him a Grammy nomination as Best New Artist in 1979.[10] As of 2009, he had sold more than 30 million albums worldwide.[11]


Early life

Christopher Rea was born in Middlesbrough in the North Riding of Yorkshire to an Italian father, Camillo Rea (died December 2010),[12] and an Irish mother, Winifred Slee (died September 1983),[13] as one of seven children.[14] His family were of the Roman Catholic faith.[15] The name Rea was well known locally thanks to his father's ice cream factory and café chain.[4][12][16] When he was twelve, he worked clearing tables in the coffee bar and making ice cream in the factory. He wanted to improve the business, but his ideas got no support from his father. After leaving, he was replaced by one of his brothers. [17] At that time he wanted to be a journalist and attended St Mary's College in Middlesbrough.[18]

1970s–82: Early career and "Fool (If You Think It's Over)"

It was at the comparatively late age of 21–22 that Rea bought his first guitar,[14][19] a 1961 Hofner V3 and 25-watt Laney amplifier,[20] after he left school.[21] He played primarily "bottleneck" guitar, also known as slide guitar. Rea's playing style was inspired by Charlie Patton whom he had heard on the radio. He had initially thought Patton's playing sounded like a violin.[19][22][20] Rea was also influenced by Blind Willie Johnson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe[22] as well as by the playing of Ry Cooder and Joe Walsh.[19][23] He was also listening to Delta blues musicians like Sonny Boy Williamson II and Muddy Waters,[24] gospel blues,[20] and opera to light orchestral classics to develop his style.[13] He recalls that "for many people from working-class backgrounds, rock wasn't a chosen thing, it was the only thing, the only avenue of creativity available for them",[24] and that "when I was young I wanted most of all to be a writer of films and film music. But Middlesbrough in 1968 wasn't the place to be if you wanted to do movie scores".[24] Due to his late introduction to music and guitar playing, Rea commented that when compared to Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton, "I definitely missed the boat, I think".[19] He was self-taught,[21] and soon tried to join a friend's group, The Elastic Band, as the first choice for guitar or bass. Heeding his father's advice he did not join as his potential earnings would not be enough to cover the costs of being in the group. As a result he found himself working casual labouring jobs, including working in his father's ice cream business.[25] Rea commented that, at that time, he was "meant to be developing my father's ice-cream cafe into a global concern, but I spent all my time in the stockroom playing slide guitar".[22]

In 1973 he joined the local Middlesbrough band, Magdalene, which earlier had included David Coverdale who had left to join Deep Purple.[4][14][21][26] He began writing songs for the band and only took up singing because the singer in the band failed to show up for a playing engagement.[14] Rea then went on to form the band The Beautiful Losers which received Melody Maker’s Best Newcomers award in 1973. He secured a solo recording deal with independent Magnet Records,[23] and released his first single entitled "So Much Love" in 1974.[27] The band itself split up in 1977.[25][28] In 1977 he performed on Hank Marvin's album The Hank Marvin Guitar Syndicate and also guested on Catherine Howe's EP The Truth of the Matter.[1] He recorded his first album that same year, but according to Michael Levy (co-founder of Magnet) the recordings were literally burned and started over again because it did not capture his whole talent.[29]

Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? was Rea's debut studio album. It was released in June 1978 and was produced by Gus Dudgeon who had been brought in by the company to re-record the album after it had been scrapped.[30] The title of the album was a reference to "Benjamin Santini", the stage name that Rea had suggested when the record label insisted that his given name did not sound "croony" enough.[1][24] The album peaked at No. 49 on the Billboard Hot 200, and charted for 12 weeks.[31] The first single taken from the album, "Fool (If You Think It's Over)", was Rea's biggest hit in the US, peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary Singles chart.[32][33] Like most of Rea's early singles, "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" failed to appear on the UK Singles Chart on its first release and only reached No. 30 when it was re-released in late 1978 to capitalise on its U.S. achievement.[5] The overall success was Magnet Records' major breakthrough and their first Top-10 success in the U.S., making Rea their biggest artist. Levy remembers him as "more of a thoughtful, introspective poet than a natural pop performer" which Levy felt stopped Rea from becoming a major star.[29] Since the record label saw him as a piano-playing singer-songwriter similar to Elton John and Billy Joel instead of the guitar player he was,[24] the label gave the record buyers a different impression of him than what he felt was correct for three or four years.[19] Rea noted that the hit song "is still the only song I've ever not played guitar on, but it just so happened to be my first single, and it just so happened to be a massive hit".[19] He also felt that he "always had a difficult relationship with fame, even before my first illness. None of my heroes were rock stars. I arrived in Hollywood for the Grammy Awards once and thought I was going to bump into people who mattered, like Ry Cooder or Randy Newman. But I was surrounded by pop stars".[34][35]

Dudgeon went on to produce Rea's next studio album Deltics (1979). Rea recorded his third album, Tennis (1980), utilizing musicians from Middlesbrough; which received positive reviews.[25] As both albums had failed commercially the record company refused his artwork intended for the cover of his fourth album Chris Rea (1982).[25] None of these albums managed to enter the Top 50 in the UK. The released singles at this time also failed to provide further hits as "Diamonds" reached No. 44 and "Loving You" went to No. 88 on the Billboard Hot 100.[36][37] Rea has since spoken about the difficult working relationship he had at the time with Dudgeon and other "men in suits" who he felt 'smoothed out' the blues-influenced elements of his music.[24][38][25] During one interview he recalled that he "always thought that they [producers] knew best. I never thought for a minute that they might have another agenda" and "all of a sudden I was the goose that laid the golden egg, and it was hell for me".[22] He’s also said that (I) "can't blame anyone but myself. I gave them what they wanted rather than what I wanted".[39]

1983–2000: European breakthrough and success, The Road to Hell and Auberge

Since 1983, his music began to better reflect his wishes and capabilities. At this time he was under pressure from the record company due to the accumulated costs of the production for his previous four albums. To keep costs low the label accepted the demo tapes of his fifth studio album Water Sign. After finding out that Dudgeon made more money than he did, Rea changed managers and went on a UK club tour. Afterward he then continued on to a 60-date tour as a support act for Canadian band Saga.[25] Suddenly, even to his record company's surprise,[25] the album became a hit in Ireland and Europe, selling over half a million copies in just a few months. The single "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat" lifted from the album entered the top 20 across Europe.[27] With the album's success along with that of the subsequent Wired to the Moon (1984), which was his first Top 40 in the UK(#35[40]), Rea began to focus his attention on touring continental Europe and built up a significant fan base. He particularly became popular in Germany, and believes this audience saved his career as there was no "image-led market", but only "by music and by word of mouth".[25] It was not until 1985's million-selling Shamrock Diaries and the songs "Stainsby Girls" (a tribute to the girls – including his wife – that he knew from Stainsby secondary modern school near Middlesbrough[41]) and "Josephine" (a tribute to his daughter) that UK audiences began to take notice of him.[25]

His following albums were also million-selling On The Beach (1986), and Dancing with Strangers (1987), including his first Top 20 UK single "Let's Dance" (No. 12[40]),[4] with the latter album reaching No. 2 on the UK albums chart, being behind Michael Jackson's Bad.[25] It was not until 1987 that he could pay off the amassed £320,000 debt to the record company, and start to receive significant revenue.[42] In 1986 he was a support act along The Bangles and The Fountainhead for Queen at Slane Concert for an estimated 80,000 audience.[43] The Dancing with Strangers tour in 1987 saw Rea sell out stadium size venues for the first time across the world, including Wembley Arena twice,[25] as well as having concerts in Japan.[29] In the spring of 1987 he toured Australia for the first time. Rea’s American label, Tamla Motown, had told him that ‘(he) should stay and tour there for three years'. Out of deference to his family he did not do so. He commented that at the time he realized that "I could be as big as I liked, if I was prepared to do the touring".[25]

His next album was his first compilation, New Light Through Old Windows (1988); which reached No.5 in UK[40] and was another million seller. The album included re-workings of some his charting singles.[4] Some of them were successful in the US, such as the new song "Working On It" which reached No. 73 on Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Mainstream Rock chart.[32][44] The re-recorded version of "On the Beach (1988)" reached Top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart[[45] and also No. 12 in the UK.[40] The album’s release and success was followed by an international tour with over 45 dates.[25]

His 10th studio album was Rea's major breakthrough.[4] The Road to Hell (1989) enjoyed massive success and became his first No. 1 album in the UK, being certified 6× Platinum by the BPI in 2004.[46] The album only reached 107 in the US.[47] One track from the album, "Texas", achieved extensive radio airplay in the state itself while the song "The Road to Hell (Part 2)" peaked at No. 11 on Mainstream Rock chart.[48] The title track was Rea's first and only UK Top 10 single.[40] Rea appeared and performed on the Band Aid II project's single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" in December 1989.[4] His next album Auberge (1991) was also a No. 1 UK and European hit album, including the single of the same title which reached Top 20 in UK.[40]

After Auberge, Rea released God's Great Banana Skin (1992) which reached No. 4 in the UK,[4] while the single "Nothing to Fear" gave him another Top 20 hit.[40] A year later the album Espresso Logic made the Top 10 and "Julia", written about his second daughter, gave him his sixth and last Top 20 single.[40] The album was partly promoted by Rea's taking part in the British Touring Car Championship, although he was eliminated in the first round.[4] In 1994 another compilation album, The Best of Chris Rea, was released which peaked at No. 3 in UK.[40] Following the release of the soundtrack album for La Passione; Rea's fourteenth studio album, The Blue Cafe, was released and it made it to the UK Top 10. Ten years after Road to Hell, Rea released the electronica album, The Road to Hell: Part 2 in 1999, which fared less well than his more recent albums never charting into the UK Top 40. Conversely in 2000, he released King of the Beach which did comparatively better making it to the UK Top 30.[40]

2001–05: Illness and return to blues

Chris Rea has had health issues since 1994. It started with stomach ulcers, in 1995 he had peritonitis, and five operations followed.[34][49] In 2000 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Between 2000 and 2001 he underwent a Whipple procedure[22][39][50][51] which resulted in the removal of the head of the pancreas and part of duodenum, bile duct, and gall bladder.[21][34] Since having this surgery Rea had problems with diabetes and a weaker immune system, necessitating the need to take thirty-four pills and seven injections a day.[52] He has undergone several subsequent operations.[21][34] Nevertheless, he found greater appreciation for life, his family, and the things he loves.[21][34][53]

In an interview he said, "it's not until you become seriously ill and you nearly die and you're at home for six months, that you suddenly stop, to realize that this isn't the way I intended it to be in the beginning. Everything that you've done falls away and you start wondering why you went through all that rock business stuff."[21] A record company offered him millions of dollars to do a duets album with notable artists.[13] Having promised himself that if he recovered he would return to his blues roots,[22] he started the record label Jazzee Blue to free himself from his then current company's expectations. The first album under this label, Dancing Down the Stony Road (2002), reached No. 14[40] and was certified Gold by the BPI.[13][21][22] He wanted the label to be a place "where musicians came and made a record" of this style of music. Jazzee Blue released several blues and jazz albums mostly by members of his then current band.[54] He was disappointed with the music business when Michael Parkinson, who supported him to do Dancing Down the Stony Road, told him songs longer than three minutes were not played as often on radio anymore.[42]

Rea released Blue Street (Five Guitars) and Hofner Blue Notes in 2003 and, later, The Blue Jukebox in 2004.[21] 2005 saw the release of Blue Guitars, a box set of 11 CDs containing 137 blues-inspired tracks with Rea's paintings as album covers.[35] Rea said, "I was never a rock star or pop star and all the illness has been my chance to do what I'd always wanted to do with music [...] the best change for my music has been concentrating on stuff which really interests me".[35]

2006–present: Continuation of blues albums and tours

In February 2008, Rea released The Return of the Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes, dedicated to the 1960s Hofner guitars, with 38 tracks on three CDs and two 10" vinyl records - the vinyl replicated the tracks contained on the first CD of the set. The box set also included a hardback book of his paintings along with period photos.[21] The release of the album was followed by a European tour.[55] visiting various venues across the UK, including the Royal Albert Hall in London.[56]

Rea released the compilation Still So Far to Go in October 2009 which contained some of his best known (and lesser known) hits over the last thirty years as well as songs from his "blues" period.[35] Two new songs were included, "Come So Far, Yet Still So Far to Go" and the ballad "Valentino".[35] The album reached No. 8[40] and was certified Gold by the BPI. Rea started the European tour called "Still So Far to Go" in January of 2010.[35] His special guest on stage was Irish musician Paul Casey. The tour ended on 5 April at Waterfront Hall in Belfast.[35]

In September 2011 Santo Spirito Blues box set was released. The set contained two feature-length films on one DVD written and directed by Rea along with three accompanying CDs - 2 of which featured the music from the DVDs and the third being a stripped back version of the related studio album.[57] Shortly after this release, in October and November, Rea underwent two surgical procedures.[58] On 3 February 2012 the Santo Spirito Tour started at Congress Center Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany, with additional visits to Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium and France. The United Kingdom part of the tour commenced in the middle of March and finished on 5 April at Hammersmith Apollo in London.[57]

November 2014 saw Rea embark on a European tour called The Last Open Road Tour, with the UK part of the tour commencing on 1 December in Manchester and ending on 20 December in London.[59][60] He also performed at the 2014 Montreux Jazz Festival.[61][62]

Rea suffered a stroke in 2016 which left him with slurred speech and reduced movement in his arms and fingers. Soon afterwards he quit smoking to deter further strokes and recovered enough to record and tour.[63] In September 2017, he released his twenty-fourth album, Road Songs for Lovers, and embarked on a European tour starting in October until December.[64][65] On 9 December, Rea collapsed during a performance at the New Theatre Oxford, the 35th concert of the tour.[66] He was taken to hospital where his condition was stabilized.[67] This health issue caused the last two concerts of the tour to be cancelled.[68]

Rhino released on 18 October 2019 a 2CD deluxe editions of five of Chris Rea's most commercially successful albums, Shamrock Diaries,[69] On The Beach,[70] Dancing With Strangers,[71] The Road To Hell,[72] and Auberge,[73] containing remixes, rare and previously unreleased live tracks, single edits, and extended versions. Preceding the deluxe edition releases, was released on 4 October 2019 a limited edition album (1LP + 1CD) titled One Fine Day, with only 1000 copies and each numbered containing some unreleased, rare, and originally recorded work in 1980 at Chipping Norton Recording Studios.[74]


Rea's first guitar was Höfner Verithin 3, which he bought in a second-hand shop because, at the time, there were not that many shops in Middlesbrough where one could purchase a guitar.[22] He played the V3 until 1979, although, by Rea's reckoning, it was a "dreadful guitar with an appalling action, but playing slide it didn't matter".[75] During his career the guitar most associated with him was a 1962 Fender Stratocaster which he called "Pinky". Rea bought the instrument after seeing a Ry Cooder concert at the City Hall in Newcastle. The guitar once was submerged in water for three months and was more mellow in sound compared to the classic hard Stratocaster sound. Since 2002 Dancing Down the Stony Road, his main guitar was an Italia Maranello he named "Bluey".[20][75]

Personal life

Family life

Rea is married to Joan Lesley, with whom he has been in a relationship since they met as teenagers on 6 April 1968 in their native Middlesbrough.[25][35] They have two daughters, Josephine, born 16 September 1983, and Julia Christina, born 18 March 1989.[19] Josephine lectures on Renaissance art in Florence and Julia is at University of St Andrews.[53] Rea used to live at Cookham, Berkshire, where he owned Sol Mill Recording Studios and produced some of his later albums.[21][22]

Cars and motor racing

Rea is a fan of historic motor racing and races a Ferrari Dino,[52] a Ferrari 328,[76] and a 1955 Lotus 6.[76][77][78] In 1993, he participated in the 1993 BTCC ToCa shootout as a guest driver. He got to drive a Ferrari in a race at the Monza circuit in 1997.[79] He owned and raced the 1964 Lotus Elan 26R,[76][80][81] and the well known Caterham 7 from the Auberge album cover,[82] until it was sold in 2005 with all proceeds (£11,762) going to the charity NSPCC.[83] He also owned Ferrari 330 which was used as a donor car for the replica of Ferrari 250 Le Mans used in the 1996 movie La Passione.[84] In 2014, he was completing a 22-year restoration of an original replica of a Ferrari 156 Sharknose Formula One racing car.[19] He also joined Historic Racing Drivers Club, where he drives a 1957 Morris Minor 1000 police car.[63]

He has taken the opportunity to get involved in Formula One on a few occasions, including as a pit lane mechanic for the Jordan team during the 1995 Monaco Grand Prix.[85] He recorded a song, "Saudade", in tribute to three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna. It featured prominently in the BBC documentary movie.[86]


In August 2008, it was erroneously reported that Rea had donated £25,000 to the Conservative Party.[87] This was followed by further claims in 2009 by The Times that Rea has been a longtime supporter of the Conservative Party.[88] There were also errant reports in April 2010, just weeks before the UK general election, that Rea had donated a further £100,000 to the Conservatives.[89] The donations were in fact made by a businessman called Chris Rea and not the musician.[90] This error has been acknowledged by The Daily Mail newspaper, which printed a retraction.[91]

In an interview in 2012, Rea denied those claims and noted that this was a classic example of how dangerous the internet can be at spreading misinformation. He also shared his opinion that the politicians and government of the UK and EU were out of touch with the common people.[58] He is sceptical about the idea of unification of Europe because with a common European market "you cannot force different people to live together [when] they simply do not want to",[58] recalling the downfall of Yugoslavia.[58]

Other interests

When he is not writing songs, other interests include gardening and particularly painting.[79] Rea says that he likes to "read a lot and even though I chose music, journalism was my first passion. I wanted to be a journalist and write about car racing [...] somewhere deep down I believe I could have been a decent journalist".[58]


One of his childhood dreams was to become a film writer and film music composer.[14][24] Rea wrote the title track and music score for the 1993 drama film Soft Top Hard Shoulder.[92][93] He wrote and produced the 1996 film La Passione and had a cameo role in it.[4] Rea was the lead actor in the 1999 comedy film Parting Shots, alongside Felicity Kendal, John Cleese, Bob Hoskins and Joanna Lumley.[14] Rea, ironically, played a character who was told that cancer gave him six weeks to live and decided to kill those people who had badly affected his life.[4][14] Afterwards, two feature-length films were made for the Santo Spirito Blues project, just "so that I could do the music".[14]

References in lyrics

Rea has acknowledged that several of his songs were "born out of Middlesbrough", his hometown. The verse "I'm standing by a river, but the water doesn't flow / It boils with every poison you can think of" from "The Road to Hell",[21] the songs "Steel River" which refers to a nickname for River Tees,[94][95] and "Windy Town,[21] reflect Rea's feelings about the industrial decline of Middlesbrough and the re-development of the town centre while he was out of the country touring through the years:

"I went back to see my father after my mother had died and the fuckers had knocked the whole place down. I'd been gone three years, hard touring in Europe. I literally went to drive somewhere that wasn't there. It was like a sci-fi movie. The Middlesbrough I knew, it's as if there was a war there 10 years ago."[25][96]

"I miss the bits of Middlesbrough that aren't there any more. It's very hard to accept that Ayresome Park no longer exists. I know I sound very old when I say things like that. Those terraced streets are no longer there. But I miss the old character of the place, the guys with the fruit barrows and all that."[21]


Studio albums

Compilation albums


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