Deeping St James and The Settlers folk star Steve Somers releases debut solo album, 47 years after New Faces win
Folk singer Steve Somers is quite clearly someone who believes good things come to those who wait.
For decades the music industry has sent him across the world with stellar names such as Johnny Cash and provided a book full of anecdotes, including near-death experiences.
Yet on Friday, fully 47 years after TV show New Faces gave him his big break as a songwriter, Steve released his debut solo album, A Long Road Home.
“My son Ben asked me what I was going to call it," said Steve (72).
"So I said ‘well it’s been a long road coming home’, and he said ‘well that’s the name’."
There was little to suggest a career in music beckoned when he left school at 14 and joined the Army.
Steve played the cornet for the regiment, but his real inspiration lay with the guitar which he learned to pass the time in barracks.
Opting out of a military career, he went to work in a music shop in London where he picked up contacts in the industry.
He went professional as a folk singer in 1966, playing folk clubs and small theatres, and paid his dues in front of uncompromising audiences in working men’s clubs.
“In the early days I would drive up to Newcastle on Saturday, work that night, sleep in the car, do another show at Sunday lunchtime and Sunday night, and then drive home.
“The car was the only accommodation we had.”
Moving on to solo gigs, he was spotted in a pub and invited on to popular TV show New Faces, the springboard for household names such as comedians Lenny Henry and Victoria Wood.
It would prove his big break, winning in 1975 with his own song 'Mavis Brown' which ultimately earned him his first publishing contract.
However, a solo career was put on hold almost before it began when he was asked to join chart-topping pop/folk group The Settlers.
It gave him a ticket to the world, and the eye-opening experiences of life on tour.
“I stopped Concorde from taking off once," he said.
“We used to go out to the Middle East every year and play to ex-pats in a few of the hotels as well as the British Club which was a bit wild.
“An ex-RAF guy, who was a bit gung-ho, asked if I wanted to come up in his helicopter to take a few photos.
“As we were coming back to Bahrain Airport, with me hanging out the door taking photos, the helicopter started spinning around.
"We had to land immediately, right in the middle of the airport while Concorde was waiting to take off."
Yet this was not the last heart-stopping moment in the skies of the Middle East.
"I was up front with the pilot taking photos and it came over the intercom that Abu Dhabi Airport had closed," Steve explained.
"A couple of minutes later they had opened the airport and then it was closed again, then it was open and then it shut for good.
“The pilot had to land, but as we touched down we had two lorry loads of soldiers pointing rifles at us.
"The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) had taken ground crew hostage under a 737. One of the terrorists had already been shot and we landed in the middle of it all!"
The end of The Settlers in the early 80s provided another new beginning, playing bass for Lonnie Donegan and Joe Brown.
Here he would experience touring life with greats such as Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, and Billy Jo Spears.
"Johnny Cash was an interesting guy," Steve added.
"Some days he would be quite approachable, but other days you knew to leave him alone.
"But Glenn Campbell was very friendly. He was a musician first, while Johnny Cash was a star first and then a musician.”
While not centre-stage, Steve put his time to good use, harvesting plenty of rich material for his own songwriting, storing these musical stories 'in a shoe box under the bed'.
He combined touring with presenting his own BBC local radio show for nearly 20 years and then spent a further decade in France, touring Europe with his own band.
But in 2015 he finally came home.
Keen to be near his grandchildren - a whole new phase of life - he set up home in Deeping St James.
Steve began working with his eldest son Ben, a highly-regarded musician and composer whose list of credits includes work with soul singer Seal, New Orleans great Dr John, and American star Taylor Swift.
Ben has opened his father’s eyes to a new way of working, and was instrumental in Steve’s debut solo release.
“We started talking about recording my songs and then lockdown happened and he said ‘now’s your chance’," Steve said.
“I would record the vocals and guitar at home, then send it to be produced and everyone else’s parts would be added.
“I’m my own worst critic, and I was a bit worried they would consider me an old duffer, but it’s been great working with Ben because he comes at music from a different angle.
“I play very much a 60s and 70s folk style. I’m a finger picker - I have no idea what chords I’ve played - whereas they are very organised and musically educated.
“I’m very pleased with it."
He craves the return of live music and the chance to get back on stage.
Yet in the meantime, there's plenty more material in the shoe box.
“I’d like to get Mavis Brown on the next one," he said.
"It was the one that won me New Faces so I owe it, but 47 years is a long time and I have a lot of songs to fit in."
* To find out more about the new album, visit www.stevesomersmusic.com