OVER the course of his career, one that includes over 40 albums, 70 singles and countless live performances, Tony Christie has sung thousands of songs.

But the thought of trying to condense all those memories into an autobiography had never occurred to him.

“People have been on at me for years to write a book, but I always thought why?” he said. “I’m not finished yet and I’m still working and recording, so it didn’t feel right, but they have been insistent that I needed to do it before it was too late. I was a bit like ‘what do you know that I don’t?’”

Now for the first time, Tony tells of his illustrious, colourful career that started in the small South Yorkshire town of Conisbrough and today sees him as a singing legend with fans throughout the globe. It is a story packed with emotional and financial highs and lows and a cast of fantastic characters

“There have been a few dark things which at the time you put to the back of your mind and try and forget, but I had to go through it all again for the book and the guy who was helping me told me not to hold anything back because it’s not been all roses for me,” said the 76-year-old.

Tony’s career began in the accounts office of a steel company in Yorkshire, while at the same time he was singing semi-professionally in working men’s clubs in the North of England.

“It all started with my school mate Dave,” said Tony. “We used to sing on the way home from school - Dave had a good baritone voice and we’d sing the Everly Brothers in harmony. I was learning the guitar and my uncle Jack was on the committee at the local social club. They had a big show on and were short of an act and he asked if we’d do it - we were not professional performers but he said they only needed three songs and they’d give us £4. We quickly converted that into how many pints we could have each and we did it. At the top of the bill was Norman Collier, who we shared a dressing room with, and he was absolutely crackers. Lynne Perrie was on too and she became Ivy Tilsley in Coronation Street. She was a great singer.”

Having established himself on the working men’s club circuit, he was offered a job as the singer with a band who became Tony Christie and the Trackers, and in 1966 they recorded, Barbara Ruskin’s Life’s Too Good To Waste for CBS, which Tony co-wrote. It failed to chart, despite having Jimmy Page, who would later co-found Led Zeppelin, on guitar, and it took until 1971 and I Did What I Did for Maria that Tony made his chart breakthrough.

Later in 1971, his next single was (Is This The Way To) Amarillo, written by Neil Sedaka. Now considered a classic, surprisingly, it only made the lower reaches of the Top 20 in the UK.

“It got top number one all over the world, but then in Britain it got to 17 or something and the record label couldn’t figure it out,” explained Tony. “Years later I heard someone say it was the year they introduced cheap flights to Spain and it was number one over there for weeks so all the English tourists must have been buying it there and bringing it home.”

However, every song has its day and in 2005, Amarillo soared to the top of the UK charts, staying there for seven weeks, after Bolton comedian Peter Kay mimed to Tony’s record for Comic Relief with a memorable video which starred the likes of Brian May, Shakin’ Stevens, Shaun Ryder and Paddy McGuinness, The song went on to be the third best-selling single of the 2000s in the UK and brought Tony’s distinctive voice to whole new audience.

“I was living in Spain at the time and I was a big fan of Peter,” said Tony. “He is a very funny man and when it all happened it was so nice particularly as it made millions for Comic Relief.”

In the intervening years, while struggling in the UK, Tony’s career in Europe had gone from strength to strength, especially in Germany, where he continues to be very popular.

“I’ve been bigger in Germany than anywhere else and they’ve been very good to me,” he said. “Even when it went quiet for me in Britain it didn’t there and it allowed me to carry on recording. I basically took over from David Hasselhoff as their biggest star!”

Tony returned to the UK Top 10 in 1999 with Walk Like A Panther, a song written for him by Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker with whom he shared a Sheffield heritage and it was Sheffield that gave Tony the opportunity to record what is arguably one of his finest records, after Tony heard a song by fellow South Yorkshireman, Richard Hawley, who had been in Pulp for a while with Cocker. It lead to Tony recording the album Made In Sheffield.

“It’s one of my favourite albums,” he said. “Richard came back and said he wanted to do a full album with all the songs being from Sheffield artists and writers and we’ll call it Made in Sheffield. I thought it was a fantastic idea and it worked out brilliantly.”

With his new autobiography and another tour of Germany over the autumn, Tony shows no sign of slowing down.

“I’m going to keep going,” he added. “What do you instead? Watch television? I’d get bored to death. “As long as I’ve got my voice, that’s my reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Tony Christie - the Song Interpreter is now available from all good book retailers. You can order a signed copy from www.gnbooks.co.uk