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How Chris Rea became rock's ultimate survivor

From industry sharks to cancer and strokes, nothing can sink Chris Rea. Rock’s great survivor looks on the bright side of life

Few experiences in life are more humiliating than spluttering up the driveway of Chris Rea’s country pile in a decrepit Seat Altea. The veteran bluesman’s home is a trove of automobile porn: a gleaming Ferrari, a pristine Caterham 620, racing overalls, press clippings of Rea himself burning up the track. It’s becoming apparent why he wrote Road Songs For Lovers, his new semi-concept album, on which he admits that he finds peace only behind the wheel.

“I love it,” he says with a twinkle, that burnished face crinkling into a walnut. “I always have. I don’t know why. How do you explain love?”

Rea looks good, all things considered. Last week he had an MRI scan, the latest two-step in the 66-year-old’s long-standing dance with abdominal cancer. It turns out there are other ailments afoot.

“I had a stroke in the autumn,” he reveals. “Boy, that was a big shock. When I first got home I couldn’t play slide guitar. It was horrific. Very scary moment. I couldn’t play F major 7th. I got it into my head that my perception of pitch had gone with the stroke. And it took a lot of convincing from people saying there’s nothing wrong with what you’re playing. I’m getting it back now, hopefully, for the tour.”

You’d defy anyone to detect an issue on Road Songs. Rea’s supple, dextrous slide work is the fairy dust on these bluesy songs of open-road escapism, his desert-dry vocal wrapping them in parchment. He recorded his parts here, in his home studio.

“They have to drag albums off me,” he says. “If you’re not careful, you just polish. And that’s a weakness of mine. Because I don’t have a big ego. I don’t think I’m any good, really. I’d love to play something and think: ‘Yep, that’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” but I never do.”

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