Tim Rice on why he'll never retire

BY Maureen Paton

12th Oct 2022 Celebrities

Tim Rice on why he'll never retire

English lyricist and author Tim Rice, 77, looks back on a life of writing the world’s best-loved musicals, including Joseph, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita

The very first thing that I remember is seeing a snail on a gatepost when my father Hugh and my mother Joan lived in Croxley Green in Hertfordshire. I doubt if I was even three years old; it would have been around 1947.

Obviously I couldn’t foresee that 20 years later in 1967 the pop star Donovan would write a song, “There Is A Mountain”, whose lyric referenced a snail on a gatepost! But it seems very serendipitous in retrospect that I grew up to have a career as a lyricist.

Mine was a sun-dappled childhood with my two younger brothers Jonathan (Jo) and Andrew. We weren’t incredibly wealthy, but we had a very nice middle-class upbringing.

"I listened to the American Forces Radio, which got me hooked on popular music"

Dad worked for the de Havilland Aircraft Company as its Far East representative. A wonderful thing happened when he was sent to Japan for a year in 1954 and took the whole family with him.

It was a great childhood adventure and I was old enough, at ten, to appreciate it. There I listened to the American Forces Radio, which got me hooked on popular music.

I was a keen stamp-collector as a child, which was what first made me aware of Eva “Evita” Perón—whose glamorous image on Argentinian stamps as its First Lady was one of my favourites. I recall feeling sorry at the news of her death in 1952. Like my father, I was already an avid newspaper reader from the age of seven.

Then in 1955 while we were still in Japan, I remember reading that her husband, President Juan Perón, had been ousted. So, unlike most British people, I was always vaguely aware of the Peróns long before I heard a radio documentary about Evita in 1973.

I suggested to my collaborator Andrew Lloyd Webber that a musical about her life would make a great follow-up to our hit with Jesus Christ Superstar.

Two men and a woman pose in outdoor coats and jackets outside theatreCredit: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo. Tim Rice with Sarah Hugill and Andrew Lloyd Webber at the opening night party for Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

I was equally close to both my parents. They both played a part in my future career, despite probably thinking I was the least likely of their three sons to settle down with a good job.

But my mother had writing ambitions of her own and was contributing stories and plays to publishers and newspapers. My favourite toy as a child was her typewriter, since I loved to see words printed neatly and legibly on paper.

After A-levels at Lancing College in Sussex, I became an articled clerk at a lawyer’s office in London before realising that I wasn’t cut out to be a solicitor. So I moved on to work as a management trainee, or glorified office boy, in the music business at EMI where my father knew the MD of the London office.

Talent is obviously important, but you've got to have luck as well. Most successful people owe a lot of their start in show business to other people.

I had heard from a music publisher contact of my mother’s that an 18-year-old prodigy called Andrew Lloyd Webber needed a “with-it” lyric writer for his compositions. My overriding interest was the music scene and I had written a couple of pop songs already, so I wrote to Andrew offering my services as a lyricist. I was 21.

"An 18-year-old prodigy called Andrew Lloyd Webber needed a 'with-it' lyric writer for his compositions"

We started writing together, but it wasn’t until I took the gamble of leaving EMI that our collaboration began in earnest with a three-year contract with a new manager, David Land.

Andrew and I got on so well that I even moved into a spare room in one of the two adjacent flats in South Kensington where he lived with two generations of his Bohemian family. They were a fascinatingly wacky cast of enchanting characters—and that suited me fine.

A cricket team sit in their whites to pose for outdoor photoTim Rice sits with his cricket team, Heartaches CC, after they have won a match against their rivals, Odiham CC

I founded a cricket team, Heartaches CC, in 1973 and it's still going strong. The photograph above was taken recently when we played one of our most venerable opponents, Odiham CC (in Hampshire).

After each game, I write a match report which I compile into an almanac at the conclusion of the season; some of the reports go back nearly 50 years and it’s amazing how often I can remember the day quite clearly.

The players here had just secured a victory—and the Labrador in the photo had secured several egg-and-cress sandwiches.

I had a brief encounter with my hero, Elvis Presley when I actually got to shake The King’s hand in 1974. While on honeymoon in America, my wife Jane and I were invited to one of his shows at the Las Vegas Hilton by his music publisher—who just happened to be closer than close to one of Jane’s girlfriends.

"While on honeymoon in America, my wife Jane and I were invited to one of Elvis's shows at the Las Vegas Hilton"

Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was a permanent fixture at the gambling tables, which was why Elvis got trapped in the Vegas circus for so long. We were invited to a post-show gathering and Elvis thanked us for coming. He looked good close up—he wasn’t going through one of his fat periods—and seemed very cheerful.

I told Jane that I hoped that Elvis would record one of my songs and that we could meet him properly next time, but we never did. Just three years later, Elvis had left the building forever.

Tim Rice dressed in white Elvis costume carrying guitar in streetCredit: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo. The Rock Pharoah in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was inspired by Elvis Presley's early Las Vegas costumes

I always thought that the ABBA songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus were musical genii. After Evita, Andrew had the poetry of TS Eliot for his Cats lyrics, while I needed a new composer-collaborator for my idea of a drama about a chess match between a Russian and an American grandmaster as a proxy for the Cold War.

I heard that Benny and Björn wanted to write a stage musical as a change from three-minute pop songs, so we met up for dinner in a Stockholm restaurant and they decided to do Chess with me.

As Björn explained, Sweden almost had a border with Russia—so they knew all about that Cold War feeling!

I was very honoured to receive a knighthood from the queen in 1994 and also to become an EGOT, a rather ugly acronym which stands for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. But I consider myself a minor celebrity and only wear a hat to protect my thinning dome, not because of recognition.

Most of my dearest friends are outside of show business. I’m very close to my family—three daughters and a son, and seven grandchildren, who are all musical.

I can’t retire—what else would I do? So I’ve written three new songs for the first London revival of the 2013 musical From Here To Eternity that I wrote with the composer Stuart Brayson, whom I first encountered two decades ago when he came up to me in the street and pressed his music tapes into my hand.

It’s my way of forcing myself out of my natural laziness.

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