CHRIS Norman spent much of his youth at St George’s Hall. “I used to go in the Sixties. I spent my formative years watching live music in Bradford,” says the former Smokie frontman.

“I saw the Rolling Stones and Spencer Davis at the Gaumont. I was 13 in 1963, when acts like the Beatles and Buddy Holly were in Bradford. Kids were inspired to pick up a guitar and have a go. I don’t think most parents approved, but you couldn’t stop the kids.”

Next week Chris returns to St George’s Hall showcasing his Definitive Hits - Smokie and Solo Years album. He’ll draw on a back catalogue that clocked up over 20 million albums sales globally with Smokie. As well as releasing solo material, he’s worked with the likes of Abba’s Agnetha Fältskog, Suzi Quattro and Donovan.

It was at St Bede’s School that Chris did “what most kids were doing back then” and formed a band. “Me and Alan Silson both got guitars, that’s what drew us together,” he says. They teamed up pals Terry Utley and Ron Kelly, calling themselves The Elizabethans. “We wore green suits with yellow ruffled shirts. I don’t know what came first - the name or the clothes!” smiles Chris. “We were also called The Kindness, which wasn’t much better.”

The band landed a record contract and did a stint as Peter Noone’s backing group. “We travelled round in a van, sleeping on rolled-up mattresses. We didn’t have money for digs,” says Chris. “We went as far south in the UK as we went north - it was an adventure.”

In 1974 they became Smokie. “We played covers initially - rock, pop, cabaret. Our harmonies developed over the years, and all the gigging gave us plenty of experience. Our first tour as Smokie was with Pilot, they’d never played lived so they learned from us.”

Smokie’s first hit was in 1975, If You Think You Know How To Love Me, followed by 14 singles including Living Next Door to Alice, If You Think You Know How to Love Me, Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone and Oh Carol.

With hit albums and sell-out concerts, Smokie had international success but in 1986, following a band hiatus during which Chris released solo material, he decided to leave.

“I’d been with them just over 20 years. I’ve been solo for longer,” says Chris. “Initially it felt a bit lonely, I missed the others. Now I have my own band, they’ve been with me 15 years.

Chris will perform songs audiences expect, not least Smokie hits, some solo tracks, including chart-topper Midnight Lady, and Suzi Quatro duet Stumblin’ In. “I’m always songwriting. I wrote a duet recently for Rod Stewart and Bonnie Tyler,” he says. “I’m inspired by younger acts too. Ed Sheeran is a great singer/songwriter and performer.”

Chris, whose grandparents toured concert parties, entertaining troops in the First World War, is looking forward to returning to Bradford, where his mother still lives.

He’s at St George’s Hall on Saturday, May 11, supported by Barton, formed by the son of the late Alan Barton who replaced Chris in Smokie. Call (01274) 432000.

Emma Clayton