It’s Now Or Never For Emin And Engelbert Humperdinck

The view from the Presidential Suite of the Hilton on Park Lane is stunning, laying out all of Central London beneath you. The luxury seems fitting when you’re meeting a pair of legends: Emin, World Music Awards winner and holder of the title of ‘People’s Artiste of Azerbaijan’, and Engelbert Humperdinck, whose half a century in the music business has earned him sixty three gold and twenty four platinum records.

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane
Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

The duo’s story began last decade, when they both had musical commitments at the same events.”Twelve years ago, at Eurovision in Baku, Azerbaijan (which is my home country), I got a chance to meet Engy,” explains Emin. He uses a nickname for Humperdinck (pronounced ‘En-jee’) and broadly grins whenever he gets a chance to use it. At the time, Humperdinck was representing the UK in the contest with his song Love Will Set You Free and Emin was providing the half-time entertainment. “He was super nice to me,” continues Emin. “I approached him, introduced myself, my hands were shaking, my knees were weak…and he said ‘just sit down, relax’. We established a friendship and maintained it for all these years, and now we have a song together which I am absolutely grateful and happy about.” The single, Help Me Make It Through The Night, is a smooth and gentle ballad perfect for dreaming of the one you love.

EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

EMIN
EMIN

For Emin, it’s been a long standing dream to collaborate with his friend. “[I first discovered his music] when I was a little kid. My mum was the biggest fan in the family, my grandpa used to give her vinyls of Engy and there’s a picture when my mum was fifteen – she’s now sixty seven – of her holding the vinyls with Engelbert on it. He has the picture, he signed it for my mum at his show in New Jersey. For the first twenty years of my mature life I was listening to Elvis, Engelbert, a little bit of Sinatra and Dean Martin, all these guys, and I absolutely adore all of them, and my absolute favourite is Elvis and Engy doesn’t mind me saying it in front of him.” Humperdinck smiles at the compliment. “Not at all,” he responds and waves his heavily-ringed hand magnanimously. “My absolute other favourite is Engelbert. I’m very truthful, I think that these two are the best vocalists and artists on the planet.” He’d spend hours determining who made the best cover of his favourite songs. “I used to experiment in the days of audiotapes, and I had a double player. I used to make compilations – My Way done by Elvis, done by Tom Jones, done by Sinatra…an endless amount of names, and done by Engelbert.

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane
Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

And I think the best version of My Way is done by him, and especially the live version of My Way. He has his own melody there! It’s unbelievable. He takes it to the stratosphere. My Way is a big song as is, but he makes it even bigger! I would do the same thing with other famous songs like Unchained Melody: Elvis’ version, the Righteous Brothers’ version, Engelbert’s version…sometimes, in my mind, Elvis would be the ‘winner’ of the song, but sometimes it would be Engelbert. Sinatra never won!” Emin’s devotion to the classics carried on past his childhood and through his teenage years. “Most of my friends when I was growing up in Baku and Moscow, and Switzerland where I studied, had posters of Tupac. They were listening to contemporary music and I was made fun of at that time because Elvis and Engelbert, to some of the teenagers, were not trendy at that point. But now my friends that are my age now I’m in my forties, they’re a bit jealous of the fact I’m onstage and I have an audience, and they’re sitting in that audience listening to the music that they were making fun of twenty years ago!”

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane
Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

Emin’s new album, Now Or Never, is a reflection of his love of Elvis. Featuring his favourite songs in a full scale re-imagining, it’s a technicolour tribute to the King. Emin is very clear on what about Elvis’ music speaks to him. “Honesty”, he replies instantly when asked. “A lot of people can sing in the modern day, and you’d agree, Engy…” The older man nods emphatically. “…and vocally can do amazing things but there’s not as many that could that touch your heart and soul, especially singing the ballads, and deliver the song in a way where you want to listen to it over and over. That happened to me listening to Engelbert with songs like Last Waltz or Love Story, which was originally recorded by Andy Williams I think…he has this personal touch when it comes to songs.” With hindsight it seemed like a natural progression from being a fan to recording his own takes on Presley’s ballads, and the genesis for the project came from ‘a conversation with David Foster’. The multi-Grammy Award-winning Canadian producer seems like a natural fit for this kind of album, considering he’s worked with Josh Groban and Michael Bublé in the past. “I always wanted to do that,” Emin says, explaining his motivation behind Now Or Never, “but you have to have an amazing producer producing this album. Elvis is untouchable in a way, especially by someone not as well known as some other acts. We chose the songs and David has really delivered. He’s an incredible producer. We arranged the songs in a new direction but keeping the DNA of classic Elvis in there in my vocal.”

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane
Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

Over his twenty-three year career, Presley recorded over seven hundred songs, which surely must make choosing a comparatively small number for the album a challenge. “We wanted to pick some obvious hits that are Elvis’ signature songs like Can’t Help Falling In Love, Love Me Tender, It’s Now Or Never, but we also wanted to find some jewels that are not as famous. Until It’s Time For You To Go is a good example. Help Me Make It Through The Night [was a song] I always liked,” says Emin, “though I discovered it through Engelbert as he used to perform it in the seventies and eighties as part of his set. I stole a little bit of his style on the recording!” Humperdinck joins the conversation, remembering his friend fondly. The singer speaks softly and gently in contrast to Emin’s animated enthusiasm, and with the aura of an elder statesman. He knows that Presley would be in favour of Now Or Never. “I’m sure he would [approve]. I think it’s the greatest form of flattery, to me, to record somebody else’s work, including being an impersonator. To do this song is the same feeling. I’ve done a lot of Elvis’ songs. I’m sure he’d say..” Humperdinck slips into a Mississippi accent for a moment to speak as his friend, “‘great job, Enge!’ He wouldn’t put me down or anything like that, he would just say ‘I’m grateful for you doing my songs’. I’m sure that’s the way he’d react.” “I also think that Elvis covered a lot of artists,” Emin points out, “[but] because he was so big and so talented, a lot of these songs we remember as Elvis’ songs. But initially, some of these songs are even from the thirties! Are You Lonesome Tonight was a German song which Elvis did in the fifties but was a twenty year old song at the time. You see, music has this inheritance from generation to generation and some great artists make it their own.”

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane
Engelbert Humperdinck & EMIN @ Hilton, Park Lane

It’s this legacy which we are left to consider as the vocalists are whisked away to their next commitments. The eighty seven year old Humperdinck is led straight into a Zoom interview while next door the forty four year old Emin thanks the pastry chefs for the custom dessert they have produced in honour of an album celebrating a musician born in 1935. The power of Elvis Presley’s music has united two men from different generations and nationalities, creating an album which carries the flame which he lit half a century ago.

EMIN‘s new album Now Or Never is out now featuring single Help Me Make It Through The Night with Engelbert Humperdinck. 

Interview with Emin and Engelbert Humperdinck by Kate Allvey, photography by Louise Phillips.

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