When most rock stars hit middle age, their imagination goes the way of their belly: it slumps and festers.

But Chris Rea, who has trodden a singular path to pen hits such as On The Beach and Let’s Dance that were never from a scene, says his creativity is flourishing.

When he began visitng Florence to see his daughter, the place became an inspiration for his latest record.

Santo Spirito,which translates as Holy Spirit, is an area in the Tuscan city. It gave his boxset – a 13-track album of “positive European blues” and two instrumental feature-film DVDs – its title.

“I spent a lot of time sitting in the Santo Spirito square,” he says, as we chat while he travels to Frankfurt for another arena show.

“It’s the Chelsea of Florence, but the restaurants are cheap and most nights everyone is drunk. It has this extremely strange church, it’s almost in the wrong place because of the people it’s surrounded by. We wanted to capture that: the spirit on the steps, and the bars.”

One of the two films is set in Florence.

Rea had written the music but wanted to put it to film. So he plotted a tale of a man walking the city in search of truth. He intended to play the role, but together with the young film maker who helped put it together decided to make it more abstract. The truth manifests itself as a silhouetted figure in a gown.

“I love film and used to go to watch just for the music. I was always fascinated by it,how you can make music change the drama of a movie.

“I like the off beat guys such as Sergio Leone, especially the way he used to work with Morricone to write bits from the film at a piano.

“For our film we’ve combined that approach with that lovely black and white old Russian film thing.”

The Middlesbrough-born guitarist has a special connection to the country where many of those Spaghetti Westerns were made. His father and uncle were born in Italy but they left it all behind for Teesside to set up an ice-cream parlour.

“They came from the south of Italy but we found out they were from Slavic gypsy stock.

And that’s why I play a few chords in my blues songs you wouldn’t hear in American Chicago blues.

“European blues does not derive from West African scales like Tamla Motown. There’s a different note in the scale. The most obvious example is a Hungarian gypsy violinist. He plays with all the same emotion as a guy in Memphis, it’s just different tunes.”

Rea also has Irish blood, which influences an Irish piece he is doing on this tour.

But the Mediterranean inspired the other DVD in Santo Spirito.

It’s a chronicle of bullfighting that features neo-classical and Spanish-themed gypsy music.

He’d fallen for the sport after reading JL Kennedy’s passionate writing about the fights and learning about maestro matador El Juli, who caped his first bull aged nine.

When his wife treated him to a birthday trip to Seville, however, Rea changed his opinion.

“I didn’t know the reality because when you watch it on TV they cut away from gory bits and show him waving to the crowd. I was horrified when I saw the reality. I thought there had been an accident.”

Rea wanted the film to be journalistic, to showthe artistic merits of thematador,but also how beautiful and powerful the animals are.

The brutal piece contrasts with the upbeat record, which he calls the “happy blues”.

“I once got a review by an eminent blues journalist who said something that interested me. He said blues is a process informing music just like Whitney Houston’s funeral was.

“You start off sad, you address your sadness and you take it up and take it higher, so by the end of a blues night, you can see where rock ’n’ roll comes from.

“And I just thought I’d do something more upbeat this time around, channel that feeling, so you don’t get every Chris Rea fan wanting to commit suicide every time he brings a new record out.”

Support from Nell Brydent

Brighton Centre, King’s Road, Thursday, March 22

On stage at 8.30pm, tickets £33.50, call 0844 8471515

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