For fans of musical theatre, the name Dave Willetts is synonymous with the West End.  Over a career spanning more than thirty years, Willetts has appeared in many shows, including the lead in Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera.  He continues to perform in musicals around the UK and as befits an actor who was part of the original Les Mis production at the Barbican (understudy to Colm Wilkinson), Willetts more often than not, chooses to work with new musical projects.

Alongside this illustrious stage career, Willetts has also enjoyed success with a number of albums.  One such offering is Timeless, an album first recorded a while ago but only now finding it’s way into the mainstream, which for fans of rich, tenor voices and musical theatre alike, is nothing short of miraculous.  After all, we don’t often get the chance to hear new material from such a seasoned actor and singer.

I described Willetts as an actor and singer in that order as it happens to be the way he described himself when I interviewed him back in 2015 when we talked about Dave Willetts as Jean Valjean.  For him, this is the crucial distinction when performing in a musical.  It is somewhat of a surprise then to find that his back story has more in common with Alfie Boe than Michael Ball. Like Alfie, Willetts has a non performance background, working in engineering as a day job and relaxing through the medium of amateur productions. While performing in Charlie and Algernon at the Priory Theatre in the Midlands, Willetts was spotted by the art director of the Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre and after a successful audition, became a professional actor, with a first role in the chorus of Annie. Twelve months later he was in the West End with Les Mis and the rest, as they say, is history.

Timeless is a collection of songs that are exactly that; timeless.  Encompassing popular standards and songs from musical theatre, the album feels full of choices personal to Willetts and needless to say, they show off his vocal range and versatility to perfection.  This is a singer who through his vast acting experience, is able to convey warmth, tenderness, fun, pathos whilst also projecting enormous vocal power.

My favourite tracks are those from musical theatre, particularly I Dreamed You and This Is The Moment, from Tony Rees and Gary Young’s Jekyll and the Broadway production Jekyll and Hyde, respectively.  Willetts has worked with both shows and when I spoke to him in 2015, he was involved in writing the book for a further musical based on the Jekyll and Hyde story, The Man Inside, which has since had it’s premiere, Willetts of course taking the lead.

The majority of the other tracks are not from musicals and are such an eclectic mix that you have no option but to believe that these are personal choices.  Fun is the word that springs to mind when listening to You Took The Words Right Out and San Francisco Bay Blues – they would be great to listen to live.  Tears in Heaven and Smile allow Willetts to show his tender side while Bridge Over Troubled Water lets that rich tenor soar.  Leaving all this aside, the song I’ve taken away from this album is a duet, with Lara J West, on I Swear, a massive 1990’s hit for All4One.  As soon as you hear it, you’ll know it, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll love it.

Timeless is released on 2 February and is available for pre-order:

If you can’t wait that long, I have a copy to give away!  Just answer the following question – competition closes at Midnight on Sunday 21 January.

Which West End show did Dave Willetts star in after Les Mis?

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Ten days or so after new year and we might be feeling just a bit down in the dumps with the winter blues so let’s cheer ourselves up with an Alfie Boe quiz!

As with previous quizzes, we’re playing for pride, not prizes so let’s see how many you get right!  Answers next week.

  1. How many Classic Quadrophenia shows did Alfie sing with in 2017 and where were they?
  2. How many solo shows for 2018 did Alfie announce at the end of 2017?
  3. Which guest artists featured on Ball and Boe: Back Together for ITV?
  4. Name Alfie’s understudy for Carousel.
  5. In which building was Alfie’s blue plaque unveiled and what did it commemorate?
  6. Which song was voted Alfie’s Best Live Song in 2017?
  7. Which of Alfie’s albums topped the classical chart in 2017?
  8. How many HMV stores did Alfie and Michael visit to sign copies of Together Again?
  9. Which TV talent show did Alfie make a guest appearance on earlier this year?
  10. Which song did Alfie play on guitar during the Together Again tour?

Answers will follow next week – good luck!

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Back in 2015, I interviewed Alfie just before he went off to Broadway to do Les Miz and just after he had created the role of Jimmy in the world premiere of Classic Quadrophenia.  Naturally, we spoke about the highlights of that concert at the Royal Albert Hall and I told Alfie that I was surprised by how good Billy Idol was.  I had to admit that aside from the obvious few hits, I didn’t really know much about Billy Idol and his music, to which the answer from Alfie was unequivocally, “well, you should – you should definitely listen more, especially to Rebel Yell“. That was over two years ago and although I had the best intentions, I still had not researched and listened to Billy Idol!  Now, however, looking around for a new year resolution that might actually stick, I came up with the idea of listening to more music, especially music that I would not normally choose to listen to and has been introduced to me by Alfie.  Of course, my first subject for this monthly post is Billy Idol!

Growing up in the 1980’s, I couldn’t help being aware of Billy Idol, particularly White Wedding, Hot in the City, Mony Mony and Rebel Yell but I would never seek out his music to listen to; rather, it was part of the music culture of that time.  So, embarking on project Billy Idol, what did I actually know about his music?  If you had asked me a month ago I would have said his music was punk but I came to realise that although the music is definitely originated in punk, it has much more of a pop sound and style about it that I wasn’t expected.  Punk Pop, perhaps.

Although, this was the song that Alfie had recommended me to start with, he might have meant the whole album, also entitled Rebel Yell.  Regularly cited as Idol’s best album, I’ve now listened to the whole album and I agree, it’s great! It’s catchy, it’s got rocking rhythms and tunes and above all, it’s reminiscent of that whole era.  Aside from this song, Eyes Without A Face is my favourite track. Luckily, Idol was making his mark just when MTV started and I can still remember the novelty of watching music videos  non stop on the TV…something that we today can scarcely credit, with our non stop on demand music!

From Rebel Yell, I worked my way through his other albums but nothing caught my ear until his 2014 release, Kings and Queens of the Underground.  This is the title track:

I’m a sucker for songs that tell a story and the lyrics on this song are fabulous; recalling past glories whilst also moving the story forward.  It doesn’t hold back on the highs and lows of the rock and roll life either; it could be subtitled, ‘how the hell am I still here’? The sound is unexpectedly pared down and would be a great song to hear live.  Other tracks that appeal are Save Me, Postcard From The Past and Ghosts In My Guitar.  They have different styles, from the understated to the classic Idol sound but as a whole, it hangs together perfectly.

Kings and Queens of the Underground is available here:

As I mentioned earlier, my New Year resolution is to listen to more music, especially that inspired by Alfie, so I’m looking for some recommendations for another eleven posts.  If you have any recommendations for me, fill in the form and I’ll see what I can do:

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The first Six Sensational Songs post for 2018 is from Karen Blower.  I first met Karen in a virtual sense on Twitter as we both had a love of Alfie Boe and also both blogged about music; Karen is also a huge Il Divo fan.  Karen first became aware of Alfie via the Royal Variety performance that featured him as part of the Les Mis medley and of course, since then, Alfie has graced that stage twice more.  Here are Karen’s choices:

Of course, Bring Him Home, from a few years ago and in Karen’s words, “enough said”.  No further reasons needed!

Tell Me It’s Not True, from the Together Again tour.  Karen chose this because “Blood Brothers is a favourite musical of mine and Alfie’s version of the iconic song is amazing, especially when sang with Michael Ball”.

It’s Over, from the Storyteller days.  Karen says that “I grew up listening to Roy Orbison and Alfie is one of only a few singers who can do proper justice to his songs”. Yes indeed, and I still love have a chuckle that Alfie opened his set with a song called It’s Over!

Over The Hills and Far Away, at the Festival of Remembrance in 2011.  This one gives Karen goosebumps – and I’m sure she’s not the only one!

Forever Young, again at the Festival of Remembrance, this time in 2013.  Alfie has of course appeared twice more in recent years, being, in Huw Edwards’ words, “a great friend of the festival”.  As with the previous choice, Forever Young is just beautiful and gives Karen goosebumps.

Finally, Love Reign O’er Me from Classic Quadrophenia, this time from the Together tour 2016.  Karen acknowledges that this is a popular song by saying “again, yes I know but the emotion and power he puts into this, how can you not put it on the list?”  Quite – it was on my list!

Thanks Karen for sharing your six songs with us – yet again, two new songs to add to the list!

If you would like to share your six favourite Alfie songs with us, please fill in the form below.

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Happy New Year!

It’s the beginning of another exciting new year for Alfie and here at thoughtofjustafan, we’re starting off in the best way possible –  it’s competition time!

I have four Together Again tour goodie bags to give away which contain the following:
BB card holder / wallet
BB VIP bag
BB tour lanyard
BB programme signed by both Alfie and Michael

To win these goodie bags all you have to do is answer the following question*:

In which countries did Alfie and Michael perform in,  in 2017?

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Merry Christmas everyone!  It’s the time of year to look back at what’s happened and what’s been achieved and oh my goodness, if you thought 2016 was good for Alfie, then 2017 knocked it out of the park.  What an awesome year he’s had!

Regular readers will know that I love to look back, so here are my 2017 highlights:

  • Seeing Alfie in Carousel – wasn’t he fabulous as Billy Bigelow?
  • A few stage door hugs with Alfie during the Carousel run:

  • The Trinity YouTubeathon in which we raised over £500 for one of Alfie’s charities
  • Alfie and Michael achieving a world record at HMV in October and meeting some fabulous fans too – click here to see the fan videos we made
  • Seeing so many fans in Australia and USA happy to see Alfie and Michael
  • Together Again reaching the number one chart position upon release – and now going Platinum!
  • Attending the ITV special, Ball and Boe: Back Together
  • Interviewing Alfie – if you haven’t yet seen part one, make sure you’re subscribed!

Thank you to each and everyone one of you who reads thoughtsofjustafan – your messages of support are very much appreciated.  I’m thrilled to reveal that we recently sailed past the 250K hits…I’m looking forward to half a million!

There are some special people to thank who make this whole thing happen:

Debbie Bannigan for continuing to believe in me and more importantly, to show me how far I’ve come and how far I can still go.  In the words of Michael Ball on this tour, “dream big and follow your dreams”; Debbie has shown me what can happen when you believe in yourself.

Carole Hunt for continuing to allow me the use of her photo for the site banner.

Linda Wellington for the use of her wonderful photos and videos.

Thank you to everyone who allows me to use their videos here.

Roberta Kappus, Cecelia Powell, Carole Hunt, Barbara Wren, Heather Crosskey, Heather Moore, Pauline Hyland, Claire Shorter, Kate Griffin for being such wonderful guest reviewers.

Linda Anstee, Linda Wellington, Carole Hunt, Karen Rogers, Pat Watterson, Cecelia Powell, Sue Redfern for being there – thanks for keeping me sane.

Linda Anstee, Ellen Rook and Rachael Hailey for being my top social media sharers.

Linda McCann, Sue Redfern and Cecelia Powell for being my top commenters.

Huge thanks to Emily and Andrea at Vector and to Ash and team at Decca – you’ve been amazing and a joy to work with.

Finally, it’s a massive thank you to Alfie for his unstinting support and generosity – without you, there would be no thoughtsofjustafan!

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

xxxx

Long time fan Lisa Tootill has really found the best way to combine work with Alfie and Michael.  Lisa, who has been following Michael since Aspects of Love and first saw Alfie perform on his 2012 Storyteller tour, works at the Guide Dog Breeding Centre near Birmingham and is responsible for bringing new dogs into the centre to enhance the gene pool for future breeding.  Recently, Lisa found two Curly Coated Retrievers in Estonia (they’re a rare breed), and upon bringing them back to the UK, managed to christen them Alfie and Michael!

Alfie is on the left and Michael the right.

Although the traditional image of a guide dog is a Labrador, there are in fact, many breeds used, including Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Flat Coated Retrievers as well as the Curly Coated Retriever.  There is even a Standard Poodle and Border Collie in the breeding programme.  One of the most famous guide dog owners is David Blunkett who always uses Curly Coated / Labrador crosses, as they are good, solid, working dogs.

Each year, Guide Dogs UK breeds puppies to go on and eventually train and work with visually impaired people around the UK.  The usual practice when naming litters is that all the names should start with the same letter, for tracing purposes but Lisa was adamant that with these two sweethearts, the rules should go out the window and Alfie and Michael were thus named.  In fairness, Lisa says that the theme for name picking was ‘my favourite things’ and Alfie and Michael are two of her favourite people, as all the staff at the breeding centre are well aware!  Here is Lisa with Alfie:

 

Thanks Lisa for sharing your story of marrying work with Alfie and Michael.  To find out more about Guide Dogs UK click here.

If you would like to share your fan story, I’d be delighted to hear from you, just click here to send me a message.

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I have a confession to make – I truly love Christmas songs and Christmas albums so it was with total joy that I heard Rachael Sage had released a holidays EP, aptly named Joy. It’s a holidays album because it also encompasses Hanukkah, also being celebrated at the moment.

It’s a tricky thing to bring something new to Christmas music but that is exactly what Sage does with her cover of the classic Joy To The World.  Weaving together her proven sounds of folk, pop, and jazz,  Sage brings new life to such a joyful song; indeed, my overwhelming emotion when listening (and I can’t stop listening) is joy.  Sage’s vocals are crystal clear and she certainly knows how to arrange a song to suit.

Tchatchkes and Latkes is one of Sage’s own songs and is lively and tongue in cheek, originally being written for Rachael’s Joe’s Pub shows. It’s pure, unadulterated fun, definitely passing the ‘have to get up and dance’ test.  The second Hanukkah song, Hanukkah in the Village, a favourite with Rachael’s many fans is also beautiful:

 

Wonderfully evocative, the song takes you all around New York City in three minutes and makes you feel like you’re actually experiencing the holiday season there.  If I didn’t want to visit New York at this time of year before, I do now!

The most interesting track on the EP is the Yiddish ballad, and Rachael’s first Yiddish recording, Umru Meine, which debuted earlier this year at Skirball Center For The Performing Arts, where she sang it alongside Tovah Feldshuh, David Hyde Pierce and other Broadway performers as part of a National Yiddish Theatre gala event.  This is a cover but again, with Sage’s own arrangement suited to her style and you can feel Sage really connecting to the language.

Joy is available to download here:

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The Ball and Boe Together Again tour 2017 finished in style at London’s 02 arena this week and I was very lucky to have a front row seat (courtesy of Claire Shorter) and witnessed one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.  In fact, only Alfie’s solo shows have surpassed it.  My review of the show and the tour in general follow but first we hear from Sarah Buttifant, for whom this was her first concert of the tour:

Just over a year ago I didn’t know who Alfie Boe was. I happened to watch Ball and Boe One Night Only on TV and the sound of his voice gave me goosebumps! Since then I’ve seen him and Michael at one of their summer concerts, I was extremely fortunate to be in the ITV studio for the recording of this years Ball and Boe Back Together and now I’ve seen them live at the 02.

I’ve got to admit I was expecting this concert to be amazing and it did not disappoint. Having deprived myself of spoilers for the two weeks leading up to the concert (no mean feat in itself!) I couldn’t wait to see what the boys had planned. The songs from the new album performed live were brilliant. Bring Me Sunshine, when they brought the children onto the stage was heart melting.

The evening just kept getting better and better. They rocked out with an epic Queen medley and the songs from Les Mis that we’d not heard them sing before were sublime. Their solo songs hit just the right note and the show stopping Wham finale had the whole of the 02 up on its feet. The friendship between these two shines out and their enthusiasm and love for music is completely infectious. I think it’s safe to say I’m addicted – roll on 16th June 2018, Kenwood House here I come.

Thank you so much Sarah for your thoughts – I agree, it was an amazing evening.  Although I had seen the concert in Brighton at the beginning of the tour, I knew that the running order was not necessarily the same and that there were hints of extras for the end of tour, London finale.  The main change for me was the addition of Alfie’s most popular live song of the last two years, Run which had been exchanged for Elton John’s Tiny Dancer after the first two shows.  Another addition was the inclusion of the two choirs, Mountview School and Rays of Sunshine, seen above (that’s me, Linda W and Jayne you can hear oohing and aahing on the video!).  The children were word perfect and totally rocked the stage, melting several thousand hearts along the way – if you want to raise money for them and help get Alfie and Michael to number one for Christmas, then click here.  Mountview students featured in the ITV special in October and more returned to sing alongside Alfie and Michael on Thursday evening; the result was just stunning, as can be seen from You’re The Voice:

Those students are having just the best time with Alfie and Michael, and the feeling’s obviously mutual!  These were my highlights from this concert although Alfie’s Bring Him Home (tears again from me and so emotional for him, singing that back at the 02) and the Wham medley were phenomenal.

My feelings about this tour are nothing but joy – it has been a privilege to witness such warmth, happiness and superb vocals from Alfie and Michael and in my opinion, everyone should see these two perform together at least once…although once would of course never be enough.  Happiness and joy are sometimes in short supply and these two go a long way to getting us there so if you haven’t been lucky enough to see them live, or want to relive the experience, click here to see the a YouTube playlist from the wonderful Linda Wellington.  My personal favourite from this tour is Alfie’s new song, Wagon Wheel:

This gives me the perfect opportunity to thank the wonderful musicians, in particular, Murray Gould, Sam Grimley, John Tonks, Callum McLeod, Neil Angilley, Don Richardson, Marsha Skinns, Ulrika Bergelind, Tor Hills and Emma Osei-Lah.

Thank you to Alfie and Michael for the fabulous music and to everyone I met in Brighton and London – all your messages are really appreciated. Special mentions to Linda Anstee, Linda Wellington, Jayne Templeton, Claire Shorter, Roberta Kappus, Cecelia Powell, Tienne Lockwood, Carole Hunt, Cheryl Stenason, Emma Brimacombe, Gail Slinn, Nicola Lange, Ellen Rook, Leanne Miller, Jo Cassidy, Heather and Jay, Mitsuko and Ayano, Sally Cook, Pat Watterson, Janet Baldwin and Annie Lloyd, not forgetting my guest reviewers Carole Hunt, Pauline Hyland, Heather Crosskey, Heather Moore, Sarah Buttifant, Claire Shorter, Barbara Wren and Kate Griffin. Hopefully I haven’t forgotten anyone but if I have, I’m sorry, it’s been a busy few weeks!

To donate to Rays of Sunshine and propel Ball and Boe to the tip of the singles charts, click here to download Bring Me Sunshine with all star cast.

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How would you like to help Alfie Boe and Michael Ball get the Christmas number one in both the singles and album chart and feel good about helping others at the same time?

If the answer to this is of course you would, then all you have to do is send some sunshine to your friends by sending them a download of Ball and Boe’s charity single, Bring Me Sunshine. Click here to download from iTunes and send as a gift.  Click here to download via amazon. And when you’ve done that tweet it with the hashtag #SendSunshine!

Let’s face it, everyone’s Christmas would be made better by listening to Alfie, Michael and friends singing this Morecambe and Wise classic:

The charity benefiting from the proceeds is Rays of Sunshine, a charity that grants wishes for seriously ill children and teenagers across the UK. The charity was founded in 2003 and has since granted more than 6,000 wishes for brave and deserving children. Their work provides hope and creates lasting and precious memories for thousands of families across the UK. The charity receives no government funding, so proceeds will enable them to help more children who greatly need help.  Some of the children in the choir appeared on stage at the 02 and raised the roof so please help them to raise as much money as possible.

Alfie and Michael are joined by other artists including Al Murray, Angela Rippon, Aston Merrygold, Bryn Terfel, Calum Scott, Collabro, Danny O’Donoghue (The Script), Gareth Malone, Gregory Porter, Imelda May, Imelda Staunton, Jason Manford, Kelsey Grammer, Lesley Joseph, Loose Women (Kaye Adams, Nadia Sawalha, Stacey Solomon, Linda Robson), Mark King, Mel Giedroyc, Miranda Hart, Ore Oduba, Pauline Quirke, Rick Wakeman, Seal, Shirley Ballas (Strictly Come Dancing), and the Rays of Sunshine Children’s Choir.

I earlier mentioned that Alfie and Michael are in the race for two number one slots this Christmas and of course they clinched the top album spot in 2016.  Having debuted at number one upon it’s October release, wouldn’t it be best thing to end a fabulous year if Together Again returned to the top spot?  The only thing to better it would be Bring Me Sunshine reigning supreme and raising lots of money for Rays of Sunshine.

Click here to download from iTunes and here from amazon, or you can text GET SUNSHINE to 84222 (£1 + standard message rate) and send some sunshine to all your friends – thank you!  Please share with the hashtag #SendSunshine as well.

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