interview

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The Journey is the second album from classical crossover artist Thomas Spencer and has been a long time in the making and reflects his desire to find his own voice in the crossover world.  I spoke to Thomas last week about the album and about his own personal journey through the world of music.

Thomas hails from a Derbyshire village and after music A level, decided to study acting in London.  A change of heart though saw him enrol for voice training at Trinity College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music before going onto a post graduate musical theatre course.  The logical outcome of all this was to work in musical theatre but when Thomas found that he was losing out to singers and actors with a bigger profile, his response was to try a different approach and began recording an album in his London flat with his musician / composer brother, Oliver.  Credere was the end product and the brothers quickly decided that they wanted to record another, using mostly their own material.  It’s unusual for classical crossover artists to record known material and although The Journey does contain this, the majority is (mainly Oliver’s) original compositions.  Of this choice, Thomas says “we wanted to find our own voice, our own material, our own style of music”.

The result is a unique sounding album that lulls you into thinking you know where this musical journey is going to take you; it’s only when you’re a few songs into the album that you realise this is not taking you in the expected direction at all which for me, is great.  There is something for everyone on this album, whether new to classical crossover or not although, as we know from Alfie Boe, there’s only two kinds of music, good and bad; part of what makes good music good is the unexpected (and goodness knows Alfie Boe in particular is nothing if not unpredictable) and it’s the original songs on this album that stand out.

The Journey is released on 23 June and this is a super busy time for Thomas as he is also coming to the end of a multi date project with choirs around the country.  Beginning in the middle of May, Thomas has been travelling the length and breadth of the country working and performing with community choirs.  Whether singing solos or as part of the tenor section, singing his own music or teaching and participating in workshops, Thomas says that “no two choirs sessions have been the same, each night is unique with differing abilities, ages, sizes…it’s nice to be kept on my toes”.  Most of the choirs have their own repertoire and Thomas gave a wry chuckle when he said that Bring Him Home and other Les Mis songs seemed to be perennial favourites with choirs – I expect he’s sung that a fair few times over the last few weeks.  Having said that, Thomas has also sung Gilbert and Sullivan and other musical theatre songs in the course of this tour and even learnt some Welsh folk songs courtesy of a week with Welsh male voice choirs.

When asked why a community choir tour, Thomas answered that “having sung in choirs all my life I felt it was a good way to get involved in community and to spend time talking about and performing music.  I’ve been lucky enough to train at some good places and it’s great to be able to share some vocal technique, biology of the voice and what I do before performing”.   Nearly all the songs on The Journey lend themselves to choral adaptations so it would be interesting to see if any of the choirs Thomas has worked with add any to their repertoire.

The Journey is available here:

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Will Barratt has been performing in London’s West End (Jersey Boys, Phantom, War of the Worlds, Producers) for a while now but he became someone to look out for amongst Alfie Boe fans when he understudied Alfie’s Billy Bigelow in ENO’s Carousel; he literally took over from Alfie half way through a show after Alfie came down with an ear infection.  Two more shows the next day followed, both to rave reviews. I interviewed Will after the end of the five week run and although he was quick to point out he had no expectation of performing the role, in the event that he did, said that “it was good to get on for a couple of shows together, like a preview and opening night in two shows”.  Additionally, Will said that although Alfie was sad to have to miss the show, he was “so pleased that I got on – he was dead happy for me”.  If you want to hear Will singing the soliloquy, click here for a pre-show talk and performance at ENO (soliloquy starts at 23m).

As Will’s only role in the production was to understudy Billy, I was keen to find out about the creative process and rehearsal period; how much was he involved?  It turns out that both Will and Molly Lynch, who understudied Katherine Jenkins as Julie, were as fully involved as Alfie and Katherine from day one.  Whoever plays the part, the blocking and direction is the same, it’s the thought processes of the actor that differs.  Will says that “Alfie, Katherine, Molly and I, we all got on, we worked through stuff together…Alfie was also going through the process of figuring out the role, he didn’t know what it was on day one either.  We were all doing it together”.

Now, you might be wondering about the headline of this piece – Confessions of a Justified Sinner.  This is the title of Will’s self penned debut album, released in 2015 and showcases his seemingly effortless talent for singing, playing multiple instruments and song writing.  Of the songs themselves, Will says that “all the songs on this album contain bits of me, my life, history, wants and needs, aches and pains, ups and downs…they are my confessions”.  He leaves it up to us as to whether he is a justified sinner or not!

Being self penned, this album is not what you might expect from a musical theatre performer – there are a few songs that wouldn’t be out of place in a musical but on the whole, the songs are a mix of upbeat, rockier, pop and jazz with a hint of Americana that really get you up and out of your seat.  To me, a great song is one that you instantly sing along to or you can’t sit still to and both the opening track, Give Me Some Time and Demon, towards the end, had me up and dancing straight away.  These two songs, together with Fearless (below), a beautiful ballad and the almost Buble-esque Never Thought, are my favourite songs.  Interestingly, Give Me Some Time and Never Thought are songs originally written when Will was at school, just reworked and rearranged to give a more sophisticated sound.

Will’s fabulous voice handles all these styles with great versatility and is a joy to listen to.

Confessions of a Justified Sinner is available here:

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Recently returned from Cape Town where he created the role of John Crichton-Stuart in the new musical Tiger Bay, a role written especially for him no less, John Owen-Jones tomorrow releases a compilation album, Bring Him Home.  A mix of musical theatre songs taken from three previous albums,  John Owen-Jones (2009, Unmasked (2012) and Rise (2015), there are also three new tracks to delight fans: Maria, Why God Why and Suddenly.  In addition to this, John is soon to embark on a short solo tour of Wales – click here for dates and venues.  All in all, with Tiger Bay moving to Cardiff in November and a trip stateside in September, 2017 is shaping up to be a busy year for John.

Given his super busy schedule, it was a delight to catch up with John over coffee this week to talk about the new album although of course, you’ll forgive us if we strayed onto all things Les Mis.  Like Alfie, it was through Les Mis that I first became aware of John – the Valjean Quartet at the 25th concert to be precise.  Talking about that incredible moment where Alfie first starts singing, John says that “being in the room when we first rehearsed that and everyone’s hair was blow off when Alfie hit that top note”.  Lovely to hear that the other Valjean’s thought that as it’s the same for most of us too.  As for Alfie, Les Mis is the show in which John first rose to prominence; at 26 he was the youngest actor to play Valjean.  He says of this time on Broadway that “I was very lucky at 26 that I had the chance to play Jean Valjean and I grabbed it with both hands”.   Since then he has returned to the role several times, most recently on Broadway again and for a short run in Dubai and doesn’t rule out another stint in the future “if the opportunity is there again, why not?”

Of the three new tracks on Bring Him Home, one is related to Les Mis and that is Suddenly, the song that was added to the movie version and as yet, has not been recorded by many people.  As such, it sounds fresh and exciting which is no mean feat for a song from a thirty year old musical that everyone is familiar with.  In understated style, John calls the song ” a nice little tune” and it fits in perfectly with the theme of this album which draws heavily on John’s roles with both Les Mis and Phantom, both of which are huge in Japan.  John has played several sell out shows there and in once concert last year, John says that the audience refused to leave the auditorium until he came back for a further encore – the musical director came back on stage without shoes and socks!

As for the other new tracks, Maria was chosen as West Side Story was the first show in which John was ever on stage and is a song he’s always wanted to record as a result.  Apparently it took him this long to actually do it because his mum’s not keen on the song but “she can skip that one”.  Great choice of song – despite there being many versions of this song out there, John’s acting ability enables him to bring an emotional depth that is not always heard.  Similarly personal, Why God Why from Miss Saigon was the song John performed at his audition for drama school and is a song that he has performed live for a long time.

As mentioned earlier, next week sees John embark on a short solo tour of Wales and he says that the set list will consist of mainly musical theatre songs with one or two others in the mix as well.  A number of local choirs will be joining John, not to mention Rhys Meirion in Rhyl and other guest artists.  Sounds fantastic!

Bring Him Home is released on Sain Records on 9 June and is available here:

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Two years after the triumphant world premiere of Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia (CQ) Alfie Boe and Billy Idol return to join Townshend in a limited run of US dates (click here for tickets).  Kicking off at Tanglewood on 2 September, the show will play two nights (9 – 10 September) at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York before finishing at The Greek Theatre, LA on 16 September.  Keith Lockhart will conduct at Tanglewood with the Boston Pops Orchestra and this will be familiar to Alfie as he has previously worked with both, when he recorded with them for their 2005 Christmas album, Sleigh Ride.  The original CQ conductor, Robert Ziegler will conduct for the other performances.

 

Alfie says that he is “thrilled to be joining Classic Quadrophenia for a limited run of US shows” and I confidently predict that quite a lot of Alfie fans will be thrilled too!  Since CQ was announced as a project in late 2014, US fans have been extremely keen to see Alfie perform this music and I urge everyone with the slightest chance of seeing it to beg, steal or borrow but basically do whatever it takes to see Alfie in the role of Jimmy – I would love to see it again.  An added bonus is the presence of Billy Idol, who was a surprising highlight for me at the original show.

When I first interviewed Alfie about CQ, he had yet to perform the show and I asked him about the recording process.  Apparently, Alfie said, it took “a good few hours.  The sound is almost like a live recording of my vocals as it was really flowing, we were really in the groove”.  I asked Alfie how difficult it was to sing and although some parts are trickier than others, the most difficult for him was getting the emotional intensity right.  “It’s an emotional piece and you have to understand what you are singing and the emotional intent behind it and then you’re alright”.

The Who’s historic rock opera Quadrophenia was of course originally released as an extensive double album in 1973 and has stood the test of time as a conceptual work honouring the Mod movement. The album, later turned into a feature film and theatrical production, follows an angst-ridden young man in London who creates a new life for himself as a member of the Mods.  Talking about the classical incarnation, Pete Townshend says ““I’m thrilled to be bringing Classic Quadrophenia stateside through the month of September. Melding the contrasting sounds of Quadrophenia with a symphony has been a really unique and powerful way to reach a wide audience of classical and pop music lovers alike. I couldn’t be more excited to see it continue in the U.S.”

Tickets go on sale on 13 June – click here.

 

Saturday, September 2          Lenox, MA             Tanglewood

Saturday, September 9          New York, NY        Metropolitan Opera House

Sunday, September 10           New York, NY        Metropolitan Opera House

Saturday, September 16        Los Angeles, CA     The Greek Theatre

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In the twenty first century you might be forgiven for thinking that there’s no such thing as new sounds in music; after all, haven’t we already invented everything?  In most cases the answer might be yes but having listened to US band Kolars, it’s clear that the future of music innovation is well and truly kicking.  Their eponymous debut album, released this week, is a riot of genre defying songs that embrace country, guitar led Americana, glam rock, blues and folk music to name but a few.  Throw in new wave and punk and you start to see why the band (husband and wife Rob Kolar and Lauren Brown) describe their music with terms such as glam-a-billy, space blues and desert disco.  I spoke to them via skype last week and Lauren described this musical journey as “the way music is going in general – there are more genres and sub genres now, mixing genres to create new ones”.

The album is a product of Rob and Lauren coming together as a duo after the demise of their previous band, He’s My Brother She’s My Sister and as already mentioned, represents many different genres derived from numerous and somewhat eclectic musical influences.  I asked both about their musical influences and Rob in particular, as the writer, named just about every type of music since the 1950’s – and what he didn’t, Lauren did.  As a writer, Rob says he is influenced by a lot of UK music as well as blues and this is reflected in the construction of the songs on the album.  Upon first listen, the album is clearly innovative musically but strip that away and the songs are well constructed that would work perfectly well as acoustic tracks.  The opening track, One More Thrill, exemplifies this – and look out for fabulous drumming from Lauren:

Rob says about the origins of One More Thrill, “it started out on acoustic guitar and then turned into a kind of Springsteen anthem and then new wave and punk elements were added.  I learnt to be open to all genres of music and not be pigeon holed”.  I can definitely say that this album cannot be pigeon holed!

Taken as a whole, all the songs have a strong percussive element which is to be expected with one half of the band having such a distinctive drumming style – when asked about the music she didn’t like, Lauren’s answers were all related to artists with “awful drum sounds”.  Additionally, catchy hooks mean that you’ll be hearing the songs for days afterwards.  The glam rock influences are apparent too and it’s no surprise to learn that Rob’s favourite period musically turns out to be “glam rock, T Rex, Bowie, it includes pop, great hooks and then you’ve got the androgyny, fun fashion, great drum sounds”.  A couple of the songs have definite Bowie moments but with this album, just when you think you’ve got a handle on the music, the tracks take a sharp turn into something totally different. This album challenges you musically whilst remaining very listenable.

Kolars is available here:

Catch Kolars at their remaining live dates – click here.

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As a leading lady of both London’s West End and Broadway, Rachel Tucker is used to being centre stage but always as part of an ensemble, never before as a solo artist.  All that is set to change however, with a thirteen date solo tour around the UK beginning in her home town of Belfast on 13 May.  The first date sold out quickly which was, as Rachel said when I interviewed her a month ago, “a real thrill…I don’t get back often so it’s great how quick the tickets went”.

Rachel is probably best known for long running roles in Wicked, having risen to fame as a finalist on the BBC One show I’d Do Anything, subsequently performing at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Birthday In The Park show in London’s Hyde Park and later taking on a range of roles in some of the West End’s best shows, before making her Broadway debut in The Last Ship, a new musical written by the rock icon Sting.

As an established musical theatre star, I was keen to find out if Rachel’s set list would mostly consist of songs from that genre.  Not necessarily so, although Rachel says she was “brought up on old classic Hollywood, Gene Kelly type musicals so there will be some musical songs there”.  Rachel went on to say that her own taste is rather more eclectic, a mixture of classic jazz, soul and pop and hopes that at least half the finished set list will be upbeat jazz and soul.  It transpires that in preparation for this tour, Rachel has been listening to a lot of music which might not be a surprise for a singer but in fact, she say she doesn’t listen to much music outside the theatre as it’s her job (I totally get that – reviewing music sometimes leaves me in a position to say no more).  Choosing a set list seems to be something less than a walk in the park too; Rachel said that she “didn’t realise how hard it would be.  After four weeks rehearsal we only just got to the point where we decided what the songs should be and in what order.  Some songs are amazing but don’t work amongst the rest of the set and we’re having some guest artists so in some shows the set list will be different”. Those recently announced as guests are Oliver Tompsett (Horsham and Live at Zedel), Samantha Barks (Live at Zedel) and fellow Wicked star Louise Dearman (Bury St. Edmunds).

As this is Rachel’s first excursion into a show where the emphasis is all on her solo performance, I was intrigued to find out how she would deal with possible nerves. Although pressure as a solo performer was mentioned, Rachel was quick to say that doing her own music was “much more satisfying, more thrilling as an artist” as opposed to being part of a show.  Additionally, Rachel thought she would feel more nervous than when part of a show, one reason being that in a lot of the venues, the stage is very close to the audience.  Having said that, Rachel has been singing in such places since she was a child and says that it makes it easier to “look the audience in the eye and tell a story”.

Rachel Tucker’s tour starts in Belfast on May 13 and continues until June 10 in Birmingham – click here for dates and tickets.

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Bring Him Home on ITV’s Daybreak:

There was an interview too!

This time it’s thanks to Alfie for sharing these videos!

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Writing a music blog means that you get to listen to a lot of music, some good, some not so good and occasionally, some really good.  I love bringing you new music and new voices in particular and I recently heard a lovely new voice and wanted to share it with you.  Marga Lane is a music graduate from the USA who is shortly to release a new EP, Undressed which draws heavily on her ‘old school’ musical influences to display her raw, yet versatile voice.

The music is simple, pared down in style which is a departure from Lane’s previous music.  In Lane’s own words (from our recent interview), “I wanted the EP to not be over produced, the intention was to be simple.  My previous music was heavily produced…I love Nashville and Country music and I love how a simple melody evokes such emotion from the voice”.

Undressed is self penned  and it feels as if the songs are rooted in real experiences and emotions – undressed emotionally as well as musically. I asked Lane if any of the songs were written from her own perspective and she confirmed that “yes, they are about my current relationship, I can finally write love songs.  Experiencing these things personally means I have so much more emotion to put into singing them.”  It seemed that this was Lane’s favourute question, in fact she declared that “this is my most fun question…I used to see interviews and think who is that song about and now I get to answer that question”!

Undressed‘s five tracks reflect a musical past shaped by Motown, blues, pop and folk and indeed, Lane confirms that her earliest influences included Motown and Michael Jackson, collectively referred to as ‘old school’ as well as The Spice Girls although it seems that this was more from a performance point of view than the music.  We all had a favourite spice girl and Lane’s was Scary Spice aka Mel B.  My favourite track is Forgiven as it shows a more complex song writing structure and is more thought provoking emotionally.  I was left contemplating the nature of forgiveness, something a three minute song doesn’t normally do.

Lane’s road to success started when she studied music at Berklee College, Boston and one of her strategies for sharing her music is to sing before NBA games and also at fashion shows.  Asked how this came about, she says “I love singing the national anthem and I reached out to NBA co-ordinators, sending them clips of me singing and a few of them invited me to sing before games.  It’s nice to have that on my resume and people find out about my music”.  Performing at fashion shows is slightly different in that there’s a backing track and a DJ but this apparently makes Lane feel like “a pop star…there’s more exposure there and opportunities to speak to people”.

For 2017, Lane hopes to tour the EP before going back into the studio.

Undressed is released on 2 December and is available here:

undressed

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What is it that makes someone who likes music and singing decide to pursue music as a profession? Is it talent, opportunity, courage or a mixture of all three? Having spoken to a number of up and coming artists I’ve decided that all the three qualities already mentioned have to be there and also that extra special something: the feeling that you really have to put your heart and soul on the line and follow that dream.

I recently spoke to a young London based singer, Mariam, who has only relatively recently embarked on the life of a musician, indeed she has only been performing publicly since 2011. Mariam says that she has “always loved singing and music”.

“Music was always something I wanted to do, I feel as if I was born to do it. I love writing as well and I knew that if I didn’t take the plunge and do it, I wouldn’t ever feel really happy.”

Starting with open mic nights and progressing on to small, local gigs concentrating on just her voice and the guitar (the guitar is called Pearl), Mariam soon built up a local following and thoughts turned to recording an EP. Mariam readily admits that despite high hopes, the EP didn’t happen as, “it just didn’t sound the way I wanted it to”. A brave decision to step away but given that many a promising career has been curtailed by putting out music that the performer isn’t happy with, perhaps the right one.

Two years on and having joined the London Community Gospel Choir, Mariam has her mojo back and having written and recorded an EP that she’s happy with, released it last week. In conversation, her enthusiasm for this new project is infectious – she says that the recording “just flowed. The process came together and I knew it was supposed to sound like this”. The time spent away from music as a solo artist has meant that this time around, Mariam’s love of music has come to the fore naturally, with something new to share in the EP, Heart to Heart.

Heart to Heart begins with an upbeat track and the first single, Be There For Me, which recounts a tale of unrequited love. Lest this sound a tad bleak, the song actually charts the realisation that you can’t make someone love you and that sometimes, it’s best to walk away:

The rest of Heart to Heart talks about the themes of live and love, with the pared down Running being the stand out track. Self penned, the songs feel natural and unforced and Mariam sounds like a much more experienced musician.

For the future, Mariam hopes to make music her full time living although she hastened to say that she’s lucky enough to be able to use music in her day job too, being a creative arts youth worker in schools. Her final thoughts on the future of her music are that she wants to put out “music that inspires and encourages others. I was so fearful of taking the step and now here I am, doing it”.

Heart to Heart is available now on iTunes – click here.

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Regular readers will know that I love lots of different kinds of music and I especially like hearing new music from singer song writers, whether they be new or established in the music industry.  I recently had the opportunity to interview New York musician, singer, songwriter, visual artist and the all round super talent that is Rachael Sage about her latest album, Choreographic and her UK tour of the same name.  This is the second time I’ve reviewed and interviewed Rachael and her single Coloring Book is one of my most listened to songs on my iPod.

Coloring Book is what I call a happy tune and has a clear visual theme and Choreographic continues in the same vein.  Rachael says the album was inspired by dance (she has a background in ballet and her music has been extensively featured on the reality show Dance Moms) but also refers to visual art, ie the graphic.  The first track is titled Heaven is a Grocery Clerk and as a lot of the lyrics refer to visual art I assumed she was talking about her own work.  However, the painting and art sung about is by an artist called Riki Chen.  Rachael said of the song “he’s [Chan] kind of a kindred spirit, he went through some really tough times and bounced back but even through the tough times he never stopped creating.  He told me a story that when he was homeless and hungry, heaven to him was once a grocery store clerk.”  The song has a dark undertone but ultimately, the listener feels uplifted.  Another song that has a darker undertone but uplifts the listener is I Don’t Believe It:

On one hand, the lyrics talk to us about someone fighting against the ‘you can’t do it, you’re not good enough’ mentality but the upbeat melody pushes against that, resulting in a song that leaves you feeling on top of the world: I CAN do this, rather than I can’t.  This feeling is reinforced by the beautiful video.  Rachael said of this video “Kaci King, the dancer in this video has such musicality and it was so exciting to see what she could bring to the song”.   Looking at this video you can see how well the music conveys emotion through contemporary ballet as well as jazz and modern dance.

Choreographic also sees Rachael’s first ever song writing collaboration, on Home.  On asked why this is the first co-write of her career, Rachael says “that I have never been one to write collaboratively, it’s not been what I wanted to do.  In this case, a young girl, Fiona Harte, from Dublin was in New York and sad she wanted to write a song with me.  We had lunch, learned about who she was.  She’s passionately into music and we bonded on home being a place where you feel accepted for who you are”.    The resulting track is beautiful, speaking about the joys and difficulties of home and being away from home so much – the life of a touring musician!

I spoke to Rachael at the end of her UK tour – don’t worry, she’s back at the end of October, click here for details – and wondered about differences between US and UK audiences.  Rachael answered “[UK] audiences listen so beautifully, I love playing here.  The main differences are in interaction after the show.  UK audiences treat you like they’ve known you all their lives, they don’t get in your personal space.  The British are great conversationalists”.  This description of a British audience is extended towards what on the face of it might be a tough audience: school children.  Many of Rachael’s shows are in adult only venues and to counter this, Rachael and her band performed and created workshops for young people in schools around the country.  Thee show were conceived as an alternative to multiple radio interviews and, according to Rachael, were ” a lot less crazy than radio.  It was interesting for the teachers to see the students interacting with us, at first they held back but became very exuberant, even the older kids”.  That’s some achievement Rachael!

If you like songs that tell a story then Choreographic is for you.  The album flows effortlessly through a variety of emotions but ultimately leaves the listener feeling upbeat.  It’s also great to move to, whether that be dancing, running or walking!

Choreographic is available now:

rachael-sage-choreo

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