Michael Ball and Alfie Boe chat with Kevin Cooper about performing a Wham medley, their obvious friendship, their album Together and their forthcoming tour of the UK
Michael Ball, the nation’s leading musical theatre star and Alfie Boe, the nation’s favourite tenor are joining forces for the first time, to record a brand new album as well as take to the stage for a unique UK headline tour.
Entitled Together, the album has been released on Decca Records and will feature repertoire from the greatest Broadway shows as well as classic songs that both Alfie and Michael have always wanted to record.
Having first met ten years ago whilst performing together in Kismet at the London Coliseum, the stars have become lifelong friends. That same year, Michael Ball made history as the first musical theatre star to be given a solo concert at the Royal Albert Hall’s BBC Proms, and asked Alfie Boe to join him to perform at the classical music festival.
This instant personal connection and professional mutual admiration makes for the perfect pairing and, to the delight of their hundreds of thousands of fans across the globe, is finally realised with this compelling collaboration.
Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour, they both took the time to have a fun filled chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what they had to say.
Alfie Boe (AB): Hi there Kevin.
Michael Ball (MB): Very good thanks Kevin how are you?
I am very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
MB : It’s a pleasure.
I have spoken to you before Alfie, around eighteen months ago now just before you played here in Nottingham at the Motorpoint Arena.
AB : Yes, that’s right I remember now.
MB : Well, if you spoke to Alfie only eighteen months ago now, then don’t worry because he hasn’t got anything new to say (laughter).
AB : Michael has got all of the new information so I will leave you with him (laughter).
How is life treating the two of you?
AB : Really well thank you. In fact it is treating us very well indeed and this for us is a very exciting project.
MB : I have got to say that life at the moment is absolutely brilliant.
I recently caught the two of you performing on Strictly Come Dancing…
MB : What did you think?
Well I have to say that in the best possible way I thought that you looked like two very naughty schoolboys in a sweet shop grinning from ear to ear and enjoying every minute of it.
AB : You cheeky bastard (laughter). Let me tell you that it is always a great moment being invited along to perform on Strictly.
MB : (Laughter) do you know what, you have nailed it there. That is exactly how it felt. It was such a brilliant atmosphere on such an exciting show. It was lovely just being there. I thought that how Anton (Du Beke) and Joanne (Clifton) danced interpreting the song was just stunning. We had an absolutely great time.
Whilst we are on the subject of the show, is that something that the two of you would consider?
AB : Shut the fuck up (hysterical laughter). I am tempted to have a go but I would probably make a complete fool of myself. I would probably be the one who gets voted out on the first week.
MB : You would have my vote.
AB : Thanks (laughter). To leave or to stay?
MB : To leave of course. I would have it on speed dial (laughter).
AB : Thanks for that, I think (laughter).
MB : I would love to, just as long as no one could see me or judge me and that the judges guaranteed that I would win (laughter). To be honest, I am far too competitive and paranoid about it. Having said all of that I have to tell you that I am obsessed with the show. I have watched it from day one and have never missed a show, I love it. Take it from me. I am a good armchair critic.
Moving on to Together the album that the two of you have just released. Whose idea was it to put the two of you together; just who do we have to blame?
AB : (Laughter) It certainly wasn’t mine, I hated the idea. I thought ‘why are we doing this’ (laughter).
MB : If you like the album then it was my idea, if you don’t then it was Alfie’s (laughter). It’s that simple. To be honest, the album actually grew out of the tour. Alfie and I finally said ‘let’s do what we have been threatening to do for years which is to work together’. We thought that we would do some live dates and there was a tremendous amount of excitement when our names got linked. A number of record companies came to us and suggested that we become part of a much bigger project. Alfie and I agreed so we immediately spoke to Decca Records, who we are both currently signed to, and the rest just sort of grew from there. The album was the idea of the record company and we were both happy to go along with it. We didn’t go looking for it; they came to us which is great.
I have to say that from my personal point of view, seeing and hearing the two of you performing together seems so natural.
MB : Ah, thank you. Obviously I can’t speak for Alfie, although I tend to, but from my point of view it does feel right and it has done right from the moment that we first started working together. The ten days that we spent recording the album over in New York was really quite magical. At least that is how it felt from my point of view.
AB : Although I hate doing this I really do have to agree with Michael but please don’t print that (laughter). From the moment that we both stepped into the recording studio, you wonder just how this is going to work, what roles we are going to play within the duets, and all that sort of thing. The great thing was that we just blended so well. We found each other’s strengths and how we could make each individual song happen. Once Michael and I started singing together it just felt like a natural process. Hearing how well our voices were blending together was pretty spectacular.
MB : I have to honest as well and say that part of the joy of working with Alfie is the banter. We do tend to laugh quite a lot (laughter). We are really lucky in the fact that we do have a similar sense of humour in the fact that we really don’t mind taking the piss out of each other (laughter). Alfie takes it all in good stead; he really is okay about it which is really lovely (laughter). Another plus is the fact that we both like the same kind of music as well.
AB : I wouldn’t quite go that far.
MB : Really, well you like Opera.
AB : Yes I do and you like Wham (laughter).
MB : That’s right I do like Wham and I will make you do a Wham medley at some point.
AB : Oh no you won’t.
MB : Why don’t we do Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go Go (laughter).
AB : You are taking the piss, or at least I hope you are (laughter).
MB : Sorry Kevin, we are having a domestic (laughter).
Staying with the album, you have been friends for a long time so I have to ask, why now, why is the time right for it now?
MB : Alfie begged me and I got sick and tired of hearing him begging me to do it every day (laughter).
AB : The truth is that Michael needs a bit of help, as he has a few financial problems (hysterical laughter).
MB : That tax bill is not going to pay itself (laughter).
AB : Seriously, I am seeing it as a sort of charity thing. For me it’s a bit like Help The Aged (laughter).
MB : And I am proof that Care In The Community is at work (laughter). Being serious for a while it was always something that we had talked about and the time just felt right as far as our schedules go, as far as where we both are in our lives and careers, it just gelled. It is just one of those things which happens in this business as it does in life; the stars aligned. When a project is right for that moment and something happens and it all comes together, that is how this felt.
And will it be an ongoing project or simply a one off occurrence?
MB : For me personally, I really do hope that it is the start of something bigger rather than just a one-off occurrence.
AB : Me too. We could both go off and do our own projects but then come back together and do something else further down the line.
I have been playing the album for a few days now and I have to say that I love it.
MB : Do you?
Yes, very much so. Why does that surprise you (laughter).
MB : You never know, you might just be saying it just to get on our good side (laughter). For me the whole point of this was to make one plus one make three…
AB : What are you on about with all of this one plus one makes three bollocks.
MB : What I am trying to say is that I hope that this project is bigger than our individual things. What excited me was that the arrangers and the producers got excited about the project. I feel that they have come up with some of their best work. The arrangements on the album I think are stunning. Everybody raises their game if they are excited about something and it then becomes different, a one-off. That seems to be exactly what has happened.
AB : The songs that are on the album have been done by many different artists but what we have done is that we feel that we have brought something new to them. Apart from our voices blending and what we have created there, the arrangers have done an absolutely spectacular job, they really have.
Who had the final say as to what songs went onto the album?
MB : It was a mutual decision between Alfie and I on most of them (laughter). Alfie and I were given a blank canvas and as you know we then had to start narrowing it down so we thought that we would play to our strengths. We started looking at the songs which we both love that had come from musical theatre, from the movies, from the American Songbook, that sort of thing and that sort of genre. There were a couple of songs that I had to persuade Mr Boe to accept and I think that I won because I think that I was right (laughter).
AB : Well, they are alright.
MB : Bless him, he gives so much (laughter).
Are there any songs that you have had to leave off the album that you would have liked to have seen on there?
MB : Yes, one which we literally didn’t have room for. As you know a CD can only accept a certain amount of minutes and so we had to leave off one song which I am sure will appear somewhere at a later date. A version of, what’s it called….
AB : Don’t ask me. I don’t know.
MB : It was Some Enchanted Evening mixed up with We Kiss In A Shadow from The King And I. It is beautiful but we didn’t have enough room to put it on the CD. We had already recorded a couple of mashups with the likes of Over The Rainbow with Wonderful World so sadly it didn’t make it onto the album but it is there and no doubt it will be on the second album.
AB : That’s right, I’m sure that it will come out at some point.
I am a huge Motown fan and I love what you have done with Stevie Wonder’s For Once In My Life. Whose idea was that?
AB : To be honest, I can’t remember.
MB : I can’t remember but I have recorded it quite recently and it was one of those songs that appeared on a list and both of us instantly said that we loved the song but how could we do it differently. We both thought that we needed to treat this song in a different sort of fashion and I am glad that you like it because I am chuffed to bits with that one.
AB : Me too.
Is there any one song on the album that you are both looking forward to performing live the most?
MB : I am genuinely looking forward to us performing the Les Miserables Suite. I think that what was so exciting about that was being able to call Claude-Michel Schönberg the man who wrote Les Miserables of course, telling him that we had got an idea and then sitting around a piano with him, formatting it and making it work. It changed once we got into the studio but it was that initial thing of working with Claude-Michel Schönberg. Both Alfie and I know him incredibly well and he was entirely behind the project so I think that will be a very special moment when we are on stage.
AB : For me personally I think the song that I am looking forward to performing is a song called A Thousand Years which was performed by Christina Perri. It is really heartfelt and emotional that song and the sentiment behind it is really beautiful. Again, what Michael and I do on it is pretty subtle but effective. That is the one that hits home with me.
I have to agree with Michael and say that….
AB : Why don’t you agree with me?
MB : Because you are wrong (laughter). Kevin knows what he is talking about (laughter).
In my opinion what you have done with the songs on the Les Miserables Suite works fantastically well.
MB : Thank you. Funnily enough that was not going to open the album, and then when Alfie and I heard it and listened to it we realised then that it should open the album. It feels right and it is what we are both known for and I have to say that no one sings Bring Him Home like Alfie. I was fortunate enough to be the first one to sing Empty Chairs but then finding that way of blending into I Dream A Dream I really do hope that people….
AB : Who’s idea was it to put it on the album at the beginning? Oh that’s right, it was mine (laughter).
MB : Really?
AB : Oh yes, it was my idea.
MB : Isn’t it lovely that Alfie had one idea, it really is lovely (laughter).
AB : I have a few and they will be on the next album.
MB : Kevin, did you like Music Of The Night and Anthem?
I have to be honest with you and say that I thought that they were both fantastic.
MB : Thank you very much and just who’s idea was that Alfie?
AB : Think on (laughter). I might not sing it then what will you do?
MB : I will sing it as a solo, I’m not bothered (laughter).
AB : It won’t go down half as well if you do that.
MB : Sadly that’s true and I have to agree with Alfie on that point.
Let’s talk about the tour. Are you pleased with just how well the public have embraced the idea of seeing the two of you together?
AB : To be honest with you I would much prefer to play to an empty theatre and perform to no crowd at all just so I know how Michael feels whenever he goes out on tour (laughter).
Well Alfie, I have to say that the public simply don’t agree with you. Tickets are flying out and you are now going to be playing three nights here in Nottingham at The Royal Concert Hall (laughter).
MB : For us to have already sold out three days up there in Nottingham is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. It’s a great venue, every tour that I have ever done I have played there. I think that both of us were really surprised….
AB : I wasn’t (hysterical laughter).
MB : It was just the one advert way back in January and straight away there was such an interest and excitement which does put the pressure on us of course to come up with a show that is really good and will warrant the interest. I think that we will have fingers crossed.
I have been fortunate enough to photograph both of you over the years at The Royal Concert Hall and I have to say that I am looking forward to having the opportunity to do so once again on this forthcoming tour.
AB : Cool Kevin. See you then.
MB : That will be brilliant.
How will the show work, what can you tell me about the format?
MB : We will be together on stage for practically all of it. The whole point of this is about the two of us together on stage doing what we do. At the moment we are thinking that there could be a couple of solo bits but for us the excitement is….
AB : There are going to be six solos for me.
MB : Six? That’s great as it means that I will have time to go to the pub (laughter).
AB : All the second half (laughter).
MB : The excitement for us is now building the show which will naturally feature a lot of songs from the album. However, that is only fifty minutes of music so we need to be coming up with another hour and ten minutes (laughter). So we are currently trying to find that other material and we have got some really fabulous ideas I think, but then again I would say that (laughter).
That all sounds great.
MB : But Alfie is still refusing to do the Wham medley and he is so wrong (laughter).
AB : I flatly refuse to do a Wham medley.
Well if you want the show to reflect the current trends that it would simply have to be a Bros medley wouldn’t it (laughter).
MB : Oh yes, and just when will Alfie be famous. That’s the question that we have all been asking ourselves over the years (hysterical laughter). I bet that we could sell-out two nights at the O2. That would be amazing. They sold out two dates at the O2 in London in a matter of minutes. It is absolutely brilliant for them. There is no denying that it is an extraordinary achievement. Are you going to go Alfie?
AB : No (laughter).
MB : Will you be going Kevin. Are you excited?
I interviewed Matt a couple of weeks ago now over a meal at Marco Pierre White’s restaurant here in Nottingham.
MB : Oh get you (laughter). You could well be someone worth knowing Kevin (hysterical laughter).
AB : Well, we are not doing that for you Kevin. Bollocks to you (laughter). If you are lucky I will buy you a sandwich from Marks and Spencer’s or perhaps a bag of chips (laughter).
I think that I am going to end this interview now because I am fed up of taking all of this abuse (laughter).
MB : Don’t do that, Alfie doesn’t mean it (laughter).
I hope that the tour goes well and I will see you both up here in Nottingham.
AB : It’s been great to chat Kevin, you take care and thanks a lot.
MB : Cheers for that Kevin, looking forward to seeing you in Nottingham. You take care.