Aled Jones MBE, a Welsh singer, radio and television presenter chats with Kevin Cooper about touring last year with Russell Watson, his charitable work, writing his latest album and book of blessings together with his forthcoming UK Cathedral tour.

Aled Jones, MBE is a Welsh singer and radio and television presenter. As a teenage chorister, he reached widespread fame during the mid-1980s. Since then he has worked in television for the BBC and ITV, and on radio. He has regularly presented Classic FM and is one of the main presenters of BBC 1’s Songs of Praise.

Having won the Cerdd Dant solo competition for choristers who were aged twelve and under in 1982, he was spotted by a member of the congregation who approached Sain Record Company on his behalf. He then became famous for the cover version of Walking In The Air, the song from Channel 4’s animated film, The Snowman based upon Raymond Briggs’ book. He reached number five in the UK charts with that song in 1985.

By the time that his voice broke aged sixteen, he has already recorded sixteen albums, sold more than six million albums and had sung for Pope John Paul II, the Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales in a private recital.

Last year he toured the UK with Russell Watson in support of their second studio album, In Harmony Again.

Whilst at home self isolating from the Covid-19 pandemic, and putting the finishing touches to his book and album, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Aled, good morning how are you today?

I’m good thanks, how are you Kevin?

I’m very well thank you, and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Hey it’s not a problem. Thank you for taking the time to chat to me. It is very much appreciated.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life is good thanks; it is just that I’m so busy at the moment but that is always better than the other option of sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring I suppose (laughter). As you know I will be releasing a new album later in the year, maybe around September time to coincide with the tour, and I have to tell you that my good friend and neighbour Howard Goodhall has written a brand-new song for the album. Howard has put to music some Hindu and Buddhist words which are so appropriate for the world we live in now and I have to say that it is sounding brilliant. So, as you can no doubt imagine, there is a lot for me to sort out but there are simply not enough hours in the day (laughter).

I have heard that you are also considering releasing a book at the same time. Is it all finished and ready to go?

(Laughter) who the hell have you been speaking to? Yes, it is more or less finished (laughter). If I am honest with you there are still a few chapter headings that I still have to write but other than that, we are all good to go.

What can you tell me about the content of the book?

Basically, it is a book of blessings; one for everyday of the year. So, the album that will hopefully be released at the same time will also be an album of blessings for both people of faith and people of no faith. I have tried to cover a whole host of religions; there will be a duet on there with Dame Judy Dench who is a Quaker, and she will also be reading a poem for me. So as you can see, it really is an interesting concept of an idea and one that really hasn’t been done before. And let me tell you, I am really excited about it.

Whose idea was it?

Unfortunately, I can’t blame anyone else this time as the original idea came from me really (laughter). Releasing the book and the album at the same time is something that I have wanted to do for quite a while, and I have always felt that the two go hand in hand really. A lot of the music that I will be doing on the forthcoming tour will be music from that album.

How long has it taken you to put it all together?

(Laughter) quite a while; it’s not been a ‘let’s sit down and get this done’ kind of job, it really has been on and off whilst I have been away on my travels. I can remember getting quite a few blessings when I was over in Australia last time; some of them are one-line mantras. I have collected them from all over the world, from Indian blessings to Buddhist to Christian to non-religious; you name it so there will be something for everyone hopefully.

We are going to be talking about your forthcoming cathedral tour, but if I may, can I firstly take you back to last year’s Back In Harmony Tour which you did with Russell Watson?

Yes, of course you can, go for it.

The phrase taking money under false pretences springs to mind as I saw you here in Nottingham and the two of you were having far too much fun to call it working (laughter).

(Laughter) well I have to come clean with you and say that it really was a bit like that. The whole tour really was mad. Neither Russell nor I could ever have imagined that the tour would work so well because on paper it really shouldn’t. Having said that, we both had such a lot of fun with it all. Also, what you have to remember is that it was the first time that either of us had shared the stage with someone else, but it was such a great thing to do; it allowed us to bounce off one another.

I think that I already know the answer, but I will ask you anyway. Did you enjoy being out on the road with Russell?

Yes, I did, it was great fun. Having said that I have to say that the tour itself was intense, we performed twenty-six concerts in a very short space of time. Russell had never done a tour like that before. However, because we had each other together with the friendship of the band, it just flew by.

I have to say that I personally thought that the reaction from the audience was brilliant. Would you agree?

Do you know what, what I loved more than anything was that we were performing a real mix bag of music, songs that I had never performed or sung before. Plus there were songs that Russ had never sung before, but people joined us along the way somehow, it was really good.

Is it something that the two of you will do again?

(Laughter) there you go, asking me those types of questions again. What can I say, possibly (laughter). Russell and I have no concerts together planned for this year but there is always talk of us doing another tour sometime next year so, who knows (laughter).

The chemistry between the two of you instantly comes over the moment you take to the stage.

Yes, it does, and again, it wasn’t something that we had to work at. We never planned what we would say; we simply went along with it. Quite often we would come off the stage saying, “I can’t believe that we have just spoken about that in front of two thousand people” (laughter). That is just how it was (laughter).

Wasn’t it you who walked out onto the stage here in Nottingham with the zipper to your trousers down?

(Laughter) yes, I did, it was me. The thing is that normally neither of us would give the other an inch so when something like that happened it really was game on. So, as you can imagine, there was a lot of that during the tour.

You and Russell have recorded and released two previous albums, In Harmony and Back In Harmony. Will we be seeing a third album sometime this year?

I am sad to say no, simply because this year will be taken up with the release of my solo album and the book. Russell is also releasing a solo album as well so we simply will not have the time to get together. As for next year, who knows really. Russ and I haven’t really sat down and spoke about it yet, in fact I haven’t seen Russ for quite a while now.

Coming right up to date, your forthcoming Cathedral Tour kicks off on Monday September 28th at The Cathedral And Abbey Church of Saint Alban. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes, I am I really am. I will be performing in twenty-six cathedrals all across Britain, and this will be the biggest tour of this kind that I have ever done. As you most probably know, I am going to be fifty at the end of this year, believe it or not, so for me it was a case of wanting to go back to where it all started. I had done a small cathedral tour before and I have to say that it was just amazing. The acoustics are fantastic, and every cathedral is different. Therefore every concert is different because wherever you walk into impacts upon what you are going to do that night. I really am looking forward to it, and to make it that bit special, my musical director who I always work with is going to fly over from New Zealand to be a part of it with me.

It really is going to be a nice setup. It won’t be a stuffy evening, far from it, there will be some hymns and some uplifting music, but it is also about music that is secular, together with some of the stuff that I have done with Russ on stage as well. The main thing is that there will be quite a lot of laughs as well (laughter). There will also be a few stories from however long I have been doing this now; I really can’t wait to get started.

You mentioned the size of the cathedrals that you will be performing in; does that cause you any specific problems?

No, not at all, it just makes it more exciting. For example, performing somewhere like Liverpool Cathedral, which is absolutely massive, really is such an honour. When I do the sound check I often think to myself ‘goodness me, this is amazing. I really am so lucky to be performing at such a wonderful place like this’. It is always an incredible honour really.

The only criticism from a photographer’s point of view is just how dark a lot of these places can be.

I totally agree with you and know just what you are saying. We haven’t really worked on that yet, but what I will say is that we will be bringing all of our own lights with us, so it really shouldn’t be too bad to be honest with you. What can I say; it will be very atmospheric with lots of candles and stuff like that.

You have now been in the music business for thirty-seven years. Are you still enjoying it?

(Laughter) I must be as I can’t do anything else. This is it really. My boyhood dream of playing football for Arsenal will never ever come to fruition so I suppose that I will just have to carry on doing what I am doing.

You joined Songs of Praise in 2000 and have presented hundreds of programmes since, including the 50th anniversary concert at Alexandra Palace in 2011. Do you have a favourite location where you have presented from?

Bangor, in North Wales will always be dear to my heart simply because that was my very first one. So, for me, it is always nice being back there. For me, the good thing about Songs of Praise is that it takes me to places that I wouldn’t normally go to. I also love presenting from Kew Gardens because it is only just over a mile from where I live but those don’t come about very often (laughter).

I have been looking at all of your charitable work and I was amazed at just how many charities you support. How important is that to you?

It is fabulous what I do, and I think that it is really important that I have been given this opportunity to do what I love. I think that I would be a pretty heartless person if I didn’t give anything back or want to give something back. I choose the charities which I am involved with very carefully. They are mostly small-scale ones, who I feel find it so hard to get a voice so it is important that I provide them with that voice whenever I can. I could definitely do more than I do but I care massively for the charities that I do work with. Sometimes we all need a little reminder of just how fortunate we are.

On the 17th October 2013 you were appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to music, broadcasting and charitable services. Just how did that make you feel?

Well, what can I say; it truly was a wonderful feeling when they told me. It was fantastic receiving the award from Prince William at Buckingham Palace. I was both delighted and deeply honoured to be recognised. However, I never expected to be honoured for anything I’ve ever done, so I always see this as being a bonus, a truly massive bonus.

You have mentioned that you will be fifty years old later this year; do you have anything special lined-up to celebrate?

Do you know what, I haven’t even thought about it yet (laughter). I think that’s because I am currently trying to block it out (laughter). The thing is with this industry, nothing normally happens until a month or two before the actual event (laughter). I will most probably play a few concerts over the Christmas period, most of which will most probably involve a snowman as well (laughter). Other than that, let’s just wait and see what happens. I am hoping to go away with the family immediately after Christmas which, if it comes off, will be lovely.

Putting you on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Oh, my goodness me. Do you know what, that is really hard to answer. To be honest there have been so many highlights during the last thirty odd years. For example, performing for the Prince and Princess of Wales in their living room really was a dream come true. Having the opportunity to record again after my childhood success, and when my second album went to number one in the charts, it was at that moment that I realised that I could be doing this long haul. Thinking about it, the massive highlight for me is being able to do something that I love.

On that note Aled let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been wonderful.

Thanks Kevin, it’s been a pleasure as usual. You take care and I will see you up there in Nottingham. Bye for now.