Alfie Boe, English tenor and actor, chats with Kevin Cooper about his success with Michael Ball, recording with Kelsey Grammer, his latest album As Time Goes By and next’s years tour of the UK.

Alfie Boe is an English tenor and actor, best known for his performances as Jean Valjean in the musical Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre in London, the Les Misérables: 25th Anniversary Concert in October 2010, and in the Broadway revival. He has also played the lead role in Finding Netherland on Broadway in 2016.

His career began when at aged 17 he was employed as an apprentice mechanic, and would entertain his colleagues by singing opera arias while he polished the cars. One day he was overheard by a client with connections in the music industry who advised that he should audition for the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company. After a successful audition he went on to pursue a successful singing career, but was never able to thank the customer because he lost his business card.

Recently, he has been touring with Michael Ball in support of their two albums, Together and Together Again, both of which charted at number one in the albums chart. Together Again won the Classic FM album of the year at the Classic Brit Awards in 2018.

Alfie is set to release As Time Goes By, his eleventh studio album, on 23rd November which includes a number of songs from the 1930’s, and whilst busy getting ready for its release he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Alfie good afternoon, how are you today?

Hi Kevin I’m fine thanks. More to the point how are you man, are you alright?

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

Not a problem, it is an absolute pleasure. It is always nice to talk to you.

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

I can’t complain, I really can’t complain. I am having a whale of a time at the minute. It is always an exciting time for me whenever I am allowed to promote a new album and to also promote the music that I love to sing.

On the subject of promoting albums, you and I last spoke when I came down to HMV here in Nottingham to speak to you and Michael (Ball) about your world record attempt at visiting five HMV stores throughout the country in twenty-four hours.

That’s right you did, I remember. That was a lot of fun although it really did take it out of us both.

I really should give you my congratulations because you did actually set a new world record.

Thank you. I know that myself and Michael have done pretty well with getting albums to the number one spot, and Britt Awards and all that and we are both very grateful to everyone who has embraced it and given us so much support over the past few years.

How did it feel when you were told that you had set a new world record?

What can I say, we were thrilled, we really were thrilled. Towards the end it was actually touch and go; we didn’t know if we would make it back to London in time, because the traffic on the roads at one point was ridiculous. At that point Michael and I were really panicking because a problem at that stage of the day really would have had a knock-on effect. However, after a very long and tiring day we made it. We made it back to HMV on Oxford Street to be met by a huge crowd of people who were there to support us. It was absolutely amazing, it really was lovely. It was so nice to have that little accolade on our desks.

I have to say that when we met here in Nottingham both you and Michael were almost dead on your feet. Bearing that it mind, would you do it again?

You are right when you say that we looked dead on our feet simply because we were (laughter). We were both totally knackered by the end. Yes, we would do it again but I think that we would have to up the game. I said to Michael “let’s do it next time on motorbikes” (laughter).

I have to ask you, after getting to the number one spot with the last two albums Together and Together Again were you not tempted to go for the hat trick this year?

That is a very interesting question but in all honesty me and Michael both have our own individual projects to do which have been on hold for a while simply because of our association together for the past two years. So in reality we couldn’t leave them hanging about for too much longer. So we decided to call that side of things a day for the foreseeable future but we are intending to get back together sometime next year. It would be nice to have a third album go to number one in the charts. It would be very nice to get the hat trick, so all that I can say at this moment in time is that we will see how it goes.

Now coming right up to date, it’s good to see that you have finally managed to get rid of the dead wood (laughter).

The dead wood (laughter). Oh dear me, okay (hysterical laughter).

Your forthcoming album, As Time Goes By, which will be released on the 23rd of November, I have been playing for a couple of weeks now and I have to say that I think that it is a great body of work.

Thank you for saying that, thank you. It is a wonderful collection of songs that have been very close to me personally throughout my whole life. Throughout my childhood I grew up listening to them with my parents, and then performing them on stage at various events, right up until I was performing them on the road in America in a full tour of 1930s music. Having said that they have also had a huge effect on me recently, when I agreed to take on board this project. Not just the fact that they are romantic, sentimental, heartfelt songs, which would be very easy for me to be satisfied with. Take it from me I am not satisfied with just that delivery. I really wanted to delve deeper into this repertoire, into where they came from, who pioneered it, who wrote it, how it was received, and just how powerful this music was.

This music changed the world; this music developed the music industry, gave birth to record labels, to recording artists, to radio stations, to tabloid newspapers, to industry run companies that still survive today. One of the beautiful things about this music is that it doesn’t just appeal to a specific audience; it doesn’t appeal just to a middle-aged crowd; it simply appeals to everybody. This music has a huge following from within the younger generation with this period of time; Swing music and Swing Dance, whilst my album isn’t a Swing album it is associated with that time as well. The Swing era and the Golden era were two very different things.

My album covers the Golden era; a time in history when the world was under so much pressure, so much tension, and so much rebellion because it was between two world wars and not long after prohibition. People were given freedom to drink, to try drugs, to live life, to experiment and take risks, and to be wild. Really seriously wild. If people go back and look at what happened in the 1930s they will be shocked. People think that the 1930s were very conservative, all romantic with glitzy ballrooms and all that kind of stuff. It was nothing like that. This music is rich, full of emotion, fear, anger, love, passion, rebellion, angst and it is more than just a collection of beautiful songs. This goes much, much deeper than that.

I think that this album goes some way to proving the point that quality will always rise to the top.

I am so pleased that you have said that because that is it exactly. That’s the reason why I have called this album As Time Goes By, because as time goes by this music gets stronger. As time goes by the industry has grown and it’s all down to that period; it is all down to that Golden era. This music will survive; it will always be around and it will always be cool to do this music. It will always be free, it will always do its job and serve its purpose. It will continue to build the audience that it deserves. It really is wonderful stuff.

There are twelve tracks that have made it onto the album, but I have to ask you, just how many did you start out with?

(Laughter) oh my word, my personal playlist for this album goes well over the hundreds. I had tons and tons of songs on my list, enough to make a few more albums. But I have to say that narrowing them down was the hardest job simply because there were so many great songs that I wanted to put onto the album. I had to juggle things around, and look at various playlists to see which songs worked well together. So there are a number of songs which didn’t make the album that I will be playing live on tour as well. I’m doing that so that people won’t miss out on them if they come and see me out on the road.

I have currently got two go to tracks on the album and the first one is Minnie The Moocher which was first recorded in 1931 by the late Cab Calloway. It reminds me of the times I watched The Blues Brothers with my late dad.

Smartarse (laughter) you are perfectly correct, Minnie The Moocher was in fact recorded by Cab Calloway. That song was just as well received by two Blues guys rocking it up in a movie and then a musical doing Minnie The Moocher. It really is a cracking track, in fact I would go so far as to say that it is timeless. It is a timeless song that can still be recorded today in whatever modern version you could think of. It shows the rebellious side of Cab Calloway and what sort of life it was which was happening at that time. The second biggest hit that he had was a song called The Reefer Man with the lyrics, ‘that cat over there is so high he’s the reefer man’ (laughter).

It is such a wicked song but they had no fear about talking about things like that because it was culturally acceptable during that time period. People were experimenting and it was just freedom, it was freedom to live with that element of fear of being caught. It was just incredible. So what’s your second go to track?

That is Ain’t Misbehavin which as you know was recorded in 1929 by Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller and Harry Brooks for the Broadway musical comedy play Connie’s Hot Chocolates.

(Laughter) just where do you get all of this information from? Fats Waller with that song is just amazing. ‘I’ve go no one to talk to, I’m all by myself, ain’t misbehaving I’m saving all my love for you’ are just incredible lyrics. He is saying that even though I am alone, even though I am away from you, I’m not going to mess around. However, he also sings this song with an element of a smile in his voice. He was a bit of a cheeky performer I think, the way that he played it originally. That is a really strong song is that. It is again from a time period where life was free, people were trying various things out, and I’m sure that Fats Waller had his fair share of that too (laughter).

Going back to Minnie The Moocher you have Kelsey Grammer joining you on that particular song. How did that come about?

I did a Broadway show with Kelsey, called Finding Neverland, where we played off one another and we just hit it off. We got on really well and had a really good relationship throughout the whole run and I said to him “Kels is there any chance that you would think of joining me for a duet on an album that I am starting work on shortly” and he said “I would love to, anytime, just give me a shout and I will do it” (laughter). And that is what he did. He joined me at The Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and he was awesome, really awesome. He was wicked.

You have mentioned Capitol Studios, everyone knows that you have been there, done that and have got the T-shirt but I have to ask you, knowing the people that have recorded there before you, people like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand, Paul McCartney and the Beach Boys to name but a few, does that make you up your game?

Without a doubt. I don’t hesitate to answer this question. When you stand in that studio and you know just who has stood there before you, and who have performed some of the most classical iconic tunes and records that we know of today, then you can’t help but up your game. You have to up your game. There is a benchmark which you have to reach. You can feel the music, you can feel those performances in there. You are not just in any old studio, you are actually standing in a piece of history. You are stood in this audible sponge which has soaked up every single note that has ever been played by some of the greatest musicians in the world. It is outstanding.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

One of my favourites is My Funny Valentine. I have to say that song for me is such a heart-breaking song. It is a beautiful track obviously from the romantic songbook, and the version which I always connect with is Chet Baker’s version which he recorded on his album Chet Sings. It is iconic, it is ridiculously performed well, and I have to say that I have never heard anybody sing the song like Chet does. He has so much sentiment in his voice. Chet Baker lived with huge demons. He was a heroin addict and he was struggling throughout his life to the detriment of his life. Basically he used to pawn his trumpet in a pawn shop, get the money, go and buy his daily fix, and then go and blag his trumpet back so he could play on stage at night.

That is dedication, that is emotion, that is a physical fight against himself, but it is also a passion that he couldn’t deny. He had a weakness with drugs but he also had a weakness with music. He had to have both of them. He couldn’t deny either of them and that was the beauty of his performance, he lived on the edge. He lived with that wild fire inside his heart, and eventually it got the better of him but Chet Baker was emotion personified. So that song to me means so much; it is so much more than just a beautiful track.

You will be touring the album in March of next year, are you looking forward to being back out on the road?

I love being on tour, I love being able to share the stage with my friends as well as colleagues. All of my musicians are amazing players, and I have to tell you that I have got a really fiery band this year. These guys are going to transport the listener back to the 1930s to an old Speakeasy in New Orleans. It’s going to be earthy, it’s going to be rootsy, and there is a lot of dirty brass playing in there from these dynamic performers who are simply outstanding. I hope that the audience enjoys it. I hope that they will be impressed, and I really do hope that they will come along dressed in the suitable attire as far as the 1930s goes. I am going to get myself a Zoot Suit and step back in time and if the audience are up for doing that as well then I’m all for it.

I will tell you that I have today checked on the Royal Concert Hall website and the show is two thirds sold out already

Are you serious?

I am being deadly serious.

Well that is amazing, totally amazing. That really is fantastic, that is so beautiful. I am so looking forward to being back in Nottingham and I want everybody to have a wonderful, wild time. It is going to be cool. You certainly know how to make me feel good, thank you for that.

It’s my pleasure.

That really has put a smile on my face.

Now as the Festive season is rapidly approaching, what would Alfie Boe’s ideal Christmas be?

(Laughter) it would have to involve me being around the family, being with the kids, eating lots of food, enjoying myself, playing some good old cheesy Christmas songs, getting dressed up and having a laugh.

Alfie on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, as usual it’s been a pleasure.

It’s been a pleasure for me too Kevin, you take it easy and I hope to see you at one of the concerts on the tour. Please do make sure that you drop by and say hello.