Jonathan Antoine, an English classically trained tenor, chats with Kevin Cooper about his performance at The Union Chapel during the pandemic, his lust for life, performing at the Cadogan Hall and the release of his latest album ChristmasLand Platinum Edition.

Jonathan Antoine is an English classically-trained tenor. He rose to fame after appearing on the sixth series of Britain’s Got Talent in 2012 as half of the classical duo Jonathan and Charlotte. Even though they did not win the show, it was confirmed that Simon Cowell wanted to sign the duo to his record label, Syco.

They released their debut album, Together, in September 2012 but shortly after they signed with Sony Classical and their second album, Perhaps Love, was released in October 2013.

In 2014 the duo split up after Sony Classical offered them their own solo record deals which saw Antoine release his debut solo album, Tenore, in 2014. In 2016 his second album, Believe, was released which contained a version of the classic Leonard Cohen song, Hallelujah and new music by British classical composer Chris Broom, with whom Antoine collaborated and co-wrote the song, A New Tomorrow. A third album, Going The Distance was released in 2020 before ChristmasLand was released in December of the same year to critical acclaim.

Whilst preparing for the release of his ChristmasLand Platinum Edition album, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Jonathan, how are you?

I’m fantastic thank you Kevin. How are you today?

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

Not at all, thank you for your time; I really do appreciate it.

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

(Laughter) life in general is alright. Like with everyone there have been some ups and downs but at this precise moment I must say that it would appear that things are on the upswing. We all have to remember that positivity is the key; the USA is steadily opening its borders, so all in all it looks as though everything will proceed ahead.

Now we have to speak about your latest album, ChristmasLand The Platinum Edition and I have to say that I have been playing it for a couple of weeks now and I love it. But then again, I loved last years as well (laughter).

Wow, thank you very much, thank you. With last year’s album, ChristmasLand I didn’t feel as though I was able to show it off in the way that I would like to have. Because of Covid I was unable to tour the album. So, for me, the best thing for me to do was to go back into the studio, add a few more songs, and try to reinvent the album. And fingers crossed, everything crossed, all appendages interlinked, we may be able to get back out there on the road, and it is my opinion that there is something about the live performances that is never quite captured on the record. There is a magic in the air at live performances; that’s my personal opinion.

I know that people are still very hesitant to come out to live shows but if people are brave and willing, they take precautions and we enforce those precautions, I really would like to give those people something to smile about. All that we can do is stay strong together and share this experience with one another, and fight through it as a group.

Bearing in mind that you and I last spoke on the 4th December last year, so are these new tracks ones that missed the cut the first time around or have you actually put the PlayStation down, and recorded new tracks?

(Hysterical laughter) no, these are completely newly recorded tracks. I hopped into Abbey Road Studios, as one does. It’s crazy now because I feel like over the last few albums, I feel like I have built up a relationship with the people who produce and engineer on the inside and it’s like I am now ten years into a career in music and there are still so many wonderful people for me to meet, so many new things to explore, so much beauty to be found; it really is truly wonderful. There are still some crazy moments for example; we couldn’t have the brass in the studio with the strings because the brass section was blowing air all over the place. It’s good that we are being cautious in that way, but it really is bizarre and new.

I have to tell you that I really do love The Prayer.

Thank you. That is so good to hear.

I feel that the opening really does show off a softer side to your voice, would you agree?

Yes, I would. There really was a lot of challenges there I thought. We did quite a lot of takes of that and, as you know; I am quite a big fan of interpretation which I personally feel is the primary theme of my work. I’m not really a writer; I interpret other people’s music. We have lots of takes of me doing even more delicate takes, in fact, it sounds as though it is a completely different person. There are a few takes which even I thought were slightly too far out there (laughter). It really was an incredibly fun and also extremely daunting song for me to experiment with. The Prayer really is the song that people have known me for over the past ten years from one TV show.

Now, almost ten years later to the day, for me to be able to re-record The Prayer and to be in a position to be able to do something wild and crazy with it, cut loose and have fun, for me to be able to experience that in a different way, is mind blowing. It really has been a valuable growing experience for me.

It is such an uplifting song.

Yes, it is, it really is. You can interpret the song in so many different ways; the mindset which you go into the song with, it can change the meaning of the song completely. Because it has followed me for the last ten years, I have felt the depth and breadth of many potential implications of the song. Nowadays I feel certainly as though it tells a very uplifting tale, a tale that I feel I identify with personally.

I have to ask, are you happy with the finished product?

Yes, I am, very much so. At some point you have to draw a line and say, “if we mess around with this, if we keep going doing stuff, it is going to be a mess” (laughter). I think that we managed to stop just short of it being a mess and that is exactly where I like to be (laughter).

There is a second vocal on Little Drummer Boy. Is that you?

Yes, it is, it is all me in fact you could say that it is a second me (laughter).

I have to say that I think it sounds fantastic.

Thank you very much. I based it on the (Bing) Crosby and (David) Bowie version of the song. I was taken by that version of the song as soon as I heard it. There is that wonderful YouTube video where it is Bowie and Crosby interacting, and just being generally pleasant guys. Listening to that and hearing the story made me cry the first time that I listened to it. I thought, ‘yes, that’s something that would be really wild, weird and wacky to do with the double voice thing’ (laughter). So, I really did have to give it a try and I have to say that I think that it came out alright (laughter).

I have actually written down (Michael) Ball and (Alfie) Boe who you and I have spoken about in the past. They have been doing Christmas albums for a few years now, so I have to ask, will this now be an annual event for you?

To be honest with you I’m not sure at this moment in time, but what I can say is that I will most certainly be performing annual Christmas shows. As you delve deeper into the rabbit hole, there are many different Christmas traditions in all kinds of places around the world. Even with the traditional English Christmas songs, there are still a bunch of those that I could put on a record, and sing in a concert, so it feels sometimes as if there is not an awful lot, but I feel that there is still a lot to be explored. On the latest album we have got some traditional Italian Christmas songs, which is different, and which is something that I had never explored myself. It felt natural for me to explore them as I love singing Italian songs, and expanding my cultural horizons. It really does feel awesome.

Putting you firmly on the spot, are you looking for a number one spot with the album?

(Laughter) it would certainly be lovely. Having said that I don’t know if my music is the biggest radio thing; I just do it because I love Christmas, I love the feeling that it gives me to put people in the spirit, and I love making records. I just love making music.

Is there any new material on the horizon?

Always, yes (laughter). I have actually just recorded a demo of something which is currently, technically secret (laughter). I can’t say much more about it, sorry. I am currently trying to work out just where the next big project lies really. Like what do I put onto a new album to show everyone just who I am, right now? I felt that 2020 was a snapshot of a really weird time in a really weird life (laughter). How do I capture some more of that energy, which is where a lot of my thoughts have been going into. I would love to get out on the road touring more of the UK. I will be performing at the Cadogan Hall on November 18th here in the UK, and then I will be flying out to the States on 1st December, and then returning to the UK in the New Year which will be very nice. It really is non-stop, eyes ever forward.

You have mentioned your show at the Cadogan Hall. After such a long layoff from performing due to Covid will you be nervous?

Oh yes, I will. Having said that I feel that it is okay to be nervous. Even the times when I am better practiced, and doing shows more often, it is still nerve-wracking; every single time. I think that a lot of that is because I want to give people that magic; I want to give them two hundred plus percent every single time, even though I know that is not feasible. I will do it, which is the Jon Antoine guarantee, so as you can see, I put a hell of a lot of pressure on myself. As soon as I am up there, as soon as I am singing, the nerves melt away. For me it is like going up into outer space, or at least that is what I think that it would feel like (laughter).

You have briefly mentioned your forthcoming tour of America, are you excited?

Yes, I am, I’m excited, nervous, exhilarated, there are going to be so many new experiences for me to try out and hopefully enjoy. Some of these places are where I stopped by in late 2019 just as the world started to close down. That was kind of the very last time that I set foot outside (laughter). However, a lot of the places on the tour are places that I have never been to before in my life. There are people who live in these places who have travelled miles in the past in order to see me. For me to be able to go and see them and give them the show that they have been wanting for many years now is immensely gratifying. It is the most wonderful feeling in the world to be wanted.

On the subject of being wanted, when will we see you touring here in the UK?

That is a great question. At the moment the Cadogan Hall show is a one-off. If you want to see me performing here in the UK then that is your chance. Tickets for the show are selling really well, and people are being super positively receptive about the show, and as we all know it is a business. If this show sells out then, as we know, more people will want me to perform in their venues. Who knows what will happen from there? I would love to be performing up and down the UK for six months, fingers crossed. There are places here in the UK, the country that I live in, that I have never been to yet. That makes me a little bit sad. I would love to say at the end of all of this, that I have been to all of the beautiful places that I wanted to go.

What was it like performing at The Union Chapel?

I have to be totally honest with you and say that it was simply amazing, and I have to add, a little bizarre (laughter). It was an empty Union Chapel and the acoustics in the place were absolutely ridiculous (laughter). In the hall there were some thirty feet high Christmas trees, and resplendent isn’t the word to describe them. For me to walk into the hall and become a part of that, was simply breath taking. Even though there were no people in the seats, it’s great that they are able to see it now. It is now part of The Platinum Edition so everyone can now experience that whenever they chose.

Will we ever see you recording an album of contemporary covers?

As things are going, I should think yes to be totally honest with you. As you know, I am a massive Metal Head; I love the really heavy stuff, abrasive, aggressive, noisy, that is my jam. I have been thinking about writing a Metal album since before I had a career (laughter). So that’s one thing, then with the Christmas albums going the distance, I have actually been experimenting with a couple of 2019 and 2020 pop tracks. I have been deconstructing them. One of them works really well, and I have to be honest and say that it was actually a Justin Bieber song, if you can believe that (laughter).

Don’t worry; we won’t hold it against you (laughter).

(Laughter) I think that people would be surprised if they heard it. One day I would like people to hear it, I just have to get it into the right state.

Is there anyone who you would really like to record with?

Good question. I have philosophised about this question so much. Whenever you think about that question, there are so many ways to interpret it. I suppose that at the end of the day, in a way, it’s a way of asking which artist aligns with my values, both personal and musical. In general, I find it very hard to identify exactly what people’s values really are. I don’t take too much stock in what other people are doing (laughter). I’m very sort of singular. Of course, there are a million answers that I could give; there are millions of incredible singers. At one point when I was previously asked this question, someone said Lady Gaga, and I thought that would be amazing.

That really would be so cool. I would have loved to have been in a position to just say hello to Pavarotti let alone record some music with him. You have to remember that old saying, never meet your idol, because you are never quite sure just how things will work out (laughter). I suppose that my non-answer to that question is I’m not sure (laughter).

We have mentioned the fact that there are Italian tracks on the album, so I have to ask, can you speak Italian?

(Hysterical laughter) no, no I can’t. I honestly feel that throughout our recent communication, you have learnt that I am just about getting the hang of English (laughter). Italian is a bit too far out of my wheelhouse linguistically. I love singing in Italian, which I know will sound bizarre. I think that it comes down to the way that the language is structured. There are quite a few vowel sounds, whereas in the English language there are a million and one ways that you can pronounce a particular vowel. I think that in Italian there are only seven different ways, and that’s about it. So, when you read it on the page it is easy to interpret and to bring to life.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

(Laughter) no soft balls this time around then (laughter). I have done so many strange and cool things that spring to mind, whenever I hear a question like this. But the truth of it all is that it is this kind of moment, the fact that I am here, the fact that I can talk about those experiences. The fact that I survived all those years ago and I am still here; that, to me, is the highlight. The fact that I can get out of bed and say, “hey, I want to take care of myself; I want to be able to do this for the rest of my life and I want to look back and smile about it”. That is the highlight of my life for me.

Have there been any disappointments?

I have never really thought about it because I have never been asked that question before.

That’s because I am a bitter and twisted old man (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I supposed that I would have to go with the very first one, which was coming second as opposed to coming first in Britain’s Got Talent.

To a dancing dog (laughter).

Well yes, but being totally honest with you, Ashley and Pudsey were both very nice, and I hold nothing against them. I suppose because that was the first thing in my career, it is the first thing that springs to mind. After that, I don’t think that I have been disappointed by anything.

Are you still enjoying the ride?

Yes, yes, I am. I woke up today on a bit of a down slope and it is one of the first times that I have actually done this. I immediately thought about the people who see my music, who want to come and see the shows, those who are coming to Cadogan Hall, the people who are buying the albums, who quite literally let me live my life, and I thought, ‘there is absolutely no point in me feeling down right now, so I think get yourself out of bed and start your day’. What more could I ask for.

On that note Jonathan let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great as usual. You stay safe and have a great time in America.

Thank you so very much Kevin. You stay safe and have a great Christmas.

Jonathan Antoine’s ChristmasLand Platinum Edition is available digitally on 19th November and physical copies will be released on 3rd December.