Michael Ball OBE, English actor, singer, songwriter and broadcaster, chats with Kevin Cooper about working with Alfie Boe, singing with The Bee Gees, his latest album Coming Home To You and his forthcoming tour of the UK.

Michael Ball OBE is an English actor, singer, songwriter and broadcaster, who is known for his work in musical theatre. He made his West End debut in 1985 playing Marius in the original London production of Les Misérables, and went on to star in 1987 as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera. In 1989, he reached number two in the UK Singles Chart with Love Changes Everything, a song taken from the musical Aspects Of Love, where he played Alex. He played the role both in the West End and on Broadway.

His other West End roles include Giorgio in Passion (1997) and Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2002). He has also twice won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical, when in 2008 he won it for his role as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray and later in 2013 for the revival of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street.

In 1992 he represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest, finishing second with the song One Step Out Of Time. He has also had his own TV series, Michael Ball in 1993 and 1994 and a Christmas special in 1995, before presenting The Michael Ball Show, a daytime series, in 2010 and 2011. He has appeared on a number of TV shows as a stand in presenter, including The One Show and Lorraine.

His radio appearances include his own regular show, Michael Ball’s Sunday Brunch which ran from 2008 until 2011. In 2013 he returned to Radio 2 with a new evening show, Michael Ball On Sunday, before replacing the late Terry Wogan on the Sunday morning slot in April 2016.

As well as his theatre work, Ball regularly tours with his own brand of songs and covers. His first solo album, Michael Ball was released in 1992 and since then he has released a further nineteen studio albums with his twentieth being released this year. From 1994 to 2017 he has also released seventeen compilation albums.

In 2013 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of the Arts from the University of Plymouth, and he was also appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2015 Birthday Honours List for his services to musical theatre.

Whilst busy preparing for the release of his latest album, Coming Home To You and his forthcoming tour of the UK, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Michael good afternoon how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m sorry I’m a little late but I have literally just come off air so I do apologise for that. Anyway how are you mate?

All is good thanks, and don’t worry about being a few minutes late. I have been keeping tabs on your day today on Facebook and I see that you are working hard on the PR trail (laughter).

(Laughter) oh my god, tell me about it, I’m bloody knackered (laughter). But do you know what, I feel that it is much better to do these things properly, wouldn’t you agree?

Yes I would, I would totally agree with you on that. Anyway before we speak about the forthcoming tour and the new album, I have to pass on my congratulations to both you and Alfie (Boe). I came down to HMV here in Nottingham to interview Alfie and yourself whilst you were trying to break the world signing record.

That’s right, you did and guess what, we only went and did it (laughter). We absolutely conquered it. That really was a fun day.

Please don’t take this the wrong way but when I caught up with you both, you really were looking tired.

That’s right and to be perfectly honest with you I was absolutely buggered (laughter). Mind you, you should see me now (laughter).

Is it something that you would do again?

Only if we lost the title (laughter). It worked, it was really good fun but it killed me. Why not, it worked, I’d do it again, I don’t care.

I know that you and Alfie both have other commitments but after having two number one Christmas albums, Together and Together Again, were you not tempted to go for the hat trick?

Alfie and I wanted to take some time out to enable us to concentrate on our own albums; Alfie released his last October and mine is being released imminently. However, we will be getting back together; in fact we are meeting up in the studio this week in order to thrash through some ideas for the third album. Plus we are going to be together once again in the West End performing in Les Misérables for four months, in the special concert version. So let me tell you, the future is still Boe coloured (laughter).

Then the last time that I saw and photographed you was on Friday 20th July when you opened for Il Divo at Belvoir Castle here in Nottinghamshire. How was that for you?

Oh god yes, that was a strange gig wasn’t it (laughter). What can I tell you, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse (laughter).

Please don’t quote me on this otherwise Alfie will hunt me down but now that you have got rid of the deadwood it has freed you up to record your first solo album in four years.

(Laughter) Yes it has and I have to say that it has taken me this long because I have been having to prop him up (laughter). I take my commitment to care in the community very seriously; Alfie needed that time with me (laughter). However, I now want to let him try to spread his wings and then I will come back for him (laughter).

Well leaving Alfie to one side for the moment we really should talk about your new album Coming Home To You. I have to tell you that I have been playing it for the past few days and I absolutely love it.

Ah thank you mate, that’s great, that really is lovely to hear. I have most probably said this after every album, and I sometimes mean it, but I really do genuinely mean it this time; this album is the body of work that I am most proud of. I have been so closely involved with it, writing some of the songs, co-producing it, being there through every aspect of it, and watching it grow. It is exciting and it is nerve-wracking whenever you release any new material hoping that people will respond well to it. The bits of the album that we have released to the public have been really well received and the next stage now of course is for me to do it live and see just how the songs go down in a live situation.

At the moment all that I can say is that it is encouraging. You never know what is going to happen; the music business really is a tough business nowadays, it really is. Especially for an artist such as myself; I’m old school, I want to put out an album and I want to listen to it. And when I make an album, I make it with that in mind; you put it on and you listen through. I agonise about the songs that I am going to put on there, and then I agonise about the order in which you are going to listen to them. It is really important that every song fits into the right frame. However, what encourages me is that the physical sales of the albums with Alfie were really, really good.

Having said that, even in the last three years that has changed. The opportunities for buying a CD have diminished beyond recognition. I just hope that my traditional fans come around to the idea of downloading the album otherwise please go out and buy it.

Out of the four original tracks on the album I absolutely love Blood Red Moon and Tennessee Dreams.

Thank you so much for saying that, that really is brilliant. Funnily enough those are the two tracks that I wrote with Ben Earle from The Shires. Blood Red Moon happened when I was driving over to his place to look at the two of us writing something, and do you remember the red moon back in August, well I’m one for all of this supernatural stuff; I do like a bit of that (laughter). I love True Blood, I love all of the Anne Rice novels, I love all of the stories about Werewolves and Vampires, and I just had this image of howling up at this blood red moon and why would I be doing that. So I came up with this idea in my head where you meet someone, you know that they are bad news but they just get into your blood and you are never the same again.

It was great fun taking it from this little idea that I had to then working out a way of how we could make it work on the record. And Tennessee Dreams I think is probably the best song that I have ever written. I am extremely chuffed with the lyrics on that track. I have managed to pay homage and have fun with some of the great country artists that have inspired me and a couple of whom I have met (laughter).

Are you now happy and settled in your role as a song writer?

Yes I am, I am no longer intimidated at the thought of having to write a song. I think that was the problem, I felt intimidated before which was made even worse as I don’t play an instrument. Everything that I do is done instinctively. However, working with Jack and Ben I have to say that the song writing just became so easy. There weren’t many but there were a couple of things that we worked on which didn’t make the cut and therefore didn’t make it onto the album, which I now accept is par for the course. Also there were a couple of writers I tried writing with but we didn’t quite gel. But with Jack and Ben it really was easy and the songs came really quickly. So yes it is absolutely something that I am going to continue doing.

I currently have three go to tracks at the minute out of the covers on the album and if I just mention to you The Commodores, Sir Cliff Richard and The Bee Gees you will know exactly the three tracks that I am talking about.

Yes I will, I most certainly will. That really is great of you to say that, thank you. One of the things that cropped up when we were producing the album and going in to the studio to record the tracks was finding that way of blending my voice with myself. I personally think that we have managed to do that especially on Miss You Nights. Let’s not forget that Sir Cliff’s version is totally amazing and because of that very few people have tried to cover it. Listening back to Sir Cliff’s version then it becomes very clear that he is harmonising with other people’s voices. Stylistically it is very different, it is very 80s, and of course it is the way that Sir Cliff originally recorded it.

So we all wanted to turn it into something else, make it more acoustic and use my own voice to harmonise with. As with all cover songs what I try and do is think ‘okay suppose I had never heard it in a full production, and the song has just arrived on my lap as a demo, with just a piano or just a guitar. What would I make of it; how would I then construct the songs after that?’ I really do try not to be overly influenced by the well-known originals. However, with To Love Somebody I actually sang that particular song with The Bee Gees on my TV show back in the 90s and I have to say that it soon became very clear that I wasn’t a Bee Gee (laughter). Those boys, their blend, and the way that they sang together were awesome. They were lovely with me, but I simply wasn’t a Bee Gee.

I was going to say that you hadn’t got either the teeth or the hairy chest in order to blend in with The Bee Gees.

(Laughter) what can I say, you haven’t seen me with my shirt off, yet (laughter). In fact I have to be honest with you and say that, yes, you are right, I haven’t but I can sing up there (laughter).

Whenever anyone tries to sing like The Bee Gees it always reminds me of the spoof interview that the late Kenny Everett did with them back in the 80s (laughter).

(Laughter) I know exactly what you mean, I remember it very well (laughter).

Going back to Sir Cliff, I know that you and he performed an Everly Brothers medley on your TV show back on 29th July 1993 which I thought was great. Did you enjoy it and why haven’t you ever done anything together since?

You are totally correct when you say that Sir Cliff and I have sung together, we have. Sir Cliff came onto my TV show and we performed an Everly Brothers medley together back in the day plus we have also done a couple of charity performances together over the years. He is so musical, he is just brilliant, absolutely brilliant. And as we know one of the nicest guys around. I loved every minute of it and it’s just one of those things that the opportunity has simply never arisen again.

Are the covers on the album all your personal favourites?

Yes they are, totally, although I have to say that whilst Miss You Nights is one of my favourites, I wasn’t brave enough and it was Kathy (McGowan) who insisted that I recorded that track. Kathy and I love the song Bright Eyes. We lost one of our dogs last year, my boy, my Ollie and I played the track for him on my radio show, and lost it completely, and I decided there and then that I was going to record it for him. So that is why that track is on there. I have always been obsessed with Love Is Like A Butterfly since I first heard it when it was the theme tune to the sit com Butterflies staring Wendy Craig and then having interviewed Dolly (Parton) a couple of times I thought ‘right I’m doing that’ (laughter).

Goin’ Back was the springboard for the whole thing. Kathy and I were on holiday in Mauritius back in January where she picked up that terrible flu bug and it rained everyday (laughter). So I just thought one day ‘okay I am going to make an album’ (laughter). I was listening to a few songs and when I heard Goin’ Back I remembered that I had interviewed Carole King who had written the song together with Gerry Goffin. I knew Dusty (Springfield) and Kathy knew her very well as well, and I was actually one of the very last people to ever sing with Dusty. Dusty really was the most gifted interpreter of music; she really was extraordinary.

I put the record on and the opening lines spoke to me; ‘I think I’m goin’ back to the things I learned so well in my youth’. It took me back to my formative years, and to the music that I loved which has inspired me. Although a lot of songs didn’t make it onto the album that song took me into that direction, into that sort of area.

I once wrote to Dusty and I heard nothing for around nine months. Then totally out of the blue I received a letter from her saying ‘I’m sorry that I haven’t replied earlier but I’ve not been well. Please forgive me’ and the following day she passed away.

Oh god, you have got to love her. There is absolutely nothing that you can say is there. What a wonderful singer and a beautiful human being.

You have briefly mentioned songs missing the cut. How many songs did you start with?

About four thousand three hundred (laughter). I just kept writing songs down (laughter). I probably started out with about thirty songs. Right up to the last minute there was one song, it was on, it was off, it was on, it was off, and that was Longer by Dan Fogelberg. That track so nearly made the cut but being honest, the album would have been too long. So that song is there in the back pocket ready to be used at some point.

So will we be seeing a Volume Two?

(Laughter) perhaps you might well do. Hopefully I will be making another album and I can stick it on that (laughter).

Your forthcoming tour starts here in Nottingham at the Royal Concert Hall on Saturday 20th April. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road?

I absolutely love it. I really can’t wait. It will be different this year doing it on my own but I’m no stranger to that. I love the experience of constructing a new show for the audiences; I always try to give the people exactly what I know that they want and to showcase some new stuff as well. Hopefully I will be able to make people laugh, make people cry, and be able to take them on that journey so that they will come out of the show feeling better than they did when they went it.

Do you know as yet how many songs from the new album will make it onto the set list?

The good thing about doing covers is that they are usually songs that people know. So they don’t feel as though you are giving people things that they are unaware of. There is nothing worse than when you go and see an artist who says “I am going to play my entire new album”. So there will be a few. I do want to do the songs that I have written myself, I do want to do those live and see how they go down and there will be four or five of the other tracks on there as well. You have to remember that I do a long show; I do both halves of the evening, so there will be all the greatest hits and more in there I guess (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

That’s easy, it was Lost Without You by Freya Ridings which just so happens to also be on the album. It is such a beautiful song. I heard Freya singing it when I was in a vulnerable place as Ollie had just passed, and that is why I decided to record it.

Whenever Ken (Bruce) is away from work you bravely step-in and take control of BBC Radio 2’s Popmaster. Do you enjoy it or are you as nervous as you sound?

(Laughter) cheeky bugger, I love it, I’m not nervous of it at all; I play to the peanut gallery. It’s a quiz. Having said that I have to say that I cannot answer most of the questions, its bloomin’ difficult (laughter).

On that note Michael let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful as usual.

As usual it has been a pleasure Kevin, you take care and I will see you in Nottingham.