Alfie Boe back in East Anglia for an outdoor show with Michael Ball
- Credit: Archant
The opera singer is teaming up again with the West End star for summer shows that bring them to Euston Hall, near Thetford, this weekend. He tells us about their friendship, his love of performing outdoors and weird backstage rituals.
'I thought he was a big pain the arse really!' laughs Alfie Boe, recalling his first meeting with Michael Ball.
They were both performing together in the ENO's Kismet at the London Coliseum at the time, some 10 years ago. And despite his initial reaction, and their very different personalities — the self-described 'miserable northerner' and one-time opera bad boy Boe, and the cheeky-chappy West End luvvie Ball — the pair struck up a lasting friendship. They're chalk and cheese - but it works.
'Actually we got on pretty well from day one to be honest,' the tenor says, in his slow Lancashire drawl. 'Its mutual respect, I think. We like each other; we've known one another a long time now.
'We started work on that Kismet project and very quickly we both realised that it wasn't going to be as enjoyable as we initially thought. The production team abandoned it towards the end of the rehearsal period which left Mike, myself, and a few other people to take up the reins. We quickly forged a strong relationship and got through it. It was actually fun to do in the end, for the wrong, but right reasons.'
You may also want to watch:
Their friendship led to further collaborations, including sharing the stage at the BBC Proms, but it wasn't until last year that they realised a joint-project that they had long discussed.
'About six or seven years ago, Michael gave me a call and said what do you think about getting together and doing a few shows as a team, maybe bringing someone else on board so they'd be three of us,' recalls Alfie. 'I thought it sounded like a good idea but inevitably our diaries didn't work. Then I started a run in the West End in Les Misérables. So it was probably a couple of years ago that I called and said 'look, let's try again'.'
- 1 12 police vehicles called to 'very serious' crash in west Norfolk
- 2 Two Norfolk hotels named among the best in the country
- 3 Norfolk teacher, preacher and scout leader indecently assaulted four boys
- 4 'How can they do this to mum' - Anger as 87-year-old dumped at care home
- 5 Pedestrian dies following collision with a bus on A146
- 6 Mum pays tribute to 'everyone's sunshine' Kaiden, eight
- 7 A146 outside Norwich closed after collision between bus and pedestrian
- 8 Meet the Yarmouth firm on tonight's Grand Designs
- 9 Town council chaos emerges with groups not paying rent for decades
- 10 Man, 67, named after fatal single vehicle crash
The result was their chart-topping album Together, the success of which has surprised even the pair.
'It started off as a few shows; then a few record companies jumped on board and had a bidding war going on for us,' he adds. 'We signed with Decca, did the Together album and it went gold, platinum, double platinum, sell out tours, number one at Christmas, it's been amazing.'
So amazing that the pair are back together this summer for a series of outdoor shows, which brings them to the glorious surroundings of Euston Hall, near Thetford, later this month.
'We excited to be coming because we are hitting an area of England that we weren't able to get to with the Together shows that we did just prior to Christmas,' he said. 'So we will be playing to people who haven't necessarily seen the show. That is very much something we are looking forward to, playing to some new faces and new crowds. We can't wait.'
They will be playing songs from Together, an eclectic mix of standards and show tunes including the mind blowing Les Misérables Suite, which reflects their very different backgrounds and musical personalities.
Alfie grew up in Fleetwood, near Blackpool, in a bustling household with eight sisters and brothers, and gained his love of music from his father. 'Whether it was country, big band, rock, opera or the really great singers, he was interested and I definitely learned a lot about music from him,' he says.
At 14, he joined an amateur operatic company, encouraged by his sister's promise it would be a good way to meet girls. It cemented his passion for music and he began starring in shows locally.
When he was 17 he started work at the nearby TVR car factory as an apprentice mechanic, where he would sing as he worked, and would perform in clubs in the evenings.
A client with links to the music industry heard him sing by chance one day in the factory and persuaded him to try out for the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. He landed a job and it led to a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London.
'I don't class myself as an opera or classical singer anymore, just a regular singer who sings all different styles,' he says. 'I think maybe because of that I do attract a different crowd to people who might not usually consider coming to see someone classed as an opera singer.'
After he enrolled on the Royal Opera House's Young Artists Programme, Alfie launched his career by boldly quitting to star in renowned film maker Baz Luhrmann's production of La Boheme on Broadway. Since then his diverse career has included starring in Sir Cameron Mackintosh's 25th anniversary concert performances of Les Miserables, duetting with Girls Aloud singer Kimberley Walsh on the Team GB song for the Olympics, and he has just appeared in a production of Quadrophenia with Pete Townsend in America.
His career reflects his determination not to be typecast and to follow his own musical tastes such as Bob Dylan or Led Zeppelin – he once even admitted not being terribly fond of watching opera.
'I don't like musical snobbery. I want to introduce people to new styles of music. I don't see any division between different types of music.'
Did he a Michael have any disagreements over what songs to choose for Together? 'There were some things that I put my foot down and said 'no I'm not doing that', being a grumpy northerner. Likewise there were some that Michael wasn't that sold on until we tried them.
'We brought different things to the table, but in a good way. I was bringing songs that I thought our different voices would work together well on. He brought songs that he felt I needed to try out. There were never any disagreements in a major sense. We were very respectful of each others opinions.'
These days Alfie spends much of his time in America where his wife, daughter and son, live in Utah. He admits being away from them for large chunks of the year is a struggle.
'We FaceTime four or five times a day, usually on school drop-off, school pick-up, just before they're having their dinner and just before I'm going to bed,' he says.
He is however looking forward to this summer's shows. Having played a solo show at Thetford Forest in 2012, is there something special about performing outdoors? 'Absolutely. Outdoor shows can be magical. You can never guarantee the weather of course, but everyone is always there to have a good time. You can defiantly feel that and it is different when you are on stage.
'Just playing to the elements is exciting. When you are on a stage open to the natural environment it has a different feel, especially some of the venues are so beautiful too. Thetford Forest was great. And the crowds always have a good time. They're usually drunk at some point, so that's fun!'
• Michael Ball and Alfie Boe: Together Again, Euston Hall, Thetford, June 24, ticket details/booking on 0844 8440444, www.livenation.co.uk
Big voices, no egos
Life on the road with Alfie and Michael usually sees them share a dressing room and eat together, but before a gig, Ball will have a quick lie-down, while Boe strums on his guitar. 'Sometimes we muck in together, but even if we do have separate rooms we almost always end up in each others. It's not about egos, it's all about what makes a the songs sound good.' He is amused by Michael's pre-performance routines though. 'Oh my goodness. It's like some sort of cult ceremony when you go on before a show with him. He does these hand clap things he's roped me into doing, and if we slip up a little bit, we'll have to do it again.'