Ipswich: Regent-bound Russell Watson on working with masters of the musical

Russell Watson comes to the Ipswich Regent this April

Russell Watson comes to the Ipswich Regent this April - Credit: Archant

Football features heavily, literally and figuratively, when I call classical star Russell Watson.

“I have to look after the voice. It’s not like if you’ve got a guitar or a violin and it breaks you buy a new one... I don’t go to Old Trafford anymore and start shouting,” says the Manchester United fan as talk about how he looks after himself turns into us mourning the club’s sad slide down the league.

Commiserations over, on to new album Only One Man, out last November, which as a recording artist, he describes as going from League Two to the top of the Premiership.

“It’s quite daunting... I’ve recorded some fabulous material over my career but I’ve never recorded anything that’s been specifically tailor made for me by composers of the ilk of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil. It’s the most exciting project that I’ve ever worked on.”

The successful writers of Les Misérables and Miss Saigon have come up with several new songs for the multi-million selling Classical BRIT Award winner.

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“That’s not meant in detriment to anybody else, but these are the guys who’ve written the world’s most successful musical of all time and in the last century there is nobody who has more success with writing than these two guys - they haven’t ever written for a solo artist before.”

His manager’s suggestion, a dubious Watson suggested they invite President Obama to have a natter and a pint while they were at it.

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“I thought it was about as realistic as that. I forgot all about it because it’s the music industry for God’s sake; you’re promised the world every day of the week and generally get delivered somebody’s back garden. Two days later I got a telephone call ‘Claude-Michel and Alan want to talk to you about making a record... he wants you to go to his house tomorrow if you’re available’.”

He was available.

Despite what he modestly calls “some pretty good success, but in relative terms not really that much”, Watson remembers feeling intimated by the Grammys and countless other awards hanging on the wall of Schönberg’s studio.

“(There were) big posters of Miss Saigon and Les Mis on the wall... I remember, maybe because I was a bit nervous, joking... quite a big brown envelope arrived and Claude-Michel threw it in the corner and I said ‘oh is it another grammy, you going to open that next week’,” he laughs.

“He looked at me and he was very direct. He said ‘what do you want from me Russell’? ‘Um, well, your endorsement would be fantastic, access to your astonishing body of work and back catalogue and I’d like you to write new songs for me’. ‘We don’t write new songs for anybody we write musicals. Tell me your life story’ (he replies).”

It’s quite a story.

A working class background, coming home covered in c**p after 12-hour night shifts in a factory, how winning a talent competition sparked a 10-year tour of the club circuit. Then another lucky break, this time singing at Old Trafford; a record deal that saw him become the UK’s best-selling classical artist ever, how the wheels came off the wagon thanks to a brain tumor and how, five years later, he’s getting things back on track.

“He said ‘I like your story, I’m going to write for you’, big sigh of relief,” laughs Watson.

Then, things got even better.

“One day we’re all round the piano in the studio, working through a couple of songs he’d written. This chap turned up and turned out to be Charles Hart who wrote the lyrics for Phantom of The Opera. ‘Oh hello Russell, I’m going to write you four new pieces’,” he laughs. “So the pedigree of the record is really quite something.”

The majority of the album will be new to fans. The tour will be a different beast too, the idea behind it being to put the album itself on stage. Schönberg, he says, has also come up with a very clever idea of incorporating his back catalogue into the show.

“Conceptually what they’ve done with my tour dates, with my show, is create something new for me which is so exciting. I can’t wait to get out on stage,” says Watson.

Watson always has a great time at the Ipswich Regent, one of what he calls his “football venues”.

“There are some parts of the UK where you would expect certain types of audiences... if I go to the Royal Albert Hall I know people will sit there and politely applause. Football venues... people go mad and it’s a brilliant night. When I hit the top of Nessun Dorma it feels like I’ve stuck the ball on the 18-yard area and curled it into the top corner. They’re the gigs I really look forward to and Ipswich is one of those.”

Russell Watson, Only One Man, comes to the Regent on April 2.

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