‘I never forget where I’ve come from’
As the nation’s favourite tenor, Alfie Boe, releases a new album, he chats about staying true to his roots and all the joys of a family Christmas
As settings go, they don’t come much smarter than London”s Savoy Hotel. In the Princess Ida Suite, Alfie Boe serenades us – over a cup of Earl Grey, finger sandwiches and scones – with a couple of songs from As Time Goes By, his voice so powerful, we momentarily fear for the crystal chandeliers.
Alfie, immaculately stylish in suit and tie, looks completely at home here – as if he was born into five-star luxury. But nothing could be further from the truth. The youngest of nine siblings, he’s the child of a working-class family
from Fleetwood in Lancashire – something he feels very proud of.
“I’m a Fleetwood lad,” he says simply when we get a chance to chat, “and I want to fly the flag for the town as much as I can. It’s a strong, wonderful town. It stands you in
‘I want my children’s Christmases to be just as special as mine were’
good stead for whatever you might want to do. You know that whatever happens, it will always be there for you. I’m glad that I’m Alfie Boe from Fleetwood in Lancashire and that I’ve never forgotten my roots. And that I speak my mind – maybe, perhaps, a bit too often! I have a lot of pride for Fleetwood and everyone who lives there.” It’s clearly mutual.
Fleetwood is equally proud of Alfie and last year a blue plaque was unveiled in his honour at the town’s Marine Hall where he made his first public concert appearance, aged 14. “To say it’s an honour is not a big enough word,” he humbly commented at the time. “I’m overwhelmed, totally blown away.”
Alfie may have made his name by singing classical music and, more recently, he’s enjoyed great success as part of the duo Ball and Boe with fellow singer and great friend, Michael Ball. Although there are plans afoot for the two to reunite at some point, for now Alfie’s back on his own and As Time Goes By is quite a departure for him. It celebrates the golden era of music from the Thirties and Forties – a time that, musically, is often overlooked, sandwiched between the roaring Twenties and rock ’n’ roll. Timeless classics, such as La Vie en Rose, My Funny Valentine, Sing, Sing, Sing, and – appropriately enough –, Stomping at the Savoy, feature on the album and get the Alfie Boe treatment.
“It’s the kind of big band music I grew up with,” he says. “My mum and dad were really into the big bands – Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Count Basie… and they used to go dancing at Marine Hall. My mother told me when she was pregnant with me she was watching a TV show and Gene Krupa started the drum solo from Sing, Sing, Sing. She had a cup of tea on her tummy and immediately felt me kick and the tea went up in the air. She always told this story and I realised I was connected with music even before I was born!
“These are the kind of songs that can be sung with a piano accompaniment, or with a full big band. When I sing them, I like to imagine myself in a small, dimly-lit lounge bar in New Orleans with a spotlight shining down and a three-piece band behind me.”
The recording sessions took place at the celebrated Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, where Frank Sinatra made so many of his iconic albums. Alfie had a specific sound in mind for his.
“I kept saying to the players in the studio – musicians from Los Angeles and New Orleans – ’Please don’t play clean, please make it dirty’,” he laughs. “My arranger spoke to his brass section who went out and bought specific mouthpieces for their instruments that would have been used in the Thirties, and they created that certain sound. We could have done a clean- cut impression of bands and singers of the time, but I wanted to find the right route for me and we did our own arrangements.”
Alfie believes it was this golden period that gave birth to the popular music industry.
“For the first time there were record companies, record labels, writers, arrangers… It influenced music in Britain, specifically in the North West with northern soul in the Sixties and Seventies. So, what we’re also trying to do is to show how it all came together and how it influenced the music scene in the UK. You could say it was like a revolution.”
Alfie (45) embarks on an extensive tour of the UK in March, which he’s very much looking forward to. “I can’t wait,” he smiles. But, first, he’s excited about celebrating Christmas with his wife Sarah, and their two children, Grace (9) and Alfie (6) – especially as the family recently moved back to the UK from the USA.
“I’m so glad to be home. I want Grace and Alfie’s Christmases to be just as special as mine were,” he says. “I was so lucky to have such a special childhood. Christmas was always wonderful. It was really nice to have such wonderful parents who really made it special. We just had the best of times.”
■ As Time Goes By is released on November 23, rrp £10.99
■ For more details on Alfie’s tour visit www.alfie-boe.com/live
Alfie in a performance of Les Miserables at the 02 Arena in 2010
Alfie and wife Sarah are looking forward to a family Christmas with their two children
Friends Alfie and Michael Ball (left) plan to reunite with their music at some point in the future