Alfie Boe: Bring Him Home Tour Live - Interview exclusive
Interview by Rob Carnevale
TO CELEBRATE the release of Alfie Boe’s new live tour DVD Bring Him Home on Monday, March 12, 2012, IndieLondon spoke exclusively to him about some of the memories from the tour and overcoming nerves whenever he takes to the stage.
He also reflects on playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables last year, his passion for the song Bring Him Home and what 2012 promises, including a new album and his involvement in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Q. Bring Him Home Live is out on DVD on Monday, you must be excited?
Alfie Boe: Absolutely. It’s out on Monday and I’m absolutely thrilled about it. I hope everyone else is too and that they enjoy it.
Q. The memories of that night must be pretty special too?
Alfie Boe: It was a really great show that night. It was the second night of the tour so it felt like a new run of it and it was a wonderful evening. I had a number of guests. Matt Lucas performed with me and we dueted on The Impossible Dream, Tom Fletcher from McFly also performed a Les Miserables duet and a Beatles duet and Melanie C did a Marvin Gaye-Tammi Terrell song and Come What May from Moulin Rouge. She finished the show with me. And you get to see me playing the drums at the end… although not very well [laughs]!
Q. How did that come about?
Alfie Boe: I’ve been drumming since I was about 12 years old and it’s a bit of a hobby, so I thought it would be cool to incorporate it in show. So, at the end of the show I do this sort of rocky gospel song called Jacob’s Ladder and get everyone singing and clapping along and then I get on the [drum] kit and sing the last verse from the kit. It’s a bit of a crowd-pleaser that one… everyone goes wild for it.
Q. Bring Him Home, the song itself, must have a very special place in your heart given your history with it. It was the first song you sang professionally at the age of 14…
Alfie Boe: Yeah, I sang that when I was about 14 in an amateur operatic society. And I really didn’t expect I’d ever be singing it while playing the role of Jean Valjean for the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables in London. It’s incredible.
Q. Do you still have a clear memory of that first performance? Was it recorded, so have you had chance to look back on it?
Alfie Boe: No, I don’t think it was recorded. But my memories of it are pretty clear. It was a very special moment because I hadn’t done much live performing at that stage and I always remember those moments in my life. I did get quite nervous. I still get nervous now but I think that’s part of the job. The day you don’t get nervous is the day you start to worry and you’re not going to pull it out of the bag.
Q. Talking of special memories, what are some of your favourites from such a rich and varied career?
Alfie Boe: Well, there are so many. When I played Broadway… I did La Boheme for Baz Luhrmann and that was a wonderful memory. Performing at the Royal Variety Performance as Jean Valjean was incredible too. But really the biggest moment for me in my career has been standing on stage at the O2 Arena and singing Bring Him Home in front of 20,000 people and then getting a three or four minute standing ovation. I didn’t expect that and wasn’t prepared for it. When you look at my face on the DVD you can see that I kind of go numb at what’s happening because I can’t take it in, and then reality hits and you see the change on my face. It was incredible. Playing the O2 is something quite intense. It’s a good venue but the size of it… I try not to get too intimidated by it. But it can be as nerve-wracking playing in front of 200 people as it is playing in front of 20,000. So, you treat every audience the same.
Q. Have you developed a technique for combating those nerves?
Alfie Boe: I drink a lot [laughs]. No, I just try and prepare in the way I know how. It’s always an individual thing coping with it. But I try and focus upon what I have to do and try and channel those nerves into a sort of excitement and calm. So, I try to remain as calm as I possibly can, even though the nerves are kicking in and my heart is pounding. I do breathing exercises, too, and I always try and remember to enjoy it tool. I have people in the wings with me before I go on stage, so I give them a little high five before I walk on. It’s a little security to know that they’re there with me.
Q. Coming back to Bring Him Home, do you constantly find new ways of tackling it? Have you ever become bored with it?
Alfie Boe: I’ve got to say that it’s one song that I never get tired of singing. From the minute the intro starts it fills you with an emotion that I’ve never experienced before in other songs. But it is cool to try a different approach and I have tried it in different ways. I played the song with voice and guitar, with voice and piano, with an orchestra, with a rock band, and it’s quite nice to do it differently… I even sang the song unaccompanied, a capella, which brings another element to the song. So, it is nice to try different ways of doing it, not to sort of cure any boredom, but rather to discover different angles and a new way of approaching it and performing it. It keeps the song alive and it keeps it going. It’s amazing how versatile music can be.
Q. You must have enjoyed playing Jean Valjean, especially at the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables?
Alfie Boe: Yeah, that was an amazing evening paying that role on such a platform as the O2. I was very lucky to be appointed that role and to be given the chance to change my career, I have a lot to thank Cameron Mackintosh and Claude-Michel Schonberg for.
Q. How do you feel it changed your career?
Alfie Boe: I think because I connected so much with the character and playing the role, I could identify with him and also familiarise myself with the emotions and what he is going through. Also, his moral standards in life are something that hit home for me and the music is something that I immediately got connected with. The music took over for me and I just found myself discovering that the role of Jean Valjean was burning inside me from day one. It just took a little flame to ignite.
Q. Was it a difficult role to say goodbye to after the six months you subsequently spent playing him in the West End?
Alfie Boe: It was a very hard role to say goodbye to and I became very emotional when I did have to say goodbye on the final evening performance. But whenever I sing Bring Him Home, I’m playing the character again, so he will always be there for me.
Q. Looking ahead to some of this year’s sure-to-be highlights, you’re involved with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert. What can we expect from that?
Alfie Boe: I’m not too sure what I’m performing at this stage, possibly something from Les Miserables… maybe Bring Him Home. It’s really down to the powers that be to decide on what we sing. But it’s a real honour to be performing for Her Majesty and sharing the stage with such wonderful artists…
Q. Will there be any room for any duets do you think, given the line-up that includes Sir Paul McCartney, Dame Shirley Bassey and more?
Alfie Boe: It would be incredible if there was any possibility of doing that. Stevie Wonder is coming over too and I would be blown away to perform a duet with him… or Kylie Minogue or Elton John and Tom Jones. If there’s a chance of me dueting with any of those guys, I’d leap at the chance.
Q. How will you be back stage? Do you get nervous about approaching people who inspire you?
Alfie Boe: Yeah, but I have to say I don’t hold back from approaching people and sometimes… well, most of the time it works in my favour. I approached Robert Plant in a bar once and asked if he’d duet on my next album and he agreed [he appears on current album, Alfie]. But really, what have you got to lose? They’re all human beings and they’ll tell you if they don’t want to chat or don’t want to sing with you. But the fact is, we’re all in the same business and it’s nice to have some sort of connection to them. So, I will go up to them if I get the chance because I’d love to meet Sir Paul McCartney or Stevie Wonder. I’ve met Elton John a couple of times.
Q. And you’ll get to meet The Queen…
Alfie Boe: I’ve met Her Majesty once before and it’d be great honour to say hello again.
Q. You’re also penning your autobiography this year. How easy or difficult was that to do?
Alfie Boe: Yeah, the autobiography is due out in September. I thought it was a god opportunity to get my story out there as a lot has happened to me over the years and now was a good chance for me to tell my tale. But it’s quite tricky. I was working with a ghost writer, a friend of mine, so we had a number of book writing sessions together but I didn’t realise how much I’d forgotten [laughs]. When you start talking about a subject, it sparks a memory of something else and you go off in a different direction. So, it was interesting finding out how it all works.
Q. And you have a new album due?
Alfie Boe: Another album, yes. We should be recording over the summer. At the moment, we’re getting together the repertoires and sorting out the production. It’ll be out at the end of the year. But Bring Him Home and Alfie are still out there and doing well in the charts… they’re sort of flying the flag at the moment. There’s also going to be a lot of concerts over the summer, an American tour in October, as well as the Bring Him Home DVD. So then maybe I’ll have a sleep [laughs]!
Q. Do you know who you’ll collaborate with on the new album, or which songs you’ll sing?
Alfie Boe: There’s no duets planned at the moment but maybe towards the time we come to record the album I’ll decide on those… maybe Stevie Wonder or Her Majesty The Queen will agree – you never know [laughs]. And I do have a number of songs in mind but I’m also working with a five piece rock band this time so it will be a little different than before in terms of the sound. It’s a bit of a different approach. The songs will still be popular but done using different arrangements, not their original versions. It’s about finding a new approach.
Alfie Boe – Bring Him Home Tour Live is released on DVD on Monday, March 12, 2012.