Music interview '“ Alfie Boe: '˜I've got a long way to go before I finish'
Alfie Boe heads to Scarborough for an open air concert in June, and he's hoping for sunshine. He spoke to Duncan Seaman.
Alfie Boe has good reason to remember his last concert at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre, with fellow singer Michael Ball. In true summer tradition, the rain on the Yorkshire Coast was siling down.
“It was pretty bad weather but we got up on stage and made the best of it, really,” the 44-year-old tenor recalls. “Everybody was there for a good time, everybody was up for a laugh. The weather didn’t seem to faze anybody.”
Hopefully the forecast will be considerably kinder when Boe returns to the same venue, this time on his own, on Saturday June 30. The concert coincides with Armed Forces Day, when the resort will be staging a corresponding programme of displays, interactive exhibits, marching bands and parades by service veterans.
“Obviously I’m a big supporter of our servicemen and women,” Boe says. “Being asked to perform on that specific day is a complete honour. It’s a great honour for any performer to go and celebrate our Armed Forces and with the whole crowd of Scarborough, it’s a wonderful event.”
For a singer who savours the robust heavy metal of Iron Maiden as much as operatic arias and musical show tunes, the set list for Scarborough is likely to be eclectic. “[Rock} is always a part of my repertoire,” he says. “I’ve got a connection with The Who now thorough Pete Townshend, doing Quadrophenia, and that’s always been part of my life and part of my career. There might be a little bit in there, but to be honest the majority of stuff will from be my next solo album and also some of the old Italian songs which I’ve done in the past. It’ll be a mixture of a few things.”
In commercial terms, the past 18 months have been some of the most successful since Boe began performing professionally in 1999. His partnership with West End star and broadcaster Ball has so far yielded two Number One albums and new solo deals for both artists.
Last year Boe was a BBC Music Day ambassador and even had a blue plaque unveiled in his honour in his home town, Fleetwood, Lancashire. It was, he says, an “incredible” honour. “It was an amazing event, it was an amazing day, and to be celebrated as an artist by being given a blue plaque is amazing for me, it meant everything.
“There was a number of artists there on the day that were given blue plaques and I think I was the only one who was still alive, which was quite surprising,” he chuckles. “Apart from that, to be linked in with those other artists like John Lennon and Buddy Holly and people like that I was blown away, I was very surprised, very shocked. It was such a wonderful day and a great honour.”
It also made him reflect on the journey he’d undertaken from singing to entertain colleagues while working as an apprentice mechanic at a Blackpool car factory to winning a Tony Award with the company of La Boheme on Broadway.
“There’s a lot that goes through your mind when you are given something like that,” he says. “It is a big event. It’s a big moment for you as a singer, as an artist, so you do reflect back to the past. But I’m still on the journey, I’m still living it. I’m grinning through and I’m doing it to the best of my ability and I’ve got a long way to go before I finish. I’m going to continue hopefully and have many more years as a singer entertaining the public.”
A few weeks before he heads to Yorkshire, Boe is due to perform a Highbury Stadium, the home of Fleetwood Town football club. “It’s always going to be an emotional evening when you play your home town, but it’s going to be good fun,” he says. “There’s going to be lots of different emotions but I’m there to have a good time, I’m there to entertain my friends and family and to play a stadium that I grew up with. They’ve grown, I’ve grown, we’ve developed over the years and it’s a great opportunity, so I’m thrilled to be doing that.”
While continuing his partnership with Ball, Boe sees it important that they each retain their own artistic identities. “We are very different artists, different singers, different performers, so to keep hold of your identity in that sort of sense is important,” he says. “My album is very different to Michael’s, which is a good thing. If we were both the same then it wouldn’t really be worth doing solo albums but we are very different, we have different tastes, so I’m looking forward to bringing out my new album and hopefully the public like it.”
Part of the success of Ball and Boe seems to be attributable to the fact that they seem to be enjoying working together so much. Boe says simply: “I think if you’re not enjoying something then it’s not worth doing. Life’s too short. We are enjoying our time together and that does transfer to the audience and to the listener. I think that’s why it works: if we’re having a good time then the audience are having a good time.”
Having rattled opera’s establishment with past criticisms of its elitism, Boe sounds unsure today if things have really changed. “I don’t know,” he sighs. “It seems to be changing a little bit but there’s a lot they could do.
“I’m not here to change the world of opera or to change classical music or to change people’s opinions on it; I’m just here to entertain now. I started off thinking I could be a revolutionary and make classical music more accessible, which I have to a certain extent. People that come to my concerts get treated to some classical, and that’s another thing. But I’m not here to start a war with anyone, I’m just here to sing songs and entertain.”
Alfie Boe plays at Scarborough Open Air Theatre on June 30. www.scarboroughopenairtheatre.com