INTERVIEW: Opera superstar Russell Watson set for most intimate tour ever
RUSSELL Watson is undoubtedly the UK's best-known classical singer, regularly entertaining millions of fans across the globe. KARL STEEL spoke to the exuberant opera star ahead of his surprisingly intimate debut appearance in Ulverston
SALFORD-BORN singer Russell Watson missed out on touring the North West heartlands when his rapid rise took him from the working men's club circuit to international stardom almost overnight.
A factory worker during the early part of his performing career, almost all of his shows were within half an hour of the Manchester ring-road until he had his big break, singing at Old Trafford in 1999, and since then he has found himself filling some of the biggest venues across the globe.
The four-time Brit Classical Award-winner's new tour, however, is a more stripped-back affair, affording him the rare opportunity to play some of the mid-sized venues he skipped on his remarkable ascent.
He explains: "The idea for the tour actually came about when I did a castle concert quite recently, and it was quite a small, intimate place so I didn't have an orchestra - it was just me and a piano, like Pavarotti used to do.
"I thought 'this is really good, maybe I should try doing this more often'.
"And, of course, without the orchestra, it gives me a chance to visit a load of venues I've never been to before."
Accompanied by his pianist Richard John and a guest choir, Watson will be performing songs from his new album, True Stories, at the Coronation Hall, in Ulverston, on Friday September 22.
Being still based in the North West, he is a regular visitor to the region as a holidaymaker, but to his recollection, it will be the first time he's ever performed in South Cumbria.
"I've been up to the Lake District on holiday many, many times," he continues. "In fact, we were just there recently. It's so easy for us to get there, just straight down the road.
"We've been to the Gilpin and the Samling, where they have the Michelin star and the food is just fantastic, but our new favourite place is Holbeck Ghyll.
"The views are just stunning. I'd go as far as to say they are inspirational. Waking up and opening the curtains, it's that beautiful view of the English countryside that everybody pictures.
"When I was starting out though, it was mainly the working men's clubs. There's one that always sticks in my mind, just up past Sellafield. Something like Egremont Social Club, and I used to love it.
"The furthest I would usually go was Blackpool, about 45 minutes away, but I went all the way up there a few times because they used to pay me three times as much!
"That will be about 24 years ago now, and a lot of the clubs are gone now, but I'd love to know if it's still there."
Watson’s career to date has seen some incredible achievements; his debut album, The Voice, held simultaneous number one slots on both sides of the Atlantic, spending a record-breaking 52 weeks at the top in the UK.
He has now sold in excess of seven million albums worldwide, and played for some of the greatest figures of our time, including Her Majesty The Queen, the late Pope John Paul II, former US Presidents Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama, The Emperor of Japan and the King of Malaysia.
This year alone has been an extremely busy one, even by his standards, and he has recently been working on the songs for his upcoming production, Heaven on Earth, which will see him tackle the ultimate role of God at venues across the UK next year.
The last couple of weeks of August will be his first chance to relax in 2017, before he's back at it ahead of this autumn Serenade tour.
"It's my favourite time of the year - holiday! I've certainly not had a proper one this year, and it feels like forever.
"It's been a mega busy year, so it'll be nice to get away. We've been all over the world, but you don't really get a chance to relax.
"We recorded the last album in Rome, and it sounds daft, but I was there three or four months and barely got any time at all to see the sights. It was a nice road to the studio, but that was about all I saw.
"A lot of this tour will be quite close to home, which is good.
"The gruelling thing about doing a long tour is not playing a show each night, it's the constantly sitting in traffic on the motorway, heading up and down the M6.
"My dad owned a DIY shop, and before that he was a welder, and he always says "try working for a living, and then you can complain about being tired," - and he's right. If it ever felt like a chore or a grind, I wouldn't do it. And people would see through it."
Now aged 50, and with such an illustrious career already behind him, there is no chance that he'll consider scaling back his workload when he's enjoying it just as much as ever before.
The latest tour is a little step into the unknown for Watson, having been accustomed to sharing the stage with huge orchestras in front of tens of thousands of people - but it is exciting him that he has this chance to try something different.
"I like changing things around, because the worst thing you can do is stagnate. That doesn't necessarily mean moving with the times, but it's important to keep it fresh.
"There is always going to be someone at the end of the show, if I've not done it, shouting "You Raise Me Up" or "do Nessun Dorma", which I've been doing for 20-odd years, but there will be certain songs that don't work as well with just voice and a piano.
"We'll see what happens when rehearsals start about a week out from the first show."