Alfie Boe is Belfast-bound this Christmas
Together, Michael Ball and Alfie Boe are a highly successful musical partnership. Ahead of their Together at Christmas show in Belfast, Jenny Lee caught up with Boe and talked music, movies and mishaps
IT'S Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas... and helping get Belfast revellers in the mood with this and many other festive hits is world renowned tenor Alfie Boe and musical theatre star Michael Ball.
In their first visit to Ireland together, the duo brings their Together at Christmas tour to Belfast's SSE Arena next week.
The title is taken from their 2020 number one album, which included arrangements of popular carols Silent Night and O Holy Night, as well as ever-popular hits like White Christmas and Mistletoe and Wine, as well as a new single, My Christmas Will Be Better Than Yours.
Excited about coming back to Belfast, where he last performed in a Proms in the Park event at Titanic Slipways, Boe says audiences are "in for a treat".
"The crowds in Ireland are pretty wild and up for a big night, so we're really looking forward to it. We will have a big Christmas section, as well as a lot of Les Misérables, including a duet of Love Changes Everything, and some fun little moments throughout the show."
There might even be some snow. "I have asked for a snow machine and we're hoping that is going to happen, but we will wait and see. If not, I'll just walk on with a bag of dust or something and throw it over myself," he laughs.
Both Ball and Boe have had a long association with the musical Les Misérables, in their respective roles as Marius Pontmercy and Jean Valjean.
Last Christmas they had a special run, under Covid-safety restrictions of Les Misérables: The Staged Concert in London's West End.
And just days ago it was announced the Les Misérables Staged Concert Album, which also stars Matt Lucas and Lisburn singer Raymond Walsh, has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album.
Ball and Boe first met in 2007 while both starring in Edward Knoblock's play Kismet at the London Coliseum. Whilst the show suffered bad reviews, the duo's professional and personal relationship hit all the right notes.
They first performed together that summer at two BBC Proms concerts and have gone on to record four albums together, receiving two Classic Brit Awards and presented three ITV Specials.
As well as their voices complementing each other beautifully, they really do seem to be the best of friends.
"It's not very often you get the opportunity to work with someone on stage that you really get on well with. We have a lot of mutual respect for each other and bring our own things to the table. But we are great friends as well as colleagues," says Boe.
On stage the talented twosome support and tease each other in equal measure, and aren't afraid to laugh at each other's mishaps.
"Michael sometimes forgets his lyrics or stumbles and it's pretty funny when he makes something up. And I can be a little clumsy and trip up occasionally. That gets him laughing, then I laugh and before you know it the whole audience is in giggles."
The 48-year-old, who grew up just outside Blackpool, is looking forward to the festive period.
"You can't help but love Christmas, especially when you have children of your own," says Boe, dad of 13-year-old Grace and nine-year-old Alfred.
"I love singing a good old Christmas carol, but I also love the Christmas hits of the '70s as they take me back to my youth and the excitement of Christmas.
"I remember my dad used to make toys for us and build bicycles. I got a little snooker table one year which I really loved."
Lockdown and a break from a relentless touring calendar gave Boe the opportunity to fulfil a lot of his wishes including writing his own music, passing on his knowledge of singing and starring in a film in a non-singing role.
December 11 sees him star in A Christmas Number One, available exclusively on Sky Cinema.
"I play the part of Grainger Cocksmith, an obnoxious radio executive, who runs a record label and is a bit of an idiot. However, the storyline is very sweet and perfect for Christmas."
In the movie Boe's character knows Bono - so shall we see real life collaboration in the future between himself and the U2 frontman?
"I have no connection with Bono whatsoever, but maybe after this movie he might get in touch - you never know," he hints.
Although he enjoyed considerable success with his 11 solo albums, which combine classical music, musical theatre and popular music, Boe is most excited about his next - an original music album, which plans to bring it out in early summer 2022.
"One thing I was able to do during the pandemic was to get into the music studio and start writing my own music with some wonderful artists and producers. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time and it's been a very cathartic process," he explains.
"It's tricky when you are with a label and you create a successful album and before you know it you are a few years down the line and you've made several albums of a similar sound. This was a great chance to be creative."
So what can we expect?
"It's pop music with a very cinematic and dramatic approach. It's quite big scale, powerful songs with strong production. It's very powerful," adds Boe, who hopes to tour his new songs to Belfast next year.
Passionate about sharing the power of music and helping others discover the power of his own voice, Boe also devised his own singing course, with MusicGurus.
"I say in the course it's not about being perfect, it's just doing the best to your own ability and enjoying the element of singing - even if that's just around your house.
"Music is something I always lean on to help me through troubled times and it has got us all through a lot of the Covid times," adds Boe, who is proud of his Irish descent.
"My mother's family were Mulligans from Co Meath and I still have a strong Irish connection there. My dad's mother was also Irish, so I can drink a pint of Guinness alright."
The youngest of nine children, he was named after the Italian name of Pope John XXII.
"It was a lovely thought, but when you go to school and the kids find out your middle name is Roncalli, it's a bit annoying," laughs Boe, who - perhaps surprisingly - has yet to sing for the Pope.
Michael Ball & Alfie Boe: Together at Christmas plays Dublin's 3Arena (3arena.ie) tonight and Belfast's SSE Arena (ssearenabelfast.com) tomorrow (December 7). Megan McKenna is a special guest at both performances.