CHARISMATIC performer Julian Ovenden admits he gets some strange looks when he’s practising in his attic.
“We have a studio at the top of our house with no sound-proofing,” he says from Peckham, south London. “You can see the street and when you’re singing people turn their heads thinking ‘What the hell is that?’”
And with the Sheffield-born artist married to an opera singer, there’s plenty to hear.
Julian is best known for his role as fighter pilot Andrew Foyle in ITV’s Foyle’s War and has earned his musical theatre stripes in the West End and Broadway alongside, among others, Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans.
But the actor, who spent the first few years of his life in the Steel City where his father was a parish vicar, is currently making waves as a singer with his début album If You Stay.
“Because this is the first time I’ve released a record everything is new to me, but I’ve had an amazing time putting it together.
“It took us about a year and a half, quite a long time, choosing the repertoire, making sure it all fitted together. I started in Los Angeles with a band then did vocals in New York, then an orchestra in London – I’ve been all over the place.”
Then it kind of reflects the tenor’s life so far.
The son of Canon John Ovenden, now chaplain to the Queen, at seven Julian won a scholarship to St Paul’s Cathedral School before moving to Eton.
“They didn’t have the money to send me to the school they wanted me to go to so music scholarships allowed me to have that specialist education.
“It was a bit of a culture shock, some people arrived by helicopter. I had a room next to the Crown Prince of Kuwait, who at 17 had six wives”
Oxford University and London’s Webber Douglas Academy were followed by a role with the RSC and later the lead in Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along at the Donmar Warehouse.
If You Stay sees Julian fulfilling a dream to make an album of “classic, grown up pop music that one might put into a Ford Focus, and suddenly the car is transformed into an Aston Martin.”
Hence a canny mix of originals and some slightly less obvious covers from a singer whose show-stopping performances at the 2010 Proms won him a deal with Decca.
“It hasn’t been a simple procedure. I wanted to do something aspirational, that sounded expensive. It’s got a fantasy feel to it, a cinematic quality. There’s a subtle nod to the pop music of the ’60s, easily listening for want of a better word, Bacharach, Henry Mancini, although I didn’t want it to be a pastiche. I wanted it to have contemporary feel.”
Julian said he wanted to avoid going down the cross-over route of Alfie Boe or Russell Watson – “there’s only so much of that you want to hear before you jump out of a window” – but rather mix old and new like Michael Buble.
“I wanted to do something different – music that really excited me. So some of this has a slightly retro feel, but there’s so much great music in the ’60s that people just don’t know.
“I don’t want to be seen as a show off or someone trying lots of different things. I really concentrated hard on making this as good as it could possibly be. I feel very privileged to have had this experience.
“I don’t feel there’s a lot like this out there at the moment, something more sophisticated than a lot of the pop music around, if I may be so bold.
“I feel quite old releasing a pop record because you look at television and most people are 14.”