The tenor next door

Russell Watson
Russell Watson
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ONE thing Russell Watson is certain of is he won’t be doing any adverts for price comparison websites any time soon.

Not like the man behind the annoying Go Compare commercials but, as he prepares to grab a slice of the pop opera market, the siren from Salford is ready for anything.

“If that comes on television I ‘mute’ immediately,” Russell says of the ad, admitting he’s not been short of silly offers himself.

“I wouldn’t like to point out specifics but needless to say there’s been a couple that I’ve thought ‘frozen sausage rolls and opera doesn’t go together particularly well’.”

The offer to sing on a polar ice cap went the same way, but he did agree to perform on water in Kyoto, Japan.

“I sang on a gondola on a lake,” he confirms. “You want to try singing Nessun Dorma while balancing on the back of a boat that’s about six inches wide holding a microphone that’s wired and you know if you fall off you’re gonna end up with a proper spiky hair do.”

Russell’s back on firmer ground thanks to La Voce, the 2010 album recorded with the Roma Sinfonietta that signalled he was arguably back at his peak after a decade as his genre’s leading man.

“I might end up eating my words, but because I’ve been around almost 11 years there’s an acceptance.

“I don’t think people who have slated me in the past would necessarily champion me now but they leave me alone. They’ve gone quiet and that’s not a bad thing.

“There’s a general acceptance for the so-called classical crossover. Having said that, in the last few years I’ve worked incredibly hard on technique.”

After beating the tumours that struck him during the mid-Noughties, the singer was able to choose songs for La Voce maybe more challenging than before.

“If I was to make a comparison to myself and a footballer I’d probably been playing in defence for a while, not able to go up front.

“That’s how I felt with regards my voice; the strength, my confidence as well. At the beginning of 2008 I’d just finished 25 sessions of radiotherapy, put on three stone and had big chunks of hair missing. I wasn’t feeling good.

“Radiotherapy completely destroys every ounce of energy, so getting out of bed was a struggle never mind singing some of the biggest and toughest music ever written. I knew I had a heck of a fight to come back from that.

“I’ve worked hard to get my strength back. I believe I’m as strong vocally and physically as I’ve ever been and this is probably the best sounding record, vocally, I’ve ever made.”

It’s quite a claim amid a career that has won numerous awards and sold millions of records.

Not to mention seeing Russell perform for the most important people on the planet. So how do you gear up for singing to someone like the Pope?

“The way I prepare for something of that magnitude is try to give it as little thought as possible beforehand.

“If you over-analyse and think too much that’s when you start getting nervous: ‘Oh my god, I’m singing to the Pope, I hope I don’t forget the words and make a mess of it’.

“Generally with performances I don’t think about them until I’m actually on the plane or in the car on my way.

“People ask ‘Where are you next week?’ and I don’t know. Somebody tells me to get in a car and I get in. Somebody tells me to stand at the side of the stage so I stand at the side. Somebody sticks a foot up my backside and I go on and sing. That’s my life. Now I’m sat in here with my secretary who has got a big smile on her face thinking ‘Yeah, I know’.”

But Russell hints he maybe found success a tad early and has been honing his craft since.

“I guess the cart came before the horse. I started at level zero and I’ve learnt as I’ve gone along as opposed to going to the right music colleges.

“What I have taken on board over the last 10 years I’ve stored because I’ve wanted to learn, not because someone has been telling me in a class. I’ve become a more accomplished artist and my most symphonic recordings I would put up against most singers.”

Yet while the spotlight is on Russell when he exercises his tonsils, he’s keen to point out his incredible career has not been a solo game.

“There’s a huge team behind making my career work, particularly when it’s at the level it’s at, where it’s record sales and extensive tours and travelling around the world and guest appearances.

“It takes a lot of people to put that together and the way I see it is I’m the striker, the guy who has to put the ball in the back of the net if we’re gonna win the game.

“But without the team around me, the goalkeeper and defence, without the ball being fed up to the front for me, I don’t score goals.

“Then, it’s well and good winning the Premiership but what are you gonna do next season? Once you’ve won the trophy where are going from there? You’ve got to keep winning it. The competition since I got ill four or five years ago has really moved on.”

Russell plays Sheffield City Hall on March 30.