Michael Ball seems to be one of those performers that has a bit of a ‘Marmite quality’ about him. His devoted fans (such as my mother) will happily tell you how marvellous he is, while those that aren’t so keen, will dismiss him as a combination of musical theatre singer and Radio 2 crooner – not too bad a combination in some ears. He has just released his latest album “If Everyone Was Listening” and the advertising blurb promises 15 tracks personally selected by Michael, covering a wide range of musical styles, years and tastes.
I have to be honest and say, it’s not too bad. I think it’s impossible to find an album where every track appeals equally to a listener – we always have a favourite track and one we skip on the iPod – but Michael has delivered a nice mix of styles and genres so there is something for everyone. The opening track, “Bad Things” was definitely a bit of a split from the usual musical style we associate with Michael. Light R&B with some rather risqué lyrics, it makes a great start to the album. Some of the songs, such as “You Needed Me” “the Climb” and “Let it be Me” (superbly sung with The Overtones) will definitely be familiar to listeners, but Michael brings his own style to these old favourites. Then there are songs such as Jessie” which tells a story with its lyrics to really engage with the listener. “May You Never” is another case with its prayer of hope and thanks to his love for the relationship they have together.
Ultimately, Michael is a consummate professional who obviously loves singing and has avoided the temptation to rely on simple well-worn ballads, to fill a couple of hours and listening to the album I realised that I have been too quick to judge him as a performer. I loved him in Hairspray, but on the whole have dismissed him as a bit bland for my taste. However, having listened to the album a couple of times now, I have to say he has produced a lovely collection of songs, familiar and unfamiliar, that I would be happy to listen to, and probably sing along to, in the car – just don’t tell my mother!
By Terry Eastham
MICHAEL BALL – double Olivier Award winner, multi-platinum recording artist and hugely popular radio and TV presenter – releases a brand new album on November 17th on the USM TV label.
The 15 tracks that Michael has chosen to record for If Everyone Was Listening are a mix of individual classics, award winners and contemporary songs spanning the years 1960 to 2013.
Michael Ball says: “I love lyrics, and I love singing songs whose lyrics mean something to me and that I know other people will relate to. A number of the songs are by singer songwriters such as Sarah McLachlan, Jason Mraz, John Martyn or great interpreters of lyrics such as Alison Krauss and Anne Murray.”
He adds: “In fact when I was deciding which tracks to record for this album, I was delving back into my own music collection and was inspired by listeners of my radio show who seem to share similar music tastes That encouraged me to make this my most personal album yet. People who know me know how hands on I am with any project I undertake so it won’t come as any surprise to anyone that I took a very active role in the producing and arranging of all these songs.”
There are four classic songs from Michael’s teenage years: ‘Still The Same’ the classic soft rock hit from Bob Seger, ‘You Needed Me’ the Grammy award winning song sung by Anne Murray in 1978; ‘May You Never’ which was written and recorded by legendary folk/jazz/blues singer John Martyn and the brilliant 1974 ‘If Everyone Was Listening’ by Supertramp whose opening lines: The actors and jesters are here/The stage is in darkness and clear…provide a metaphor for life as well as a theatrical context.
Michael’s description of each track:
1. Bad Things – Written and sung by country music artist Jace Everett, this is the theme song for the TV show ‘True Blood’. I’m a huge fan of the show and when I first heard ‘Bad Things’, I thought it’s a bit like the show itself – tongue in cheek, sexy, funny, and it’s got a great rhythm.
2. Simple Love – Originally sung by Alison Krauss, this tells a very personal story and has one of the best hooks of any song. It looks back to a time when life was simpler.
3. I Won’t Give Up – It’s lovely when you hear a contemporary song by a singer songwriter – in this case Jason Mraz – that’s a classic, that speaks to you in the same way a song you’ve known for 30 years does. On this album I was keen to mix the old and the new to show that great songs are being written today, just as much as they were yesterday.
4. Jessie – My stepdaughter Emma has been asking me to record this for years. I sat down at the piano and worked out the arrangement; I wanted to concentrate on the words rather than bring in guitar and drums too early. I’ve used my own voice to do all the harmonies because no one knows how to phrase a song for me better than me!
5. Still The Same – Cathy suggested I record this one as I’m a massive Bob Seger fan and this is great, driving, simple rock ‘n’ roll that I can’t wait to do in concert next year.
6. You Needed Me – I grew up loving this song by Anne Murray and remember it being a bit of sanity right in the middle of the punk era.
7. Stuck Like Glue – I loved this song by Sugarland from the moment I heard it – it became my getting ready song for both Hairspray and Sweeney Todd and everyone would come into the dressing room to have a dance!
8. The Climb – Everybody loves a bit of Gorgonzola…
9. Need You Now – The multi-Grammy award winning Lady Antebellum are one of my favourite groups at the moment, who are changing the face of American country music; this is another song you can just relate to.
10. May You Never – One of my favourite songs from one of my favourite albums: Solid Air by John Martyn. The words say it all.
11. What We Ain’t Got – This is an interesting one. It was actually suggested by the artist Kim Sears. I hadn’t heard of the singer – country artist Jake Owen – and I listened to this and thought what a perfect song. It sums up the era we live in: we all want what we ain’t got and we’re always looking at what everyone else has.
12. If Everyone Was Listening – This is in my Desert Island Discs; it opened and closed an evening of two plays I was in when I was at the Surrey Youth Theatre and it always resonated with me because of the lyrics. I love Supertramp and when I bought Crime of the Century in 1979, I thought it was the best album I’d ever heard.
13. Let It Be Me (Michael Ball & The Overtones) – This Everly Brothers song is a classic that I’ve always loved and I thought it would be great to have a really well known track among tracks that are less so. But who to sing with? The only group of guys who I ever considered for this one: they’re funny, they work hard and they sing brilliantly – they’re my mates, the Overtones…their harmonies are stunning.
14. Angel – Written and performed by the sublime Sarah McLachlan who’s got the most beautiful, pure voice. I know many people who have recorded this brilliant song; it’s so powerful and has a spiritual feel to it. I think it’s one of those songs that inspires the listener and encourages us to read whatever we want into it.
15. Falling Slowly – I first heard this (Oscar winning) song from the film Once when I saw the movie, which I loved; I subsequently saw the stage show in London – twice – and have heard it done a few times as a duet. In studying the structure of the song, I realised you could be so busy listening to the voices, that you miss the importance of the words, so I decided to strip it down and record it as a solo. It’s got such an extraordinary message that I wanted to concentrate on that and do it as one person’s consciousness.
For more than 25 years Michael has been at the top of his game starring in musical theatre productions in the West End and on Broadway winning critical acclaim, a devoted following and awards for his stage work and recording career.
Michael made his West End debut as Marius in the original London cast of Les Misérables; he starred in the West End production of The Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love in the West End and on Broadway, in the London production of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion and as Caractacus Potts in the West End musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 2005 he returned to Broadway as Count Fosco in The Woman in White, which transferred from London’s West End and, in the same year, made his New York City Opera debut as Reginald Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience. In 2007 he made his debut with the ENO as Haj/The Poet in Kismet.
In 2008 Michael made box office history at the Shaftesbury Theatre with his Olivier Award winning performance as Edna Turnblad in the smash hit musical Hairspray which he then took on tour across the UK throughout 2010. During August of that year he made his debut as chat show host on ITV1’s ‘The Michael Ball Show’ and in December he made his debut as a West End co-producer with the musical theatre production of Love Story (Duchess Theatre). In 2013 Michael won Best Actor in a Musical from Whatsonstage.com and his second Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his critically acclaimed lead role in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Chichester and Adelphi/West End).
Michael regularly tours the UK as a concert artist and has sold millions of albums and DVDs nationally and internationally. He’s performed in Australia, China, USA, Singapore and in 2007 made his BBC Proms debut: An Evening with Michael Ball at the Royal Albert Hall marked the first time a musical theatre star had been given a solo concert at the Proms.
Michael has a hugely successful radio broadcasting career which includes his own show, Sunday Night with Michael Ball (Radio 2). He is also a popular TV presenter and is a regular guest presenter on Lorraine, This Morning, The One Show and more. He recently completed shooting the Victoria Wood TV film, ‘That Day We Sang’ with Imelda Staunton which is due to air over Christmas on BBC 2.