In fine voice
PUBLISHED: 12:38 24 November 2015 | UPDATED: 12:38 24 November 2015
Choirmaster Gareth Malone talks to Wayne Savage about his love of music, his latest tour and why he's not disappearing from our TV screens just yet
Contrary to rumours, Gareth Malone is not quitting our TV screens any time soon.
“It was one of those moments where you say something in an interview that’s quite nuanced, then the sub-editors go ‘Ooh we can make that sound like he’s given up’. When you read the article it’s like ‘Oh, he didn’t say that at all,” he says of the Radio Times piece that was picked up and run by, well, everyone.
“What I said was I don’t want to start any more choirs for the time being because I’ve spent ten years starting them, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to make any TV. I said I was nervous about the new series (The Naked Choir) because I don’t know if people will like it.
“The two things were put together and sort of made (into) a headline. You roll your eyes, go ‘okay’… I had loads of people contact me and (I told them) ‘wait, read the article when it comes out’. I get people have got newspapers to sell... Contrary to rumours I’m not giving up at all.”
Malone first appeared on TV in the three-part BBC documentary series The Choir which saw him take on the challenge of bringing music into the lives of students who had never sung before, ultimately taking them to compete in the World Choir Games in China. It was followed by programmes including The Choir: Boys Don’t Sing, The Choir: Unsung Town, the emotionally charged The Choir: Military Wives and Sing While You Work.
“With TV you want to feel the shows are doing well and people are watching them. If it was a law of diminishing returns I guess I would (give up). We’ve done really well with this new series; lots of people liked it and watched it,” says the choirmaster, who has seven BAFTA nominations, two successive BAFTA wins and two RTS awards under his belt.
“The Naked Choir was about taking people who can already sing and showing them what’s possible with professional input. We had some amazing mentors (including Dominic Peckham, head of singing at Royal Hospital School, Holbrook) who were giving these guys some really sound advice along with my own,” he laughs. “They seriously improved and we got some fantastic performances, it was hugely rewarding.”
Malone, apologising for calling late due to his previous interview over-running a bit, has announced a second, bigger, tour with his choir Voices, made up of the UK’s most talented young singers. It stops by the Ipswich Regent December 3.
You can expect more than the usual classical staples, with 15 professional singers belting out all kinds of music and lots of audience participation.
“Second tour, I know, I can’t believe it; I’m very excited. The last one was a great experience. It’s literally my favourite thing to do – being on the road is fantastic. Performing is what it’s all about, I think the fact I’m actually a musician surprises people,” laughs Malone, who plays guitar, piano and dabbles, albeit slightly unsuccessfully, with the banjo.
Both parents were musical and he remembers being drawn to the family piano from an early age.
“The thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is music; it was always music for me.”
Yet it was drama he studied at the University of East Anglia?
“Yeah, just up the road (from you), or the other side of the border,” laughs Malone, who loves still loves drama, unwinding with box-sets of Veep, The Thick of It and Alan Partridge.
“People keep saying I look and sound like Partridge... I’ve got (compared to) David Tennant, Sue Perkins; everyone seems desperate to compare people, I don’t quite know why...”
Music had to be fit into his spare time, although he was always in the university choir and started composing for theatre productions.
“I think at the time I didn’t really have an instrument that was up to scratch. Maybe it was a confidence thing, I wasn’t ready to go to study music so I went later (to The Royal Academy of Music, London) once I’d grown up a bit I guess. It’s worked out well. It’s nice to be able to actually say I earn my money from music.”
Pretty confident as a kid, he still has his moments of doubt just like the rest of us. But Malone, who recalls visiting Ipswich primary schools as part of a project with the Royal Ballet years ago, isn’t shy when it comes to standing in front of the camera and inspiring others to find their inner voice – literally and figuratively. Partly due, he thinks, to his drama days.
“A lot of the shows I’ve done over the last ten years have been about that, The Choir was always about helping people find some confidence through singing and I think it’s really good for that. Once you’ve stood up and sung in front of people you feel talking can’t be as bad as that.
“I’m hoping for a good turn-out in Ipswich. It makes all the difference. There’s nothing worse than walking out to 20 people - that’s my nightmare,” he laughs.