Classical music fans may have raised an eyebrow when Blake released an album of contemporary pop numbers but singer Stephen Bowman says the group has progressed very naturally.
“I think that Blake are a harmony group,” he says. “I think people knew us a classical group when we started, but we were always a harmony group that worked in different styles and different genres.”
Blake, who released the album Start Over last year, head for Clair Hall, Haywards Heath, on Friday, October 18 (01444 455440) and The Royal Hippodrome, Eastbourne, on Saturday, October 26 (01323 412000).
They’ll be bringing their more contemporary material with them, which takes inspiration from iconic pop groups like the Bee Gees and The Beach Boys.
Stephen explains: “They were harmony groups back in the sixties and seventies that had this very contemporary sound,”
He continues: “Our idea was to say: ‘Right, we’re in the 2000s or 2010s – whatever we call the decades now – how do we take harmony music and create a contemporary sound for today?’”
It’s not just pop, though. Blake’s show promises an eclectic mix, which will move from one musical genre to another.
Stephen says: “The real challenge for us is that we mix classical alongside pop, alongside musicals and alongside rock music.”
He explains: “When we’re performing a classical piece we give a full classical performance with big operatic style voices. When we go into pop music we have to be a lot more gentle. You have to be more sympathetic to the pop song because it’s more about emotion and less about, you know, singing as loud as you can.”
He adds: “There are lots of big projections all over the stage area, which show visuals that link with every single song. The lighting and mood changes for every song too. The idea we always had was to take the viewer on a kind of roller-coaster of different music styles, different emotions.”
It’s certainly going down well. Blake have been all over the world, performing their new show in many exotic places like Indonesia.
They’re still tweaking it, though, adding in new songs and some comedy chat.
Stephen says: “There’s a lot of very fast-paced banter between the guys on stage. There are stories about the songs, there are stories about touring, about us individually and they’re always very comic and anecdotal in style.”
He adds: “I guess it’s closer to performers of a previous era, where there’s more of a variety approach.”
So, what’s the appeal of a more contemporary sound?
Stephen says: “I think that it’s the opportunity to express ourselves in a slightly different way. With classical music you often have the notes on the page and there are very strict instructions about how it should be performed.”
He continues: “When you move over to pop music, suddenly the rules are relaxed and you can do a great deal more of what you want to do with the song.”
He pauses before expanding his idea.
“That’s what makes pop music so fantastic really when you think about why it’s done so well, why pop music is popular music. It’s because we relate to it, you know – ear to ear, human to human – and it’s very important that we do that on stage.”
Blake faced another challenge this year, when Jules Knight, whom the singers still consider a great friend, left the group to pursue an acting career.
However, Blake have come out of the experience feeling energized.
Stephen says: “It’s settled in, but at first it was a case of ‘okay, so we have to rebuild the sound and find a way of bringing out the most essential harmonies.’”
The trio’s knowledge of musical structure helped.
Stephen explains: “The nature of harmony is that within any musical chord there are three key notes and the fourth will always be a double of one of those three.”
He continues: “When we went back into the studio at the very beginning of this year – when Jules started at Holby City – we started looking at each of the songs, how we were going to re-share the harmonies, how we were going to keep that core Blake sound.
“The nice surprise was that it took very little work to do because of the way the harmony had been written in the first place.
“It was initially mentally a challenge for us but vocally it was very easy indeed. And I think that the feeling of being a revived group gave us so much more energy on stage.”
The group has also embraced the opportunity to bring a new voice in.
Special guest Camilla Kerslake will duet with Blake on a selection of songs.
Stephen says: “The first time we met Camilla was actually at the Classical Brit awards in 2010. We got up on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, as the big performance of the night to sing Nessun Dorma and we did it as a duet together.
“It was a very special moment because it’s a prestigious event and it was really that time we got to hear her voice and got to see what she was like on stage.
“More importantly, we got to know her as a person. She’s really great fun, she’s really light hearted and doesn’t take herself too seriously.”
Stephen says that Camilla’s voice has made the show even better, especially when the singers join forces for Time To Say Goodbye.
“It just makes the evenings,” he says. “It’s the big duet moments that get the standing ovations every time.”
By Lawrence Smith