Music

As the weather grows ever more Autumnal, it’s another great excuse to stay indoors and watch Alfie on YouTube.  To aid you in this, here is another instalment of Six Sensational Songs and this time, they are from Marie Blair, who first got to know Alfie when he did the Les Mis 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2.

Some Enchanted Evening, chosen by Marie because “…it was the song he sang at STV when I met him for the first time on 28 January 2011. It is from the musical South Pacific. In a recent documentary to celebrate his 70th birthday, Andrew Lloyd Webber said that it is the greatest song ever written for a musical.”

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Marie says “I met Alfie for the second time in September 2011 in Dundee at the Last Night of the Proms. He sang The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. It was and remains the best live performance he has done of that song in my opinion. I think it is mesmerising. It is such a beautiful love song.” Sorry I couldn’t find video of the right performance Marie!

Run, by now needing no introduction.  Marie’s reasons for choosing this are that “I think the performance at VE Day was just wonderful. I often watch it on YouTube and I love the way he acknowledges Murray on stage. I loved Leona Lewis’s version of this song but prefer Alfie’s. I really hope he records it.” And so say all of us, regarding the recording Marie!

The official video for If You Go Away, from Trust.  Marie loves this song and also the video, having watched it loads of times – I’m sure you’re not alone in that!

Billy Joel’s Always a Woman to Me was a bonus track on Storyteller – and is kindly shared here by Marcia, along with photos of Alfie and Sarah.*

Marie says “My sixth choice, Parlami D’Amore Mariu, was written in 1932 for the singer Vittorio de Sica and means Tell Me About Love Mariu. It is exquisitely sung by Alfie and remains one of my favourites. I do wish Alfie would sing more Italian songs and opera arias in particular.”  Knowing Alfie’s views on music and his wide ranging repertoire, I wouldn’t be surprised if this again happens in the future.

Thanks Marie for sharing your songs with us – two new ones added to the list!

If you would like to choose and share your six songs with us, please fill in the form:

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We’ve made it! The top place in the fifth annual Alfie Boe Best Ever Song poll is shortly to be revealed, but before we do that, let’s run down the top ten so far:

10 – A Living Prayer

9 – Rank Strangers

8 – You’re The Voice

7 – Keep Me In Your Heart

6 – A Thousand Years

5 – The Prayer

4 – Love Reign O’er Me

3 – Bring Him Home

2 – First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

And so, the song voted in at number ten is:

Anthem, recorded for Alfie’s 2016 album with Michael Ball, Together, is this year’s top song, the last of four songs from Together and Together Again.  Last year, Anthem was a new entry to the chart, ending up at number six.

Anthem is one of the most famous songs (although for me, I have more of an affection for the Elaine Paige / Barbara Dickson song I Know Him So Well) from the Tim Rice, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus musical, Chess, which opened in London in 1986 before closing three years later.  A subsequent Broadway production was much less successful.  Prior to either show, a concept album was released, from which Paige and Dickson’s recording derives as Dickson was unable to open in the London production.

Thanks for all your votes – always interesting to see what comes up trumps – and as Alfie has now announced his 2019 tour, it’ll soon be time to vote for our favourite live song again!

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Alfie Boe’s one off show on the Isle of Man was this week and regular reviewer, Cecelia Powell, was there for us.

On Tuesday 6th November some good pals and I trampled through lashing, windswept rain in Douglas, Isle of Man to the Villa Marina hall in all its Edwardian grandeur for what was billed as ‘An Evening with Alfie Boe’. Half the fun of an Alfie concert is meeting up with old friends and making new. Once you’re hit by the Alfie bug, you never know where he’s going to take you – musically, or for that matter, geographically! There were fewer familiar faces and the audience was predominately Manx residents, but there was a real buzz in the air. With a new album coming out, none of us was sure exactly what was to come.

The audience was warmed up by the talented Lauren Samuels, who treated us to musical theatre songs and the music of Burt Bacharach, ending her set with, what else, Bacharach’s Alfie.  After the break, four men walked on stage: Ross (the brilliant pianist who accompanied Alfie on his recent radio tour), Pete (the wonderful Australian guitarist who joined Alfie’s band for the summer concerts), Murray, (Alfie’s MD whom we’ve all learned to know and love) and the man himself. That was it. No backing singers, no horns, no drums. So from the beginning we knew we this was going to be a different performance to what we’ve been used to of late. Just four superbly talented men seated on a stage in a darkened concert hall. Dressed semi-casually in black trousers and jacket, with a white shirt hanging out and a pair of clunky boots, Alfie almost immediately asked for some lights to be turned on in the hall so that he could see the audience. And so the concert began.

First came a few of the new New Orleans jazz songs that have been trickling out from the new album: Sing, Sing, Sing, followed by Minnie the Moocher and Stompin at the Savoy, ending with The Way You Look Tonight. But these weren’t the big production numbers that we’ve been hearing from the album. The whole feel was much more intimate, much more inclined to draw you into the feel of that smoky jazz club where the music was originally heard. For these numbers, and throughout, Alfie contributed to the musical arrangements with a tambourine. People weren’t up dancing in the aisles, but feet were tapping, hands were clapping and the focus was entirely on the man and his music. The diamond in his pocket, Bring him Home, had to come, but he preceded it with a few cheeky bars from Master of the House because there had to be a bit of banter – like the fact that he’d dressed up as Jean Valjean for Halloween wearing his jacket from Les Mis, and everyone thought he was The Greatest Showman!

A short break for people to get drinks and refreshments was followed by a selection of Neapolitan tunes. The sublime Parlalmi D’Amore Mariu from La Passione was followed by Serenata’s Mama, Volare and Mambo Italiano, and he left the stage to Buona Sera, which left us feeling like we’d all been kissed. There was banter, there was audience participation, but it was more the feel of being at a private party than at a concert.

Another short break, and we were treated to a folk/country section. First, Keep Me in Your Heart in the heart-wrenching way it’s sung on the album. But, of course, there had to be some audience participation on those Sha La La Las. When it came time to get the men to sing, and a voice cried out “Bring it on!” Alfie had the perfect foil. Little did Alfie know that Lester was a music teacher, and he not only joined in with the singing but belted out an accompaniment on the piano! Tom Petty’s evocative Wildflower came next, and then The Old Crow Medicine’s Show’s Wagon Wheel. Now this is a number that really allows his accompanists to shine, but there was ample time throughout the evening to let the musicians showcase their talents with fabulous guitar riffs and almost ragtime piano solos. This was topped off by a version of Guns & Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine. Not a rock star version, but one that was packed with so much raw emotion and longing it left me breathless. The Together albums that he recorded with Michael weren’t to be forgotten, of course. First Hero and A Thousand Years, and then He Lives in You, Pete joining in brilliantly on the vocals. The set ended with Run, for which Alfie called Lauren Samuels back on stage to join him. And then came the encore of Elton John’s Rocket Man. An extraordinary performance that took me up to the stars.

Over the course of the evening, there was plenty of interaction with the audience in his own inimitable northern style, including comments aimed directly at Manx residents that drew much laughter. My favourite was a story of his visit to the island as a ten-year-old lad on a school camping trip, on which the nuns kept the children in order by relaying tales of the “Moddey Dhoo”, a phantom dog said to haunt Peel Castle. And there was a collection taken up at the end of the evening for a hospice on the island, of which he is an ambassador and had visited that morning.

The man can sing absolutely anything so, unlike most performers, he attracts fans with very disparate tastes in music. Luckily for me, I love the man in all his musical guises. He can be any of them, or all of them. For me it’s all about the voice and where that voice takes me, and believe me I travelled a lot of miles that night! For this one night, we were treated to something that I found very, very special, and who knows if it will ever be repeated. Most of the songs were entirely delivered seated. There was power, but it was controlled. There was no razzle dazzle, no gimmicks, no distractions. The songs were stripped down to the bone. I heard things in familiar songs that I’ve never heard before and, as always, they were sung note perfect. It was like having a private gig with the man. I was sitting in packed concert hall, but it felt like he was singing directly to me. This really was Alfie unplugged, and for me the evening was magical. I was wrapped up in a musical bubble and floated out of the hall. In fact, I don’t think I’m still quite down on terra firma yet. For me, this concert was billed exactly right. We were treated to an evening with Alfie Boe, and I feel blessed to have been there.

What a fabulous review Cecelia and I’m sure I speak for many fans when I say that I wish I had been there.

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Just one week until we unveil the top spot in the fifth Alfie Best Best Ever Song poll and in at number two is a song that was once part of Alfie’s live set on a regular basis but has since made way for his more recent material.  The song has only once entered the top ten, at number five in 2016 and is First Time Ever I Saw Your Face:

The song was written by folk singer songwriter Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger before they were married although the song only became world famous when Roberta Flack’s version was used in the Clint Eastwood film, Play Misty For Me.

In a recent interview, Seeger retold the story of how the song came into being:

I told him [Euan MacColl] that I was doing a radio show and they wanted a love song and they would prefer a new one…He said, “how about this” and sang The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

In the years since, there have been many, many cover versions, (all of them hated, at least those recorded before 1989, apparently by MacColl) but my favourite is George Michael’s version. Somewhat controversially, I once made an admission that I prefer George’s version to Alfie! It’s still the case I’m afraid, especially now that George is no longer with us.

It’s rare that I find another artist’s version better than Alfie’s version but with this song, George’s phrasing edges it for me.  Certainly, it’s the best track on George’s album Songs from the Last Century.  Interestingly, in a long ago radio interview, Alfie picked George Michael as having a great voice and could have been even better if he’d gone down the route of vocal training.

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Almost time for the new album – who’s getting excited about As Time Goes By?  I imagine one or two of the songs will feature in the list of Alfie Boe’s Best Ever Song 2019 but before we get to that, here is another one in the occasional series of our Six Sensational Songs.  This time it’s the turn of Betty May to tell us her choices.

Dimming of the Day, from Trust – with a great Tom Jones anecdote at the beginning of this clip from Cardiff.

Bring Him Home, this time from Fleetwood, bringing the number of times this song has featured in this series to ten.

The ever popular live song, Run.

A throwback to La Passione with Parlami D’Amore Mariu at Leeds 2015 – note the short hair in preparation for Les Mis on Broadway!

Come What May with West End star Kerry Ellis.

Tell Me It’s Not True, from Blood Brothers – all the way back in 2012!

Thanks Betty for sharing your six songs with us.

If you would like to see your favourite Alfie songs featured here, please fill in the form:

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Ten months into my New Year resolution to listen to more new and varied types of music and I have to admit that for October, I have cheated a bit – the music I’ve chosen this month is not new to me.  However, she’s been out of the limelight for a while and delightfully, I discovered a new EP from her when I researched this piece.

Emilia Mitiku first came to the attention of Alfie Boe fans, myself included, when she supported Alfie on his Storyteller tour in March / April 2013. She was heavily pregnant at the time and this gave way to an unexpectedly hilarious moment when Alfie introduced her, before their duet on Dimming of the Day.  Emilia also duetted with Alfie on Angel from Montgomery on that tour.

This version of Dimming of the Day is my favourite and is often chosen as one of fans’ six sensational songs.  I’m still not sure how I managed to leave it out of mine!

Emilia has released several albums but the one I’m concentrating on, and is probably most familiar to Alfie fans is 2012’s I Belong To You, a collection of what Emilia calls vintage pop.  A mixture of pop, overlaid with jazz and country sounds, the album showcases Emilia’s rich, velvety voice in a number of styles, all of which reflect the jazz, pop and traditional Ethiopian music she grew up with. The first song I ever heard from Emilia reminded me of Dolly Parton:

The subject matter of heartbreak and the country lilt of the music show Emilia’s mastery of styles, especially when compared to the upbeat, sparkling So Wonderful:

One song from this time that didn’t appear on I Belong To You, is Why Is He So Mean?

This was a highlight of Emilia’s live performances in 2013 and quickly became a favourite with the mostly female Alfie Boe audience, as only catchy, rhythmic songs about women surviving relationships can!  It’s impossible to sit still and listen to this – before you know it you’re up and dancing, whilst also singing at the top of your voice.

As I mentioned earlier, I was overjoyed to find new music from Emilia when researching this piece.  Blue, Blue, Blue, a four track EP was released in late 2017 and is pure, vintage Emilia Mitiku, stylistically similar to I Belong To You. Opening with a slow, silky cover of Rihanna’s We Found Love, the EP gets into it’s stride with the title track:

Upbeat, with a catchy hook, this is another song you’ll be quickly singing and dancing along to.  “Blue, blue, blue, that’s what I learnt from you” appears to take up where I Belong To You left off and is all the more welcome for it.  I would be happy if Emilia made this sort of music forever.

When Our Roads Cross and Forgetful Lover hark back to another era of music, reminiscent of Alfie’s forthcoming album, As Time Goes By – I would love to hear Alfie’s voice sing some of Emilia’s songs.  This record is so smooth and silky, it was over far too quickly; I hope 2019 sees more new music from Emilia Mitiku.

Blue, Blue, Blue is available here:

I have one copy of Emilia’s album, I Belong To You, to give away, just answer this question:

Which two songs did Emilia sing with Alfie Boe on his 2013 Storyteller tour?

Competition will close at Midnight on 7 November 2018 – good luck!

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Just three more weeks of the poll to find out your favourite Alfie Boe recorded song – and we come to his signature tune, Bring Him Home:

Bring Him Home is of course a constant in Alfie’s live performances and in this annual poll; twice being voted number one and never being lower than number four.  So much has been written about Alfie and this song (quote a lot of it by me!) and it’s always a challenge to come up with something new to say about it, so this time, I’ll let Alfie do the talking with an extract from his autobiography, My Story.  Alfie is talking about his life changing appearance at the Les Mis 25th anniversary concert:

I knew that Bring Him Home would be my moment, the golden key.  I knew that was it.  ‘Boy needs a song!’  It’s incredible, how that song came to me again, after our false alarm with the Festival of Remembrance.  We knew that was the one, but it disappeared, and we didn’t think of it again until Cameron Mackintosh knocked on the door.  And it is such a spiritual song, it’s so special.  When Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil write it they must have been excited.  They must have known they had something special…Herbert Kretzmer was really stumped with the lyrics, he didn’t know what words would fit to these three syllable lines.  The John Caird, the co-director, said the melody sounded like a prayer, and Herbert wrote it overnight.  It is a prayer, it’s acutally called The Prayer, it’s not officially called Bring Him Home, and I treat it as such every time I sing it.  I pray.  That’s what makes it work.

Beautiful words from Alfie – and for those who don’t know, Alfie sang Bring Him Home at the Festival of Remembrance in 2007 and Harvey Goldsmith said, “boy needs a song” after the performance.  It just took a few more years to really get hold of it!

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On the homeward stretch of the 2018 countdown of the fans favourite Alfie Boe recorded song and we find a song at number four that topped the chart in 2016, fell to number three last year and is now at number four:

I’ve used this video more times that I can remember (the song has featured heavily in the Six Sensational Songs series) but the first version of Love Reign O’er Me remains spine tinglingly wonderful.  The whole Classic Quadrophenia album is amazing but this is definitely the best, showcasing Alfie’s vocal talents like very few other songs in his recent repertoire, either recorded or live.  Anyone who experiences (you don’t see or hear Alfie sing this live, you experience it) Alfie singing this live can never get enough of it again.  It’s simply spellbinding.

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In the early summer of this year, I brought you Rachael Sage’s new single, Spark, ahead of the UK release of her thirteenth album, Myopia.  Happily, that album is now being released and I’ve been lucky enough to listen.  Rachael is one of my favourite artists to review as her songs tell stories, sometimes about dark subjects although you might not realise it at first, such is the juxtaposition of the lyrics and the lilting melodies and vocals that are Rachael’s signatures.

The sound of Myopia is a bit of a departure for Rachael, leaning as it does on guitars and strings rather than the more well known piano based songs.  I have to say that it works, Rachael’s song writing style and vocals being easily adapted to all forms of instrumentation.  The guitars lend a softness to the vocals and give the listener a new discovery about Rachael.  It will be interesting to see if this remains a one off or if we will see more guitars on the next album – and I’m sure there will be a next album, given how prolific Rachael’s output to now has been.

The title track is a new kind of anthem for Rachael, who sings passionately about a “screen of judge-
ment / in my face all the time” being lifted. It’s a declaration of self-assurance and vision that perhaps could only be made as disarmingly in the middle of a cultural crisis. Rachael’s own myopia started her thinking about nearsightedness on a much more macro level.   It’s all about perspective; the lens you might be looking through might be totally different to the lens of the person next to you.

The clarity that comes from being comfortable in one’s own skin is a theme that runs through much of the album with Maybe She’ll Have Cats being a stand out for me (“maybe she’ll have children, maybe she’ll have cats” endeared this song to me, having both a child and cats).  The song describes the difficulty of being comfortable in your own skin and also wanting that for your own children perfectly. It also has a great instrumental mid section.

Another stand out track is Olivia which sounds like a love song to Olivia, and my first thought on listening was that Olivia is a lucky woman to have this song written about her.  It turns out that the Olivia in question is Detective Olivia Benson, portrayed by Mariska Hargitay in the TV show Law and Order SVU.

Rachael says that  “I am a bit obsessed with that show, not only because the acting is superb but because it really juxtaposes the creepiest, most disturbed individuals in society against this incredibly fierce, resourceful and empathetic woman who does a hell of a
lot of saving and is basically the closest thing to Wonder Woman on TV.” Olivia Benson engenders the same kind of response in me – not just for the character but for the fact that she is the lead role in a traditionally male dominated TV genre.

Daylight is a song that shines a light (pun intended) on the murky subject of domestic violence, describing the vicious circle that keeps women in abusive relationships – it’s a very powerful song, made all the more so by the gentle lilt of the vocals and guitars.

Finally, we hear Rachael sing in Yiddish for the first time on Umru Mayne – the punk guitars are great and the organ sound a bit like The Doors.  Apparently Rachael channelled Mandy Patinkin when recording!

Myopia is available here:

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We’ve reached the half way stage of the poll to find the best Alfie Boe recorded song 2018!  The song at number five is a new entry to the chart, having only been released in 2017.  The third song to feature Alfie with Michael Ball and taken from Together Again, the song is The Prayer:

Happily, this song was voted in at number five in this year’s Alfie Boe Best Live Song poll!

The song was written by David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager, with Alberto Testa and Tony Renis for the 1998 film Quest for Camelot and was originally two solo tracks; English for Celine Dion and Italian for Andrea Bocelli. The song was then released as a duet by Dion and Bocelli and that is the version that is most well known.

Composer Foster had said that is is “a song that I just never get tired of playing, I never get tired of hearing it, and I never get tired of people telling me that they enjoy it. And it seems to mean a lot—it means a lot of different things to a lot of people. So it’s a powerful piece of music. I think it came through me, and I think Carole’s lyric is beautiful. And it’s very meaningful to me that when all is said and done, there is a piece of music like that, that will undoubtedly outlive me. It was a moment—that song was a moment for sure.”

The Prayer was was one of my standout songs of Together Again – it’s beautiful and is a treat for those who love to hear Alfie sing in Italian. Both Alfie and Michael excel here and it seems to be a fitting song for the troubled times we currently live in.

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