On 9 November 2018, Aled Jones and Russell Watson, two of the world’s greatest classical voices, came together to release their debut album In Harmony. This year, the pair will take to the stage together for their first joint UK and Ireland tour, which includes an Oxford gig. We caught up with them to talk tricky harmonies and singing for royalty.
Aled and Russell, you’ve been friends for some time.
A: We first met each other about 20 years ago backstage at the Albert Hall, and our paths have crossed numerous times over the years. We’re both very similar in our approach to our work and lives – both level-headed, down to earth guys – and we’ve always got on. It seemed like the obvious thing to get together and do something.
Russell, we spoke to you a few years back ahead of your own concert date in Oxford, which you had to cancel because of a gastric virus – you do seem to have bad luck in the area of health.
R: Some might say that two brain tumours and the various other things I’ve had wrong with me is bad luck. But I think to come out the other end perfectly healthy, and living a rather splendid life, is actually good luck. Plenty of people probably would have gone by now and I’m still here. It depends which way you look at it, whether your glass is half-full or half-empty, and I like to think of mine as overflowing at the moment.
Aled, your career began when you were just 12 years old. Is recording and performing easier now you’re that bit older?
A: It was easier when I was a kid because you don’t really think about it. I recorded 16 albums in four years and some would take about four hours to record – I’d go into a church, four hours later I’d have an album. As you get older there’s more pressure, you think about things a lot more. Not to say it’s horrible now, I love the process of making an album, but you just want to get it the very best you can.
Russell, what kind of stage was your career at when you were 12?
R: I had no career at 12! I was playing football at school.
Did you not do a bit of singing in Salford where you grew up?
R: No, there were no choirs – the only hymns we did sing were in assembly.
Sir Karl Jenkins wrote ‘Bright Horizons’ especially for the In Harmony album – did you get to meet him?
A: I’ve met him loads of times, and Russell’s met him many times as well. Karl’s a fantastic composer, one of the best. We asked him to write something and he did. He made it difficult, it’s the trickiest harmony-wise for me – it took me ages to learn it. I actually texted him to say ‘yeah, thanks a lot’ and he said ‘stick with it, it’ll be worth it.’ And he was right.
R: It’s a very complex piece, it took me a while, I think that was one of our most challenging songs on the record. We both left it until the end so we had more time to figure out the complexities.
The first single, ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone/Here’s To The Heroes’ marked the centenary of the end of the First World War and the 70th anniversary of the NHS.
A: Absolutely, it’s two tracks I’ve always wanted to merge together and it was important for us to mark those anniversaries as the whole of the country were marking them. It’s always an honour to do something like that on an album.
Your collective live gig repertoire includes a mixture of notable figures including politicians; is there anyone in politics currently who you’re desperate to sing to?
R: I’m not really desperate to perform for anybody… in the past when I’ve had invites to do certain performances – Pope John Paul II, the Emperor of Japan, three US presidents – these are things that you don’t strive for, that materialise from certain moments in your career where your star is shining brighter and you’re in the public eye more. I’ve been lucky enough to perform at some of the most prestigious locations for some of the most incredible people, but politicians aren’t necessarily on the list of favourites, although they’ve always been fine.
A: Coming from North Wales, when I got the invite to sing at Kensington Palace for the Prince and Princess of Wales, that was an honour – just singing in their living room. But equally some of the venues we’re performing on this tour will be magical experiences as well. There’s nothing better than a hall full of people who want to hear you sing.