Most of us have found different ways of dealing with lockdown but Michael Ball decided to pull out all the stops – by writing and producing a brand-new album at home.
The result is released Friday May 7 and the much-loved singer and presenter says We Are More Than One is the album he is most proud of – and he can’t wait sing some of the tracks in person to his Aberdeen fans when he is at P&J Live in December with fellow West End star Alfie Boe.
“I really am excited, it’s a big day,” said Michael. “I can’t believe it. It’s actually less than a year since I started it and I don’t know how it actually came about and here it is being released. It is without question, the album I am most proud of.
“For the first time, I conceived it, I wrote it, I produced it and I’m really chuffed with the results.”
Michael said the album, with 14 tracks of his original material, has a positive note for everyone in these dark days – that they can seize the moment and do that one “thing” they’ve always wanted to.
He said: “I hope they will take away the message of positivity and of hope, after what we have all been through. We have all experienced something unique to ours or any generation.
Let’s get Captain Tom to number one
“But I also hope they will come away saying ‘that’s a side of Michael Ball I didn’t know and didn’t expect… he can write a song.’ I hope that’s the case.”
We Are More Than One had its roots in another inspirational hero, Captain Sir Tom Moore, who captured the nation’s heart with his 100 garden laps to support the NHS.
Michael teamed up with the national treasure to record a version of You’ll Never Walk Alone… which shot to number one and raised £33 million to boost the veteran’s fund-raising drive.
“I had the idea, literally sat here talking on breakfast television with him and singing a clip of the song. I thought ‘let’s get him to number one’ and 15 hours later the record was made,” said Michael.
“It made me realise what is possible from being at home. By picking up the phone, by using every contact you’ve got, every bit of persuasion you have, every bit of positivity you can summon up, you can make stuff happen. Which is where the idea of We Are More Than One came from.
Michael’s first call was to Amy Wadge, the Grammy-award winning songwriter who has worked with Ed Sheeran, Kylie Minogue and Camilla Cabello. By chance, she had been the last live guest on his BBC2 radio show before lockdown.
So hilarious and talented
“She walked into the studio as I was playing an Alicia Keys song and I went: ‘Nice to meet you, lovely to see you… you know this, it’s really good this song’ and she went: ‘Yeah, I wrote it’. And I thought ‘oh we’re really going to get on’. She’s hilarious and so talented.”
Post show chit-chat saw the pair talking about song-writing, Michael saying he had dabbled – he penned four tracks on his last album – and Amy saying to call her about it some time.
“So after Tom I though, ‘all right I’m going to do it’. So I phoned her up and said: ‘Were you serious’.
“She said: “Right, Friday, three o’clock we’re going to have a Zoom session and I’m going to show you what it’s about. So get some ideas and we’ll just see what happens, if it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter’.”
Before the Zoom call Michael sat up into the night writing a lyric to share with Amy for her thoughts.
“She said ‘well no one has every presented an entire lyric to me before’,” said Michael. “We sat down, we worked through it, we changed it a bit but we came out of that three hour session with a song, the last song on the album, Some Will Remember.”
From there, Amy organised Zoom meetings with Michael to show him what equipment he needed and how to use it so he could record demos at home to put in front of the record company.
Wanted this to be harmonic sounding
“Once or twice a week we would be doing this. I would then come up to my room and work on ideas and vocals and harmonies, because I wanted this to be really harmonic sounding and lots of layers of my own voice,” he said.
“Then I was able to come downstairs and play it to my partner Cathy and say: ‘Is this rubbish’ and she would say: ‘No, this is actually quite good’ and my confidence grew.
“It was brilliant for me. It just stopped me only watching box sets and eating – and I did a lot of that.”
We Are More Than One is the realisation of a lifelong ambition of Michael’s to write and produce his own album with his own songs, but he confessed to being held back by fear of failing.
“I’ve recorded 23 albums of mine over the years, so I kind of know how it works, how to do it, but never found anyone to trust enough.
“You have to be really open when you write with someone, I think. It’s that thing where you have the trust that you can talk bollocks, you can give a rubbish idea… or you can say something that sparks something and they go ‘oh, there’s something there’.”
That happened when he was working with Nashville writer and doyenne Liz Rose, who heard him use one of his favourite expressions “God willing and a fair wind”.
“She asked what that meant and I said, all being well or if everything comes together. She said: ‘That’s a great line’ and within 20 minutes we had come up with this song, God Willing.”
Desperate to get in front of live audiences
Now the album is out, Michael is looking forward to the next part of the journey out of lockdown – being able to tour again, including his gig at P&J Live on December 11 with his friend and collaborator, Alfie Boe.
So will he be singing songs from the album to his Aberdeen audience?
“That’s interesting… yes, I’ve decided,” he said. “I think there will be one or two and hopefully next year I will be able to tour with this album as a solo show. And that will include Aberdeen.”
Michael can’t wait to get in front of live audiences again.
“You’ve no idea, I’m so desperate… when we were doing the clap for our NHS heroes, I was out in the street going ‘thank you, thank you’, trying to get the acknowledgement,” he joked.
“There’s nothing better than singing to a crowd, making people happy, making people laugh, cry, dance… have memories. It’s what I do this for. Everyone in my industry has missed it so much.
We are nearly out of the dark times
“And I’ve missed going to see shows and going to the theatre and being part of the community. We are social animals, we need it. I really think there is an appetite for it.”
With his lifelong ambition of an album of his own songs realised and a return to live performances on the horizon, Michael has a message for his fans in the north-east.
“It looks like we made it. We are nearly out of the dark times, God willing and a fair wind, things are going to get better. I can’t wait to come and see you. I can’t wait for us to be singing, dancing, laughing and hugging. So until I see you in person, you stay safe, stay positive and always stay kind.”
Michael Ball’s new album We Are More Than One is released via Decca Records on May 7.
For tickets to Ball & Boe at P&J Live visit www.pandjlive.com