New York Recording
The UK's number one musical star, Michael Ball, the man of whom Andrew Lloyd Webber once declared, ‘He just goes on stage and delivers,' nearly didn't deliver his latest album. A Love Story, Michael's brand new album which is already heading straight for number one in the Album charts, narrowly escaped being a victim of this summer's New York black out. The day after the star of sell out musicals ranging from Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, arrived in New York, the city and with it the recording studio he was booked into, were plunged into darkness.
With only a one day window to record the final track – a duet with his long time friend and Hollywood star, Antonio Banderas – a race against time was launched to find a studio that could muster enough power to get the track laid down before Antonio had to be back on stage and Michael back on a plane to London.
‘At nine thirty the following morning,'said Michael ‘The lights came on, but not on the street where the Big Hit Factory is located. There was a guy still stuck in the lift and all the computers were down. It was just a question of keeping our cool in melt down heat and no air conditioning – and call up everyone and anyone who might be able to help.'
Michael - who had spent the previous evening - to the astonished delight of his US fans who descended en masse on his Manhattan hotel when the word spread that an International singing star was leading a boisterous candlelit sing song in the bar accompanied on the piano by the legendary producer, Simon Franglen (Titanic, Moulin Rouge) just flown in from LA to produce Michaels album - could only sweat it out. With the hours ticking down and the situation looking hopeless, a call suddenly came from Sony across town who had just had their power restored. In two hours Michael and Antonio had raced over and completed their brilliantly energetic version of Al Jolson's Me and My Shadow with just minutes to spare. The result is an album that is at once, hauntingly beautiful, soul baring and a master class in how to deliver.
With songs ranging from Burt Baccarach and Elvis Costello's, memorable, God Give Me Strength, Jim Croce's wonderfully evocative, Time in a Bottle, Kenny Chesney and Ben Ewing's poignant paean to love, You Had me from Hello to the gently romantic She Makes My Day by Robert Palmer, it is an album for anyone and everyone who's ever known what it is to love, lose and love again.
The inspiration for A Love Story came from Michael's critically acclaimed one man show Alone Together in 2001 at the Donmar for Sam Mendes.
‘It was the soundtrack of a life through song and when I was getting A Love Story together, I hit on the idea of telling the story of a doomed love affair, using the same vocabulary. This isn't the story of a specific relationship in my life, but there are no emotions that these songs express that I haven't had direct experience of – and not surprisingly, so do the vast majority of people who have ever been in love.'
EMI, who have produced the Album have such belief in Michael that they gave him the freedom to make the record in whatever way he wanted and it is possibly his greatest album to date.
‘That is a rare act of faith these days,' Michael said. ‘And I can only thank them for that. I had a brilliant team behind me, but as ever the final decisions – and results – rest with me. I spent weeks searching music catalogues, help came from everyone who crossed my path during that time. No-one escaped being grilled for what they saw as ‘their' song or which lyric made them remember a time, a place that was special to a relationship. It was – as ever with me – much harder than I anticipated, but in the end making this album has been one of the happiest, exhilarating and most creative of my recording career.'
In October, Michael starts a two month nationwide tour which is already sold out, a testimony as ever to his place as the man once voted the most bankable name by the Society of West End Managers. A star with his extraordinary ability to – as one critic put it – ‘rock, croon and smooch to order' going on to describe him as ‘the finest show-voice of his generation' is one of the handful of stars in this country who can effortlessly fill a 2000 seater theatre.
His career, which spans theatre, stage, recording and hosting his own award-winning radio two series, Ball Over Broadway, began with creating the role of Marius in Les Miserables, continued with starring as Raoul when Phantom of the Opera was first staged and starred in Aspects of Love where he took the emotionally charged anthem Love Changes Everything to number one and which took him to Broadway. Since his debut Album reached number one in the UK, there have been 11gold and platinum solo albums, ten sell out UK tours, one of the handful of UK stars who have cracked the tough American market.
Last year he made a triumphant return to the West End Stage to star as the delightfully eccentric Caractacus Potts in the massively successful Chitty Chitty Bang Bang . His career trajectory is such that some might beg the question where does he go now?
The answer for Michael is very simple. While there are challenges to be met, risks to take and songs to be sung, the only way is ever up.