“I felt my career was stagnating,” says Russell Watson, recalling the dark night of the soul the star experienced before a chance meeting with Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, composers of Les Misérables, the most popular musical in history, led to a new album which the singer hails as “my first as a creative artist.”
“I was doing the same shows, the same repertoire, with covers of different people’s songs. I wanted to find something to take me to the next level,” he recalled.
“I did cartwheels when Claude-Michel agreed to meet me. But he told me ‘I don’t write for artists’.
“I told Claude-Michel my story, from start to finish, the highs and the lows, singing for the Pope, the illnesses, everything. When I finished he said ‘I like your story. I’m going to write for you’. That’s where it all started.’”
Only One Man, Watson’s new album, released on November 11, is the result of a unique collaboration between the “English Tenor” and the French songwirter, whose blockbuster stage hits include Les Misérables and Miss Saigon.
Despite selling more than seven million albums worldwide since the nuts and bolts factory worker was discovered singing in a Wigan working men’s club, Watson, 46, admits he was in a rut after the success of La Voce.
His manager put Watson in touch with Schönberg and Boublil, prolific stage composers for more than 40 years who have refused countless requests to write songs for internationally-renowned singers.
“They offered up their entire catalogue and all their musicals for me to sing, which was incredible,” Russell said. “But I didn’t want to do a record just singing songs from musicals. I said I wanted new material too. Claude-Michel said ‘tell me your story’. I couldn’t believe it when he said he would write for me.
“It’s the first time Claude-Michel has done anything like this. He crafted these amazing songs which tell my life story through their music. I am baring my soul through these songs.”
The album, which will form the basis of a new, fully-scripted theatrical live show, tells Watson’s life-story through the songs, including the new Schönberg compositions Tell Me, Too Much For One Heart and the epic title track, I Am Only One Man.
“Without You is about the singer’s relationship with his audience,” Russell says. “I’m singing for you. I can’t give anymore, It’s all I have to give. I’ve nothing to give you but my songs. It’s me singing from my heart to my family, my friends, and my audience. The music isn’t just dots on a page. I’m singing from my heart and I’m singing about my life.”
There is also a duet, Live With Somebody You Love, with Regine Velasquez, the Phillipines singer who is one of Asia’s biggest pop stars. “The international potential for this record is incredible,” Russell says. “We’re hoping to take it to Japan and across Asia.”
Watson hopes to extend his collaboration with Schönberg, who has been a hard task-master in the studio, forcing the singer to wrench the most emotional vocal performances of his career.
Watson can’t wait to bring the news songs to his fans on his tour next Spring. “We are going to construct a specific show around this music,” Watson said. “Claude-Michel is writing new songs for the show which aren’t on the album. It’s going to run like a narrative story and I’m going to sing the songs. It’s my life story in words and in music.”
Alongside the new album, Russell is hugely proud to have been chosen by the Ministry of Defence to become the voice of Home Ground, a series of charity concerts marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in 2014.
Russell will preview the Home Ground Anthem at the Wales Festival of Remembrance, St David’s Hall, Cardiff, on November 2, where he will perform backed by The National Symphony Orchestra and the Welsh Guards. Further concerts in Edinburgh and London next year.
“The Ministry of Defence came to me and the first concert is in Cardiff,” he said. “We are commemorating the losses of World War One – not just the British soldiers who died but those from all over the world. People will say it was a needless war now but it’s the 100th anniversary and its right to commemorate the people we lost.”
“I’m going to be singing the official song in front of 450 Welsh Guards in their full regalia. Their brass band will blow me off stage! Michel Legrand (French composer of film scores including The Thomas Crown Affair) is scoring it, which is great.”
For now Russell is excited at the artistic renaissance he is enjoying, which emerged from the very depths of despair.
“I’ve always wanted to record an album of original material,” he concludes. “I’ve been dreaming of this for 13 years. I’ve worked hard and I’ve been very lucky but I’ve not had a greater musical experience during the process of making a record. It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Released: Nov 11, 2013More info