Simon Beck – An Interview
Coventry Arts Net has managed to get a unique question and answer session with singer Simon Beck, who will be bringing his show to Rugby Theatre.
In 1994, Simon performed the leading role of ‘MC’ in the musical ‘Cabaret’ at Rugby Theatre, as a young amateur. Now, 20 years later, having performed all over the world with many leading artists such as Victoria Wood, Elaine Paige and Monty Python, he brings his solo concert show back to his home town and Rugby Theatre for one night only. Backed by his 7 piece band of London’s finest musicians and backing singers, and two special guests- Kim Ismay the star of Mamma Mia in London’s West End and Justine Balmer, classical music recording artist.
The interview was conducted by our music reporter Carl Aylott.
Q: First of all – a bit of history. I gather your home town is Dunchurch? When were you first aware of music and what prompted you to get involved in both performing and conducting?
A: I come from a music loving family. My Dad taught himself the guitar as a younger man and often entertained us and family friends around a barbeque during summer months! My sister played the flute, piano and guitar and sang. My Mum is a very gifted pianist and it was watching her play at home that sparked something within me. She started teaching me the piano when I was 6yrs old. I attended the East Warwickshire College Saturday Music Centre, that sadly, is no longer, where I performed in many drama productions and music concerts from ages 8 – 16. I was given many opportunities there to conduct small ensembles right up to a 24 piece orchestra! My junior school music teacher, Barbara Davies, was an incredible inspiration in those formative years and remains a close family friend.
Q: On your reverbnation page it lists your influences as Michael Buble and Liza Minelli. When I listened, both Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim sprang to mind too. That’s quite a wide range!
A: Thank you! I appreciate that! As a performer I have learned so much from watching Liza Minnelli in her concerts. At the peak of her talent and fame in the 70s and 80s she was universally regarded as the greatest entertainer of her generation and the last of the ‘old school’ Hollywood legends. Learning how to connect with an audience and share emotions is a huge skill I got from her. Also, how to make each song take on it’s own character and storyline. It’s a great shame that she is really only known to today’s generation as an unfortunate parody, caricature of herself. She is so much more than that! Michael Buble is a fantastic singer and one of the best entertainers working today. My first professional job was as the assistant conductor of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mega musical ‘Sunset Boulevard’, so I cannot deny his influence. I was aged 21 and got to conduct over 100 performances. At the time, I thought I was so ready. Looking back, I wonder how that child even got through ONE performance! I have been blessed to work on many productions of Stephen Sondheim’s work. A highlight was working with the original ‘Sweeney’, Mr Len Cariou, as his personal vocal coach, helping him re-learn the title role for a concert performance of ‘Sweeney Todd’ at London’s Royal Festival Hall as part of Sondheim’s 70th birthday celebrations.
Q: You’ve been involved in many different collaborations. I was wondering in particular how you came to collaborate with Marcus Brigstocke and what you and he did together.
A: Collaboration is my favourite thing to do! Taking inspiration from others creative ideas. Marcus Brigstocke and I worked on the brand new version of Monty Python’s ‘Spamalot’ that opened as the first UK tour in 2010. I was employed as Musical Supervisor, overseeing the whole production, and as Marcus had never sung in a musical before, I had to gain his trust and help him find his voice. It was a total joy working with him! The composer, John DuPrez, enjoyed his performance so much that he decided to produce a ‘live’ cast album. You’ll hear how well Marcus sings! And he is SO funny! A consummate professional and a true gentleman.
Q: I also see that there has been a collaboration/s with Julie Walters and Victoria Wood. Are we talking Acorn Antiques – The Musical here?
A: Yes, indeed we are. I’ve been a huge fan of Wood & Walters for years, and so to be asked to join the original production of ‘Acorn Antiques – The Musical’ at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in London was such an honour. It reunited all the original television cast including Celia Imrie and Duncan Preston. They were all so kind to us as, basically, we were entering THEIR world! Julie Walters was incredibly kind to me when I conducted our first performance together and I went on to work with Victoria Wood again at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London when she directed a new production of the first play she wrote, ‘Talent’.
Q: Please tell me about any other collaborations of which you have fond memories and of which you are the most proud?
A: One of my proudest moments was a few years ago when the Broadway star, Stephanie J Block (Wicked, Pirate Queen, 9 To 5) made her UK solo concert debut. A good friend of mine was producing her London concert and I got a frantic phonecall the night before her show saying that her musical director was stranded in New York due to heavy blizzards and couldn’t fly out to London. Would I step in and conduct her show? At that time I hadn’t heard of Stephanie, (I must have had my head buried in the sand!) so I quickly found her recordings online and got to know her ‘style’ as best I could, before meeting her to rehearse with her band the following morning. Luckily for me she is such a kind spirit and so musical. She was heaven to work with! It remains a highlight of my career.
Q: So you are playing at Rugby Theatre on 26th October. Will this be your one man show? If so and indeed if not, what can the audience expect?
A: Yes! I’m bringing my one man concert to Rugby Theatre on October 26th. It’s 20 years since I played there as an amateur, before moving to London, and I’m celebrating my 20 year old career. I can’t believe I can say that! I’ve taken my one man show, in various forms, around the world, from London via the USA to Japan! I’m very excited to be bringing so many friends with me. I will have three of London’s finest musicians, who all play in the West End and on film soundtracks and with major pop groups. My backing singers, ‘The Awesome Foursome’, are recent graduates from the MTA (Musical Theatre Academy) in London. We’ve worked together before and I can’t wait to sing together again! And my special guest stars are classical recording artist Justine Balmer, star of ‘Mamma Mia!’ in the West End, Kim Ismay and founder of the charity ‘Music and the Deaf’, Dr Paul Whittaker OBE. It’s going to be an incredible, emotional mix of music and talents!
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Immediately up next for me is conducting another charity benefit show in London at the Park Lane Hotel for the Hilton Group where I’ll be performing with the ‘Awesome Foursome’ again. Then in January I’ll be performing with ‘The Girls From Oz’ (girlsfromozgroup.com) in two of the top music rooms in London; ‘The Pheasantry’, King’s Road; and ‘The Crazy Coqs’, Piccadiily. I have had an association with the Royal Conservatoire Of Scotland, in Glasgow, since 2009 and I am looking forward to returning there in February 2015 to conduct their production of ‘West Side Story’. I conducted the 50th Anniversary UK Tour in 2009/10 so it’ll be particularly special to rediscover that great score with the student orchestra and performers.