Is it hot in here, or is it just them?
Sitting a mere centimeters away from British pop-opera harmony group Blake, one can’t help but think that even the most hard-bitten female journalist would have a really hard time staying immune to male charm. Especially when she becomes the lone subject of this handsome thirtysomething quartet’s attention for a good fifteen minutes.
Having captured Pinoy hearts during their Ayala Malls tour last October, Blake came back to serenade Manila as part of their Philippine promotional tour for their third album “Together.” They performed at the Greenbelt 5 Gallery on March 22 and at the Trinoma Mall Activity Center on March 23.
In 2007, bass-baritone Stephen Bowman, baritone Jules Knight, and tenor Ollie Baines contacted each other via Facebook, and the group’s name was born out of mutual deep admiration for poet-visionary William Blake. After a worldwide web search, tenor Humphrey Berney was chosen to replace member Dominic Tighe when the latter left the band to pursue acting.
Shortly after its inception, the band nabbed a major record deal and released its charttopping eponymous debut album, which earned the boys their first BRIT Award for “Album of the Year” — their greatest achievement to date, according to Bowman. Their succeeding two albums, 2008’s “And So It Goes” and 2009’s “Together,” have also enjoyed immense success.
The lads are no strangers to grand-scale audiences, having performed at a number of historic sporting events such as the 2007 Rugby World Cup (for which their version of the African-American spiritual song “Swing Low” had been the official anthem). They’ll be adding one more decoration on their mantle right after their Manila trip: “We’re just about to sing at the Olympics in the UK. We think that’s going to be our moment of glory; we’re the first musical group ever to perform on the Olympic Stadium,” Baines told Super recently in an exclusive one-on-one (or one-on-four) interview at the Mandarin Oriental’s Fontaine Room. According to the band’s official website, Blake will share the stage with Amy Winehouse’s protégé/goddaughter, rising soul star Dionne Bromfield, for the charity event.
Blake might remind one of other classical pop quartets, but the band begs to differ. “I think we may have started off reasonably similar to a group like Il Divo, maybe halfway between Il Divo and G4 (“The X-Factor” season 1 runner-up group who’d disbanded). But after five years, I think now we realize that we’re actually very different from those groups,” explained Bowman. “We’re a harmony group; regardless of what type of material we sing, and even to a certain extent, what kind of voices we use, it’s always about the harmony. I think a group like Il Divo is much more about operatic voices applied to pop music, whereas for us, it’s harmony voices, whatever the kind of music.”
Boasting of rich, classically trained vocals laced with sweet pop sensibilities, Blake’s repertoire offers a unique crossover experience for music fans, regardless of genre preferences. The musical charisma is even more evident when heard live. “Our live shows are more than just music. We’re trying to always talk to our audience a lot, we try to be funny as much as we can, and we try to give them as many styles of music as they can cope with. We find that people have very wide tastes and they love that,” said Berney.
Its novel spin on standards like Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” and popular ditties by Snow Patrol, Boyz II Men and Elvis Costello has earned the band a strong, steady following all over the world. “Together” contains a beautiful selection of covers and originals; noteworthy tracks include the wedding song “All Of Me” and a rendition of U2’s “With Or Without You,” whose recently released video had been made as a gesture of gratitude for their Filipino fans’ support.
Royal wedding song
Contrary to popular belief, “All Of Me” wasn’t written for the wedding of Prince William and Duchess Catherine, who had been classmates with Knight and Baines back at university; rather, it was released to commemorate the royal couple’s union. “It was written about a couple of years before,” Bowman clarified. “The songwriter (notable British composer Simon May) intended it to be [for] his daughter’s wedding, but… I don’t think she’s married yet, so it got an early outing for the royal wedding.”
A fourth album is currently in the works. Berney gave a teaser: “It’s a different album from ‘Together,’ which we wrote with the American market in mind. It’s all original; we’ve worked with Michael Buble’s band [and] Diane Warren. It’s very much an evolution. This is our first original offering, so I think it’s very exciting.”
“We’ve released the first song from the album in the US, which has been very popular. So hopefully you guys will get to hear that later this year,” added Bowman. In the future, the band also hopes to do collaborations with local artists such as Lea Salonga, of whom the guys are huge fans.
The boys have quite a busy schedule to juggle during their twelve-day stay in Manila. In between press and media promotions for their music, they’ll be doing photo shoots for Bench as its newest endorsers as well as for Philippine Tatler (the editor of which is Inquirer’s Anton San Diego, who also happens to be Blake’s manager). “We’re even happier to be back here after six months than you guys are to see us back, I think,” said Bowman with a smile. “Nowhere have we ever been in the world before where we’ve felt so at home, reaching this place. More than anything else, we’re looked after by every single person we meet; everybody’s friendly and warm and caring. It’s very special.”
Mates, dates and some Pinoy lovin’
Blake’s members started out as choristers with illustrious academic backgrounds in classical music, but each had his own career prior to joining the group. “I used to run my own marketing company in the UK, Humphrey was singing in opera, Ollie was also training in opera but he was an English teacher as well, and Jules was an actor,” Bowman shared.
Knight revealed an interesting second profession: “We’re also in a professional polo team. The first [singing polo team] in the world,” he chuckled. Yes, they’re serious. “We’ve started training, and we have our first competitive match this July the 14th in England,” said Berney. “We’ve actually checked out the polo club here, so maybe the next time we come back, we can be invited to play some polo. That’d we great for us.”
Other trivia: Bowman is into sports and motorbiking, Baines loves to read, Berney is trained in martial arts (“He can kill a man with the back of his ear,” Bowman quipped), and Knight is a bit of a ladies’ man. They’re also all active on Twitter and Facebook. But above all, they’re very family-oriented; in fact, for all you unattached ladies out there, the band makes a declaration: they’re single and ready to mingle.
“We had a conversation about it today; we have been around the world, and I think Filipino women are definitely amongst the most beautiful,” commented Knight, who is currently linked to local sweetheart KC Concepcion. “We’re at the place where we might be looking for a wife,” Berney mused. “And I’m hoping for a nice Filipina wife. If anybody’s looking for a nice Englishman for a husband, I’m here,” added Bowman with a rakish grin.
Lip service? Maybe. But, heck, it worked anyway. Better look up the Tagalog word “kilig,” boys, because after today, you’re going to hear—and see—a lot of it from smitten Filipinas everywhere.
“Blake Live in Manila 2012” is sponsored by Ayala Malls, Universal Records and Mandarin Oriental Hotel.