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Gareth Malone on Wolverhampton and his new Christmas album

Wolverhampton | Entertainment | Published:

The nation's favourite choirmaster, Gareth Malone, is back from his trek across the country.

He has been hunting down the finest singers and discusses his new Christmas album, Wolverhampton and – of course – his speciality, singing.

Malone is renowned for his ability to transform almost any ordinary choir into pristine singers, bringing choirs into the mainstream.

In 2011, Malone helped the Military Wives choir, who later achieved a Christmas No1 with their single Wherever You Are, becoming one of his all-time favourite moments.

Other than that, the musical pioneer is continuously getting his hands dirty with choirs from a range of different backgrounds and ages, building and crafting them into musical prodigies.

"Since I was a kid I've always been involved in music, I was in choirs and I was always making some sort of music," says Malone.

"I've also always had some sort of project on the go whether that's writing songs or doing something else.

"When I got a call from a TV company in 2005, I'd just finished at the Royal Academy of Music where I'd been studying a postgraduate degree in classical singing.

"I thought, that sounds like an interesting idea, and it became hard work but the right kind of hard work.

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"It chimes with me about spreading my passion and enthusiasm to music by showing other people what I get from it all."

The Christmas album is Malone's second and includes appearances from a range of people including astronaut Tim Peake, Kaiser Chiefs' Ricky Wilson and Birmingham's very own award-winning gospel choir.

The 40-year-old Londoner said: "I made an album a couple of years ago so I wanted to do it differently this time, I wanted to make something a bit more personal as the last album was not as heartfelt as it could have been and that's what sort of music really matters to me.

"I've always loved music and choirs at Christmas so I started to think about what people would want to hear from me.

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"I've always been interested in community groups and love the opportunity to work with professionals so I wanted to create an album which combines the two interests.

"I went up and down the UK collecting little bits of music almost like a travelling wilbury, reflecting all the sounds everyone expects to hear at Christmas time. There's usually a lot of swing albums at Christmas but I wanted to do something that was a bit more honest, truer to me and British.

"I've not covered your boys Slade on the album though, so I'm sorry about that."

Malone spent a lot of his time in Birmingham with the gospel choir, but also made a few trips down to Wolverhampton along with regular trips when filming in 2015 for The Naked Choir.

"When I was looking across the map of the UK, I particularly wanted to represent the Midlands so I spent a lot of time in Birmingham.

"Birmingham is somewhere I always seem to be, whether that's on tour or just because it seems like a central point for concerts and conferences.

"I'm very pro-Birmingham. I like it a lot and the Symphony Hall is the finest music building we have in the country – it has an edge on London.

"I filmed in Wolverhampton in 2015 and stayed in the Holiday Inn Express just out of town. Before that, in 2011 I opened a University of Wolverhampton Performance hub in Walsall.

"That was quite exciting as I'd never seen my name on a plaque before and it's the only building I've ever opened."

The way in which Malone transforms choirs and ordinary groups of people – such as sportsmen and schoolboys, who may otherwise feel that singing isn't 'cool' and 'manly' – has made him popular.

Choirs owe a lot to Malone, who has slowly been battling against the whirring tide of stereotypes about choirs and singing.

"I'm always looking at who has potential in all the choir situations I've ever been involved in.

"It's knowing the difference and getting people involved and behind what I'm doing by encouraging them to sing to their work place or community.

"That engages them more in their singing as it becomes something meaningful rather than just doing it because they've been told to.

"My advice to people that want to sing is to sing, sing a lot. You can sing anywhere and the more you do the better anyone gets.

"Join choirs for musical discipline and I encourage people not to aspire to look for fame and fortune, if you like singing then do it for emotional reasons and the honour of performing.

The new album is tipped to be one of this Christmas' best-sellers.

Malone has been gearing up all year for the release, getting into the Christmas spirit 13 months early.

"It's been the year of Christmas as it's been going on in my house all year as I started planning this album last year," he laughs.

"I'm really pleased with the entire album.

"I wrote a track that I did with Ricky Wilson which is called Paradise Street, that turned out brilliant.

"I've also done a few on my own such as Restless which is about being charitable at this particular time of year and thinking about people that don't have what we have.

"Then of course I have tracks such as Walking in the Air and O Holy Night which are classics.

"Putting the album together has been an incredible experience."

A Great British Christmas is released on December 2.

Until then, you can catch his new series, The Choir: Gareth's Best in Britain on the BBC2 on Tuesdays at 9pm.

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