I still get asked about my hair, says Michael Bolton ahead of Birmingham gig
It’s been two years since Michael Bolton – the guy who used to sell millions of records and have hair like a lion’s mane – last toured the UK.
But the record breaker is looking forward to returning to Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on October 15 for his Time, Love and Tenderness tour.
And while fans can look forward to a slew of greatest hits, they ought not to be too confident about predicting a set list. For Michael and his band plan to change things up most nights so that they can keep the show fresh and stay on their toes.
“We are always changing it up from one audience to the next. The only thing you get tired of if you’ve been out on the road too long is the travel, that’s when everything starts to wear on you. Flights can wear you down if you’ve been doing it too long. We’re going to play around with the arrangements for this tour, freshen it up. It’s still going to be a greatest hits tour. Fans come for the greatest hits. They’ve gotten married to certain songs. They’ve had their greatest and toughest moments through my albums. They’ve conceived children – or at least written about it. They want to hear the greatest hits.”
Michael makes his inspiration from other established artists. He recently went to see Fleetwood Mac in New York and they played 20 hits in a row. They ignited his memory cells and he was hooked on their classics. When Michael hits the road, he aims for a similar ethos. Before the show, he’ll have a voice lesson, which he’s been doing for 30 years with his teacher Seth Riggs. Such drills are essential for a good show.
“Have you ever watched professional athletes before they take to the field for a game of say soccer? Professional athletes don’t run into the middle of a field sprinting – they stretch. Sometimes literally they’re lying on their back and being stretched by a trainer. In general they know what to do so they don’t injure themselves. It’s the same muscles they’ve been playing professionally with for 15 years or so. Very similar to a lot of athletes preparing, I’m doing scales. I always think of it like going to the driving range with my clubs. You start out with the light ones, the pitching wedge, nine iron, six iron then next thing you know you take your driver out. Most people do that with their vocal coaches. They have funny sounds – not necessarily funny haha – but funny, strange, sounds.”
He tunes in to TV shows such as The Crown when he’s on the road and enjoys the performances of stars like John Lithgow, who played Churchill. He is a fan of Britain’s Royal Family and met the Queen at the Royal Variety Show. He stood in line next to the Spice Girls but one of them forgot to curtsey, which caused a storm. “I don’t think it was on purpose,” he says.
“I did a show with Pavarotti in France and Princess Di was in the front row. The whole night was surreal. Bono and The Edge were performing and I was singing with Pavarotti for the first time – in Italian. I wrote down the lyrics phonetically. He saw them and said: ‘Oh, I see what you’re doing here’. He found it amusing. He was so gracious. Afterwards there was a dinner at Pavarotti’s Italian restaurant he owned. That’s when I walked up to Princess Diana. We talked about the difficulty of having kids and travelling at the same time.”
Michael has visited the UK so many times that he once thought about getting a place in England. However, he is committed to a life in the USA and has a home in Connecticut and a house next door with a recording studio in it. His daughters and six grandchildren often gather there and enjoy his pool.
“The tennis court turns into bicycle riding, which means it needs to be resurfaced every three months. They love showing up at the same time so the whole family gathers there. It’s in New England. It’s beautiful.”
Michael has the fondest memories of playing UK shows. He’s a fan of the Royal Albert Hall, which is his favourite venue in the world. Elsewhere, he likes The Sydney Opera House. “Once you understand the sound, you can make it a beautiful evening. I’ve done a couple of nights there. But give me the Albert Hall anytime.”
Before hitting the road, Michael will be working with an orchestra on a new album. It’s an international affair with great staff in Los Angeles, Sydney and New York. They communicate via their computers to get the sound spot on. He’ll also be making sure he’s in shape for his autumn tour by taking care of his exercise and diet. “I really have to take care of myself to have a full voice. I know there are people who are singers that are smokers and somehow they have a great voice. But eventually it’s going to catch up with you.
“Coating your vocal chords with anything will take its toll. Fortunately, with music, if you take care of your instrument, you can have a long career.
“Discipline on the road is no joke. The primary rule, which is ironic because singers have a tough time with this issue, is getting eight hours sleep. It’s non-negotiable. And don’t drink your head off. I don’t drink on school nights, which is what I call them when there’s a show the next day.”
He visits the gym five nights a week when he’s on the road and these days he spends so little time drinking that his daughters ‘can put him under the table’.
Michael started to enjoy success at the age of 34 and then went into high gear by touring the world and writing hit albums. He worked with other artists and still keeps in touch with Kenny G, playing the occasional round of golf.
Away from the road, he remains committed to his Michael Bolton Charities.
“When I started my foundation 25 years ago it was with the intention of helping people who are part of economically struggling families because that’s something that I could identify with from my early years. The harshest period of being a starving artist is your family starving with you. After I finally had some success, my first instinct was to try to create an organisation to help struggling families.
“What I want to do is continue raising money, providing money for shelters for more people, replicate the music programme to help as many kids as possible who are survivors of trauma and make sure the Violence Against Women Act is fully funded and passed every six years. If I have a legacy to choose from that would be up at the top.”
He’s watched the #MeToo campaign with interest and has been deeply affected by the number of people who have spoken out about everyday abuse – whether sexism, misandry or other forms of prejudice.
“Everybody I know is pretty stunned. I know a lot of these people. For most of my adult life we have pushed for zero tolerance when it comes to domestic violence against women; abuse of any kind. From what I understand that’s the lay of the law in America. It’s put into the hands now of first responders so if police arrive on the scene and see a physical sign they remove the responsibility from the woman, so she doesn’t have to fear the looks that abuser is capable of.
“I think it’s a strange way to have the tipping point happen in the United States where people aren’t going to stand for the behaviour that has been accepted for a long time. I don’t claim to know all the stories, or what the truth is in every instance, and I’m against a rush to judgement. I think really bad things can happen that way as well. But I’m for zero tolerance and the only way that happens is if women speak up. It’s been shocking and then to the point where it’s so repetitious already now you’re expecting it on the next breaking news.”
For all of his success and all of his benevolence in the field of charity, one thing will always stand out about Michael – his hair. The star famously had flowing curly locks and even though they were cut off many years ago, he still gets asked about them. He sympathises with younger stars such as James Bay, who recently cut off his long hair and, like Michael, was almost as well known for his look as he was for his music.
“I have zero tolerance for hair getting overshadowed by music,” he laughs. “I think it’s funny – and hopefully for him it won’t be overshadowed by hair. I was in the UK doing a radio promotion when I cut my hair back in the 90s. At the radio station I was doing the interview and during it all this world news was coming through on Teletext. All of sudden it was: ‘Michael Bolton cuts hair.’ It was completely insane. But that’s pop culture I guess.
“I had grown long hair because of the Brits. The invasion had happened. We had the Stones, Beatles, The Kinks, The Zombies, all these great artists on TV all the time so my brother and I grew out our hair immediately. Then we would get in trouble walking down the street with long hair. Guys would yell stuff out and try to start a fight. If James Bay keeps writing and delivering strong material it’s not going to matter how long or short his hair is.”