The 34th black tie event at Henley Festival, billed as “The UK’s Most Magical Summer Party,” returned to Henley-On-Thames last week and brought music, visual arts, fashion, street theatre, comedy and fine dining to an audience of over 5000 people. Amongst the line-up were notable musicians including Sir Elton John, and Elvis Costello & The Imposters who kept the party going on the famous Floating Stage.
This year, the Festival returned to its classical roots with Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel, who gave a special performance with the Welsh National Opera Orchestra. On the Saturday evening, the amazing Dame Shirley Bassey and the band Blake (made up of Stephen Bowman, Ollie Baines and Humphrey Berney) wowed the assembled audience with a number of well-known songs from film and stage. With over a million albums sold, and having performed on nearly 150 TV shows around the world, Blake have built a reputation as one of the most eclectic and exciting pop-harmony groups in the world. Mixing classical and pop songs with rich harmony vocals, the band launched their first album in 2007 – and have never looked back. We caught up with them before they performed to find out more….
What’s so special about Henley Festival and singing with Dame Shirley Bassey?
Stephen: Firstly, the Henley audience is dressed even smarter than we are! Henley fits our remit perfectly, and it’s amazing to be here in such an English setting with the boats and the water and the Floating Stage. To be here with Dame Shirley is amazing, something we will never forget and I am still shaking from the sound check when they played Goldfinger – when the brass came on, Ollie and I couldn’t believe we were here; it was great!
Ollie, you were born in Oxford – so this is your home town down the road?
Ollie: I left when I was 3 but there is that sense of homecoming. I was born in a little place called Aston Tirrold near Didcot. All my family are here tonight. We said to them all, it’s a bit of special one and you should probably come as it may never get better this than this – you could die happy after this!
Who else would you like to sing with, and why?
Humphrey: Elton John is the obvious one. We have always wanted to sing with Elton John, as it would be an incredible opportunity. We have been along and watched him from back stage and in front, and seen how he plays the piano and how he works the audience. He’s got incredible energy and I think performing with him would be a very big highlight for us, so fingers crossed. In terms of other musicians, Paloma Faith is top of the list. She is an incredible singer, and it could work for three guys looking smart. Tragically, David Bowie would have worked really well and would have been way up on our list. It’s very sad. I don’t know though; we are taking it as it comes at the moment so we are really lucky to be working with someone as amazing as Dame Shirley. We’re just living in the moment.
You have travelled and performed all over the world – tell us some of the things that have stood out for you?
Humphrey: Every audience is very different. For instance in Russia, we performed the first song and got a very muted response, then we performed the second and kept going until in the end we thought it was the worst concert we had ever performed. But at the end of the second half, they just went crazy, and someone said they don’t show emotion until the very end. Traditionally, that’s just what they do. Compare that to Japanese audiences, who clap so quietly it’s like a hush. In the Philippines, they like romantic music so when singers hit the high notes, they go absolutely crazy. We used to perform in the Philippines a lot. The first time we performed there, they started singing along to all our numbers – it was amazing. It was karaoke or rather Blakeyoke en masse; 30,000 people. They love singing, and they are good at it. We’re hoping for a good sing along tonight!
What’s next for Blake?
Stephen: Well, we are touring the UK, with our brand new tour, called Songs From Stage And Screen, which is something we have actually wanted to do for the last 10 years and finally we have got it together. We have pulled together the biggest anthems from the movies and the best ones from musicals and put it all together in one show. We are always on the road and we do three or four shows a week.
When you are working together so many hours a day, how do you stay such good friends?
Stephen: We are like brothers; we love each other and music is a great healer. We hate each other at times too, but even after 5 hours on the M1, you get on stage and you start singing and any differences melt away. It’s a great leveller. After 10 years together, we have learnt how to get on with each other.
What will we see from Blake in the next 10 years?
Ollie: Yes, well we celebrate next year as it’s our 10th anniversary and actually we had something rather special today – the first person who signed us at Universal Records is in the audience tonight, which is great for us. We are making a very big album in 2017 which is to celebrate those 10 years and to work with many of the artists we have worked with previously.
Do any of your partners come to watch you?
Humphrey: With so many shows, they like to cherry pick. The last one my wife came to was in Hawaii I think, funny that! [All chuckle]. She picks the more glamourous ones, rather than any of the UK ones!
What do you do on your days off?
Ollie: Normally we are mucking about with the nitty gritty of doing a concert, talking to orchestras, that sort of thing. A quiet time for us is January, February, so that’s normally family time. We go and have proper downtime so that when we get back together, we are refreshed. When we’re not touring, we go out for dinner and things. It’s a bit like a marriage!
For more information about Henley Festival, and to find out dates for next year, go to www.henley-festival.co.uk.