In the latest issue of Music Week, our former cover star Michael Ball tackles our hitmakers feature to tell us about “the greatest honour” of his career: uniting with Captain Tom Moore for You’ll Never Walk Alone. To date, the charity song – Ball’s first ever No.1 single – has helped generate £33 million for the coronavirus-stricken NHS, and has sales of 107,468 according to Official Charts Company data.
In the feature, Ball recalls how he went from seeing Moore on TV and feeling inspired, to suggesting they duet as a joke and the 14-hour scramble to record and release it so it stood a chance of being No.1 on Moore’s 100th birthday.
“Had I recorded at home before? Good God, no!” Ball told Music Week. “Absolutely nothing. I recorded it in my front room while trying to get the dogs to be quiet… This had got to about 4pm and we sent it all over to Nick. Meanwhile, Decca are on-board getting all the clearances as I had said, ‘We have to get this on Zoe Ball in the morning!’ Radio 2 were right behind it so it was down to Nick and I to mix it. We eventually ended up with a mix at 1.30am, and I think it was finally finished at 3.30am... Bear in mind it had to be on air at 8.30am! I had gone from literally doing nothing and suddenly I’m Berry Gordy! [Laughs]”
Here, in an unread extract of our interview, Ball delves deeper into the making of a cover that captured the world’s imagination…
How have you been coping during lockdown, Michael?
“I’m good. Cath [McGowan] and I both had the virus and both got over it. It wasn’t very nice, I’ve got to be honest. We had it quite early, in the middle of March, so we’re through it. It’s not like anything else, I tell you…”
What should you have been doing during lockdown?
“I should have been onstage at the Coliseum in Hairspray. We managed to do two days of rehearsal before lockdown, and I’d just finished doing the tour with Alfie [Boe] the week before. My whole year was completely mapped out and looking terrific. I would have been onstage with Hairspray until the beginning of September and making a new solo album as well. That was the plan. Everything was sorted.”
It’s incredible to think that your first-ever No.1 single was something you could never have envisioned at the start of the year…
“No one saw this coming! Not a clue. What’s lovely is it was spontaneous, done for the right reasons and people got behind it and saw it for what it was. The people at Decca – and everyone involved – really, really pulled the stops out because we all wanted to do something. But you need a focal point and Tom provided us with that.”
What do you think Tom brought to the song?
“I wanted it to be like a poem, that’s what I envisaged. He said it himself, he knew the song but he’d never really thought about the words, and they are inspirational. The way the track has that dramatic opening orchestral music, I just knew his voice over that would be fantastic. And it was never going to be about singing per se, it was about the message of the song. What I wanted to do was provide him with another platform to spread his message and inspire us.”
And the song already has so much accrued history and meaning, it's amazing you’ve found a new way to add to that…
“You can never plan something like that, you can never set out to do that. It has to happen spontaneously. It was just fortuitous that I chose that song to sing to him [on BBC Breakfast]. This came from an absolutely genuine place of wanting to celebrate him and to continue what he is doing and what he is giving us. There are moments in life where all the stars align and it just happens. So much could have gone wrong with this, and it could have not have happened, but the fact everyone was willing to work their socks off under the most ridiculous of circumstances and actually deliver and make it happen and make something good. It’s not a bad record, it’s not a joke record, it’s got such heart and sincerity. It’s a proper, proper piece of music.”
It’s the big question: what are you two doing next?
“Well, Tom and I are announcing our arena tour when lockdown ends. Well, we might do Wembley… I think we should do stadiums, and then work up from there [laughs].”
Subscribers can read Michael Ball’s Hitmakers here.
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