Oliver Baines, founder of the British classical-pop group Blake, chats about their upcoming South African tour.
You guys came together on Facebook back in 2007. How exactly did it happen?
Ex-member Jules [Knight] and I were looking to put a group together to do bits of singing work - weddings, parties etc. - and used Facebook to contact the other guys who we had known through music college and London life. Once formed, we used Facebook to contact a manager who we met up with. He liked us, took us down to Universal Music and the rest is history. Before we knew [it] we had signed a major record deal!
You chose your name based on your shared love for the poet William Blake. But who or what most inspires your music?
Our sound and music is all about harmony. We try to use our voices to create new covers of songs, using harmony to stir emotion and add excitement and a different sound to a song many may already know. We are inspired by many vocalists and musicians from great harmony groups like The Bee Gees and The Beach Boys to solo artists like Elton John through to Pavarotti. Good singing and musicality are what we are about.
So, how would you describe your sound?
Harmonic, emotive and powerful. We mix everything from classical to pop in our concerts so it really comes down to our voices and the harmonies we create.
And how would you say that your music has changed over the years?
Blake has always been about variety due the large selections of styles and genres we sing and cover. Since becoming a [trio] over a year ago we have had to adapt our harmonies, but I think the core Blake sound has always been there.
Your eponymous debut album sold 100,000 copies in three weeks and won Album of the Year at the Classical BRIT Awards in 2008. Why do you think the response was so overwhelmingly positive?
I think our music is very accessible and, because vocals are central to the sound, people become emotionally engaged, which is a very powerful thing. It's amazing how many people have such a variety of tastes in music and we allow them to explore that.
Some of your highlights so far include performing for Shirley Bassey at her 70th birthday party and in front of 80,000 football fans at Wembley Stadium. What were these like?
They were all amazing. We are so lucky to have performed at some of the greatest sporting arenas in the world as well as singing for and meeting some extraordinary people. To stand in the middle if the pitch at a place like Wembley is brilliant; the size, the atmosphere, there is nothing quite like it.
Shirley is a different thing! She likes young men and took a shine to us. She's amazing. After we had sung her happy birthday she then sang it to herself! Always the diva.
And what would you say is your most memorable experience as a group so far?
One of the most memorable was singing at the opening of the new roof at Wimbledon. Centre court is hallowed turf and we are big fans. To stand on the court and meet Andre Agassi, amongst others, was a very exciting experience.
You've also been involved in a number of charitable events. Could you tell us more?
We do a lot of charity events and charity work from breast cancer campaigns to military charities like Walking with the Wounded. They are causes which we have personal connections to and we feel it is important to try to help when and where we can. We have met some inspiring people through our charity work and helping does make a difference, which is very rewarding.
You'll be performing in South Africa with Icelandic tenor and West End star Gardar Cortes. How did this collaboration come about? And how does his sound complement yours?
He's a great tenor. Adding another powerful male voice to ours will work very well and, of course, is something we are used to, having been and four [members] originally. I think the result will be thrilling and very dramatic. We can't wait.
And who else would you really like to work with in future?
Elton John is a great entertainer and has written some brilliant songs. That would be a highlight. Also Jessica Alba. I'm not sure if she can sing but I have always fancied her!
What do you have planned for the South African concerts?
We will be bringing the best of Blake from the past seven years, plus some wonderful duets with Cortes. All this will be accompanied by an orchestra. There will be our usual mix of beautiful class as well as covers of very well-known pop songs, all combined with some jokes and banter!
And how do you feel about coming to South Africa? Do you have any other plans for your stay?
We can't wait: wonderful food, wine, scenery and an exciting culture. It's our first time as a group, but some of us have been on holiday in South Africa and loved it. We will pack in as much as we can and hopefully get to fit in some wine tasting. We hear the wine is amazing.
You started as a quartet but are currently down to a trio. Any plans to audition for a fourth member like you did when Dominic [Tighe] left?
Not at the moment. Being a [trio] is working very well and we are very happy. It feels right. Our friendship and the way we are on stage is central to what we do. To develop that with a new member would take a great deal of time and effort. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
What's next for you as a group?
We have touring in the UK, concerts in Europe, Russia, the US, and Asia to name a few. We are very busy, plus a wedding in the group! Exciting times ahead.
And is there anything else you'd like to add?
We can't wait to come to SA and are really looking forward to singing to and meeting as many people as possible. It will great to see some sunshine!Blake and Cortes at Johannesburg's Emperors Palace on 27 and 28 June. Book at Computicket or go to www.blakeofficial.com for more.