Russell Watson - 10 of my favourite things about Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 April 2015
Lancashire’s singing superstar Russell Watson kicks off his tour of the UK by telling us what he loves most about the red rose county
Roots are very important to the ‘People’s Tenor’ Russell Watson. Some turn their backs on humble beginnings as soon as stardom beckons but that’s not an accusation you could level at this Lancashire lad after chatting to him about his journey from lowly engineering shop bolt-cutter to singing sensation.
In fact, he talks with great passion – laced with large doses of humour – as he reminisces about his early years in Irlam, his nights as a pub singer in Blackpool to acclaimed godfather of ‘cross-over’ music, blending pop with the classics.
Russell, 48, broke off from preparations for a gruelling 75 venue national tour (he’s at the Charter Theatre in Preston on May 19), to come up with his ten favourite things about his home county.
‘I could have picked walks or a view but that might have been a bit boring,’ he said. ‘Some people might be a bit surprised by my choice – but here goes!’
1. A house on the Fylde
It’s owned by Bob and Lynne Sanderson and it has been a sanctuary for me during the good times and the bad, including the period when I was poorly. It was here that I was nursed to health after having my brain tumour operation. It’s a place I can relax and talk – in many ways Bob and Lynne became surrogate parents. I first got to know them more than 20 years back in the days when I performed in the clubs around Blackpool. They’ve always looked out for me.
2. Samos Fish Bar, Irlam
Ahh, fish and chips – I love them! And a Greek gentleman in Ferryhill Road makes the best in the universe. I was born and grew up in Irlam and I remember as a kid spending the weekends playing football on the local field and we ended the day with a bag of chips. Real comfort food. I can remember the delight as that mixture of steam and vinegar tickled your nose. I’ve been back to Samos occasionally and I think it’s still run by the same man. I wonder if he remembers me?
3. Old Trafford
I used to go as a kid in the days of Macari, Hill and Houston with a friend, Steven Hancock, and his dad and we would stand in the Scoreboard Paddock. I remember the surge of the crowd… the smell of Bovril, meat pies and fag smoke remains tattooed on my brain. I’ve also chosen Old Trafford because I sang there in 1999 and that was the main catalyst to my rise to fame as a singer. Martin Edwards, who was the chairman, heard me singing in a club and asked me to sign at a match.
I heard nothing for months and dismissed it as a broken promise until I got a phone call asking if I was free to sing. I cancelled Wigan Road Working Men’s Club and went to Old Trafford with my dad. As I started to sing Nessun Dorma the crowd gradually went quiet and as I hit that top note it was my equivalent of crashing the ball into the top corner of the goal. The next day David Meek wrote in the Manchester Evening News about the applause and said ‘even the pigeons on the top of the stand flapped their wings in appreciation.’ I loved that!
4. Preston North End
It’s my second team and they have had me back a couple of time to sing and supported charities for paediatric brain tumours, a favourite cause of mine. It’s a lovely club, really down to earth with a family feel. Deciding between them and United in the FA Cup tie at Deepdale was a hard choice but I suppose whatever happened one of my teams was going to win.
5, Southport Fair
I have very fond memories of being taken there by my gran. She didn’t take me to Blackpool very often but I was always excited getting the train to Southport as a seven or eight-year-old. She used to take us to the beach and one or two other places in the town – I think she was just building up the excitement until it was time to head for the fair.
6. Manchester city centre
In my teens I would get the Number 10 bus to Piccadilly and walk to the Market Street HMV. Music was starting to mean something to me and I was a big fan of The Jam and, to a lesser extent, Madness. I can still remember handing over my fiver and getting a 12 inch disc in return...the pleasure of taking off the cellophane wrapper.
7. Collector’s Records
This follows on from Number 6. This was a wonderful little record shop in the Underground Market in Manchester. We used to hang around there talking about music to the woman who ran the shop. I bought old recordings of The Who there on the Brunswick label.
When I was at school I was what’s called a naughty boy – not something I would advocate today. I was natural mimic and that was always getting me into trouble with the teachers. Prince’s Park was where we gravitated every day of the week so long as there was even a tiny bit of daylight. I still get a buzz when I drive past.
9. Blackpool Illuminations
I thought the age of lasers and computer-generated images might have meant the lights had lost their appeal. But when I took my two girls, Hannah and Rebecca, the old excitement was still there. It’s still a great night out. I can remember my dad taking us there in the car. Like a typical Manc, rather than drive along the front and pay he would weave through the backstreets and go in the opposite way. He once dropped a pound coin and caught it on the back of his neck!
10. The Railway Inn, Irlam
This is where I drank my first pints of beer and where my career really started off. I went there with some mates and Piccadilly Radio was staging a talent contest there. The lads said I could sign a bit and should take part. I won that round and then went all the way through to the final and ended up voted the winner. An agent called Dave Oldfield, who always had a fag in the corner of his mouth, came over and said: “You’ve got a cracking voice, son – I can get you gigs in pubs for 50 quid a time.” I went to work the next day, threw down the oily rag and said: “I’m off to be a singer.” The Railway Inn is where it all started for me.’