Claude-Michel Schönberg, composer of Les Misérables, the most popular musical in history, doesn’t write songs for just anybody.
In fact, Schönberg and lyricist partner Alain Boublil have turned down every request to compose material for music’s biggest names…until they met Russell Watson.
Now the English tenor has a new album to promote and he’s appearing at the New Theatre, Oxford, on April 13.
Only One Man features songs reflecting the amazing highs and lows of his career, crafted especially for him by the duo responsible for the blockbuster hits Les Misérables and Miss Saigon.
It is the most personal album of Watson’s career.
“I’ve been dreaming of making a record like this for 13 years. These songs mark my birth as a creative artist,” Watson says.
“I’m baring my soul through the music.”
Since his discovery in a Wigan working men’s club, Watson has sold seven million albums, sung for Popes and world statesmen and recovered from two life-threatening brain tumours.
But he felt his was career was ‘stagnating’.
Watson’s agent put him in touch with Schönberg, who agreed to meet the singer.
Watson recalls: “He said: ‘So Russell, what do you want from me?’ I said: ‘I want new material’.
“He said: ‘No, I don’t write for artists. You can have access to the entire catalogue and all my musicals’.
“I didn’t want to do a record just singing songs from musicals.
“He said:’Tell me your story’.
“I told him from start to finish, all the nuts and bolts, singing for the Pope, the birth of my children, losing close friends, the illnesses…and when I finished he looked at me and said ‘I am going to write for you, I like your story’.
“That’s where it all started. To have the guys who wrote the most popular musical of all time craft songs for you was an amazing challenge.”
Schönberg set to work, producing a series of emotionally-heightened new songs which illuminate Watson’s life and test his vocal powers to the limit.
Without You, a powerful new Schönberg composition which opens the album, is the singer’s confessional testament in front of his friends, family and the audience who ‘lift me up so high in your hands, when I hear you cheer from the stands’.
Russell says: “It’s a beautiful piece of music. The lyric goes ‘Without you I’d be nothing at all.’ It’s a song to the audience. To all the people who’ve supported the singer through good and bad.
“It’s the journey I’ve been through with them for 20 years as a singer. It’s also the most difficult song in the world to sing because of the octave range and modulations.”
Russell returns to the theme on the title track, I Am Only One Man, another new song, featuring words by Phantom of the Opera lyricist Charles Hart.
To a soaring melody, which sounds like an instant Broadway show-stopper, Russell sings: “I sing you my dreams, I give you my heart, I give only my song, with you I am strong.”
Russell explains: “It’s me saying ‘here I am onstage, baring my soul. I’m singing for you. I can’t give anymore, It’s all I have to give.’ The sentiment is from the heart.”
“Having been through so much – amazing highs like the birth of my children and lows and tragedies, losing beautiful friends.
“That share of highs and lows is in the fabric of who we are. The music isn’t just dots on a page. I’m singing from my heart and I’m singing about my life.”
Watson persuaded Regine Velasquez, one of the most popular singers across Asia, to join him in a duet.
“She’s from the Phillipines and she’s the number one diva of that part of the world. She’s like the Asian Celine Dion.
“She’s up for Female Artist of the Year at the World Music Awards. She has a Streisand-esque big and bold quality.”
“The show tells the life story of an artist’s career. It will run like a story with a beginning, middle and conclusion. The staging will be very exacting.”
Russell reveals: “Claude-Michel even has penned several new songs specifically for the live show”.
“Claude-Michel has drawn something from me I don’t think anyone has drawn before. I just had to make sure I did the songs justice. Now I can’t wait for people to hear them.”