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You may recognise him from the stand-up circuit, but Jason Manford has a pretty good singing voice. An excellent voice, in fact. So much so that, after performances on television, on tour with his pal Alfie Boe and the touring production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he’s recorded a debut album. Full of his favourite show tunes, we asked Manford to talk us through each song on A Different Stage, which is released on Decca Records on 6th October.
"If someone had one song to convince them to buy this album, and this was the first song they heard, they’d think “oh, I like this!” There are some big booming moments, but there are also gentle, tender moments in there. It’s from my favourite musical, and I like the fact it’s not “Bring Him Home” which is the one people normally go for. I sang it with Alfie Boe on tour and it went viral on YouTube, so it’s a song a lot of people know I can sing."
"Tim Rice is a musical genius, as is Benny Andersson from ABBA. I like the fact that it sums up my feelings towards being English. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, you can still love your country. I’m sure it’s the same for many Americans right now."
"The main reason it’s on the album is because I sang it 500 times on tour, and it’s a beautiful song. Every night, I could see that the song meant a lot to a lot of people. You remember where you were when you first saw the film. It’s one of my children’s favourite songs. I’d sing it as a lullaby for my four-year old to get her to sleep. What’s nice about having it on the album is that now, I can just leave my phone playing the song in her room rather than singing it myself.
"We also have Rosie on the album who played Mrs Potts on the tour. A lot of well-known singers were suggested for this duet, but I sang the song with Rosanna so many times, and she’s my friend, I wanted her to be on the album as well."
"This one’s a bit lighter. “An Ode to a Stalker”, I like to call it. He’s singing this song about a woman he’s just met and is falling for – we’ve all felt that. When you’re singing this, you use those experiences."
"This was my grandparents’ favourite song. It used to be on their record player all the time, they loved Perry Como. When I was ten or eleven I’d be listening to Perry Como with my grandparents on a Sunday afternoon. I’m really surprised it’s not more of a standard form the American songbook because it’s beautiful. I'm really proud of it, I played it to my Nana who’s 93 and she cried! If making music isn’t about making old ladies cry, then what is it about?"
"Kate Rusby was my absolute first choice for this song. I thought she’d say no because she has 14 or so albums of her own, but I’m a huge fan and we’re pals. I sent her an email and had to include YouTube clips to convince her I was taking it seriously, and she said yes straight away. She adds a bit of class to the album, and makes it feel a bit more grown-up. I love Once, we’ve made this song much more of a duet."
"I saw Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard last year and it was amazing. I’m always emotional at a musical – I’ll cry at Wicked - but I felt a real connection with Norma Desmond: it’s all gone for her, it’s all in the past, and then suddenly she’s back at the studio and it’s her moment. She’s nervous. As a performer who, over the years, has made mistakes and lost things but managed to fight back and get back to a certain level, I felt a real connection with it."
"Shirley Bassey does an unbelievable version of this song. It’s brilliant. It’s about how you often don’t look at the positives of life. You focus on the negatives insted. It was one of the first songs I wanted to put on the record, which I think surprised the label. I hope it becomes the new “I hate the world” song."
"This was the first song I ever sang on telly. I did a show in 2011 called Comedy Rocks. One week, Matt Lucas was due to come on with his friend, the then-unknown tenor Alfie Boe. Ninety minutes before they were due to perform, the producer told me Matt had been taken ill and we had to cut the song, which was a shame. They weren’t keen on Alfie doing it on his own, but we got chatting, and Alfie suggested we do it together. I learnt it in about 20 minutes, and we sang it together on the show that night. That was great, it is a really warm memory for me."
"This is just a song I really like. There’s no meaningful reason like the others. It’s a really cheesy song, but I wanted to take some of the cheddar out of it. We got rid of the key change and the middle 8 section from the musical, and I think it’s all the better for it."
"My grandad used to play a version by Frank Sinatra before I was aware it was from The King and I. In my head, it was always just a Sinatra song. I’m aware it’s often sung by a higher-pitched voice, but it’s always connected me back to my grandparents."
"I always wanted to finish the record with Carrickfergus. It’s a song that’s been sung by many members of my family. It’s a lovely song with a lovely narrative. The only problem is that it has three or our identical verses back to back. I wanted to give it more of a story, so we used different instruments to make each verse sound unique. I love it."
A Different Stage by Jason Manford will be released on 6th October and is available to pre-order now.
Photo courtesy Carsten Windhorst