After a 12 year career, concerts in front of the British royal family, in front of Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco, on the 100th birthday of Dame Vera Lynn, then those on the Olympic stadium in the run-up to the Olympic Games in London, on Wembley stadium, the Philippines, Taiwan, Barbados, China, Australia, Japan, USA, Scandinavia, Bulgaria, Russia, South Korea, working with Shirley Bassey, British band ,,Blake“ has held shows on Friday and Saturday in Hungary.
We were at their first one, in ,,Papp Laszlo Budapest Sportarena“.
It was their first time to perform in Hungary and, judging from the long applause from the audience, it will not be their last.
Interview was done in two parts that evening, first with Stephen Bowman during the rehearsal and the second one with Humphrey Berney, Oliver Baines and Stephen Bowman in the 20-minute interval between the first and the second part of the concert.
It was in that interim we asked them about first impressions from the concert. Baines said it was a huge space, while Berney added the concert was wonderful.
– When we first arrived we saw that it is a very impressive space. It is big arena, so we were quite impressed, overwhelmed in many ways by the sheer size of it and we've heard that many famous acts have performed here, so we are very honoured to be on that list – said Berney.
We also talked about when will they perform in Montenegro, about dreams, the future and much more.
You are here in Budapest promoting your ,,Anniversary album“ and ten years as a band. What were the highlights for you of those ten years?
STEPHEN BOWMAN: It was a very fast decade for us. It happened very quickly and there are many wonderful memories. I think one of our most special memories was going to the Royal Albert Hall to pick up the Brit award for our first album. A huge honour for a British artist. Even bigger when it's your first album. We also greatly enjoyed performing at number of big venues around the world. Some of the big memories for us is performing at National Hall in Taipei, which is beautiful. Also performing at the Moscow House of music and, of course, performing at the Arena in Budapest is going to be a special memory as well. But, for us, I think one of the most enduring memories was having the opportunity to record with Shirley Bassey on our Christmas album three years ago, because when we were growing up, as young boys, we knew the voice of Shirley Bassey from the James Bond movies like ,,Goldfinger“. We never believed when we would be adults, we will be singing with this legendary singer. Also performing concerts with her as well in the UK.
On this album you also have a song ,,The impossible dream“. It has not been the impossible dream, these ten years. How does it feel?
STEPHEN BOWMAN: I think all three of us in the group now have to admit that sometimes it's quite hard in the music industry. You have good days and you have bad days. So, although it does feel like a a dream sometimes, we also know that to survive in the world of music it is never just luck, it is never an accident. You have to put in a lot of work all the time to make that dream possible, always trying to perform the best you can, to be a good artist with other people you work with, your conductors, your orchestras, other solists. Like tonight with Zseda, you want to be the best you can be, so that you reflect well.
OLIVER BAINES: I mean, it's 12 years now, starts this year actually, but it has been an extraordinary journey that always sounds like a very simple thing to say. Everybody always said: ,,Oh, a great journey.“, but actually it is extraordinary because it is a journey in age, maturity, experience and geography, travelling the world, meeting so many people, so many musicians. We do always have to remind ourselves how lucky we are, because like any job when you go on tour and you spend all the time with each other, all the flights and the driving, everything can become quite sort of mundane. If you are very lucky, you are getting to go to these wonderful places and meet wonderful people, like tonight, performing with an orchestra that is always a huge privilege, because it is a very expensive thing to do. Very often in England when we are touring we always do it with only a pianist and not that many live musicians, so with an orchestra it's a fabulous oportunity and we just have to remind ourselves that we are not in our office job or sort of stuck behind the desk somewhere. Even now after 12 years it's still pretty special to be doing this job.
What do you dream of?
STEPHEN BOWMAN: I think for us now, we've performed now in 25 different countries around the world and maybe in ten years time, we would have liked to have performed in 50 countries around the world. As I was saying, for us it's a huge honour to take very British style of music, because vocal harmony style is very traditional English and for us to have the opportunity to perform this style all over the world it's like waving the English national flag, it fills us with pride. When we go to other countries and we perform, people sometimes give us a standing ovation at the end. We always feel we've done a good service to Great Britain.
HUMPHREY BERNEY: Over the years, we dreamed of performing in places like this. It doesn't get any bigger or exciting than performing in a great arena of the famous city of the country that's got a great musical heritage and culture. Tonight is a real dream for us, to come to Hungary for the first time and our first show to be here is just fantastic. So, I think we dream to come back and do more performances. We would like to do more in this part of the world. We've been to Sofia once, we'd love to go back to Bulgaria and places like Poland. There are so many countries we've never been to where I think our music will be appreciated and enjoyed. That's what we continue to dream of, taking our music to new appreciative audiences and with that having the pleasure of experiencing new culture and meeting new people.
STEPHEN: We still have to perform in Montenegro.
So, when are you coming to Montenegro?
STEPHEN BOWMAN: Well, maybe when people read this article there will be a promoter in Montenegro who goes: ,,Wow, if they can be in a stadium in Budapest, we can make opportunities for that!“
HUMPHREY BERNEY: We'd love to come to Montenegro, so, it's just finding the opportunity and hoping there's the desire for us to go. Sadly, you've got to sell some tickets, so it would be lovely to have the support of people. It is a very famous country we'd all want to explore and get to know, so yes, if your readers are reading and would like us to come, then we'd love it to happen.
The audience and the critics also see you as true British band. What stands out is pride. Pride when you are singing, pride when you are doing the charity work. What makes you most proud about being Stephen Bowman, Humphrey Berney, Oliver Baines, Blake?
STEPHEN BOWMAN: I think what makes me proud is knowing for many years I trained as a musician at Guildhall school of music and drama. Ollie, also, was at Guildhall school of music and drama and Humphrey went to a Royal academy. These are very all prestigious music conservatoire, so we were very lucky to study at very good colleges. Many of our friends and other pupil in our years of those colleges haven't been so lucky to have a career where they can go and perform at huge stages and stadiums and travel all over the world. I think that we had been as the group and myself personally very blessed to have this opportunity, to do what we do. When I feel pride, it's pride really that our little group of three people had stayed together and worked hard together to achieve something that many of my friends haven't been so lucky to achieve. Music industry is very difficult. A very small percentage of people have the opportunity to make music for life. For lot of people music is a hobby, something they do for fun, but they don't get paid to do it. We are lucky because we get to do this every day and we can call it a job.
HUMPHREY BERNEY: I think my two proudest things, I should say, are first – being a father – I now have two children, wonderful wife and a healthy family. And my second would be Blake – the fact that we are still going and that we have gone through so many ups and downs and so many challenges and start off 2019 in one of the most prestigious venues in the world.
OLIVER BAINES: I think I am proud of that I've done it all through my twenties and into proper adulthood and that we've sort of all grown, we made it work as a sort of a family. There are certainly things that I still think that can always be improved. I don't think there is any sense of us resting on our laurels, but I am really proud of what Blake has done. I always wished that more people could experience it and can see it and wish that we were able to go to places and sing to more people, because I have a great faith that what we do is of a very high quality and I think that we do it at a distinctly good level. When we sing, we sing well, when we do harmonies, we do them well, when we make arrangements we use really good people, people that we love and are very talented. Every time we release an album, it's not just an album, it's a real sense of achievement and there's time, effort and love that's gone into it. I'm very proud within this group there were three albums that I've produced and that we managed to get them out on time and on the budget and to high quality and that's been really hard to do and even when we were with a major label that never got done. So, there are things that we've learned along the way that we should all be very proud of.
STEPHEN: And it's nice to think that there's more. I mean, over the years we've met many younger artists who were staring in the industry. There are still lot of questions about how do you build a career, how do you take singing from being a hobby into being something that you can do every day, which can pay your bills. As I've said, it's always a hard work. People were always reffered to us being lucky we were there at the right time and the right place, but actually the luck is about 0,01 percent, the rest is consistent hard work. So, when young singers say how do you make it in the business?, you really are saying to them you just have to work very hard. If you keep working hard then you make your own luck. Little gold nugget of luck comes up once in a while. You can't hope for that.
What it is like to be an independent artist in the United Kingdom?
OLIVER BAINES: Tough, I will be honest. Anywhere in the world is tough, I would say. The freedoms you have is ability to choose your own destiny, but you have to work yourself to make it happen and that means that you have to be more in control of everything that happens within your business, within your band and where you choose to go. You don't just turn up and do the job, you are involved in every part of it. Like tonight, this is a classical example – this is something we've been planning since, I think, March or April, if not further. It was certainly booked a year in terms of me talking to the musicians. I remember deciding the size of the orchestra and what songs are we gonna do literally last Spring and of course, you don't have anything and then suddenly you get it two months before and you're like: ,,Oh, my God! I can't remember what I did!“ For most people who aren't independent artists everything is decided for them and it gets organized behind the scenes. It's much more hands on approach which is fun, but also difficult.
STEPHEN BOWMAN: The good thing is when you're an independent artist and when it is a hands on approach, when the concert goes really well, the sense of pride that you have of what you have achieved is very fulfilling. Anybody that has a small company and builds it into the big company, that sense of achievement. It's been always a struggle, but there had been great times as well.
Interview and photo: Bojana Radonjić