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Interview: Gary Williams

We talk to the singer ahead of his new run of shows celebrating the life and songs of Nat King Cole...


The incredibly popular and oh-so charming Gary Williams, returns to London's Crazy Coqs tonight for his fourth run and with a brand new show, celebrating the life and music of the unforgettable Nat King Cole. GT spoke to the man himself ahead of hotly-anticipated series of shows...

You're returning to the Crazy Coqs now for the fourth time. What can we expect from the upcoming show celebrating the life of Nat King Cole? And what is it about the Crazy Coqs crowd that keeps pulling you back in?

As the title of the show suggests, I'll be singing 40 of Nat King Cole's biggest hit songs. But why do I keep coming back to the Crazy Coqs? The room's a gem, the people are friendly and the cocktails are perfect.

What¹s is like being accompanied by BBC¹s Big Band and John Wilson Orchestra?

Thrilling. I remember working with the BBC Big Band for the first time. Till then I'd only been backed by a trio. Seventeen musicians behind me was like being given 1,000 volts of energy. You get off on that.

When I started working with John Wilson I was always nervous. John's very exacting and, to his credit, demanding. I used to just focus like mad for every concert hoping not to mess anything up. Once I got used to that and the initially overwhelming experience of fronting a huge concert orchestra and choir it was so much fun. With experience I was able to step back and enjoy the moment. It's like having the best seat in the house every night.

You¹ve previously paid tribute to Nat Cole in Tokyo and Australia. What¹s difference between the audiences you¹ve perform to from there to here in the UK?

Unlike Japan and Australia, we speak English here, which helps.

You¹ve traveled the world a fair bit performing, any favourite places or any you would to love perform in again?

I'd like to go back to Japan. Brazil is one of my favourite places. I speak a little Portuguese and I have to say the Brazilians are the best audiences.

Cabaret legend Michael Feinstein said you are one of the great contemporary singers of pop standards, but who inspires you ­in terms of contemporary singers ­and who do you look up to?

When you say contemporary I'll assume you mean living. My musical knowledge past 1950 is a bit sketchy.

Actually Feinstein is one of my inspirations. I'd love to work with him one day. Others include Michael Franks, Marlena Shaw and Alison Jiear. I draw on people who are sincere about their work, who have good taste and don't think entertainment is a dirty word. I tire of performers who take themselves too seriously and think telling a joke somehow makes them a lesser musician.

We¹ve seen you¹ve got a busy year ahead with all the performances all over the world including a cruise ship in the US. How do you manage to keep on track of things?

I have a manager, agent, publicist, stylist, driver, healer and a retinue of eunuchs. When they're busy I look at my iPhone.

What¹s got to be your favourite Nat King Cole song to perform?

Nature Boy is a special song. Almost spiritual. Route 66 is more fun, especially with our own version based on the UK's A56 – another road of world renown.

Earlier this year you performed on BBC Radio 2 with the BBC Concert Orchestra for David Jacobs: A Celebration, alongside some big names such as Michael Ball and Liz Robertson. Who would you say you¹ve most enjoyed working with over the years?

David was a true gentleman who took me under his wing after we fist met in 1994. He always reminded me to be kind, generous and let others share the praise. Last year I worked with New York pianist John Colliani. Blew my mind.

Your last album, Live In Brazil, featured tributes to Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga. Who would you rather collaborate with if you had the chance?

Only the one of those can actually sing. I'd choose her.

Is there anyone else you would like to pay tribute to next you haven¹t done?

More writers than performers. People like Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren. I also want to do jazz versions of old musical scores like 42nd Street and Guys and Dolls, much like Annie Ross did with Gypsy.

Throughout your career.. what¹s been your most showbiz moment? What¹s that one point in your career that¹s made you think 'yeah, I¹ve made it'?

Well, you never think you've made it because there's always something else to do. I'm not trying to get to the top of a mountain. It's more like walking along a quiet path – a few ups and downs here and there – but the end is so far away, you just keep on going.

One moment does stick in my mind though. Standing in my dressing room at the front of Buckingham Palace, looking out of the window at the people looking in at me. That was cool. An hour later I was on the 38 bus thinking about what to have for me tea.

Gary will be performing his Nat King Cole show from 20 – 24 May at London's Crazy Coqs (Piccadilly, W1F 7ED). Tickets are priced from £20. For more, call 020 7734 4888 or visit crazycoqs.com.

Words Ryan Butcher, @ryanjohnbutcher

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