Interview: Gary Williams
We chat to Jazz singer Gary Williams ahead of his gig at Crazy Coqs
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Tell us about your upcoming Christmas show at Crazy Coqs. What can we expect?
It's called A Swingin' Christmas, so as you'd expect, I sing all the holiday standards made famous by the greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Andy Williams and Dean Martin. We get a lot of groups coming along who want to have fun, so I try to strike the balance between urbane sophistication and silly nonsense. Once the mojitos and martinis have kicked in anything can happen.
What first drew you into the world of showbusiness? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Looking back, yes. I used to make my friends sit down in the playground and watch me entertain them. After my parents took me to a production of 42nd Street there was no going back.
When you starred in The Rat Pack, what was it like playing the role of Frank Sinatra? How did you prepare and get into character?
I'd always performed Sinatra songs but spent years trying to find my own voice. Having to suddenly impersonate him was tough. I mean, who am I to presume to sound anything like the master? That said, audiences loved it and we had so much fun. I sang for 150 performances in the West End and all over Europe. I still play golf with Dean Martin.
How did the concept come about for your fringe show Sinatra Jukebox? It sounds like a really unique take on paying tribute to an artist...
A friend of mine wanted to take a Sinatra show to the Edinburgh Fringe, but being the Fringe it needed an edge. He liked the idea of a living jukebox, where I'd sing anything the audience wanted, so that's what we did. Everyone in the audience gets a list of 100 Sinatra standards and they choose what happens next. My pal Harry The Piano can handle anything that's thrown at him and together we somehow get through it. It's always a roast but people really love it because they're in control. I always say, "If you don't like this show you've only got yourself to blame."
What's it like working with Harry the Piano? We've seen him on YouTube and he can literally turn his hand to anything.
You're right, he can. He famously plays anything in any style and, rather disgustingly, makes it seem effortless. The trick to looking good is to surround yourself with people who are more talented that you, and Harry is the best. He's also the nicest, kindest man you could ever meet which is the icing on his very exceptional cake.
We were doing a bit of reading and found the review where The Times called you "one of the best voices Britain has ever produced". That's amazing! Who do you personally think is the best British voice, besides your own?
If you'd have asked me a couple of years ago I would have said Amy Winehouse. Simply stunning. I still think Tom Jones has an amazing voice and there are great artistes on the scene like Clare Teal, Iain Mackenzie, Barb Jungr, Alison Jiear… I could go on all day.
Who's been your favourite musician or artist to collaborate with and who would be your dream collaboration?
That would have to be John Wilson with his orchestra. We worked together for around 10 years performing music from the MGM musicals and the Great American Songbook. John's very exacting in his demands. He taught me to treat every live show with the same care and attention to detail I would a recording session. My dream collaborator would be Michael Franks.
We hear you've written a book. What's what all about?
I get asked all the time for advice on how to be a cabaret singer both in London clubs and on cruise ships. After years of helping people out face-to-face I decided it was time to get it all down on paper and the result is "Cabaret Secrets - How to Create Your Own Show, Travel the World and Get Paid to Do What You Love". I had amazing contributions from major West End directors, Hollywood makeup artists, New York cabaret stars and top booking agents. David Ackert, said the book is a “career GPS for cabaret performers,” and Ruth Leon, Artistic Director for The Crazy Coqs, described it as, “The best guide ever written for the aspiring cabaret singer."
Are you still involved with the Caron Keating Foundation? What encouraged you to start working with the charity in the first place?
Yes I am. Gloria Hunniford was always very kind to me when I was starting out. One of my first TV appearances was for her Open House show with Burt Bacharach. She asked if I'd like to sing for her celebrity fundraising events and of course, I said yes. Caron was a remarkable woman and would be proud to know of all the great work her mum is doing for other cancer sufferers in her name.
What's been the proudest moment in your career to date? And what's still left on your list to try or achieve?
There have been very special moments like recording at Abbey Road or singing at Buckingham Palace but my personal highlight was releasing an album this year called Live In Brazil. I have a passion for that country and worked tirelessly for six months to learn the songs and the language for that show. There were many times I almost gave up but finally, on opening night, when the audience gave me a standing ovation I realised that anything's possible.
Don't miss Gary at Crazy Coqs for A Swinging Christmas, Tue 17 - Sat 21 Dec, then again for Sinatra Jukebox on 27-28 Dec.