Radio Recap – 10 March 2024

Today is Mother’s Day in the U.K. Last year I did an entire recap on this day, honoring the mothers who matter in Michael Ball’s life. This year I’d like to honor Michael’s mum Ruth by talking about one of the legicies she gave him – her love of music. When the family moved to South Africa when Michael was 8, there was no TV. There was, however, a piano, sheet music and record albums. With his mother at the piano, or while listening to some of the greats on the record player, who did it THEIR way, he would listen, learn and imitate, until the music became his own. Michael is proud of the fact that he’s never had a voice lesson, as he should be. He’s stated unequivacally for years that he is an actor first, and then a singer. He approaches a song as a monologue set to music, his purpose to tell a story, not to pronounce everything correctly or to hold a note for the dictated amount of time. I’ve been thinking about all of this as Michael prepares to embark on his much-anticipated tour this week. I’m sure the tour fills his head 24/7, his music on constant ‘Replay’ in the back of his mind, even as he opens his weekly radio show this morning …
“Hello, my lovelies. Happy Mothering Sunday, everyone,” Michael adds with a giggle. “Shall we do this?” And he opens with Wham’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go, Girl.” Oh, Michael, perfect song! “To all the mums, the grans, the great-grans, the aunts, etc, you are truly wonderful. I’m going to spoil you for the next two hours.” As they say, Michael Ball is “in the house” and ready to go! The man is high-energy and in GREAT voice. And as the show progresses, the choice of music could rock the walls of the studio. Magnificent!
On the Ball. The first contestant is EB. She is determined to win as she will be playing against her sister Stacy & they’re quite competitive. EB works at a rescue agency called “Angels For Dogs,” which of course warms Michael’s heart. Both Michael and EB agree they prefer dogs to humans, which warms MY heart! Michael shamelessly gives her hints during the questions, and his giggles are off the charts. And then they both do imitations of Orville & Cuddles. It’s hilarious! Next comes Stacy, EB’s older sister. Describing EB, Michael says, “She’s a live wire, isn’t she?” Stacy moans, “EB does her brain in. There’s no off switch for her!” Michael is absolutely delighted with this sister act. He’s having a great time, laughing constantly. And the forfeits are good, but I won’t give them away. You must listen to this delightful On the Ball for yourself.
Orna is in the house, to the delight of Michael. They discuss “Celebrity Big Brother,” both enjoying it. They also talk about the pros and cons of the phrases “Mother’s Day” vs “Mothering Sunday.” And Michael takes this moment to wish his mom Ruth a Happy Mother’s Day.
Michael brings on Edith Bowman, who talks about the country music festival on BBC Sounds and, I believe, in Scotland. I apologize for not getting more information- I had a major interruption. I DID hear Michael admit he’s got his Stetson and boots & fringed jacket.
Lara Pitt-Pulford, Michael’s first guest, is a veteran of the musical stage, playing roles such as Maria in “The Sound of Music,” for which she earned a UK Theatre Award nomination, Irene Malloy in “Hello, Dolly” and Trina in “Falsettos.” She has also guest-starred in TV shows – “Father Brown,” “Doctors,” “The Split” and as Carol Butler in “Emmerdale.” She is currently starring in the musical “Standing at the Sky’s Edge” at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. But fans of Michael Ball will warmly remember her as Rose Vibert in last year’s revival of “Aspects of Love.” Their reunion is so lovely. And so genuine. Lara talks about the musical she’s doing right now, calling it the best book she’s ever worked on in a musical. The story follows 3 sets of residents in different periods of time along the same street of flats in Sheffield, starting in the 1960s. It sounds brilliant, the 3 groupings sometimes having conversations in a flat at the same time, although there are decades of time between them. Lara says it’s real and funny and sad, also timely in terms of what was going on in the world with each group of people. The conversation between Michael and Lara is just so heartwarming. They shared a special time in their lives. Aspects of Love. Cast-mates in a show. A rare and special bond.
Michael does a special shout-out for all the mums who are no longer with us. He never forgets to include those who have passed. Never! And we who have lost our mums so appreciate it.
Damian Lewis, Michael’s next guest, is an English actor, singer and musician whose fame rose when he portrayed Major Richard Winters in the HBO series “Band of Brothers.” He won an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe for his magnificent work as Brody in Showtime’s “Homeland,” and he was nominated again for both when he portrayed King Henry VIII in “Wolf Hall.” He is also well known for his diabolically clever Bobby Axelrod in Showtime’s “Billions.” His stage work includes roles at the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring in Ibsen’s “Pillars of the Community” at the National Theatre and playing the role of Laertes in Jonathon Kent’s production of “Hamlet,” which was seen by Stephen Spielberg and launched his TV career with “Band of Brothers.” And this is just a sampling of his film, stage and TV accomplishments. As for Damian’s music career, he’s about to head out on his “UK Tour, Part 2” with his band, performing during the month of March, the same as Michael Ball. And that’s not all these 2 gifted artists share. They’re both half Welsh and are both graduates of Acting School, Michael from Guildford in Surrey, Damian from Guildhall in London. They are also both adept at doing an exceptional American accent. Not easy – we Americans murder the English language! Michael warmly welcomes him to the studio. Damian’s new tour began last night, and he’s loving it. The whole idea of touring came out of the lockdown and progressed from there as he returned to his roots, music. Damian began as a busker when he was very young, before the acting bug took over. Now he’s back to his music, all kinds of music. His first album literally poured out of him, and he’s continued to follow what inspires him. Damian’s also returned to PBS to film more of “Wolf Hall,” playing Henry VIII again. It just wrapped, and it will be out at the end of the year. Michael closes the interview by playing “A Hole In My Roof,” a song from Damian Lewis’ tour.
In closing, Michael tells Orna he’ll be away from the radio for a few weeks because of his tour. While we’ll miss him here on those Sundays, Michael Ball will be doing what he loves to do, what he was born to do – connecting with a live audience.
Often breaking the “rules” of singing, Michael does it HIS way, and bravo to him. Focusing on what he’s saying and feeling, his delivery comes from within, his honeyed voice the framework of his narrative. He will caress a word, elongate a consonant or twist a vowel with attitude. He’ll establish a tempo, then change it mid-stream, or even break the music with a spoken word for emphasis. He knows when to be still, when to ‘take a moment,’ making his audience lean into him. And he knows when to go big, when to push the boundaries. When he softens, his upper-range vibrato is so pure as to evoke absolute silence from all who are listening, something every actor yearns for, the audience caught in his spell. Other times his rich baritone fills the rafters (or “the gods” as the British say), a sound that elicits goosebumps and brings an audience instinctively to its feet. Michael’s physicality becomes part of the song, his shoulders, torso and hands responding to his inner passions. And his raw emotions come through in every nuance on his face and in his piercing blue eyes. He is the personification of vulnerability when he sings, always showing what’s in his heart.
To quote my favorite phrase: Michael Ball inhabits the skin of a character when he sings. He didn’t need voice lessons. They would have gotten in his way. His instincts are honed to perfection, something that can’t be taught or bought. He owns the audience. For those lucky enough to attend one of Michael’s concerts on his solo tour, relish every moment, this man’s glorious gift. Let him take you into his world, singing stories you won’t soon forget. And when his famous ‘Party Time’ rolls around, get up and dance until your feet ache. But you don’t need me to tell you this – Of course you’ll do all these things, just as you have over the years. You know from experience you are in for an incredible night, an incredible concert. One thing you can always count on: Michael Ball NEVER disappoints.
Finally, Happy Mother’s Day to Michael’s mum, Ruth. Also to his Cathy, Gill Oakley, Maureen Wilkinson-Rouse and all of you lucky enough to still have your mother in your life. Whether she’s with you in body or in spirit, this is her day to be honored or remembered. And then tomorrow … ON WITH THE SHOW!