Ray D'Arcy is jealous of Gary Barlow. Why? The global success? The 50 million album sales? The awards for songwriting? No. It's because the Take That frontman commands an orchestra on his latest album, something which Ray confesses he'd love to do himself. That new album is called The Dream of Christmas, Barlow’s first recording of seasonal tunes. How come, ray asked, he’s waited this long to go where so many crooners have gone before?
"I’ve been saving it, Ray. I’ve been saving it up for you, that’s what it is. Yeah, I’ll be honest, I’ve never lain awake at night dreaming of making a Christmas album. I just haven’t. But, I don’t know, last Christmas really – it touched me in a different way, you know? It felt like we had Christmas stolen a little bit from us last year. And the way I sort of kept it in the house a little longer and in my sort of head and in my life a little bit longer was making this album."
Going on tour is not a game for the unfit, Gary tells Ray. As he and his band prepare to hit the road, Barlow’s been in training to enable him to withstand the rigours of live performance. And he was inspired to get in shape for touring by an 80s legend:
"Early 90s we were doing Top of the Pops and Phil Collins was on Top of the Pops with us and on my way past his dressing room, he had like a treadmill in there and I just had to ask, you know, 'What’s all this about?’ And he was physically training to go on tour. And the idea intrigued me."
The first song, The Dream of Christmas, came to him the day after Christmas last year and he found that he enjoyed all the trappings of the Christmas song. It prolonged Christmas, he felt. So he "noodled around" between
Boxing St Stephen’s Day and New Year and brought the demo to his record label.
"And they were like, ‘That’s the start of a record right there.’"
Being on stage for two hours, singing, moving around – it can take its toll and Gary told Ray that he didn’t want to be breathless on stage, he needed to be able for the demands of live performance, night after night:
"You don’t ever want to feel like you’re on the back foot on tour. And so, yeah, I’ve been training since the first of September, just getting that cardio up, getting physically ready to go on the road."
The new record is 70% classics and 30% new stuff and features guest appearances from, among others, Sheridan Smith (Ray’s favourite Sheridan) and Aled Jones. It also features an orchestra. So, Ray wants to know, what is it about working with an orchestra? Is it a sense of power? Gary has given this some thought:
"This album for me, the Christmas album, is meant to be sort of an extended version of Music Played by Humans, which was with an orchestra. But on one of the very early sessions we did in Abbey Road, it suddenly hit me that you can’t creep into a room when you’re leading an orchestra. You’ve gotta be the boss."
This is why, Gary says, Sinatra always did it so well – you have to puff your chest out and lead that orchestra, because if you don’t, the whole thing will fall to pieces. That’s something for Ray to remember when he gets to lead the RTÉ Concert Orchestra – which is bound to happen soon, right?
You can hear Ray and Gary Barlow’s full conversation by going here.
The Dream of Christmas by Gary Barlow is released by Polydor on 26 November. And Gary’s solo tour kicks off at the SSE Arena in Belfast on 27 November, before coming to the 3Arena in Dublin on 28 November.