Live on stage... Mr Russell Watson

Russell Watson in concert, his favourite place to be

Russell Watson in concert, his favourite place to be - Credit: David/dbking/Flickr

Last time Russell Watson sang live on stage, it was a virtual concert, not another human face in sight. This summer, he’s appearing at the Hale Barns Summer Carnival, and is over the moon

This summer’s Hale Barns Carnival, a glorious trio of nights filled with music impossible not to sing along to, takes place from Friday 16 July to Sunday 18 July – and kicking off the weekend, in his first live show (with an audience he can see) is Russell Watson, who will thrill the crowds with his own  special Proms set, including the greatest of crowd pleasers, stirring anthems such as Jerusalem, Rule Britannia, and Nessun Dorma.  

Russell chooses to work with a nominated charity at every one of his live performances

Russell chooses to work with a nominated charity at every one of his live performances - Credit: Mark Hayman

Russell, who hails from Salford but now lives in Wilmslow, is the UK’s best-selling classical artist, and this year marks the 21st anniversary of his debut solo album The Voice, which catapulted him into the spotlight. He’s about to start a25 date national tour, and his very first show will be the opening night of the Hale Barns Carnival. 

‘First and foremost, Hale will be the first show in 18 months since I have been on stage singing in front of a live audience,’ he says. ‘There’s a great deal of excitement, not just for myself but also my musicians. I have a set of core musicians I work with and everyone’s saying they just can’t wait to get back out there, doing what we do. 

‘I think the public are looking forward as well to seeing some kind of semblance of normality. Even just last night, watching the football, it was good to see fans back in the stadium; it’s been a very strange experience watching the football with no fans there and last night, it was quite emotional really. Seeing the fans and hearing the responses, it makes a massive difference, so it’s good to be back. Being on stage, with an audience in front of me – it’s going to be emotional. 

Russell Watson

Russell Watson cannot wait to be back in front of a live audience - Credit: Mark Hayman

‘It’s difficult to put it into perspective, really. It’s been well documented the illnesses that I’ve had, over the years, and I know when I came back from that the emotions were running high, and I had only been away seven or eight months. I know I was poorly and it’s a different concept altogether, but this has been a lot longer and I think people forget that being a musician, being an entertainer, it’s something that we do that we really love and to have that ability to do what we love removed for such a long time... It just feels really good to know that we’re able at last to get back out there again.’ 

Every performer will tell you that being live on stage, in front of an audience, no matter what size, is an experience that transcends all others in their industry.  

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‘Fundamentally it doesn’t matter if I’m doing a small venue with around 1000 people in it or a stadium show, the performance values are exactly the same. Whether it’s Buxton Opera House, with an audience of 950, or the concert I am doing in August with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Audley End, in front of 10,000 people, the concept of stage is still the same; I still get the same buzz, it doesn’t affect me in respect of what I do – if I was singing in front of 10 people it’s still the same show, the same preparation, the same suit that I wear... In some respects doing the smaller venues can be more rewarding as I get a better sense of connection; in the biggest venues you can lose connection with the audience, such as the last stadium I did, where I sang Nessun Dorma at the Bayern Munich v Manchester United anniversary game at Old Trafford, in 2019, and definitely didn’t feel a connection until I finished and you hear the roar and the clapping.’ 

Russell Watson in a blue shirt

Russell found live online concerts lacked the connection with the audience that he loves - Credit: Mark Hayman

The Hale Barns Carnival is of course outdoors, one of the safest ways to mingle in a crowd at the moment. 

‘I actually feel really quite comfortable with all the changes venues, indoors and out, have made to allow people to gather for entertainment once again. I think people will slowly build their confidence up and before we realise we will have adapted to life as it was again. As an example, after my first tumour, I swore I would never take anything for granted again, and then a few months later you start to go back down that path again where you were before. When it happened the second time, I said exactly the same, but again even then I still ended up getting back into my normal routine, and I think that will happen here.’ 

Russell ensures that all of his concerts link to and fundraise for a charity, either local or one he feels a personal connection to and his Friday night concert in Hale Barns will be supporting The Seashell Trust, with all profits from the evening being donated to the Cheshire charity that helps young people with complex needs and communication challenges. 

Boney M, feat. Maizie Williams

From Proms to disco: join Boney M, feat. Maizie Williams, on Saturday 17 July at the Hale Barns Carnival - Credit: Donovan Nelson

‘Whenever I do a concert tour there’s always a charity involved,’ he says. ‘The last two tours were with Brain Cancer Trust. It just makes me feel good; I don’t know why more artists don’t do it. The charity will always supply local volunteers to take a collection as people leave. I am involved with many animal charities, as well as cancer charities. It’s always been a part of my life as an entertainer. I genuinely think that if you have a platform you almost have a responsibility to give something back. 

‘I’m also a big supporter of ExcludedUK, which provides mental health support to individuals who have suffered financially because of Covid-19. So many self-employed musicians and entertainers have had a really terrible deal through the pandemic, ending up in debt and with mental health problems. One of the finest musicians I know has been driving for Amazon.’ 

There is light now, hopefully, at the end of this long tunnel – the music is coming back. 

‘I urge everybody to support the arts,’ Russell says, ‘book your tickets and attend the many, many events that can be considered safe. 

‘I can’t wait. I am really looking forward to it, it’s going to be fab. At the moment it feels like a dream, but when we get out there it’s going to be wow.’ 

Hale Barns Carnival, 16 - 18 July, halebarnscarnival.co.uk