Monday, 31 October 2011

Even better sounds from Stuart Pendred

Photo credit: Stuart Pendred

Opera singer Stuart Pendred is an old friend of Sorted. When his first album, Benedizioni (meaning “blessings”), came out, we interviewed him for a full spread in the magazine.

Then, last week, good old Facebook alerted me to the fact he’s releasing a brand new album, Agnus Dei, and that he was dropping in on BBC radio Oxford to give listeners a little taster.

As a youngster, he had grand visions of appearing on the stage as an awe-inspiring Hamlet and bagging himself a couple of Oscars. Being on stage made Stuart feel “alive”, and his sights were firmly fixed on making it big in Hollywood.

He never had any aspirations to be an opera singer when he was growing up; in fact he thought of opera stars as “fat people who shouted at each other in languages [he] … didn’t understand”.

Although he grew up in a Salvation Army setting, the Bedford boy had no experience of classical music. And his parents weren’t impressed about the idea of their son appearing on the stage. “It was positively not encouraged!” he says.

His singing prowess was attracting attention from his drama teachers and, despite his initial reluctance, he was eventually drawn into the opera arena. Members of a new company he helped set up would attend events pretending to be waiters or ‘undercover’ guests and then suddenly burst into song.

According to Stuart, this was a great laugh. But there were a couple of occasions where he almost ended up getting battered by other guests who weren’t in on the surprise.

Dennis Wise’s wedding was one such experience, as Vinnie Jones was the best man. “Having him tell me to shut up was quite an intense experience,” Stuart relates, expecting a good hiding. But once the action man realised what was going on, he saw the funny side.

This was certainly good experience for what was to come. He later found himself singing in front of huge crowds, including thousands of fans at two Six Nations rugby matches. Stuart speaks fondly about the magic of hearing 75,000 people singing along to “Swing Low” or “Jerusalem”.

Photo credit: Stuart Pendred

He also became the ‘voice’ of Chelsea Football Club, the team he had always supported. Having set up a “Three Tenors kind of company”, he and his buddies sent out promotional packs to every Premier League club. Susanna, who was Chelsea manager Ken Bates’ PA at the time (and is now his wife), rang Stuart and the pair came up with a plot for the three singers to sing live for Ken.

Posing as ordinary fans after a Chelsea match, Stuart approached the manager and asked if he could sing for him. After hearing the three lads sing, they instantly became “Ken Bates’ boys”. This opened up plenty of opportunities for Stuart to appear at players’ and staff weddings and other functions.

Despite the fact his dad was a gooner and was convinced his son had been brought up properly, Stuart and his brother had been firmly encouraged in their support of Arsenal rivals Chelsea by their uncle. So standing on that Stamford Bridge turf and getting to know the players, legends and directors well has been a “real honour”.

The new album features more original tracks than Benedizioni and boasts around 36 live musicians compared with seven or eight. Stuart says that it is a reflection of himself; his way of laying his deepest feelings on the line.

The radio station played track eleven from the album; a song called “Sempre Qui”, (“always there”). He explains that he was inspired to write the song after a close friend was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.

Very sadly, after a furious battle with the disease, he died at the age of 42, leaving behind a wife and two children. Having lost his brother in a car accident and his uncle to cancer, Andy’s death came as a major blow for Stuart. “It was a very dark experience and one that I needed to get out,” he explains.

However, the track is actually a song of hope; reassuring us that there is still purpose and meaning in life. As a Christian, Stuart firmly believes his life is in the hands of his creator and he’s looking forward to whatever lies ahead for him.

The new album is moving, inspiring and full of positivity, so if you’re wondering to get a friend or relative for Christmas, you could do a lot worse than grabbing a copy.

Check out Stuart’s website to buy the album and get the latest news. Read more from Joy in the upcoming issue of Sorted magazine and in its sister publication, Liberti.

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