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WILL YOUNG: FROM POP IDOL TO CABARET & BEYOND

‘I think live performances should be in 3D and should be really raw, more tactile’ – Will Young, ahead of his performance at Kew the Music in July, on growing as a performer, being yourself and putting on a damn good show

Words: Bethan Andrews

Will Young is years away from the man that I watched on Pop Idol as a nine-year-old girl. While still the warm, charismatic man that shone on the talent show, he oozes confidence and wisdom now, coming across as perfectly content in his own skin. So when he assures me that he’s ‘got a lot up his sleeve’ for his performance at Kew the Music on 13 July 2016, I think we can rest assured we’re in for a great performance.

‘Kew Gardens last year was utterly fantastic, even though it rained the whole time!’ says Young. ‘It was awesome. I’m very into making a mess at the moment and starting a show as it should finish – flipping it on its head a little. I’m taking what a pop concert should be, but leaving it exposed and not pristine and perfect; apart from the music, of course. For example, my outfit changes will remain on the stage. I think live performances should be in 3D and should be really raw, more tactile.’

I’ve been working on these shows very hard, as I like the idea that someone who saw me on my last tour can come to this concert and see something entirely different

Young goes on to tell me how he likes the idea of taking what is inside and bringing it outside, making it rougher and messier in the process. In every sense, then, he is planning to put on a show that mirrors the setting of Kew Gardens itself through the raw and exposed nature of his plans. ‘I’ve been working on these shows very hard, as I like the idea that someone who saw me on my last tour can come to this concert and see something entirely different.’

But what is the event actually like? Kew the Music is a series of outdoor picnic concerts, where guests are welcome to bring their own food and drink, and enjoy the music and surroundings at their own pace. It is this relaxed, community feel to the event that has enabled it to return for the seventh year.

 

‘Outdoor gigs are so fantastic, as there’s a real sense of freedom because there’s no roof,’ muses Young. ‘It also makes it more of an event, as it’s not often you get the opportunity to see art and performances outside.’ Young strongly feels that outdoor concerts allow the community to feel more at ease, and less conscious through the space that they have.

‘It brings people together, but whereas at other gigs they might not, it allows them the space to be themselves. It’s so nice to see local people getting the opportunity to see something on their doorstep, especially in a place that they are proud of and is so magical.

My gig in Hammersmith last year was one of the best concerts I’ve ever done. And I was really proud of how I’d developed with my set and performance at Kew last year

‘I lived in Notting Hill for ten years and also lived right by Battersea Park too, and now I’m in Clapham so I know south to west London very well,’ he says. ‘From the age of 17, I would drive into London from the countryside where I lived, drive right on past Kew Gardens so I know all the secret routes and have spent a lot of time around that part of London. Places like Kew Gardens provide me with the sanctuary and quiet of the countryside that I grew up in and helped me consider myself a Londoner.’

With his last album, 85% Proof, being met with critical acclaim, with many critics hailing it his best sound yet, Young is certainly still taking the charts by storm. Even with such success, his favourite date on the big tour just so happened to be in west London too. ‘My gig in Hammersmith last year was one of the best concerts I’ve ever done,’ he smiles. ‘And I was really proud of how I’d developed with my set and performance at Kew last year.’

Willl Young in Cabaret

Willl Young in Cabaret (photo; David Fisher)

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He tells me how much of a highlight performing in Cabaret and doing the Olivier Awards was for him, and how he doesn’t feel more at home on stage or in the recording studio, but instead likes to take on different challenges. ‘I do think Cabaret has really helped my live shows in the way that it taught me the ability to push boundaries in terms of styling and what I can do on stage.’

Being true to himself has always been something that was very important to Young, and was evident on stage even in Pop Idol. But freedom is something that has certainly become more readily available nowadays, rather than in the time straight out of the talent show.

I feel like we need to learn that we can all be free to do what we want, instead of being dictated by social norms or fear of failure – Bowie showed me this. After all, we’re all individuals. At the moment, I certainly feel the most free as a person and as a performer

‘I feel like we need to learn that we can all be free to do what we want, instead of being dictated by social norms or fear of failure – Bowie showed me this,’ he says. ‘I feel like I’ve always done that, but I feel that as a 37-year-old I’m definitely doing it in the best way possible and the best stuff that I’m capable of doing at this stage. I’ve never really felt that I’ve copied other people, because I don’t think there’s any point. After all, we’re all individuals. But at the moment, I certainly feel the most free as a person and as a performer.’

Will Young is refreshingly grounded and keen to put his career into perspective. ‘The biggest challenge was working out why I’m doing what I do, and what I want to get out of it,’ he explains. ‘Then it’s about realising what is and isn’t worth thinking about. Once I worked this out as a pop star and realised it was quite simply that I wanted to make good music, it all got a lot easier. I am there to please people and move people; it’s all about the audience and not about me.’ With this passion and energy channelling into Kew the Music, this one’s a date not to miss.

Will Young performs at Kew the Music with Billy Ocean and Con Brio on 13 July 2016. See kewthemusic.org

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