The Queen's Jubilee concert sealed the deal. If there was anyone who didn't know who Alfie Boe was, they certainly did now. Well and truly seizing – no, make that owning the moment, Alfie floored the throng with his vocal power while succinctly communicating his musical philosophy: good music is good music. No boundaries. What a cocktail it was, this working-class singer from Fleetwood, performing for the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace, gloriously serenading The Mall with classic Neapolitan opera while dressed like Johnny Cash. And that was before, halfway through the song, the band switched to boogie-woogie, and Alfie's hips started swinging, and 'O Sole Mio' became, rather riotously, Elvis's 'It's Now Or Never.'
Later that evening, as Alfie and Renée Fleming sang on the Royal Balcony – the only people ever to have done so – Alfie privately reflected on his life, his own career trajectory imbuing the occasion with poetry. He had previously sung West Side Story's 'Somewhere' at the age of 19, in an amateur production of the musical at The Charter Theatre in Preston. Back then in 1992, he was a car mechanic in Blackpool's TVR factory, working on his trade while singing and performing for fun and pocket money. That week-long West Side Story residency, for which Alfie had bagged his first lead role, was the first time he seriously began to consider performing as a career. Now, 20 years later, he was singing 'Somewhere' again, only this time at Buckingham Palace, for The Queen (and an obscenely humongous television audience). What a journey it's been, and what an astonishing year he's had.
2012 began with the ‘Alfie’ album, which shot to number six in the UK charts and quickly went Platinum (as had its predecessor, Bring Him Home). March saw Australia fall for him as he performed a string of dates with Olivia Newton-John at the Opera House (and got dive-bombed by bats under Sydney Harbour Bridge). As well as the Jubilee concert, Summer had him play a slew of sold-out outdoor shows in the UK, a particular highlight for Alfie being Lytham St Annes' Last Night Of The Proms, a homecoming of sorts where he enthralled 6,000 fans with his biggest solo show to date.
For a number of dates on the Summer tour Alfie played with a four-piece band, mixing songs from Roy Orbison, The Eagles and The Rolling Stones with the more familiar repertoire from 2011's Bring Him Home tour. The gigs were just a small indication of where Alfie is at the moment, his setlist blending together nearly 40 years of his own musical passion and experience. Reared on Elvis and Pink Floyd, along with the mid-century crooners favoured by his parents, Alfie came to opera later, spending his teenage years drumming in bands. His escape from the car factory was followed by over half a decade of formal opera education, before he was chosen by director Baz Luhrmann to take the lead in his stunning production of La Bohème on Broadway (for which Alfie won a Tony Award). Then after a few years as a major international opera star he was stolen for another scene, this time by Cameron Mackintosh, who cast him as Jean Valjean in the hugely acclaimed Les Misérables 25th anniversary concert at the 02, and for a subsequent five-month stretch in the West End. This is all covered in Alfie's book, My Story, which was published in August by Simon & Schuster. An incredibly candid and emotional autobiography, it gave Alfie the opportunity to tell stories he'd wanted to tell for years, a genuine rollercoaster ride through the dramatic ups and downs he's experienced on his road to success.
As for now, he's certainly not resting on his laurels. Currently on tour in America, where his 2011 Royal Festival Hall concert has been an enormous hit on the 354 PBS TV stations this Summer, he's now excited to be releasing his brand new album, Storyteller. A labour of love, it is without a doubt the album of his career, and the truest reflection of who he is as a performer. Taking inspiration from Jeff Buckley's approach to Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah,' on Storyteller Alfie strips some of his favourite songs to the heart, bringing their beauty to the surface while texturing them with both a band and a traditional orchestra, to sublime effect. And he's taken his time to get these songs exactly how he wants them. Some of them, such as 'Rank Strangers' (originally by gospel music writer Albert E Brumley, but later covered by Bob Dylan), have developed on the road; having loved the song for years, he first sung it a cappella on the Bring Him Home tour, beefing it up with his band on the Summer dates before arriving at the beautiful version you hear on Storyteller. The recording process, too, wildly differed to Alfie's experiences with previous albums. Whereas before he's recorded quickly over intense two-day periods, he wanted to approach this one the old-fashioned way, the 1960s way, singing live with the band and orchestra, Alfie virtually conducting them as he sang, over a week-long stretch of 12-hour days. Produced by the legendary Mike Hedges, who has worked with the likes of U2, The Cure, Dido, Manic Street Preachers and The Beautiful South, the result speaks for itself.
If 2012 was big for Alfie, 2013 looks set to be even bigger. With an arena tour in place for Spring, including nights at The Royal Albert Hall, and much more in store for the rest of the year, Fleetwood's finest has the world in his sights.