Interview and Album Review: Martin Dickinson, ‘Encore’
Hello and welcome to ‘Zing’s Record Collection’; join me as I review the very best (and worst) of musical theatre recordings, past and present. In this edition, I will be taking a look at the debut solo album from musical theatre star Martin Dickinson (Assassins, Jekyll & Hyde) titled ‘Encore’, out now from Goodge Entertainment.
Recorded at the world-famous Abbey Road Studios and featuring a twenty piece orchestra (a rare delight in the modern day), ‘Encore’ is a ten track album of the finest love songs from the world of musical theatre, beautifully performed by Martin Dickinson, undoubtedly a musical theatre star with an exciting career ahead of him.
The album kicks into life with a lively and powerful ‘Love Changes Everything’, possibly the quintessential musical theatre love song, of course from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love. But it is the album’s second track ‘I Don’t Remember You/Sometimes a Day Goes By’ which perhaps better showcases Dickinson’s biggest strength – and probably the most highly sought-after quality in musical theatre – the ability to earnestly emote through song, whether it be desperation, apathy or sheer joy. The arrangement (Martin Higgins) from the Kander/Ebb revue ‘And the World Goes ‘Round’ initially tells the story of a man in denial about a love lost in ‘I Don’t Remember You’. As the story progresses, with time having seemingly healed old wounds, we hear a more upbeat reflection from the character as he proudly yet ruefully declares the yearning he feels for his lost love in ‘Sometimes a Day Goes By’. As the arrangement concludes we hear the two conflicting emotions battle (not unlike the ‘Confrontation’ from Jekyll and Hyde, but with more love and less schizophrenia); at this point just sit back and soak in the brilliance of both Kander and Ebb’s work (among their finest) and Dickinson’s soaring vocals.
Dickinson is then joined by Helena Blackman (whose own album I reviewed here) for ‘All I Ask of You’; Dickinson makes a terrific Raoul, the older quality to his voice makes it a joy to listen to him singing the role; unfortunately I find Blackman perhaps a touch too squeaky in this number. Some My Fair Lady follows, as we get Dickinson’s awfully priggish Freddie, who even goes as far to omit the word ‘arse’ from the slightly unnecessary intro. Once the number starts proper, the performance is again excellent, his high baritone ringing loud and clear through the sumptuous orchestra.
For ‘I Won’t Send Roses’, Dickinson is joined for the first of two duets with second guest star Abigail Jaye (Evita, Joseph), a performer I very much admire. The classic number is the best from Mack & Mabel and, like with the rest of the song choices for the album, is absolutely spot on. Jaye’s singing does not disappoint, singing with the crystal clarity and power that I have come to expect from her. The second duet featuring Jaye, ‘You Should be Loved’ from Side Show is a slightly more obscure but equally as enjoyable a number. A lot more epic in scale, the song is a beautiful love power ballad duet which has actually tempted me to give Side Show another chance! ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ from Love Never Dies is a song very much in vogue; I must confess though this song, although well sung, is not my favourite number. Whereas the hyperactive ‘She Loves Me’ is actually a completely new one for me and thoroughly enjoyable. The album comes to a close with the only non-thematic number of the album; ‘It’s Better with a Band’ a joyous upbeat celebration of music, which Dickinson can only pull off with the help of the superb orchestra. The album doesn’t fizzle out – it goes out with a bang!
Dickinson has a very expressive deep timbre to his voice which belies his young age; he is certainly best when acting through song, ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ and ‘I Don’t Remember You/Sometimes a Day Goes By’ possibly highlight this best, but ‘Encore’ is an album of the very highest quality across the board; the production values are second to none and the song choices are uniformly excellent. Dickinson’s decision to perform each number ‘in character’ is a very smart one, he is wholly believable in the parts he sings with no exceptions and there are no liberties taken here. It would have been possible to record and put out an album with a lot less investment – both emotional and financial – but that would not have done justice to Dickinson’s talent or, indeed, his potential to secure the top roles in British musical theatre.
- Harry Zing
Shortly after writing the above review, I had the opportunity to speak to Martin and he told me a little more about ‘Encore’ and his plans for the future..
Q: So, after a lavish gala event in the West End, your debut album has just been released. Could you tell us a little about the album’s creation and what listeners can expect from ‘Encore’?
We set about the project in July last year, I’d just finished a run in Jekyll & Hyde and I’d been lucky enough to step into the title role, when Marti Pellow got bumped on the nose by one of his fellow actors! A friend of mine, Dorothy Seymour, had previously offered to help me put an album together, but I didn’t really take her too seriously. I suppose going on in Jekyll & Hyde just gave me the extra confidence and after being asked again I went for it! I decided to put together a selection of love songs from musical theatre plus a nice bonus track on the end, ‘It’s Better with a Band’ which is a just a lovely celebration of music generally. So, I went to Abbey Road studios and had a chat with Jonathan Allen, who’s responsible for a lot of the live broadcasts from the Royal Opera House as well as recently working on the soundtrack to Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It’ – I wanted to feel as if I was in safe hands, because I had never recorded an album before. We signed a deal and decided to do it with an orchestra as opposed to backing tracks, because I wanted to really make it a celebration of live music. We used an orchestra of twenty and got some lovely orchestrations together – I’m actually on a bit of a mission to bring back live orchestras, I used to listen to the MGM orchestras and the symphonic sound is just amazing.
Q: You have chosen ten excellent songs from the world of musical theatre, was there a particular inspiration behind the song choices you made?
I wanted to choose songs that I had grown up with, songs that had inspired me along the way and a couple of others that people had suggested to me. All of them were inspired by love; either love for musical theatre, or love for each other.
Q: Just in time for Valentines Day…
(laughs) Yeah! and Mothers Day!
Q: I noticed there is no ‘This is the Moment’?
Yes, I toyed with it, but because I went with concept of love I thought it’d be a little bit cliché.. I actually did it at the launch … but hopefully it’ll be on the second album!
Q: And the album features not one, but two guest stars in the shape of leading ladies Helena Blackman and Abigail Jaye, the latter of whom you knew from working together previously…
That’s right, I worked with Abigail Jaye in Joseph where she was my fantastic Narrator. Abi is such a talented actress with amazing vocals – she’s somebody who can just tell a story through her singing. I trained with Helena at Guildford School of Acting and it was natural for me to ask her to do it, as her vocals are stunning. Both Helena and Abigail have such wonderful voices, you can just listen to them and they will tell a story without even needing to see them.
Q: You are perhaps best known on the stage for covering and playing the lead in ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ in the recent UK tour. You were understudy to Marti Pellow in the production, can you tell us about your experiences on the show?
Jekyll & Hyde was probably the highlight of my career up until now. We had a fantastic team and it was a fantastically dark version of the show. Frank Wildhorn’s music is epic and so well written that the numbers stand both alone and in the show, the whole experience was fantastic from the beginning of rehearsals to the very end of the run. Working with Marti was fantastic; I had to take a little rain check when I was in rehearsals, I was sat with him in the stalls and thought back to my childhood when I was watching ‘Wet Wet Wet’ on the TV! Thinking back, ‘This Is the Moment’ was actually the song I used to get into drama school. It is one of those songs that you grow up with, so actually getting to do it on stage in front of Marti was great in one way – but also nerve wracking in another.
We are briefly interrupted by a dog barking..
Oh that’s Todd, my little mascot – he tours with me as well!
Q: And how was it stepping in for Marti Pellow..?
Well, Marti unfortunately got elbowed on the nose by a fellow actor during Act II of a performance and I had to go on. I was sat up in the dressing room and the show had stopped, so I ran down and they were trying to find me, saying ‘you’re on!’. They dragged me into wardrobe and makeup and wigs and on I went – within five minutes of hearing about it, which was bizarre… it was one of those moments when you’re stood behind the gauze waiting to go on and your whole career to date flashes before your eyes, and you’ve got the voice of your acting teacher at college in your head…it was the most memorable point in my life to date! Marti and his management were so supportive, he sent me well-wishes and afterwards and his fans were lovely and very warming. I played it for nearly two weeks after that, so I was really lucky.
Q: Your musical theatre career has taken you from being a singing pirate to serial killer in just three years – quite a career change! What roles would you love to play in the future and why?
Singing pirate? Was I?!
Q: I think you played Smee in Peter Pan the Musical..?
Oh right, yes! (laughs), I played the role of Smee up in the Gordan Craig Theatre in Stevenage – it was fun actually! It was more of a musical version of the show, rather than a pantomime version. I’ve never actually done panto, but I would quite like to do it!
Q: What roles would you love to play in the future and why?
I would love to play the one everybody wants to play, The Phantom, just because that’s something I’ve grown up with. I know there’s kind of a stigma about Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, but the guy is just brilliant really. He has created this commercial vehicle which is still going strong today, and I think The Phantom of the Opera is one of the best musicals out there, because it’s stood the test of time. The role of the Phantom is just such an epic, heart-wrenching role that is so demanding as an actor – it’d be great to do that. I’d also like to play Javert in Les Mis, I’d have loved to have played Marius but I think I’m getting too old now!
Q: And in the immediate future is 2nd Company’s production of Assassins from the 20th of March…
Yes that’s right, I shall be taking on the role of John Wilkes Booth, which is one I’m really looking forward to. I mean, Sondheim’s just fantastic, isn’t he? The music is so well written, but it’s a bloody nightmare to learn! Ray Rackham, the director, has this amazing vision and the way he directs is fantastic. He really has a way of pulling all the ‘artistic juices’ out of you!
Assassins plays the Pleasance Theatre, Islington from 20th March – 8th April 2012 – http://www.2ndcompany.com/