They have fine manners, plentiful Royal connections and count the Queen among their fans. So how will the boys from Blake crown that I ask?
During the Olympic and Diamond Jubilee year, which saw Britain really spread its wings, it’s no surprise that classical boyband Blake has become one of our best-loved exports. After all, their fans include the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge – one of the quartet even went to university with the former Catherine Middleton. In fact, Blake – Humphrey Berney, Ollie Baines, Stephen Bowman and Jules Knight – has performed at Buckingham Palace ‘quite a few times’, delighting in ‘wandering down corridors and going where you’re not supposed to’.
I meet the foursome at Ollie Baines’s west London apartment. As the other chaps arrive (Stephen Bowman on his motorbike), our host brings out a tray loaded with cake, cups, saucers and a fine china teapot. Yes, these men have manners – and they’re not afraid to use them. In fact, they believe they wouldn’t be where they are today without knowing how to behave.
‘We’re not a risky band. We’re not going to talk about political issues on stage and we’re not going to talk about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,’ explains Humphrey Berney. ‘We are nice boys, we look all right, we dress appropriately. I guess we really tick the boxes.’
The band released its debut album, Blake, in 2007 – and it won the Album of the Year Award at the Classical Brit Awards in 2008. Two more albums followed and, in 2009, Berney joined the band (replacing baritone Dominic Tighe). The band’s next album, Start Over, will be its first real venture into pop. But isn’t that quite a departure for a band that boasts two former choristers and an opera singer?
‘It’s evolution, really,’ says Baines. ‘We’ve been going for nearly six years with three albums. When Blake began, there was a classical element to the sound, but, if you listen to the three albums, there’s a real mix of classical and pop. It’s just something we’ve always wanted to do.’
Blake has a huge following around the world and has performed everywhere, from China and the Philippines (where members of the band were greeted by their faces on 60-foot-high billboards) to the opening of Wimbledon’s remodelled Centre Court.
So what, I wonder aloud, is Blake’s enduring global appeal? ‘We are de nitely one of the busiest British bands, especially abroad,’ acknowledges Bowman. ‘And I think that’s an important thing – by taking our music abroad, we’re almost acting like ambassadors.’
‘It’s a good time to be British,’ adds Baines. ‘This summer reinvigorated everyone. Everyone’s been feeling cynical and down in the dumps about Britain and we haven’t had a very good few years, but the Olympics just made everyone start to feel it’s good to be British again.’
Blake certainly looks like a band of brothers. They even finish each other’s sentences. But are they really best friends? Or is it all just an act?
‘I think a lot of bands actually end because of the stresses and strains you are under,’ muses Berney. ‘When you’ve got four guys, you’ve got four friends, four egos, four ambitions, four di erent temperaments and they’re put to the test the whole time, travelling. You’re excited, you’re hungover, you’re put through every different strain a relationship can be put through – and the fact that we’re stronger than ever with this new album is testament (once we’ve had a good night’s sleep and a shower) to what good friends we are.’
‘I think we are quite similar,’ adds Bowman. ‘We share a sense of humour, so we have a lot of stuff in common, which makes the whole process a lot easier. And we came to it late, so it’s not like we were 17. We came to it with a slightly more stable ambition.’
Speaking of ambition, what does the band now want to achieve? ‘We always had success in the classical charts, but I think it’s important we have some success in the pop charts for this album,’ says Jules Knight. ‘A Top 10 pop album would be a fantastic achievement for a group that has always been in the classical genre.’
And on that Royal connection? Knight witnessed the budding romance between William and Catherine while studying with the couple at St Andrews. Baines, meanwhile, attended Marlborough College with the Middleton sisters. So are they still close today?
‘As a band we’ve been lucky to perform for the Royal Family quite a few times,’ explains Knight. ‘Probably it is because the kind of music we do is suitable for state occasions. We are very happy to be at their service.’
Blake’s new album, Start Over, is due for release in February 2013: www.blakeofficial.com
Interview first published in the Lady magazine