Michael Henderson

Top of the pops

Michael Henderson talks to John Wilson, whose obsession with songs from the golden age of musicals led him to form his own band

Michael Henderson talks to John Wilson, whose obsession with songs from the golden age of musicals led him to form his own band

‘People think I am an expert on musicals,’ says John Wilson, in his pleasing Geordie voice, ‘but that is something I am certainly not. I am obsessed with songs, written by professional songwriters for professional singers in the golden age of popular music.’ It is a nice distinction, to restore the original meaning of that adjective, and Wilson, who is currently touring the country with the orchestra that takes his name, is proving as good as his word.

This is a fruitful time for the Gateshead-born conductor, one year short of his 40th birthday. Last week he was in the pit for Opera North’s revival of Ruddigore, a superb production by Jo Davies that did the company (and, more important, Gilbert and Sullivan) proud. Now he is taking his band on the road to present some of those songs that obsess him. They also appear on That’s Entertainment, the set of standards from MGM musicals he has just recorded for EMI Classics.

Switching effortlessly from classical to light music, Wilson feels at home in both disciplines. There is no sense of the slumming one occasionally finds in the not-quite world of ‘crossover’, which accounts partly for the enormous success he has enjoyed. This is authentic music-making. The other reasons are the quality of the players Wilson has recruited, and his own orchestrations, based on the original piano parts, held for copyright purposes, and what he calls ‘aural dictation’.

Like actors who understand that farce must be played with absolute conviction if it is to work, Wilson knows that popular music warrants fidelity to what the composers wrote.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.

Or

Unlock more articles

REGISTER

Comments

Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in