Monday, 18 August 2014

Big Interview: John Partridge

Following the success of his one-man concert last year, John Partridge is currently preparing to release his debut album entitled Dames, Dudes + Cowboys Too on Monday 15th September with Big Hand Recordings.

The album, which is very close to Johnny’s heart, features three original songs as well as several covers such as ‘Jolene’ (Dolly Parton), ‘Love Runs Out’ (One Nation), ‘Me and Liza’ (Rufus Wainwright) and ‘Bite the Hand That Feeds’ (Nine Inch Nails). He will perform songs from the album live, headlining the Borderline, Orange Yard off Manette Street in London on Wednesday 17th September 2014.

Best known for playing Christian Clarke in EastEnders, Johnny has performed backing vocals and dance routines in videos and on world tours for the likes of U2, Pet Shop Boys, Neneh Cherry, Kim Wilde. He can currently be seen on BBC Saturday night programme Tumble. Johnny previously served as a judge on Over the Rainbow and presented The National Lottery Draws (both BBC).

Johnny left college at the age of 16 after being cast in the original UK tour of Cats. He went on to star as the Rum Tum Tugger in the West End production at the New London Theatre and was subsequently asked to play the role in the Cats film opposite Elaine Paige and John Mills. He was most recently seen starring as Zach in the West End revival of A Chorus Line at the London Palladium.

His other West End credits include: Robert in The Drowsy Chaperone (Novello), Gringoire in Notre Dame de Paris (Dominion), Hawker/Captain Walker in Tommy (Shaftesbury), Grease (Dominion), Electra in Starlight Express (Apollo Victoria) and The Butcher in The Hunting of the Snark (Prince Edward). 

Johnny’s further theatre credits include: The Fix directed by Sam Mendes (Donmar Warehouse), Prospero in The Tempest (Northcott Theatre), John in Miss Saigon (UK tour), Roger in Rent (European tour), Black Goes With Everything directed by Arlene Phillips (Churchill, Bromley) and Marilyn in Boy George’s Taboo.

Last year you celebrated thirty years in the industry. Have you ever been tempted to do an album before?
If I’m really honest I’ve never wanted to do one before. To be fair I didn’t really even want to do one now! I did my one man show last year and the response to that show was as much of a surprise to me as it was to everybody else. I was approached to take Dames 'n' Dudes on the road and it was suggested to me that it is a good idea to release a record to promote a show. So really the album is a by-product of the tour – a marketing product. Having said that… once I had started the process of putting the album together it became something I really enjoyed and I’ve really loved the whole process of producing, it hasn’t just been about song selection because there’s original material on there. 

It must be nice to be doing something so different?
Yes it has been something new to me! I’ve been lucky enough to have had many different challenges and experiences throughout my career and it feels wonderful and exciting that I’m able to have a new experience with this. The record is something I am extremely proud of. I’m 43 and I think as you get older the obvious thing to do is to start taking your foot off the pedal and you tend to have fewer new opportunities. I guess most of us get older and lazier! It feels great for me to have this re-birth and to be in a position to put all the things I’ve learned over these thirty years into this record and into this show.

Was deciding what material to record a challenge? You have so much support from so many different places – some people know you as a screen actor, some people know you as a musical theatre star or TV personality and so on…
The simple answer is I don’t try to please everybody. I learnt that really early on in my career. As you said lots of people know me for lots of different things. Some people only like me for being Christian, some only like me because I was in shows and some people only like me because I used to give them their lottery numbers on a Saturday night. First and foremost you have to be proud of yourself and your own work. I did my show last year predominantly for me – it was almost like a gift to myself. 

Nobody could have every predicted the huge variety your career would bring!
If you had told me when I went into Cats aged 16 that I would be sitting here talking to you right now about my debut album I would have said, “You must be joking!” [laughs]. I’m here, I’m still doing it and I’m grateful that people still hire me! I’ll be honest, I did go through a period prior to this where I lost a lot of self belief and inspiration. After my show last year I was supposed to do all of this then, but my mum has not been well. She has alzheimer's and dementia and it’s very difficult; me and my sister are her primary carers. When I finished Chorus Line I was in a very dark place and I just didn’t see the point when the one person who I love isn’t going to remember any of this. It all just seemed pointless to me. I’m pleased to say I’m no longer in that place and although my mum’s illness has been the saddest experience of my life, there are ways to be positive – even through such adversity as this. There are ways to live positively with tragedy. We as a family have united through this and it gave me an incredible amount of strength and love to move forward with anything I may feel is unfulfilled in my life. I don’t want to have regrets, and the reason I took some time out from my career and left EastEnders, not wanting to commit to that schedule anymore, was to be with my mum. 

My mum doesn’t want me to have regrets either and she loves to hear me sing. Even now when she hears me sing it takes her back to that young boy. It’s a very powerful medium. This record isn’t for my mum – I’m not doing this for my mum, I’m not trying to have some soppy backstory because I am not that person. But through this adversity I found some renewed self-belief and self-inspiration and that’s what this album is. This is actually who I am and actually what I do; it’s a record made by me in my words told in my way. It doesn’t get better than that! The fact I’m able to do this at this stage in my life feels incredible and I want everyone to know that!

John in A Chorus Line / Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

What can people expect from the style of the music?
As well as original music I do covers too. I cover Rufus Wainwright, Dolly Parton and Nine Inch Nails to name but a few. The songs I’ve put on this album work in cohesion with the record. Even though I am jumping genre from country to pop to rock, it doesn’t sound like that on the record – the overall sound remains the same. The songs I’ve written are very personal. One is a ballad and two are up-tempo. The album is so eclectic because my life is so eclectic; I like going to the ballet and seeing the opera but I also like dancing in a club until six o’clock in the morning and doing the walk of shame home – I like it all and my record reflects that. I hope by listening to the album people will get to know me – the real me – a little better. My next record will come out next year, probably in April, and will be a collection of all original material. It’s good to start off with some covers at first because people don’t necessarily know me as a songwriter. They’ll get to hear three of my original tunes on this and then obviously next year we’ll break into more original stuff with the new show.

How did you find recording the album? I know some people find it tough just standing in a room in front of a mic, whilst others feel so at home and free in the studio…
I love it because I only sing songs by storytellers so the words are very important. For me singing in the studio is a little bit like reading a great novel; it’s just you, your thoughts and your interpretation. Most of the time it’s very quiet and you’re just listening. I love the studio process because it’s so personal. You are in your own bubble creating something and it’s great to feel like you have this secret! Sometimes you think, ‘Wow that sounded really great’ or sometimes you go, ‘that was really awful’. Usually when you’re rehearsing everything is ready for everybody and you’re in a busy room with lots of people, whereas when you make a record you can do most of it on your own. 

I know you’re so busy, but have you had the chance to see much theatre recently?
Well obviously Jon (Tsouras, John’s partner) is in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but recently I haven’t had much time! I’m looking forward to seeing Breeders which is a play my friend Tamzin Outhwaite is doing (at the St James Theatre). I’ve read the script and it’s very, very good! I’ve been seeing more plays recently than musicals. I need to rectify that in the New Year. I’m looking forward to Made In Dagenham! 

Is returning to theatre something you’re keen to do or are you happy to do other things for now after A Chorus Line?
There is a project which I would love to do and it is a musical I have been actively campaigning to try and get done… and that’s The Boy from Oz! I’ve been trying to get that together but I seem to be banging my head against a brick wall. I think it’s a fantastic show and I love the material. When I did my one-man show there was a reviewer from The Daily Mail who likened me to Peter Allen and that character! It’s a little secret desire of mine, before I’m too old, to try and do that!

Finally we’ve already mentioned the support you have from so many different places. People are very dedicated and will watch EastEnders and then come and see you in the West End. Or see you in a show and then buy tickets to your concerts. It must be so nice knowing you have that support behind you?
It is! It’s always the most surprising thing for me and I am always eternally grateful for it. I am really not very good at stage doors or meeting people because I always get really embarrassed about it. That may surprise people, but I always feel quite embarrassed that people really want to meet you and support you in that way. I always think, ‘oh I’m just little old me doing a little old show or putting out a little record’ and I am always amazed by the immense support I get. Even when I shot the pilot for Tumble I had so much support. People were holding up banners and saying, “Jonny we love you!” It’s a constant inspiration to me and I am just sorry I’m not better at taking their adulation. I am so grateful for it because it’s not why we do this, but it does feel nice when you go out on a first night and can feel that love in the house because you have those people their rooting for you. I hate the word ‘fan’ and never use it because I genuinely feel like I have personal relationships with the people who come and support me repeatedly. I know them all by name and we hang out and chat. Friend is a much nicer name for it and I will always be so grateful and shocked [laughs]!

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Johnny Partridge's debut album ‘Dudes Dames + Cowboys Too’ is out on September 15th on Big Hand Records. Live show: Borderline, London - September 17th 2014. Visit his website for further information:

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