Former Tring Park student Carly Paoli chats about her forthcoming guest slot on Aled Jones’ Cathedral Rour of the UK
You are about to appear as a special guest on Aled Jones’ forthcoming Cathedral Tour – how do you feel about that?
I’m thrilled to be joining Aled Jones on his Cathedral Tour. I first sang with Aled on my new album and since then, we have sung together on a couple of projects and I always enjoy working with him. He is an accomplished singer and moreover a lovely person. Because of the pandemic, this tour has already been cancelled twice so I am so excited to be able to perform in venues with a live audience, enjoying music there and then in the moment. It will be like the good old days.
Have you performed in any cathedrals before – how do you find the acoustics in a church or cathedral setting?
The acoustics in cathedrals are stunning. I was very privileged to get special permission to record a concert in Liverpool Cathedral during the first lockdown. Although a performer loves to have an audience, there was something so awe-inspiring to be in this amazing place with a very small team and to hear my voice echo out into that enormous, vaulted roof. Singing in cathedrals is a gift for performers as the space and acoustics carry the voice in a special way. Also, a lot of my music is inspired by my faith, so it feels like the perfect setting to allowing me to express this.
How did you and Aled meet and have you worked together previously?
The first time I met Aled was when I was a guest on his morning TV show. It was my first UK TV appearance, so needless to say I was slightly nervous. As I said before, Aled has a lovely warm personality and he put me at ease very quickly. I am very excited about some filming we have done for a couple of projects – one of which was on S4C over Christmas.
The past 2 years have been very strange for everyone, but you seem to have kept yourself very busy and released a new studio album Carly Paoli & Friends in September 2021. Can you tell us how that came together under such difficult circumstances?
I felt that throwing myself into something creative would be the most productive use of my time. It’s amazing how quickly we adapt and learn new skills that enable us to move forward regardless of restrictions. I wasn’t alone though. I have an amazing team around me who were all as passionate as I was about using the time productively, as were the artists with whom I collaborated. Covid guidelines and travel restrictions meant that myself and the other performers were unable to record vocals in the same place. However, I think that instead of it becoming a problem, we embraced the situation and seized the opportunities it gave us to communicate and share ideas, passions, and emotions in a very different but ultimately incredibly rewarding way. I have to say, it’s my proudest achievement to date as so much love from so many was given to make it happen.
Carly Paoli & Friends features you duetting with some major names from the music world – Elaine Paige, Tony Hadley, Aled Jones, Ramin Karimloo, Braimah Kanneh Mason, David Phelps, Noah Stewart, the Brit School, Joseph Calleja, Mario Stefano Pietrodarchi The Tenors and Paul Carrack. Can you talk about how the album came together and how you managed to team up with so many amazing performers during lockdown?
The album is called Carly Paoli & Friends and that’s exactly who these artists are to me. Some were longstanding friendships with people such as Joseph Calleja, Elaine Paige, Aled Jones and Mario Stefano Pietrodarchi. I think however, old and new friends, we have all bonded together through this whole experience.
It’s so wonderful to blend different genres to create new and exciting sounds. What is really exciting is that since the album was recorded, I have worked with some of the artists again – Tony Hadley and The Brit School – and they have proved to be as magical in person as they were across a Zoom call or on a voice file. I think the important word that summed up the process of creating the album is ‘collaboration,’ on song choice, on sound, on performance… on everything.
You are a classically trained soprano but you seem to be able to adapt to various musical styles – do you favour any particular style and where do you see yourself in the future?
Although I’m proud to be a ‘singer,’ I think I would really love to be thought of as a ‘performer,’ because that’s the thing I love the most. Performing a song and conveying the story or emotion of the music to an audience is such a special thing to be able to do. All songs have something unique about them regardless of which genre they are placed in. I am a great lover of the old Hollywood musicals and the world of operetta. There are operas that thrill me and contemporary songs that evoke memories and feelings that fill me with pleasure. I suppose what I am saying is that the story of the song from whatever category, is what excites me. I would certainly love to perform lots of different music, but I love celebrating gems from the past which are not heard enough these days.
You grew up in Mansfield – can you talk about your childhood and how you first became involved with music?
I had the most amazing family support and still do today, which is one of the main reasons I have been able to chase my dreams. I have always sung – according to my mother I started the same time I learnt to talk! I sang on the bus into town, around the aisles of Tesco’s and to my older brother’s unsuspecting friends who thought that they had come to discuss football and eat their tea, not to be treated to a full-on performance from his young sister. One of my earliest performances was for Mansfield Junior Showtime, a local talent competition. I performed my audition piece in the Mansfield library aged 9. I didn’t win, but eventually did which meant so much. Mansfield has continued to be supportive of my career and the way they have helped me nurture my craft.
You are now living in Wiltshire and have become a Countryside Ambassador for CPRE – is the environment important to you?
The environment is the communal home we share together. I do feel we have a duty to respect and look after our world for future generations. I’m certainly no expert and very much learning on the job, but I am very passionate to do what I can to help, and I hope it encourages others to help to.
Your mother’s side of the family is Italian – do you spend much time in Italy with your family?
Italy is almost as much my home as the UK. We have a home there and I spent every summer from when I was very young with all my extended family there. They were as much responsible as my hometown of Mansfield in forging my career as a performer. A lot of my uncles and my Nonno (grandad) were and still are musical. The most important thing for me as a young performer were the wonderful fiestas that Italy has every summer. Because of the weather every night the piazzas are filled with music, and I performed in lots of them all round my local area of Lecce in Puglia. My Mum would drive me around all these towns. We often had very little idea of where we were and where we were going but it was such fun. I started to earn money and that helped me when I was a student.
Since then, Italy has figured hugely in my career and I am able to combine visiting all my family, live for most of the summer in a place I adore and singing in beautiful and stunning locations. Mum doesn’t have to drive me anywhere and our navigation skills have improved!
You studied at Tring Park and the Royal Northern in Manchester – did you enjoy these experiences – what was student life like? Did you study with anyone who is now a big name?
Tring Park was the first time that I had ever lived away from home. This was a big thing for me as I love nothing more than to be with my family. I was given a scholarship though, so it was too big an opportunity to miss. It was a fantastic place to be. The main school is housed in a building that was owned by the Rothschild family with a grand staircase and a ballroom. What was lovely for me was that although we had to do our normal academic subjects – every afternoon was given over to performance studies. I was in the same year as Lily James and Daisy Ridley was a couple of years below.
When I left Tring, I was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Northern and that was another change for me. At Tring I had mainly concentrated on musical theatre and acting and now I was at a university which concentrated primarily on ‘classical’ music. But again, nothing is ever wasted and I feel that it opened me up as a performer and afforded me the chance to experience different music and artists.
You have performed on some of the world’s great stages and worked with some of the biggest names from the classical and contemporary worlds – could you talk about any particular high points?
I have been so fortunate. I sang with José Carreras firstly in his hometown of Barcelona and then at Windsor Castle in front of HRH The Prince of Wales. I performed with Andrea Bocelli in Florence and Rome and then at the O2. I sang with Joseph Calleja at The London Palladium and recently I duetted with Jane McDonald at The Royal Albert Hall for the Royal Variety Show in front of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
But if I am pushed the absolute high point so far has been ‘Music for Mercy’, my concert from the ancient Roman Forum. A concert had never been held there before – and I don’t think it will happen again. Andrea Bocelli, David Foster, Elaine Paige and The Tenors were my guests and there were many magical moments. I remember looking up from the stage that had been built in the ruins and seeing hundreds of people hanging over the walls to listen and I had to pinch myself. It was the perfect moment and one I will never forget.
You recently performed at the Northern Ireland vs Italy World Cup Qualifier in Belfast and were a resounding success – what was it like to perform in front of thousands of football fans?
Wonderful! What is not to love about standing singing two National anthems in front of an excited expectant fervent crowd of supporters? It was amazing and another wonderful memory to file away.
You seem to be all over TV at the moment and have filmed your own TV specials – are there any more to come?
Yes, I have filmed another concert from Otterburn Castle and will be announcing details of when that will be screened as soon as I have them.
You recently performed at the Royal Variety performance with Jane McDonald – did you enjoy that experience and can you share any backstage stories?
I almost couldn’t believe that I was on a show that I had watched ever since I was a child. I seem to use this word a lot, but it was honestly unforgettable. Firstly, it was at the Royal Albert Hall. What an iconic building and standing on the stage at the rehearsal looking out onto that auditorium was a ‘pinch me’ moment. Then singing with Jane who is a beautiful generous performer and lovely to work with. I remember being in a room with Jane, Judi Love, Keala Settle and to while away the time we all told ghost stories! Final memory standing in a line with Jane on one side and Gregory Porter on the other with Ed Sheeran just a little bit further away waiting to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge… unreal.
You obviously keep yourself very fit – is this important for a singer?
It is very important to keep fit both as a performer and just for my general health. As a singer you carry your instrument round inside you, so it is important that the framework it lives in is as efficient as possible. I quite like exercising but I don’t always do the traditional thing. I love dancing so I find an energetic hour doing something like salsa is just as effective – and a lot more enjoyable.
Neither of your parents are musicians – was there anyone in your family who was involved with music?
As I said when I was talking about Italy, a lot of my uncles and my grandfather were musical. Nonno would sing duets with one of his bothers. Another had his own television show where he would play his own songs accompanying himself on the accordion. A third uncle was known as ‘the singing chef.’ He had a voice like Mario Lanza and was the chef for the Shah of Persia and would be called into banquets to entertain the guests.
You have performed for Pope Francis and Prince Charles – can you talk about these experiences?
One of the Pope’s representatives had heard me sing at Caracalla and that was how my song ‘Ave Maria’ became the song for the Pope’s Jubilee Year. I met Pope Francis afterwards at a Papal Mass and I was as awed as you might expect. The photo I have from that occasion is very special.
I have sung a couple of times for HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. The Prince loves music and it is always lovely to sing for someone who shows such an appreciation of the art.
When you are not recording or performing what do you do to relax – do you have time for any hobbies?
I love walking – which is lucky as I live in an amazing part of the country which means the walks are spectacular. I love reading. I was introduced to Georgette Heyer not so long ago and I am working my way through her Regency series of books. I was delighted to find that Stephen Fry is also a big fan of hers.
Dancing is another passion. I do a lot of salsa dancing in Italy and it is the most wonderful way to spend an evening.
Apart for Aled Jones’ Cathedral Tour what plans do you have for 2022?
I am hoping to do some more recording in the New Year. We had so much music that we couldn’t fit onto the last album including some songs I have written so I am really looking forward to that. I will be back in Italy doing concerts and I have a very interesting film project that should be out in 2022.
Carly and Aled Jones on his Cathedral Tour will be coming to St Albans Cathedral on 28 February.
Find out more about Carly Paoli at www.carlypaoli.com.