Bob Blakeley didn’t get any of the coaches to turn around when he auditioned on The Voice but that hasn’t stopped him from making his dream a reality. He took time out from his busy schedule to talk about how his life has been transformed since appearing on the show in January.
From The Voice studio …
Never give up your dream. Realising it could be just around the corner.
There are some people in life – the ‘good guys’ – who you want to succeed. Bob Blakeley is a good guy: genial, genuine and down to earth.
It’s been a whirlwind few months for the 56-year-old ever since his appearance on The Voice where he sang Cry Me A River, a track performed by artists as diverse as Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Bublé and Aerosmith.
He had previously applied for both Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, where he was on the receiving end of unsympathetic rejections that left him swearing he would never do another TV talent show. But his step-daughter Joanne applied for The Voice on his behalf and he agreed to have one final try.
His blind audition didn’t persuade any of the coaches to turn – he really wanted Tom Jones, his boyhood idol – but he drew an enthusiastic response from the 400-strong studio audience. “As soon as I started singing, they started to stand up and it went like a Mexican wave around the auditorium. When I finished they all stood up cheering and clapping.”
It was only then that he looked at the coaches’ chairs and realised nobody had turned for him. In the studio, presenter Emma Willis cried tears of disbelief.
When the episode aired five months later, TV audiences were equally shocked at his lack of success. Bob didn’t think anything of it, going to his warehouse job at 6am the following day not realising his life was about to change.
“I went into work and got a phone call,” he said. “It was Joanne saying, ‘You’ve got to come home. Somebody called Mike Batt’s going to phone you.'”
Batt, the producer behind the Wombles and Katie Melua, offered Bob a recording deal with his Dramatico label live on BBC Breakfast. And the rest, as they say, is history.
… To the recording studio (and beyond)
Bob’s appearance on The Voice and subsequent collaboration with Batt are the culmination of a life-long ambition. From serenading his first love with David Cassidy songs to learning his craft working the clubs-and-pubs circuit, music has always been an integral part of his life. His mother played a significant role in shaping his musical influences, which include the Rat Pack, Matt Monro and Nat King Cole, but he also loves The Beatles, The Hollies and glam rockers The Sweet.
His debut album Performance, released on 19th May, includes new versions of Cry Me A River and other classic tracks, as well as songs by Batt and Melua.
Selecting which songs to record was a collaborative process, although one track in particular seemed destined to be included. “I was sat at home just thinking about different songs,” Bob said, “and I happened to start singing a song called Kites. The next day, I walked into Mike’s London place and there on the desk was a piece of paper with Kites on it.”
In addition to Cry Me A River (which now has a distinct Bond theme feel to it), Bob ranks Just One Smile, a song recorded by both Gene Pitney and Dusty Springfield, as his favourite track on the album. Performance was put together over an intense two-and-a-half month period, including a day working with a 70-piece orchestra at Hampstead’s Air Studios. It was a gruelling time, and one where Bob’s strong work ethic (he spent 30 years working as a taxi driver) was invaluable.
It’s clear he has huge respect for Batt, who he calls “a genius”, talking about their collaboration as being “like a teacher/pupil relationship”. It’s also evident that he is delighted with the end result and is looking forward to a hectic launch schedule which includes a live performance and signing at HMV in Manchester.
He’s been interviewed on Radio 2 by Chris Evans, his name and face are all over merchandising and promotion, and people recognise him in the street and ask for autographs. Nonetheless, he remains bemused by his sudden rise to fame. “It’s an odd concept. I’m 56 and all this has gone crazy!”
There’s no reason why, despite his early departure from the show, he can’t go on to enjoy a fruitful career. Darius Danesh was an early casualty in the original Popstars series, but went on to score a number one single and the lead role in the West End production of Chicago. And Jennifer Hudson finished a lowly seventh on American Idol in 2004 – four years later she picked up an Oscar for her role in Dreamgirls.
Performance will appeal to anyone with an appreciation for an old school sound. There’s every chance of the album becoming The Voice‘s first genuine commercial success. If it does, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving man than Bob Blakeley, one of life’s good guys.