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russell watson - the voice of manchester
 
Russell Watson in Manchester
 
"Music and football are so important to Manchester. People have a passion for them that makes them work harder to achieve their dreams. I am living mine"
- Russell Watson
 
     
 

Urmston-born tenor, Russell Watson became a professional opera singer in 1996 at just 23 years of age, winning both local and national acclaim for his amazing voice.

His parents, an engineer and a shop assistant, loved classical music and played it often while Russell was growing up. But it was covering Meatloaf and Michael Bolton tunes that got him his gigs in the working men’s clubs and lounges after a long week’s work as a Bolt cutter.

Though he knew he could sing, Russell didn’t imagine going much outside the range of popular music, nor much outside Greater Manchester, but an owner of a club where he was singing suggested to him that he try Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma.” (which was popular in Britain after Pavaroti's version reached Number 1 in the pop charts during the 1990 Italian World Cup). Russell was sceptical, particularly since he knew no Italian, but he learned the song phonetically and discovered that singing opera moved him in ways he hadn’t expected. He began including as much classical music into his sets at local clubs as he thought he could get away with. To his surprise, the audiences began to respond.

manchester united's 12 player

Singing classical music at a local charity event brought him to the attention of Manchester United Chief Executive Martin Edwards. Edwards asked him to sing at the Munich Memorial Game in 1998. The World's press flocked to Old Trafford to cover the charity match, in which United legend Eric Cantona returned to the club for the first time since retiring a year earlier.

Russell, a life-long Manchester United fan and season-ticket holder, thought his dreams had come true however, it is alledged, that on the very last minute, Eric insisted that Mick Hucknall sing "Holding Back the Years" instead. Russell was devastated and made front page headlines the following morning for all the wrong reasons.

In 1999, Russell sang the National Anthem before the London versus Leeds Rugby League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium and also astounded the fans of Lancashire Cricket Club with an amazing performance during one of their floodlit evening matches.

On the 16th May 1999, Russell finally realised his dream when he was invited back to Old Trafford to sing before United's Premiership winning match with Tottenham Hotspur. As the young tenor walked onto the pitch wearing a tuxedo, the electric atmosphere was reduced to a hush as he broke into the World Cup anthem "Nessun Dorma". Everybody in the stadium was astounded by the magic of Russell's voice and even the cynical journalists in the Press box joined both sets of supporters in a standing ovation.

the treble

No sooner had the game ended with United winning their 5th Premiership trophy, before the crowd were singing for Russell again. He returned to the pitch and immediately broke into an amazing version of Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballe's magnificent "Barcelona", tearing off his tuxedo to reveal a red United shirt whilst orchestrating the crowd just like Freddie would have done.

A week later and Russell must have thought he had died and gone to heaven when, in front of 95,000 supporters, he was asked to sing a full set in Barcelona's Nou Camp Stadium before Manchester United's triumphant European Cup Final against Bayern Munich. His version of "Nessun Dorma" again won a standing ovation from both sets of fans and his version of "Barcelona" was adapted to include the line "This dream was of Man U" (instead of the original "This dream was me and you".) To crown Russell's performance, he was followed by a live performance from Montserrat Caballe herself with a brilliant video link up of old Freddie Mercury footage on the huge scoreboards.

Russell has since gone on to perform a series of duets with Sir Cliff Richard in London's Hyde Park. He also recorded "Swing Low '99", the official England Rugby Team song for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, which he also performed live at Twickenham before England's game with the New Zealand All Blacks in front of 74,000 fans. The single gave him UK Top 40 chart success, albeit at number 38.

madchester opera

In what is truely one of the most interesting recordings of his career, Russell joined fellow United fan, Shaun Ryder (Happy Mondays and Black Grape), for a truely Mancunian version of "Barcelona". Had the single been released in the May of 1999, the track would have surely topped the charts, however by the time of its release (July 2000), United were no longer European Champions and the interest outside of Manchester was not enough to lift the single higher than Number 68.

Having appeared live at many more big sporting and national events (including the final ever football match at Wembley Stadium), Russell's debut album received great media attention. In October 2000, "The Voice", climbed to No.13 in the UK pop charts and topped the classical chart for over half a year! With guests including Shaun Ryder, Cleopatra and Maire Brennan, the track listing mixes opera and theatre classics with pop tunes such as Ultravox's "Vienna" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water". The album cover pictured him walking across the bridge at The Lowry in Salford and also included many shots of him outside various Manchester landmarks.

The heavy touring and promotional schedule that Russell underwent to keep "The Voice" at the top of the UK classical music charts far 26 weeks, ultimately led to the divorce from his wife in March 2001.

Russell played the part of Sir Matt Busby alongside world-famous rock stars and actors in a musical about Manchester United at the Bridgewater Hall in November 2001.

On his World tour promoting "The Voice", Russell received a similar reaction to that in the UK. The album went straight in at Number 1 in the US Billboard Classical charts

Having contributed to the soundtrack of Captain Corelli's Mandolin and providing the theme tune to the latest Star Trek, Russell returned to the studio to record his second album.

encore

When "Encore" was released, the success was incredible. With arguably a far better vocal performance than on "The Voice", Russell teamed up with the likes of Lulu and Lionel Richie. The album reached Number 6 in the UK pop charts and sold millions worldwide. Again the album sleeve featured many photographs of Manchester, including a great picture of Russell at Manchester Airport on the cover. His worldwide tour immediately sold out (including a concert in front of 100,000 people in New Zealand) and fans couldn't get enough of the Salford tenor.

In May 2002, Russell teamed up with ex-Steps singer Faye Tozer to release the single, "Someone Like You". It reached number 10 in the UK pop charts and provided Russell with yet another new fanbase.

Russell Watson opened the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games in his home city with a brilliant performance of "Where My Heart Will Take Me", to a television audience of over a billion. Are there any dreams the young tenor has not yet lived?

reprise

His third album, "Reprise" mixed opera with pop classics including "Someone Like You". Russell's voice seemed to have got even stronger than on "Encore" as he delivered a powerful version of Bizet's Pearl-Fishers duet, Schubert’s Ave Maria and a spectacular arrangement of Dean Martin's That's Amore. Teaming up again with Manchester's Cleopatra Higgins on 'The Best that Love Can Be', Russell showed he hadn't forgotten his routes. As well as another Freddie Mercury cover, Queen’s pop-opera classic, Bohemian Rhapsody, he also sang a brilliant version of Mike and The Mechanics' classic 'The Living Years'. (ex-Mechanics frontman and fellow Mancunian, Paul Young, had tragically died of a heart attack in Manchester, July 2000). Reprise seemed to receive very little promotion, however it still climbed to a respectable Number 13 in the UK album charts.

Russell returned to Old Trafford, the home of his beloved Manchester United, to record the video to his next single, "Nothing Sacred". Reaching Number 17 in the UK singles charts at Christmas 2002, it raised much needed funds for Kirsty's Appeal in aid of the Francis House Children's Hospice in Manchester. The charity was set up by little Kirsty Howard, whose struggle with terminal illness had won the hearts of the nation, and indeed the world when she appeared at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony with David Beckham, where she passed the Commonwealth baton to the Queen.

Russell Watson has recently been made a World Peace and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations and travels the globe campaigning when he's not travelling the world promoting his records. Whenever he gets chance, Russell returns home to Irlam and still attends Manchester United matches.

Russell 'The Voice' Watson is living a dream that even he could never have expected, however he remains a true Mancunian at heart.

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