As the live shows of The Voice start, Danny O’Donoghue raves about the hit talent contest to Neil McCormick.
“If The Voice was around when I was starting out, I’d go on the show, without a shadow of a doubt,” declares Danny O’Donoghue.
“I don’t want to get into a war with anyone but there was a certain amount of musicality missing from the acts and judging of other TV talent shows. Most of the artists on The Voice p--- all over the UK pop scene. You’ve got kids being kicked off our show who are actually better singers than I am, and I’m supposed to be judging! I just hope fans go, ‘Where the heck have all these people been?’ Seriously. Why are we watching R’n’B singers out of breath and miming on Saturday morning TV? It should give the whole UK industry a kick up the ass.”
O’Donoghue delivers this in a breathless, excited torrent, words gushing forth in a lilting Dublin accent, ideas spilling over each other, shooting off in conversational tangents and tributaries. O’Donoghue talks about three times as fast as anyone else, with an upbeat, almost hippy ebullience that effortlessly disarms cynicism.
Wearing a Sgt Pepper T-shirt and rosary beads, the 31 year-old sits in a dimly lit recording studio in south London, sounding off excitedly about his judging role on the BBC’s hit talent show.
“I’ve been giving my tuppence worth of advice all along in my career, which generally falls on deaf ears. I’ve been a songwriter, musician, producer, had two record deals, been a massive failure, clawed my way out to be in a successful band. I’ve dealt with nerves, bad performances, feeling defeated. I wish I knew all this stuff when I was 17 and standing backstage waiting to go on TV and make a show of myself. I do feel I have things to pass on to other artists.”
That is not the primary reason he is doing the show, however. O’Donoghue is a fantastic singer and songwriter, whose band, The Script, have enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic making a very distinctive brand of lyrical, melodic, meaningful pop music. Yet they have remained curiously invisible beyond their fan base, largely ignored by specialist music and mainstream media. When cameras caught him at this year’s Brit Awards ceremony, host James Corden referred to him as “Danny I Dunno Who”.
“It was one of those moments when I went ‘Wow, nobody has a clue who we are as a band. We are faceless, the non-toast of the town.’ So I took the opportunity to go on TV and get our personality and ethos across, show where our music comes from, because I believe our songs have meaning, and purpose, and I’d like everyone in the world to hear a Script song at least once. Is that wrong?”
It seems to be working. Since the show first aired, five Script singles have re-entered the charts, and their two albums are selling 6,000 copies a week.
“It’s not about the money,” insists O’Donoghue. “I still live in the same flat I was in when we first released an album. If you gave me a million dollars and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ – I’m already doing it! This is what I want!”
O’Donoghue believes the quality of the judges sets The Voice apart.
“As much as it is competitive, we are genuinely friends. Tom (Jones) is a window to the world I love, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Etta James, he’s got so many great stories. Jessie J, pop wise she is the princess, for good reason. She is her own person, that’s very rare to find in a young female pop artist at such an embryonic stage of her career. And will.i.am is top of the stratosphere as a songwriter, producer. There’s incredible lessons to be learned from all of them.”
The Irishman, however, thinks that going into the live shows, the artists in his team have the beating of the others.
“It still remains to be seen if The Voice is a great platform to launch genuine artists off. But my artists are real artists. They’re going to surprise people.”
Although he confesses dropping contestants in the last weekend’s battle rounds was traumatic. He admits, “The hardest part is the delivery of the decision, not the decision itself, which, honestly, might be made before. It’s to do with focus, personality, talent, creativity and drive to make it past the show. [My artists] Max, Bo, Hannah, Alex, David all play guitar and write songs. I’m trying to get them ready, so that when they reach the marketplace, they just float. Some people might think I’m the underdog, but the BBC have told me I am the most organised of all the judges. I make it my business to know this stuff. When they’re done with me, they’re going to be able to walk through the industry with their heads held high.”
The live shows of The Voice UK begin on Saturday, April 28 on BBC One at 7.00pm