Saturday 16 December 2017

There's something about Michael

Michael Bublé's modern twist on old classics has appealed to millions of people around the world. John Meagher looks at the man behind the music

Michael Bublé is an anachronism, a throwback to a different world. It is not so much his ability to croon like a 50s' lounge lizard that makes him stand out today; what is notable is his gift for connecting with the record-buying public.

The 36-year-old Canadian has sold 27 million albums, making him one of the biggest stars in the contemporary musical firmament. His music shifts in the sort of pre-internet, pre-illegal download era that every single record company executive pines for.

Somehow, like young English chanteuse Adele, he has managed to reach out to the widest stratum of society and, crucially, to millions of people happy to pay for his modern twist on old classics and songs whose arrangements and delivery are rooted in the middle part of the 20th Century.

And, his fortunes in the live arena would make the moneymen salivate.

Last year, in Dublin alone, he performed in front of 90,000 people over two nights at the Aviva Stadium.

He was the first act to play the re-imagined Lansdowne Road and the punters were happy to cough up the cash for two hours of charm and razzmatazz -- even if the swirling, muddy sound left much to be desired.

Bublé's latest book, Onstage Offstage, goes some way towards explaining his seemingly unquenchable popularity. A rose-tinted memoir, it points to an affable character, who hasn't lost a sense of wide-eyed wonder, but one who has carefully groomed an everyman image with mass appeal.

The singer emerges as a driven performer with a strong work ethic.

Last year, he managed around 150 shows -- which is practically unheard of for a performer at his scale. And his ambition is such that he didn't balk at the opportunity to play stadia even though his often grandiose music, in truth, does not easily lend itself to such a setting.

Hailing from suburban blue-collar Vancouver and of Italian extraction, Bublé's commitment to hard work was fostered by his father, a commercial fisherman. He claims to have been an unremarkable student and sportsman, but one who was deeply competitive -- a trait, he says, that's stuck with him ever since.

Close to his family -- including grandparents -- he believes his musical destiny was sealed when first hearing Bing Crosby's White Christmas album, and later, Harry Connick Jr's updated take on a classic sound.

No doubt Bublé has been thinking of Crosby again this summer as he recorded an album of Christmas songs which goes on sale this weekend and is likely to be among the biggest-selling albums in the run-up to December 25.

What's easily forgotten in all the talk about Bublé's commercial clout is the fact that he is no over-night sensation. In this book, he claims to have sold just 10,000 copies in his first decade as a performer toiling in the margins of the Vancouver music scene and taking every gig he could, including weddings.

His luck changed when he performed at one of those weddings. David Foster -- the production giant who has helmed albums by the likes of Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Madonna -- was in attendance, and he loved what he heard.

Not only did fellow Canadian Foster tell Bublé he had what it took to reach the big time, but he essentially took him under his wing. He put Bublé up in his Los Angeles home, got him gigs playing to celebrities in Tinseltown, and arranged a meeting with legendary singer Paul Anka, who would part-finance Bublé's first album.

That self-titled album was released on Valentine's Day, 2003, and -- buoyed by a major record company push -- sold by the truck-load. Since then, Bublé has followed the relentless record-tour-record cycle and it's paid commercial dividends, even if the singer is honest enough to admit that the punishing schedule can feel like a treadmill at times. Refreshingly, he seems to have little sympathy for contemporaries who complain of exhaustion and overload.

Perhaps it's all those years on the west-coast Canadian wedding circuit or the summers working the tough shift on his father's trawler that makes him appreciate his good fortune, stupendous wealth and Argentinian model wife, Luisana.

But that hard upbringing has given him a steel that his fans rarely see. Happily admitting to being tricky to work with, he says he has withstood music industry attempts to mould him into a Backstreet Boys-type muppet.

The critics may not adore him, but one senses that Bublé is unperturbed: "I found my purpose and my calling."

You'd better believe it.

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