Blake gives clssical a modern twist

There cannot be too many classical artists who recruit new members on Twitter. But as Norwich-raised Humphrey Berney tells DAVE GOODERHAM, the award-winning global success of Blake owes a lot to the world of social media.

They formed on Facebook and recruited a new member on Twitter. Meet Blake, a classical boy band for the new generation.

Their formation might have been unorthodox but it fits perfectly with the four men who have set about changing the perceptions of classical music.

For a start, they are all easy-on-the-eye — think Daniel Craig rather than Paul Potts.

But good looks don't get you gold discs, a Classical Brit Award or half a million albums sold worldwide.

With their unique harmonic twists on anything from U2 to Simon and Garfunkel and their Rat Pack humour on stage, baritones Stephen Bowman and Jules Knight and tenors Ollie Baines and Humphrey Berney have taken the opera world by storm.

For Norfolk born-and-bred Humphrey, he had to deal with fame and success fast after he was recruited by the group two years after they were formed through social media's biggest player.

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He explained: 'Blake has been together almost four years to the week and it has been an extraordinary time. When the band was originally formed, it was not with the intention of getting a record deal or anything. They just wanted to maybe make some pocket money with a wedding here or there.

'Stephen knew the guys through the college and they got reacquainted through Facebook. It was also through Facebook that they found their manager, Dan Glatman, who had previously managed Blue.

'When Dan heard the boys, he marched them down to Universal Records and within 40 hours of forming, they had secured a five album deal. Since then it has just been an amazing rollercoaster.'

An apt description for a group whose first album went straight to number one in the UK Classical Album Charts and sold 100,000 copies in its first three weeks .

Humphrey, who was born at the N&N and went to Taverham Hall School and Gresham's School in Holt, joined the ride halfway through after original member Dominic Tighe left to pursue a career in acting.

Having already sung with the likes of Hayley Westenra and worked with some of this country's top opera companies including Glyndebourne and Garsington, the decision to audition to become the new fourth member of Blake was a no-brainer.

Humphrey explains: 'I knew of Blake and I saw on Twitter that they were looking for a new member.

'They had responses from all over the world including two girls from Thailand who perhaps didn't understand what the guys were looking for.

'For me, it was a very exciting opportunity. Here was this group who had won a Classical Brit Award and had a number one album so these chances don't come up very often.

'The music they did was very similar to what I was doing. And it sounds a bit of a clich� but within an hour of meeting the guys, we found out we were very similar with a similar sense of humour. And it was soon clear our voices would work together.'

With a new man secured, Humphrey was thrown straight into a headline UK tour — and the success hasn't stopped since.

This year alone, they are set to sign a record deal in the US and have just released a new single All of Me. But first more dates on the 'An Evening With Blake' tour.

A special part of the tour is the boys singing with local choirs. The group all came from chorister backgrounds and that it was particularly important for them to use their concert to showcase local talent.

'I went to Taverham and then on to Gresham's, both schools that really push you and they are really musical places,' said Humphrey.

'I was pushed and encouraged from a very young age and I was given both self-belief and a passion for singing. The Theatre Royal concert is particularly exciting for me as I will be performing with the choir at Taverham Hall School which is very exciting.'

Is he looking forward to walking onto the Theatre Royal stage? 'To be honest, I am incredibly excited. It is the theatre where I saw my very first on-stage production and I also saw my very first Glyndebourne opera — and was so excited to end up working for them.

'I have seen a lot of productions at Norwich Theatre Royal there and it will be quite moving for me to be on the stage there. It will also be amazing to look out and see my mum, my godmother, my best friend and lots of people I know in the audience. They have all been buying tickets.

'My mum, who has been fantastic, has always been keen to give me advice and constructive criticism and she, of course, has heard me sing all my life. There is a bit of added pressure singing for people I have known all these years but I cannot wait to be on stage.'

The quartet are very much good friends as well as band mates, but surely with the rigours of tours, there must come a time when they don't get on? What about when choosing what songs to perform – there must be some conflict?

Yes and no, reveals Humphrey. 'We are all young guys with very different tastes in music. When it comes to choosing our repertoire, we all come up with a different list and then argue and decide in the pub,' he joked.

'The songs are very much a group decision and we always put our own twist on them, whether it's With or Without You or Bridge Over Troubled Water.

'This part is actually great fun. Being creative with the songs is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, especially as occasionally the songs you think would work brilliantly as a ballad sometimes don't and vice versa.'

So even when creative tensions could topple over, the four boys of Blake remain something of a kindred spirit.

Humphrey admits: 'We are all great friends and I think that really helps when you tour around the world and spend a lot of time together. And when we perform, a lot of fans love the fact there is humour and interaction on stage between four great friends singing together.'

n An Evening With Blake is at Norwich Theatre Royal on July 3, �25-�5.50, 01603 630000,