Songs for heroes from The Soldiers

Outstanding musical reviews and standing ovations are not usually associated with a trio of burly blokes from the military. Performing sensations The Soldiers have become huge favourites and are bringing their hugely popular tour to Norwich. SIMON PARKIN reports.

The Soldiers admit that their story sounds like the plot-line from a hit Sunday night TV drama. A group of military friends who work in the world's war zones becoming stars of the small screen and performing all over the world.

But that is exactly what has happened to Sgt-Major Gary Chilton, Staff Sgt Richie Maddocks and L/Cpl Ryan Idzi.

Their live show is creating a buzz nationwide as well as gaining the unlikely accolade of becoming the first-ever group of serving British soldiers to have two Top Five and two Top 10 albums.

Ryan Idzi, the youngest of The Soldiers, never considered himself a great singer. Born in Caerphilly, the Lance Corporal saw active service in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the 20th Armoured Brigade.

He first experienced the limelight when he entered the 2007 series of The X Factor reaching the 'boot camp' stage. 'I only entered because I didn't have a choice. I was given the application form by my family and made to fill it in. It was just a joke. I had never considered singing professionally before. I mean, I enjoy singing and I'm a king at karaoke, but that's as far as it ever went.

'I wasn't aiming to get far in the contest. I don't have that mental attitude. As for being tipped to win? Ah, give me a break! It was for a minute or so after the first round. My life didn't change, unless you count a few folk recognising me as that guy off TV.'

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An email from music entrepreneur Jeff Chegwin changed things. Jeff and his partner Nick Patrick — who had worked with the likes of Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson and Hayley Westenra — had come up with the idea of The Soldiers.

They had already got their eye on Gary Chilton and Richie Maddocks, and thought Ryan would complete the trio.

Gary — a Sergeant Major who had served in Germany and Northern Ireland, and spent six months on the front line in the first Gulf War – said: 'All three of us jumped at the offer. I have been involved in military music since I joined the Army at the age of 16. To be asked to be part of a project like this is fulfilling a lifelong ambition.'

The final third of The Soldiers is Oldham-born sergeant Richie Maddocks, a trained soldier who provides musical support for the Army. He comes from a musical family as his six siblings all work as musicians.

He has toured throughout Europe, Canada and the Falkland Islands and currently serves with The Minden Band as drum major of The Queen's Division.

Richie, who was awarded the Gulf Medal while deployed in the war-zone as a medical assistant, said: 'I've played everything from Colonel Bogey in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia to rock'n'roll at an abandoned aircraft hanger to entertain the troops in Iraq. We play wherever we're needed. We do Freedom Parades and Pass Off Parades — you couldn't imagine a parade without music. I've played to crowds of 6,000 in Cyprus and to 50 dignitaries at a dinner.'

Their current tour, which reaches Norwich Theatre Royal on January 30, will aim to showcase some of their biggest songs and also help a cause very close to their hearts with a percentage of the profits going to Help For Heroes.

Despite the hectic touring time, all three of them are still serving members of the military which brings its own problems.

Gary explained: 'We are all still serving soldiers first and foremost. The Army has been brilliant in allowing us to record during our leave but because we have different postings, getting the three of us into a studio at the same time has been a nightmare. We have to work hard in short bursts.'

Meanwhile one of their main priorities in the weeks ahead is to broaden their fan base. They already have a strong following among friends and family linked to the armed forces and already get spotted in the street. Ryan said: 'People do recognise me and if nobody does, then the others let them know. If they ask me to sing, I won't do it because of my shyness. I'm actually quite a nervous guy. I can sing in front of thousands but if it's just two or three in the street, I can't.'

But the trio are hoping they can really grow their fan base with the help of the tour. Richie said: 'We want people in civvie street to get it as well. Obviously, our music is about soldiers, but there are wider themes that everyone can relate to celebrate solidarity and family, as well as what the armed forces do every day for our country.'

And Gary is really looking forward to bringing their hit live show to Norwich.

He said: 'We're absolutely thrilled to be on the road. It means so much to all three of us for all the support that our fans give us year in year out. More importantly it is imperative that the charities which we represent are kept in the public eye so that they can continue to give our brave boys and girls the crucial rehabilitation that they so richly deserve.'

t The Soldiers, Norwich Theatre Royal, January 30, �23-�5.50, 01603 630000,