The Power of Yes.

The power of yes is a strange, dangerous and occasionally life changing power. Lots of things we do in life are a matter of course, just simple decisions that need no conscious response.  Others are as a result of us trying to open doors, ‘reaching out’, filling in an application form. Then come the questions we weren’t expecting that can take us by surprise.

How we react to these questions can literally define our future. Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration…but then again maybe its not.  The simple, most straight forward and safest reply to an unexpected request is no.  That ensures life carries on uninterrupted on the course you had already embarked upon.  There’s no chance of a mistake because you never find out where a different path might have taken you.  No is the sensible option.  But you are always left with he question ‘What if?’

Maybe it was because I was brought up in a safe, supportive environment or maybe its just a character strength, or flaw, but from an early age I have usually said yes rather than no when opportunities arrived.  Occasionally that’s been a case of saying yes…and then trying to work out how on earth I was going to do it.

Looking back, so many things I have ended up doing have resulted from just saying yes.  I doubt I would ever have written musicals or books or produced a film without an immediate heart racing, slightly terrified yes.  

On tour with Max Boyce Australia.

I still remember getting a phone call from Max Boyce asking would I like to join his band for a tour of Hong Kong, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.  What appeared to be just a 6 week gig ended up changing my view of the world forever.  A trip to Tupelo Mississippi to make a TV show led to an invitation to return the following year to judge the Gumtree Songwriting festival in the birthplace of Elvis.  If I’m being honest I didn’t expect that yes to have any consequences but a year later the plane ticket arrived and so began a long and passionate love affair with the Deep South.

Sun Studios, Memphis.

This week has been the culmination of a number of ‘Yes’ replies to unusual invitations, but of course none of them came without their own complications.

I’m not really sure how I became long distant friends with Elio Pace.  Elio is a musician of some pedigree.  Early breaks included winning appearances on Opportunity Knocks, becoming musical director to artists like Albert Lee before becoming the House Band Leader for Radio 2’s Weekend Wogan where Elio directed his wonderful house band of musicians.

I think it might have been my bass Player Andrew Coughlan who gave Elio a tape 20 years or so ago but somewhere along the way we developed a long distance friendship.  

Posters for Elio on the London Underground

Over the past few years Elio has toured the country playing songs from the Billy Joel songbook.  It’s hard to actually describe the show because you really need to see and experience it.  This is not a ‘Tribute Act’ show.  Elio doesn’t try to be Billy Joel.  Elio has taken the songs that he loves and crafted them into the complete theatre show.  

Firstly he has put together an extraordinary band of top class musicians.  Most of these have played with Elio for decades which is another testimony to the man.  Musicians can be fickle folk.  If they don’t like the boss or the music or something better comes along they can jump ship.  The fact these lads have stayed the course with Elio says a lot about him.

Then there’s the theatre craft.  The lights and sound are top drawer. The stage is beautiful but simple, the sound is all encompassing but not over loud.  The songs more than speak for themselves and Elio has chosen every song you would want on the ultimate Billy Joel compilation.

Then there’s Elio.  The piano playing, the almost ‘Neapolitan’, operatic quality to his voice and the stage craft that he has learned and honed over the years which he has expertly fashioned to link each section.

The other wonderful thing about the show is that Elio gives an insight into Billy’s life, his musical influences and that makes each song come to life even more than I thought possible.

I met Elio for the first time a few weeks ago at the Wales Millennium Centre.  His ‘The Billy Joel Songbook’ show was a sell out.  I went to meet him backstage and it was like being greeted by a long lost brother.  I left the show slightly shell shocked.  It was such a powerful experience.

Out of the blue last week I call a call from Elio.  We chatted for a while about the show and the mutual friends we had met before the gig.  Then he told me that the final show of this tour was going to be at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London on Thursday 9th May, Billy Joel’s 75th birthday. Then came the unexpected question, would I like to join Elio onstage for a duet for whatever my favourite Billy Joel songs was?  I just said…yes!

Mal with Esther Higham, Premier Radio studios, London.

That’s when he trouble started.  It was only when I checked my diary I found I had agreed to present a Radio show from 10-1pm on Premier radio.  Although the station is based in London I usually present from home in Swansea. I wouldn’t have time to do the show and then head to London.  A few phone calls later and I had rearranged to do the show from the studios near the Bank of England.  I would go to London the day before, familiarise myself with their studios and be ready to perform first thing Thursday before heading to the soundcheck with Elio

Going on line to book a train ticket was strange.  There didn’t appear to be any trains on Wednesday.  Then it struck me…rails strike!!!  I thought about driving.  I don’t mind fighting my way across the capital but I’m always worried about the slew of fines and charges they send in the following weeks for congestion, ulez and bus lanes. In the end I decided to go Tuesday.

At the back of my mind there was another problem.  The ‘cold’ had first appeared on the night of my concert at ‘Crazy Coqs’ in London back in April.  With no imminent gigs in the diary I decided to let nature take its course.  The trouble was it didn’t seem to be getting any better.  I really started to panic last Saturday at the final Swansea game of the season.  More and more people seemed to have similar symptoms.  It was the ‘thing’ that was going around.  One person described it as the 100 day cough.  100 days???  I had only had it for fortnight and I had an important gig in less than 5 days.

Soundcheck done and we’re both still smiling.

As soon as I could find a chemist on Sunday I stocked up on pills, cough medicine, vitamins and vocalzone lozenges. By Thursday morning I was rattling.  The cough was a little better but every so often the cough would attack and I would find it hard to breathe let alone sing.

In the wings I finished my final Vocalzone and waited for my introduction.  I cleared my throat for the final time and walked to the centre of the stage to be greeting with a massive Elio Pace smile  and bear hug. He started playing the piano and sang the first verse.  I think I said a little silent prayer and started singing….

Live onstage at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London.

3 minutes later it was done.  I stood there, took my bow, hugged Elio once again and left the stage with the biggest smile on my face.  The funny thing is I haven’t coughed since.

2 thoughts on “The Power of Yes.”

  1. Absolutely identify with your words….
    So very happy to see that you got to do that with Elio….another Wonderful experience/ achievement…
    I hope the germs get gone soon, it’s a big worry for us, immense frustration and it can sometimes challenge us as to ‘why’ we do it??
    Now ‘there’s’ a subject!
    Lots of love Mal, continued success, health & contentment wished your way.
    Well Done!

  2. David Arthut

    Love this story, Mal….you should write another book! I’ve had that cough too…taking antibiotics for it. More power to your elbow, opportunity and success is well deserved.
    David Arthur.

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