When TV funnyman Jason Manford announced he was releasing an album of serious show tunes, it may have come as a surprise to fans of his comedy.
But his biggest fan has known there was an album brewing in this old school entertainer for some time.
Her name, I hear you ask? Leah Manford – aka Jason’s nan.
The Mancunian’s debut record A Different Stage is being released this week – and if it does well then his beloved 93-year-old grandmother will be able to claim some of the credit.
“I never thought about it to be honest” said Jason. “Then about two years ago my nana said: ‘You should do an album’. She’s more of a fan of the singing than the comedy.”
He added: “Then I went on tour with Alfie Boe and did a few tunes with him, including Stars from Les Miserables with his orchestra and it hit YouTube and went a bit viral.
“Loads of people on my Facebook were like ‘do an album’.
“So when I looked at the two things, I thought this is something my nana would really love and if ‘normal’ people are into it – you know, people who are not my nana – then maybe there’s something in this.”
The 36-year-old acknowledges that he isn’t the first comedian to try his hand at singing – think of others like Billy Connolly and Donald Glover.
But he also has the added pressure of knowing that fellow comic Bradley Walsh achieved the biggest-selling British debut album of last year.
The host of game show The Chase sold 115,650 copies of his LP Chasing Dreams in the UK last year – putting him ahead of Mercury Prize-nominated Blossoms and former One Direction star Zayn.
So who’s laughing now then?
“I’m pals with Bradley so I wouldn’t mind being an album behind him,” said Jason. “In my head, the main aim is to not become a quiz question in a few years time: ‘Who sold seven albums on release of their debut?’.”
Quick-witted Northerner Jason comes from a family of club singers (including his uncle Dennis, a bald Michael Buble impersonator) and may have more of a claim to this year’s singing throne than he makes out.
He recorded his debut album after spending five years singing in musicals like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Producers and Sweeney Todd.
And while comedy remains the main focus for father-of-five Jason, there’s no reason why he can’t follow in his funny friend’s footsteps.
“I guess I’ve just always done them both really, so it felt like the natural thing to do. At school I was in all the musicals so I’ve been an orphan many a time: Annie, Oliver, you name it.
“I did three musicals over the last five years and this felt like the next step.
“There’s something about doing eight shows a week, singing every night, that suddenly your voice comes on – it’s like training a muscle.
“Suddenly a few years on your voice is a million times better than when you first started, through sheer practice.”
He added: “What’s nice about the album is the reassurance that I’m not mad – this actually sounds alright. With the amount of messages I’ve had off people saying they really like it, I’ve been like: ‘OK we’re good. I’m not embarrassing myself!’.”
As well as the aforementioned Stars, Jason points to track Hushabye Mountain – a duet with Rosanna Bates which he “sang 500 times in Chitty” – as one of his favourite moments on the new record.
“My kids love that one,” he added.
Whatever form it takes, Manford – who also presents the Sunday morning breakfast show on Absolute Radio, always seems to find himself entertaining others.
He has previously crossed the sacred streams of comedy and song during his stand-up career – but says he won’t be making a habit of it during next year’s Muddle Class tour. Nor is there A Different Stage Tour lined up, bar a few gigs perhaps.
“Once or twice at the end of the show a few people have requested a song but generally it is two hours of straight stand-up,” he said.
‘Entertaining is entertaining’
“Separately we’ve done a few shows with a band called ‘Jason Manford and his band: A Different Stage’ – so there’s plenty of clues in the title!
“But entertaining is entertaining and as long as the audience know what they’re coming for I think it’s alright.”
So if he had the hypothetical chance to headline the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury – but could never tell a joke again – would he take it?
“I’d have to say no” he replies, with little hesitation.
“There’s something about stand-up – it’s the rawest form of entertaining. It doesn’t get any harder and it doesn’t get any better. The highs are so high because the lows are so low.
“So for me stand up is always going to be my bread and butter – but at the same time I just love singing. When you’re singing in the shower you can trick yourself into thinking you are at Pyramid Stage anyway because music has that thing that’s tuned into your emotions.
“I’ve spent a lot of time singing in the shower, thinking: ‘I sound alright here’.
“I have to say the album is great – but I sound well better in the shower.”
Jason Manford Sings the Show Tunes in the Shower has yet to be commissioned – but watch this space.
A Different Stage by Jason Manford is out on Friday.
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