He recalls his heart hammering in his chest as he stepped on stage for the first concert at the Lowry in Salford.
“But as soon as I opened my mouth and sang ‘There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow’ from Oklahoma!, back came a thousand voices repeating the line. We were off and running.”
It was a resounding success, surpassing his most optimistic hopes, so Sing-Along-A-Gareth-Two was a foregone conclusion.
It kicks off in Glasgow on November 2, with 22 shows across the UK, before finally coming to rest at the Cambridge Theatre in London on December 11.
Gareth put together a song list, available online, for the 2022 show.
“Everything from Elton John’s I’m Still Standing for its positive message,” he says, “and Walking On Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves for its joyful optimism.
“There was also Hey Jude (arm-waving obligatory) and Wake Me Up. The Avicii song sung by Gareth’s All Star Choir topped the charts in 2014 when it became that year’s Children In Need anthem.
READ MORE: Choir guru Gareth Malone nearly missed his Castle date with Queen
Simon And Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water was included, alongside Wherever You Are, the song that sent Gareth’s Military Wives choir to Number One at Christmas 2011, selling more than the rest of the Top 10 combined.
The lyrics of each song are printed out on a giant screen, “the main expense of the tour,” he says.
Did any of the response from the auditorium surprise him?
“Yes, Right Said Fred, the Bernard Cribbins version. He’d died that year which may help to explain it. I accompanied the audience on ukulele and it went down an absolute storm.
“There’s an old-fashioned East End pub knees-up feel to it. The reaction was the same every night.”
For all that, no two audiences are alike. “Places that have a unique identity like Liverpool seem to generate the greatest response.
“In Nottingham a man took off his shirt and started waving it over his head like people do at football matches. And there’s little to beat a Friday night in Bristol.
“We’re starting in Glasgow this year, where my dad’s from. They’re always an enthusiastic crowd.”
There has been much in the press recently about well-refreshed audience members deciding to sing along with the leading lady on, say, the tour of The Bodyguard. “But we’re at the other end of the spectrum,” he jokes. “People are there precisely because they’re being encouraged to sing.”
There are moments of calm, though, and Gareth has become adept at controlling them.
“When Sara Brimer-Davey – she used to be in the Swingle Singers – sings Wherever You Are, I appeal to the audience for absolute silence. And they’re happy to comply.”
The other professional singer on stage is Laurel Neighbour, who’ll also play ukulele, acoustic guitar and bass, alongside keyboard and percussion accompaniment, complete with drum kit.
So, what is Gareth serving up on the 2023 playlist?
“There’ll be 9 to 5. I just think Dolly Parton is an incredible songwriter.
“But in the end I rejected Jolene as being a bit too dark.”
And in the year we lost another gifted vocalist, he’s chosen Tina Turner’s Simply The Best.
By contrast, Harry Styles gets a nod with As It Was, appealing to a different swathe of Gareth’s audience. “There are a lot of people who were 12 when The Choir was on TV, who are now in their 20s and Harry would be popular with them.
“It’s a well-crafted pop song. I also love Shallow by Lady Gaga which many in the audience will know from A Star Is Born.”
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Another favourite is Every Breath You Take by The Police.
There will also be a 12-minute medley of what Gareth describes as “party” songs, the theme being music – everything from Sing by Ed Sheeran to Music Of The Night from Phantom Of The Opera to Earth, Wind And Fire’s September and Please Don’t Stop The Music by Madonna.
And there’s more. Gareth has exclusively revealed a new element to the tour: Artificial Intelligence. The idea, he explains, is to get individual members of the audience to shout out random words which he’ll then feed into an AI machine and produce a new song.
“It’s fun but not infallible,” he admits. “My wife Becky is an English teacher and the other day I asked the AI machine to write a song based on Othello.
“It was all right as far as it went, but it finished by praising him as a model husband, something Desde-mona might have questioned.”
At 47 Gareth is in good nick.
He had a complete medical MOT recently and scored 10 out of 10.
At five foot 10, he weighs a healthy 10 stone. Even so, a tour of over 20 concerts inevitably takes its toll. So what’s his stamina like?
“Yes, it is demanding. I work on my energy levels in advance and build up my vocal tolerance, singing more and more each day in readiness for the tour.
“We all caught a cold at the end of last year’s tour which meant we had to draft in a couple of extra singers to help out. But it’s not as though people are coming to hear me sing. It’s not my main role.”
From as far back as he can remember, Gareth, an only child, always wanted to do something a bit out of the ordinary with his life.
His father, James, worked in a bank; his mother, Sian, was a civil servant. At school, he always loved performing: in plays and orchestras, jazz bands and pop groups.
“Choir was like the background of every day. I’d go in at ten past eight and we’d sing for 40 minutes every morning except Friday, when there was school assembly which I hated. That was seven years at a very formative stage.
“I wasn’t quite sure where any of it would lead. I did a drama degree but, when I came back from university, I realised music was missing from my life. My epiphany came in a concert. I sang a note which seemed to reverberate off the rafters and, on the walk home, I made up my mind I was going to be a professional musician.”
At the London Symphony Orchestra he ran a number of educational workshops. When someone said they were starting a community choir and would he like to run it, he didn’t need to be asked twice.
“In the end I ran two choirs: one for adults, one for children.”
That’s how he came to the attention of the BBC and how Gareth Malone, choirmaster, was born.
“But I couldn’t possibly have predicted that one day I’d tour the UK, for instance, and fill theatres with people singing at my behest.
“As it is, I’m doing what I really love. I’ve been very, very lucky.”
Ten years ago Gareth was diagnosed with tinnitus. “I had an ear infection in 2013 which left me with a ringing in my right ear. But it’s very mild – a high-pitched whistle in one ear – tinnitus can be isolating and, at its worst, send you round the twist.
“It’s made me very careful. I don’t stand next to loud speakers.
“I have what looks like a sweet jar by the door full of earplugs if I’m heading out. Or I’m the guy on the Tube with his fingers in his ears.
“It’s made me very conscious of not confusing volume with quality.
“Plenty of people respond to music that’s bone-shakingly loud.
“Not me. I look after my hearing. There’s been no degeneration in my hearing for some years now.
“And, given what I do for a living, that’s got to be a good thing.”
Recently, Gareth had special ear moulds made that let in “the good sounds”, as he puts it, and keep out the dangerous frequencies. “I wore them to a gig recently and it was such a nice experience.”
So, I’m looking at a happy man?
“I wake up each morning and do the thing I love. You can’t ask for more, can you?”
● For tickets to Sing-Along-A-Gareth-Two: garethmalone.com
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