A dapper Alfie launched the new record with a show to a small, select, audience at the Savoy Hotel in London, a building that echoes the glamour of the 1920s and 1930s, and it was surprising to hear that he was feeling a bit nervous.
“A smaller, intimate event like this can be more nerve-wracking than playing to a big crowd,” he says after performing a few songs to a room rather cosier than the mega-arenas he played on tour with Ball last year.
The surroundings may have been elegant and some of the songs on the album are, too – My Funny Valentine, Moonlight Serenade, The Way You Look Tonight. But many of the rest are a riotous lark of dance band classics such as Stompin’ At The Savoy and Sing Sing Sing. Unlike the many other singers who have gone down the swing album route, Alfie didn’t want to keep things polite.
“I knew from day one that I wanted it to be a New Orleans-style album with the vibe of the city,” he says. “Even though the songs are mellow and chilled, the album has that style of playing that evokes a honky tonk piano.”
Alfie recorded the album at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles – where Frank Sinatra was the first to record, and made many of his classic albums – accompanied by Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band. The musicians were more than keen to go along with Alfie’s vision for the record.
“I kept saying to the players in the studio, ‘Please don’t play clean, make it dirty!’,” he laughs.
“When the arranger mentioned how I wanted the record to feel, he spoke to his brass section who went out and bought specific mouthpieces for their instruments that would have been used in the 1930s, and create that certain sound.”
Alfie’s love of music came from his parents Pat and Alfred who, along with their eight other children, were music mad. Records by Richard Tauber and Maria Callas were played in the house but Mr and Mrs Boe loved to go out, too. “They were big ballroom dancers and they used to watch the big bands that used to come to our home town of Fleetwood. They had big names such as Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman there.
“I remember a story my mother told me. When she was pregnant with me she was watching a TV show and Gene Krupa came on and started the drum solo from Sing Sing Sing. She had a cup of tea on her tummy, and immediately she felt me kick and the tea went up in the air. She always told this story and it made me realise I was connected with music even before I was born.”
Alfred – after whom Alfie is named – died 22 years ago but Pat still takes a great interest in her youngest child’s career, even if it is very varied. “I played her one of the songs from As Time Goes By. She said: ‘That’s nice. Who’s this?’” laughs Alfie.
The classic songs are something he feels very close to and not just because of his parents’ fondness for them. “With them, I like to try to transport people to a time in their lives, a moment and a style. But it’s not just for older listeners; there’s a real resurgence of younger generations taking an interest in this music.
“The stories involving the songs are great, too. Chet Baker did a wonderful version of My Funny Valentine; he was such a wonderful artist but he had a drug addiction that was eating him up. He would pawn his trumpet in the morning so that he’d have enough money to buy drugs and then find the money during the day so he could buy it back and perform in the evening.
“I love these songs so much that I’d love to be able to bring them and the stories around them to people via the medium of TV,” he says, adding that he’ll be touring the album soon. As Time Goes By features Alfie singing with guest artists including actress Kara Tointon, and Frasier star Kelsey Grammer, who joins him on the Cab Calloway number Minnie The Moocher.
But fans of the award-winning, million-selling duo of Michael Ball and Alfie Boe, whose two Together albums have seen them become a showbusiness fixture, need not worry.
“We’re good mates and we speak when we can – and we’ll be back together some time next year,” Alfie assures.
● As Time Goes By is released on November 23 but available to pre-order now. Details at alfieboe.com