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Interview: Duncan James and Antony Costa talk about recapturing the magic on new Blue album ‘Heart & Soul’

Blue have been together for 22 years and after working together on a few projects the past decade, the band – Lee Ryan, Duncan James, Simon Webbe and Antony Costa – is back together with a renewed energy and their best music in ages.

‘Heart & Soul’, the group’s new album released on Friday 28th October, sees the four-piece reunite with former label head Hugh Goldsmith and the end result is their best album in some time. You can read our review to find out what we thought.

Ahead of the release, I spoke to Duncan James and Antony Costa from the band to find out if they’re feeling nervous, discuss recapturing their early magic, and to find out how the tour preparations are going…

Your new album ‘Heart & Soul’ is released this week. Do you still get nervous ahead of release day?

Duncan: Not really. It’s such a different industry to how it was when we were in our heyday and I think it’s just a different vibe now. I still don’t understand how it all works with the impact date and all that kind of stuff, but for us being, I guess you’d call us a heritage act nowadays, we get the opportunity to still make music 22 years later, and we still get to tour the world. We still get to perform together as the original lineup so for us that’s the best thing about it. Everything else is just a bonus.

Antony: As Dunc is saying it’s just nice to get a second bite of the cherry. Yes, we have been back and forth together, and we’ve done different albums but for some reason this album feels so right, Pip. It was all about timing with us. I think if we had just kept doing albums and doing albums and doing singles, we’d have got bored of the same routine. We’re always nervous. I’m personally nervous, because it’s been two and a half years coming with a lot of toing and froing. A lot of songs didn’t make the album and a lot of songs did. We were discussing which ones would work and we went back to how ‘All Rise’ and ‘One Love’ was where we had always had mirror tracks, a brother and sister track, so to speak. I think this album really emulates those first two albums.

For me, this is the best Blue album you’ve put out in years. It marries classic Blue with a contemporary pop sound, and it’s a solid pop album from start to finish. How hard was it to get that balance?

Duncan: Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely got a vibe of early music, hasn’t it this album?

Antony: For sure!

Duncan: To be fair, we’ve got to give credit to Hugh Goldsmith, because Hugh was the man that did A&R for us  back in the day. He was the head of our record label 22 years ago when we signed to Innocent Records, and he was the mastermind behind Blue and acts like Atomic Kitten, Billie Piper, Martine McCutcheon… the list goes on and on. (For this album) we got Hugh back involved. He was the A&R of this album, he put it all together, and sonically he’s a complete and utter musical perfectionist. He will listen to every little tiny hi hat or snare drum and he’ll be like, ‘I’m not sure if that snares quite right’

Antony: (laughs)

Duncan: He will go away and he’ll come back saying, ‘guys, I’ve just tweaked the snare on this and it’s sounding sonically so much better’. Hugh is the reason, why as you said, it’s such a solid pop album, because that’s his forte and that’s what he’s done. I’d love us to take that credit, but I think we have to give it to Hugh.

Blue
Credit: Tag8 Music / BMG

You really have mixed in everything – there’s pop, soul, R&B, the big ballads. The vocal arrangement on the final track ‘Stop’ is the best the four of you have ever sounded together…

Antony: Oh, wow! All the album was done was during the COVID times so none of us really spent any time in the studio together as a collective. With a song like ‘Stop’ we went (into the studio) on our own with no other band members around us. It was just me and a producer, or Duncan and a producer, and you had to try and emulate as if the boys are in the same room as you. When you’re doing your harmonies you’re trying to blend say my voice with Duncs and Dunc’s voice with Lee and so on. It was a very interesting process so to speak, but one that we did, and we’re very proud of this album. I think ‘Stop’ is a very, very lovely song. There’s some other great tracks on there as well like ‘Ultraviolet’, ‘Magnetic’… ‘Let’s Get Sad’ is a particular favourite of mine because it’s a song that doesn’t really shout out Blue really, and that’s what I like about it.

For me, it’s all about the title track. It’s such a banger and I can’t wait to hear that on the tour. The fans seems to be reacting well to it too…

Duncan: From day one, when we heard that song we just fell in love with it and that was, particularly for us, a song that we were like, ‘we’ve got to cut this track’. It is a banger and it’s nice for Blue to be able to do those types of songs. I think we have been known over the years for ballads. A lot of our big hits – ‘If You Come Back’, ‘Breathe Easy’ and ‘Guilty’ – we’ve been known for having big ballads. Even when we came back 11 years ago after Eurovision with ‘Hurt Lovers’, it was a big ballad. Back in the day ‘One Love’, ‘Fly By, and ‘All Rise’ were our standard songs that everybody knew. We haven’t come back with a banger like that, like for a long time have we?

Antony: Not at all. It’s nice to be able to do something like that, as Blue aren’t really known for that. Blue are known for the odd ballad here and there but more so the anthemic choruses, like ‘All Rise’, ‘One Love’ and ‘Fly By’. Trying to get with the times in inverted commas, we’ve just got to keep true to ourselves. As you said, Pip, it’s great that you like (‘Heart & Soul’) and it’s an honour that you like it. Thank you so much.

At this point in your career, how on earth do you pull together a set list?

Antony: It’s the worst. I hate it. I genuinely hate it. You’re just thinking are people coming because they like the music? Are they hardcore Blue fans? Will they know all the album tracks? Will they know b-sides and double a-sides that we’ve done over the years? I’m talking particularly about myself, I don’t know what Dunc thinks, but it is an absolute musician’s nightmare because you’re trying to get everything in. You’re trying to do the uptempos and you’re trying to mix it with the ballads so you make it a nice balance. There’s been a lot of toing and froing hasn’t there brother? (laughs)

Duncan: Yeah, there has been. We’re lucky because we’ve got so many hits, we’ve had so many big songs over the two decades that we’ve been together. We’re trying to give everybody something and also picking some new tracks from the new album. What I can’t stand is when you go and see a band perform on tour and all they do is their brand new album, you think ‘well, where’s the hits?’ People want to hear the hits. We’ve only picked a couple of songs from the new album that we’re going to be doing on the tour and we were like, ‘which ones do we do?’ We’ve got to do ‘Haven’t Found You Yet, and we’ve got to do ‘Heart & Soul’ because it’s the title track, but then what else do we throw in? What else do we put in the mix? It’s been a difficult conversation. The most important thing about this tour is we want to give everybody the hits, we want to make sure everybody has a really good time and we want everybody to feel a bit of nostalgia again, and a trip down memory lane to a part of their life when they were not having to worry about energy bills and all this shit that’s going on in the world.

Blue
Credit: Tag8 Music / BMG

You must be excited to get back into arenas. I remember coming to see your arena tours back in the door and the audiences were wild. You must now be seeing fans from them bringing their own kids to the shows and a new generation of Blue fans?

Antony: Yeah, exactly. We’ve had a lot of fans tweeting us and Instagram posts etc, with their kids singing along to our new stuff. It’s a lovely feeling. Blue appeal to everybody and that was the beauty about being in Blue. Back in a day at concerts there would be blokes there with their girlfriends and you’d go ‘Oh, your girlfriend brought you?’ and they’re like, ‘no, I brought my girlfriend because I love the music so much’. That’s what it’s about and if we can emulate that, then it will be an amazing tour for sure.

The album’s out this week then the tour is coming up in the next couple of months. Are you starting to think about what 2023 and beyond looks like for Blue?

Duncan: Yeah, next year we’ve got a big year. We’ve got a lot of gigging next year. We’re going to be announcing some exciting stuff for fans around the world. Just put it this way, it’s not just stopping at the UK for us. We’re going to be going on the road around the world, getting a chance to see our fans all over, especially in Asia because we have such a big fan base in the Asian market. We’ve always loved touring, we’ve always loved being on the road, we’ve always loved going on flights and getting to see different countries and different cultures. It’s just really exciting. Next year, we’re going to be taking our music and taking our tour to other countries and I’m really excited about that.

I spoke to Simon and Lee earlier in the year, and Simon mentioned he was nervous about getting back into the dance routines as you’re all a little older now. How’s the preparation going for that?

Antony: We don’t know yet until our lovely director gives us what we need to do. Blue weren’t really known for their dance routines. It was all about the vocals with a little movement here and there. Sort of emulating The Temptations from the ’60s and all the great Motown acts. For us, it’s all about the voice and all about the vocals and we just put on a good show without trying to be cool. I think that’s the beauty about about Blue. We don’t want to look like Dads at a wedding!

Blue’s album ‘Heart & Soul’ is released via Tag 8 Music / BMG on Friday 28th October 2022. The band are touring in December and you can get tickets and view the dates now.

Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip Ellwood-Hughes
Pip is the Editor of Entertainment Focus and the Managing Director of agency Piñata Media.

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