from cross to crossover: welcome to the new rock'n'roll

Too pop to be classical, too posh to be pop: that's why choirboys are getting a chart of their own. By Emma Cook

Forget seasonal pop chart fever - this Christmas the really hot battle for musical supremacy is being fought on a different pitch. Will the children-of-Dunblane song get to Number One,now that the Spice Girls have considerately delayed their own release? The really shrewd music marketing men couldn't care less. They're backing a different set of winners - winners with the essential allure of youth, fine singing voices and highly marketable images. They're backing choirboys.

Choirboys may not make subversive pop stars, but mothers and grannies like them - and so do children. Pitched between classical and popular, they've got something for all the family. Two weeks ago, 13-year-old Anthony Way released his latest album, The Choirboy's Christmas. The combined sales of his last two records have reached half a million - a total that would impress even a Spice Girl. It may not be terribly rock'n'roll, yet this burgeoning end of the market has adopted exactly the same tools of the trade: hype, marketing and more hype.

For evidence of this look no further than Anthony's publicist, Richard Beck - he works for Laister Dickson, a PR company which also represents Tina Turner, Janet Jackson and The Rolling Stones. Like all good rock PRs, Beck has helped to nurture a "major management structure" around the young performer - this week sees the start of Anthony's television advertising campaign; he's also appearing on GMTV and The National Lottery.

But choirboy singing is just a fraction of this growth market that churns out middle-brow, quasi-classical CDs quicker than Take That hits. At Sony Classical they've even launched a separate label catering for the cod- spiritual element - Arc of Light - releasing records such as Westminster Abbey's Adeste Fideles! and Millennium Of Music. Steve Finnigan, head of Sony Classical, enthuses: "In a marketing context we got the Millennium word in four years ahead, which we were pleased about. And we did a great amount of business - about 12,000 sales. There's a demand for spiritual, relaxing music. It's calming, ethereal and very popular." Robert Sandall, director of media affairs at Virgin, is more frank about the genre: "It's ungroovy easy listening that everyone hates but the people love. It's stuff that sells well - in six-figure sums."

It's just finding the right place to sell it that's been a problem. As the boundaries between pop and classical blur, chart purists have refused certain records entry. Rejects from the highbrow league have included the opera singer Lesley Garrett's Soprano in Red, classical guitarist John Williams's John Williams Plays the Movies and Marianne Faithfull singing Kurt Weill. Anthony Way's solo album The Choirboy was also excluded because it used syncopated rhythms and electronic instruments - much too rock'n'roll. But this is all set to change now that the chart compilers CIN are allowing the glut of middlebrow material to compete in a new classical crossover chart due to start in January.

Which is good news for the promoters - one of Finnigan's artists is John Williams. "The classical charts threw his movie-scores album out but it would've reached Number One for five weeks, whereas it only got to Number 55 in the pop charts. It's about marketing and I need a success to shout about, so a Number One in a small specialist chart would be a fantastic opportunity to take artists to a bigger audience."

Fiona Maddocks, editor of BBC Music Magazine, explains: "At the moment it's a bit like putting a book by Delia Smith in the literary fiction category. In terms of sales, the specialised releases get squashed by the sheer weight of popular CDs."

In Anthony's case, the sheer weight of his popularity was linked to an acting role in Joanna Trollope's BBC adaptation The Choir last year. Plucked from St Paul's Cathedral Choir, he sang and starred as - yup - the star boy in the choir. He then sang on the soundtrack of The Choir. Funnily enough, in the storyline Way's character releases a record to save a cathedral. Coincidence or not, it was the mixture of fact and fiction that helped to secure the album a Number Three spot in the pop charts, squeezing out Michael Jackson. It was also the fastest-selling classical release since The Three Tenors.

For a teenager who doesn't appear to mind spending an inordinate amount of time in a cassock - or the media limelight for that matter - Anthony seems pretty well-balanced. "The publicity seemed a lot when I first started but it's second nature to me now," he says. "I'd like to carry on with my singing but it depends on how my voice turns out. I do often get compared to Aled Jones - but I actually sold half a million records and he didn't."

"He's part of an intricate set-up which wasn't around in Aled's day," says Beck. "Decca is spending an initial advertising budget up to Christmas of pounds 300,000, which beats Simply Red." Anthony's mother has set up a fan club, replying to all letters because her son's schedule is so busy. "I think everyone's protective of him," she says. "We all make sure he only does what he wants to do."

The only real difference between a choir singer's PR and and that of a rock artist is that, as Beck says: "You have to ask the headmaster's permission if it's OK for him to appear on Des O'Connor." One would hope there's a marginal variation in audience as well. "Forty to 50 per cent of his fan club are girls," says Beck. "They're quite young - it's very much a Take That appeal." Difficult to believe, considering choirboy charm is one that epitomises school discipline and family values - hardly the stuff of teenage frenzy. Yet Anthony's image-makers are trying hard to add a groovy dimension; his press blurb boasts that former choirboys include Keith Richards, John Lennon and David Bowie, while the publicity shots show the young chorister wearing rollerblades and trying desperately to look like something out of Boyzone. He also claims to enjoy playing the electric guitar. But his true crossover appeal will never stray too far from nostalgia. As Fiona Maddocks says: 'It's the last remaining vestige of the Christmas tradition. It's a very pure image of something that people had in their childhoods and haven't replaced since." It's also something that encapsulates British eccentricities; the idea of a vestal choirboy is as humorous as it is sacred - Dick Emery meets Songs of Praise.

And it fuels the fantasy that male adolescents such as Anthony Way still enjoy wholesome, self-improving pursuits more than, say, emulating the loutish habits of less savoury teenage idols such as Liam Gallagher. As Edward Higginbottom, director of music at New College, Oxford, says: "These boys do a lot of singing in the week - about two hours a day. It's a good discipline - they'd only be watching TV otherwise. There's nothing going to waste in their careers."

Certainly music companies appear to agree as they gear up for the sales bonanza that should characterise the crossover chart. Yet it would be nice to think that all the petty snobberies surrounding definitions of popular and classic music will be cast aside once it's up and running. As if it were a Joanna Trollope drama, one expects it to be a medium where choirboys and middle-aged women can share the limelight side by side.

But the first signs of prima-donna behaviour were evident last week when The Three Tenors - Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras - accused Bruce Forsyth, Jimmy Tarbuck and Kenny Lynch of "abusing and vulgarising" their reputations.

The trio, calling themselves The Three Fivers, have recorded a version of "Winter Wonderland" as a "cheeky tribute" to the opera singers. The tenors were not amused and are now taking legal steps to stop the comedians. Musical purists would argue that as populist/classical performers they shouldn't get so sniffy. The problem is that few artists would really like to define themselves as a middle-of-the-road crossover act. Finnigan says: "The Three Tenors wouldn't see themselves like that. They think they just happened to bring opera to a wider audience."

Still, it's unlikely that Anthony Way,or his "management structure", will indulge in petty squabbles, as long as his dulcet tones are shifting half a million the word "crossover" can only be music to their ears.

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

    £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

    Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

    C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home