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.

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
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
i100
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

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

    2nd Line server support - Microsoft certified

    £25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large organisa...

    Reception Teacher required in Cardiff

    £100 - £105 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The...

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, Adobe, ...

    Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?