News Column

Wombleswere not pointless! ; Quiz show host and comedian Alexander Armstrong cites an unusual inspiration for his musical foray. ROZ LAWS reports. [Birmingham Mail (UK)]

September 13, 2013

YellowBrix

BEFORE embarking on a career in comedy, acting and TV presenting, Alexander Armstrong seriously considered becoming a classical singer.

Music was his first love, thanks to an unusual source of inspiration - The Wombles. He was a choir boy and got into Cambridge University on a music scholarship, all thanks to the fictional furry creatures who live in burrows and recycle rubbish.

With songs composed by Mike Batt, the Wombles had 10 chart hits in the 1970s, including Remember You're A Womble, Minuetto Allegretto and Wombling Merry Christmas.

And now Xander, as he's known to his friends, is to perform one of their hits on his debut music tour.

On the 10-date tour, which includes Malvern and Bromsgrove, he will be joined by a band to perform an eclectic selection of songs, from Spandau Ballet and Benjamin Britten to The Wombles. "It'll probably be Wombling In The Rain," reveals Xander, 43.

"I was brought up on The Wombles, I think my love of music was kickstarted by them.

"Never has someone lavished so much care and production values on records for kids. It's absolutely wonderful. I ran into composer Mike Batt at a party once and I told him how much the Wombles meant to me, how much a part of my musical blossoming they had been.

"But he reacted rather oddly. He seemed ashamed of them and went 'oh, that'. Maybe he thought I was taking the mickey, but I was serious. My kids listen to them now."

Xander admits his choice of music is diverse, but is confident his talented band will be able to pull off everything from Louis Jordan's Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby to Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

"My piano player, called Harry the Piano, is extraordinary, "I have never seen anyone play an instrument like him. I guarantee that people will go away amazed by him.

"I might have a go at playing an instrument on the tour, as I can play the piano and oboe and am teaching myself the alto saxophone.

"The only meaningful training I've ever had is as a classical singer.

"I considered it, briefly, as a career - I'd probably have been a choral singer, perhaps with a bit of opera thrown in.

"But it's a brave person who goes for that."

Xander is not primarily known as a singer, though he did show off his talent on the recent ITV series Your Face Sounds Familiar.

The show was panned by critics, but Xander says: "I really enjoyed myself. Dressing up as Susan Boyle was terrifying. Every time I caught a glimpse of myself, I got the shock of my life."

Last Sunday, Xander teamed up again with his comedy partner Ben Miller for a special one-off gig - his wedding.

Xander was the best man at Ben's second wedding ceremony.

He is busy filming more episodes of the hit quiz Pointless, as well as presenting a new game show, Prize Island. That involved filming on a beautiful tropical island for five weeks with former Birmingham model Emma Willis. "It's a ridiculous job, I know," says Xander, who has three young sons with his wife Hannah.

"But it wasn't all sitting in a hammock sipping cocktails. And I got terribly homesick being away for so long."

Alexander Armstrong and his band play Malvern Forum Theatre on September 19 and Bromsgrove Artrix on October 17. For more information, go to www.alexanderarmstrongmusic.co.uk.

''I ran into composer Mike Batt at a party once and I told him how much The Wombles meant to me. He reacted rather oddly, maybe he thought I was taking the mickey

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