Interview: A Chat with Joanna Forest

Joanna Forest – the UK’s number one Soprano, with two ‘number one’ albums under her belt, chats with us about her amazing career and her love of singing and performing…

Joanna first trained in musical theatre at The Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, and from there began her musical journey.

At just 13 years old, Joanna made her West End debut as Collette in Bernadette the Musical – performed at the Dominion Theatre. In that same theatre, she went on to appear there several times including the Royal Variety Performance.

Joanna continued her successful West End career, as well as appearing on Television in The Upper Hand alongside Joe McGann. However, from 2014, Forest crossed over to the world of classical singing and performed her first solo Soprano performance at Busting to Sing in the West End for the breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel!. Here she duetted with Britain’s Got Talent winner and fellow classical singer Paul Potts.

Joanna’s debut album Stars are rising – released in March 2017 – went straight to number one in the Official Classical Album Chart. Not only did this bring her first number one album, but this made her the first independent classical singer to reach number one with a debut album!

Her second album Rhythm of Life – released March 2019 – also went to number one and included duets alongside Paul Potts once again as well as kids TV presenter Andy Day.

I chatted with Joanna and got the lowdown on her astounding career so far and what music means to her.

What was your inspiration to pursue a career in singing?
I was watching (randomly) on TV, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance. Sarah Brightman was performing the one woman as the song part and I was just blown away because she was acting, and she was singing all at the same time. I hadn’t really seen anything musical theatre before. I just had this feeling this is what I wanted to do and that I could do it.

Who were some of your musical inspirations growing up?
A lot of it when I was growing up was musical theatre because that’s what I was learning to do at school and what we were doing in our music lessons. We would learn a song from a musical and then learn the dance for it, so I think I was always fascinated with musical theatre. I also thought it was really interesting after learning musical theatre songs so well and then hearing someone completely different take on it.

For example, Sandy Shaw’s Reviewing the Situation from Oliver is completely different to how it would be performed on stage. I found that really fascinating when people reimagine well-known songs that everybody knows, and I try to take that with me on to my albums when I started to record music. Growing up I enjoyed the 90s music like Fleur and Suede and Stone Roses. I even did a cover of Made of Stone by the Stone Roses in one of my very first concerts in London.

What are some of your best memories from performing in the West End?
One of them was I was in a play written by Michael Palin; it was Palin’s first play. That was super exciting because for someone to come from his background, you know like the accolades of Monty Python, then for him to choose me to be in his play. The play was about a family and I was the granddaughter, called The Weekend. It had this brilliant cast and then there was me. It was such an amazing opportunity and my character had a dog. This dog was a little rescue dog from Battersea Dogs Home, however, she wasn’t that use to the stage.

On opening night, which was a big deal we had previews in the West End, there were rewrites and rewrites and by opening night they wanted this performance to be slick. Unfortunately, I dropped the dog. She jumped out of my arms, ran through the fireplace and it caused a bit of a hoo-hah with the audience. What is really funny is my husband was actually reading Palin’s autobiography and at one point he talks about The Weekend and actually brings up the fact (in his autobiography) that I dropped the dog on opening night!

What was your decision to change from a career on the West End to then enter the world of classical singing?
That mainly stems from knowing in your heart what you’re meant to do. There were maybe lots of reasons that made it very easy to stay in what I was doing. But I’ve always known that to be making my own music, to recording my own music was where I truly wanted to be.

What’s your personal process of recording an album?
The first way we did it was actually the blueprint to do it again for the second album. The first thing is you have to find a producer and something else that is very important is you have to agree on a budget. Then the producer will find you an orchestra which was really exciting, and you need to find a studio that is big enough. I recorded both my albums in Angel Studios in London which is sadly closed. Then you have to think of your concept and what it is going to go on there: what you want to record, why you want to record them.

We start usually with about 200 initial ideas and you know you have to get that down to 12. Once you’ve decided then you need to get them orchestrated and this is the most exciting bit! We take a song that didn’t start off in the classical genre, but when we change the arrangement and the orchestration, we can make them sound huge and classical. Then you think wow! It is a lot of work and you have to be available all the time. With the promotion, that is something you have to put your heart and soul all into.

What has been the highlight of your soprano career so far?
I would say having two number-one albums and two number-one singles. I would also say performing highlight was I opened for Kylie Minogue at a beautiful ball and that is something I won’t forget.

How does it feel when you perform on stage?
I would say it’s like a jolt of electricity that’s keeping you in place but also giving you the jolt you need to perform.

What are your plans once lockdown is over?
I’ve got a few things I’m working on so watch this space! But I’m excited to get working on them and I’m excited to sing again. I have used this time to try some different things. I have been writing a column for my favourite magazine, Classical Crossover. I’m really enjoying it and hopefully, I can do a bit more – not that I’m doing a degree in it like you! But I’m having a go!

So, are there any programmes you have been binging on during lockdown?
You know what, yes. I have been watching so much TV with my husband! So I’ve got a list. Normal People, so good. Detectorists, even though that’s not new, we’ve caught up on it. I would definitely watch Das Boot, it’s all in German and it’s all about the German U-Boats and what life was like, and it was horrible for them. But oh my gosh, it’s amazing! Something I haven’t been doing as much of now like I did at the start of lockdown is watching as much Sky News because sometimes I think you can have too much.

What artist or band were you a fangirl of? For me it was (and still is) One Direction.
Yes, Take That. So much so I even have got my second album Rhythm of Life opens with our big orchestral version of Greatest Day. I just think it’s so uplifting and I’ve really been enjoying Gary Barlow’s Croner sessions. For me, it’s like full of nostalgia, Take That and my younger days. It’s like Take That’s music is an old friend.

If you could duet with anyone dead or alive who would it be and why?
My supergroup would include Paul McCartney, Elton John would be in there. We would have David Albarn from Blur. I love Lady Gaga; I mean what a brilliant actress as well and what a talent! She seems like such a good role model. Then I would put in some classical influences. I’d put in Pavarotti as well and Andrea Bollecci. How amazing would that be!

Finally, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue a career in music or musical theatre?
I would say go for it! Do it if it’s your passion because there is nothing like creating something, rehearsing something, putting it on and then being part of a company. Like the camaraderie, the comedy times I’ve had I will cherish forever.

I’ve made some lovely friends being on tour and being in shows. It’s one of the only jobs where you can have fun all the time, apart from obviously when you’re on stage and you have to concentrate. And when I’m doing shows, and it just me as a soprano, I love it, I feel like it’s definitely what I’m meant to be doing. But I do treasure those memories when I have created something with other people.

By Katie Green

Feature Image Credit: Wikipedia

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