Sean Smith on his new swing album of 90s pop songs, and a Same Difference panto reunion
He’s tried his hand at everything from cheesy pop to dance bangers, musical theatre and indie.
But now Sean Smith is back as a Rat Pack-style crooner with an album of reworked ’90s pop classics.
The idea was something the Portsmouth-based singer had been toying with for years, and the album Swing For The ’90s was released last Friday.
With his gig in the title role of The Kings Theatre’s panto, Dick Whittington, cut short by the then-worsening pandemic, the X Factor star was looking for an outlet for his pent-up energy.
‘We thought we were going to be performing all the way through to early January,’ Sean recalls, ‘and we were just coming into the Christmas lead-up when we went into Tier 3.
‘In my mind, I was mid-run, full of energy and ready to keep going. When it finished, I thought, oh goodness, I've got to use this energy for something – I don't want to lose it during this third lockdown.
‘I got on the phone to my manager and we were talking about how we could use the time wisely. I mentioned to him that I'd always had this idea of turning ’90s pop records into swing songs.
‘Straight away he loved the idea so we set about creating it straight away. I used to do all the pubs and clubs years before the X Factor – you'd have to do three 45 minutes-worth, so you'd put some nice easy swing songs in there so you're not ruining your voice.
‘By doing that, I developed the style really well and I loved all that Rat Pack stuff and when Robbie Williams did Live at The Albert Hall.’
It even harks back to his time on X Factor with his sister Sarah as Same Difference.
When we did big band wee, Simon (Cowell) gave us Reach For The Stars by S Club 7. In a weird way it kind of worked and I thought, these great pop songs do work in a swing style. So I've always had it in the back pocket, wanting to do it. I've talked about it in other interviews in the past, and once you've put it out there into the world you've got to come through with it at some point!’
The album has been produced by Ben Whyntie, who Sean works with in indie band Beware The Bear
‘He's put the whole thing together from start to finish, and we all put down our parts separately in our own houses during lockdown, and somehow it sounds like we're all in the groove together.
‘It's quite incredible how Ben's managed to do that, and kudos to him for pulling that off.
‘The musicians he used as well – it's incredible. A lot of people in this industry are out of work at the moment, I might not have been able to get them otherwise! So we got all these incredible, legitimate, true jazz musicians as well.
‘It's so authentic to the style and I'm delighted with how it's coming out.
‘I've never had an album that's been such an easy sell, with people wanting to know about it. I think they're intrigued by the concept of it all. For me, it's so natural, it's something I've been doing my entire life.
‘Even creating the album, it was all done in two months. Ben threw himself into it, everyone was getting paid properly, it just felt easy and right.’
The songs on the album include a mixed bag of hits originally by The Spice Girls, Curtis Stigers and Michelle Gayle among others.
‘It's all the songs I love. I was a big lover of all that indie stuff during the ’90s, but that just doesn't play into the hands of my fans. A lot of them came off the back of X Factor and Same Difference, so they already love that cheesy pop – stuff like Steps and S Club.
‘As much as the ’90s was about those indie records to me, it was just as much about all the records I've picked for this album. You've got Haddaway in there, for example. Anyone, it doesn't matter what you're into, you love that record!
‘You've got the stuff for the pop purists, but I've also gone into the realms of Phats and Small – Turnaround is in there. What a club classic that is!
‘I think we've got it right, obviously it's a subjective thing, and everyone's got their own favourites from the ’90s. But we only wanted to pick 10, and it's quality over quantity with this.’
While he doesn't currently have any live shows pencilled in to back up the album, Sean admits he’d love to tour it.
‘This could tour, definitely in theatres – people getting dressed up in dickie-bows and cocktail dresses and just having a great old-school night out at the theatre – it really does suit that.
‘I'd be lying if I said that wasn't something I'd love to get on the road, but a lot's got to happen between now and then.’
In the meantime though, there’s some unfinished business to deal with – Dick Whittington is returning to The Kings for a summer run from July 23-August 8.
‘I got a call from Jack (Edwards, Kings’ artistic director and panto star) and Paul (Woolf, Kings’ CEO) saying we want to finish what we started, and I was obviously straight back in.
‘The emotion around it was insane, if we'd been able to finish it, it would have been brilliant.’
While Marlene Little Hill is unable to reprise her role as Fairy Bowbells, it opened the way for a Same Difference reunion – Sean’s sister is taking on the role.
Sean admits that he didn't think Sarah would be interested – she runs SD Studios dance school and has two young children.
‘When Jack suggested it, I said there’s not a hope in hell, she's already crazy busy. But as it happened, because it falls in the summer, she's taking a bit of time off from the studios, so it works.
‘I think there's an interest there now for people who've already seen it, to come back and see Sarah's take on it.
‘I think this is the only theatre in the whole of the UK which could have got Same Difference back together,’ Sean laughs.
‘It was never anything we were thinking about doing or bringing back – apart from that one-off charity song we did. It was never on the cards. But the next minute, Sarah's calling me up and saying she's just signed up for the panto and she'll be joining me.’
‘When it turns into a Same Difference thing, it comes with a lot more pressure, and the name comes with a love it or hate it thing.
‘On my own, I don't get that kind of scrutiny, but it makes for an exciting panto, and for the general public, it's something fun, to see: “Oh, what's happened to them after all these years?”’ he chuckles.
There is also the hope that by the time the panto returns, social distancing restrictions will have been removed.
‘Hopefully by then most people will have been fully vaccinated so they can fully open the theatre, and also we won't have to do all that social distancing actually in the panto. It can almost feel like it should have in the first place...
‘I'm looking forward to it.’
Given all the musical styles he’s tried his hand at, any more he fancies a crack at?
‘Next up, I've got to try my hand at heavy metal...!’ he laughs.
Swing for the ’90s is out now. Go to seansmithsolo.com.
To book tickets for the summer panto, go to kingsportsmouth.co.uk.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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