As a singer Rob’s reached number one with the Comic Relief song Islands in the Stream, has performed with Bryn Terfel on his best-selling album and even popped up to sing the Welsh National Anthem with Coldplay at one of their gigs at the Principality Stadium. And it’s that singing side Rob will be giving new focus to on his latest tour. It might come as a surprise for some, but for Rob: “This feels like the show I should be doing. For me it is not new at all. For me it just feels like an expansion of what I have always done, but perhaps it will be new for a large section of the public. It depends how closely you follow someone’s career. There will be plenty of people who know that this is what I do and plenty of people that don’t.
“I had started this tour pre-pandemic. We had got 12 shows done, and we certainly noticed that at the beginning of the show, for the first five minutes, people were thinking ‘Well, what is this going to be?’ The audience turn up and the first thing they see is a nine-piece band.”
But the fact is that music has always been a big part of Rob’s life. Within the show there will be an autobiographical element: “I will talk about being at school where I met (Gavin and Stacey co-star) Ruth Jones for the first time and we were doing musicals together. I will tell stories about being a lovelorn teenager playing in Guys and Dolls. And then it goes through going off to drama school and then right now to singing with some really huge names like Neil Diamond and Tom Jones, and there will also be a bit of Gavin and Stacey in there. And I will even make up a song…”
Music has often been part of his stand-up show, but Rob thought carefully about giving it the focus this new show does now. Rob was guesting at Joe Stilgoe’s Christmas show at the Lyric, Hammersmith, and a producer friend suggested doing something like the show he is now doing.
“I was very wary of the idea. When somebody who is known primarily for one thing starts doing something else, then you can be met with a bit of suspicion.”
But the idea grew on him, particularly the fascinating process of the song selection – inevitably songs which meant something to Rob: “They had to be songs that had a significance in my life. I have got I’ve Never Been in Love Before from Guys and Dolls because that’s a song I used to sing to the young girl in front of me at school that I was madly in love with. The rehearsals were after school every day, and I have such vivid memories and I had never been in love before.”
And yes, sadly it was unrequited: “She was seeing a surfer called Mike. I barely came up to his waist. I didn’t stand a chance.”
There will also be Smile (Though Your Heart Is Breaking) which Rob did with Tom Jones: “But you have also got to think of the structure of the show. I find it easier to find mournful songs than I do upbeat songs. But that’s where having already done 12 shows before the pandemic will really help. We had a 12-show try out and then 18 months to reflect on it.
“(With the pandemic) we have had it so much easier than so many other people, though – people that have had real tragedy in their lives. I would not for a second say ‘Woe is me!’ But in my business it is the live audiences that have been hardest hit, that have really suffered. You can now feel an almost palpable desire to get back out there. I think initially there will be some reticence and hesitancy, but that will soon give way to the sheer delight of that old-fashioned feeling of shared experience that is so much a part of our lives. You remember when the lockdown was easing and they said we could go out for walks with our friends, and you remember how much that meant to us. You remember how good that felt.”
Rob is sure that our return to the shared experience of live theatre and music will be much the same…