Much of this edition of Berkhamsted Living celebrates the artistic side of the town. There are other artists, though, for whom Berkhamsted is a retreat from the demands of performance and a place to rest and recharge. One such is singer and actor Gary Williams. Gary starred as Frank Sinatra in The Rot Pack in the West End and he's been compared to Michael Buble. A regular with big bands and orchestras, he has performed all over the world - on land and sea. Whatever the world has to offer, Gary gives the clear impression that having time to spend and enjoy in Berkhamsted has become his yardstick of success.
Born and raised in Yorkshire, he and his American husband Mark moved to Berkhamsted from Islington when the need for a London base diminished in the face of recession.
“We both spend a lot of time away and Islington was becoming expensive,” Gary says. “Berkhamsted seemed perfect at the time and now we're here I see it as an idyll. It's close to London, not as expensive, but it's also absolutely beautiful; it's the kind of place you would go on vacation.”
Getting a kick out of you
“We had friends who lived nearby and we had visited them so we knew the town. It feels like a village - it's almost in the country but it has a buzz that we like, and I get a kick out of being able to go out with a list of things I want to buy and get them all in Berkhamsted. We love the Rex, of course; it's startling that it should be in Berkhamsted. And we're fortunate enough to live on the canal, in a really beautiful spot.”
Someone in the Hertfordshire tourism office should sign him up. The way Gary articulates his affection for the town is highly evocative: “Our lives away are very hectic,” he says. "We travel a lot and don't spend much time in one place. This is a beautiful place to come home to. When you've been for a night out in London you come back to this: a warm, quiet evening, the canal perfectly still, the atmosphere calm and serene.”
Gary started out in Immingham. a town best known for docks and petrochemicals near Grimsby. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be a musician. “I can't read a note,” he admits. “At the age of 19 I had a regular job, in admin - but I always loved music. I could sit at a keyboard for hours, just enjoying the notes. When I was at school I put on small shows for school friends; later I found my voice in amateur dramatics and did some of the pubs and clubs. “I loved it, dragging my PA around and getting paid for it. And I got lucky. In Hull, someone heard me in a club, and he knew a man with restaurants In Hull who wanted live music.” Gary found a mentor and, to a certain extent, a patron. With the “fearlessness of youth” he took the chance with both hands and has not looked back.
It's easy to see why he's popular. He's an engaging, thoughtful speaker who must make the gaps between songs entertaining - is this a Yorkshire compulsion? He sees his role in a particular way. “For me, there's the material, there's singing in tune and having good musicians, but so much of what is involved in a performance is about what you say and how you carry yourself: the links, your rapport with the audience, the arrangements.
Even in a room of 1,500 people I still want people to regard it as an intimate experience - it's like a conversation, in music or in words. The best in any kind of art is something that leaves you with a little more than you began with, a little enriched.
It ain’t what you say
“Songs can be very powerful and evocative. Quite often people will speak to me after a performance and they have been crying. A song is so much more than a collection of notes and words. The way you introduce a song has an impact. You might say: “This is a song from the early 60s” or you might sketch a picture: “Take yourself back to 1964... etc.” It can be very powerful.
Gary's website contains a blog that is worth a look for samples of his humour:
After a show in the middle of the Baltic the other night, a nice couple from Grimsby stopped me and said they first saw me performing when I started out about 20 years ago in a social club there. ‘Oh wow’, I said, ‘what was I singing bock then?’ ‘Exactly the some as you are now,’ she replied. Crushed.
A sense of humour is necessary. “This business, you never know how long it is going to last,” Gary says.