Thursday, April 17, 2014

19 February 2006 - Wales on Sunday - Nathan Bevan - My Story Has a Sting in it's Tail

He's not the Messiah. In fact, he's not even a very naughty boy. Actually, it's hard to imagine former Jesus Christ Superstar, er, superstar Steve Balsamo doing anything as stereotypically rock and roll as trashing a hotel room or sending a TV set sailing into the night from a top floor window. Indeed, I get the impression that if he so much as spilled his camomile tea on the bed-sheets he'd be straight on the phone to reception to ask for a cloth to clean up with.

"It's true, we are the politest men in rock," said the 34-year-old one-time
West End
board-treader, referring to the equally genial bandmates who make up hotly-tipped West Coast-style rockers The Storys. "You've got to be nice to people all the time," he added, "because it's like Ozzy Osbourne said, the people you meet on your way up are the same ones you'll see on your way back down again."

Relaxing in a plush red leather booth of a swanky
Swansea eatery and looking thoroughly rakish and dapper with his shoulder-length hair and black linen suit, the Swansea-born singer certainly knows all about the ups and downs of show business. From his earliest memories of his Italian dad, a chef from Venice
, belting out Mario Lanza standards, to the country songs his Welsh mum would sing him to sleep with, music has been in Steve's blood. Aged 17 and prompted by jealousy over his then-girlfriend's teenage crush on Jon Bon Jovi, he would trawl the decidedly unglamorous pub and club circuit of South Wales in various bands, belting out classic rock covers to regulars who'd take umbrage with the fact their bingo night was being disrupted.

"I remember one place in Bridgend years ago someone tried to strangle me as I was singing, which, as criticism goes, seemed a bit harsh," laughed Steve. "The bouncer - this big, hard, black guy with white tattoos - stepped in and really saved my bacon."

At 21 he swapped the spit and sawdust of workingmen's locals for the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd, his impressive three-and-a-half octave vocal range having landed him a role in a touring production of Les Miserables - or The Glums as it's known in
. "That came as a hell of a culture shock," said the self-confessed pints-not-tights man. I was surrounded by people who'd been to theatre school and all I could do was watch them and pick things up quickly. Luckily, I'm a fast learner."

Steve shot to fame, and saw his face plastered across bus shelters nation-wide, when he landed the lead in Andrew Lloyd-Webber's musical Jesus Christ Superstar. With just one televised performance, it's said Steve caused ticket sales for the show to go stratospheric, selling more than £160,000 worth in 30 minutes.

But the desire to be a pop star was still as strong as ever. "To be honest, I could have stuck with it and earned myself a flaming fortune, but I only went into Superstar to get a recording contract out of it, and five months into the run that's exactly what happened," he said.

So, in 1997, he left behind a lucrative career as Lord Lloyd-Webber's cash cow to go his own way - but his solo career stalled when he was dropped by his record label five years later. "They ploughed a lot of money into making my record but there was all sorts of restructuring going on and people started losing their jobs," said Steve. "I'd waited for years to be signed and put something out there with my name on it, and just as I was on the brink...," he said, his voice trailing off as he drops his head into his hands in mock exasperation. "Ah well, let's just call it a bad case of musicus interruptus!"

But he remains philosophical about the whole episode. "Look, I had a big record deal, met a lot of great people and travelled the world - to me that's success. And if things hadn't happened how they did I would never have met the guys."

Along with 'the guys' - five other like-minded souls with a love for bands like The Eagles, Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac - he decamped to an old cinema-turned-social club in Glyncorrwg, near Neath, called The Hall. "We went for a few weeks to rehearse and ended up staying a year," laughed Steve. Everyone was really nice to us, we'd try the songs out on them, then they'd buy us pints if they liked them."

They also got an inkling they were doing something right when they did a session for seminal Radio Two DJ Whisperin' Bob Harris. "We told him how we wrote most of the material sitting around in our guitarist Rob's kitchen in Sandfields and he said that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had done exactly the same in Joni Mitchell's kitchen in Topanga Canyon in California when they were starting out. We just thought, 'Perfect!'"

Although their self-titled debut album isn't even out until next month, they've already been rubbing shoulders with royalty, both of the rock variety and otherwise. "Our first proper gig was in front of about 70,000 people at the Olympic Torch event in the mall outside
Buckingham Palace
," said a disbelieving Steve. "We were on with the likes of Rod Stewart and James Brown - not bad company, eh?! Mind you, the organisers did make us clear up afterwards," he laughed.

And, with The Storys snapped up by Warners Records before Christmas, Steve - who recently returned to his
West Wales hometown with his long-term partner Tracy after 10 years in London
- knows he's a lucky man. "We begged, borrowed and stole to make this record and put our own label together, so even if there's no major label involved, it won't matter. We made it ourselves, it's exactly what we wanted and we're so proud of it. It's real music and people seem to want to have real music again."

Calling up a picture on his mobile phone of his six-month-old baby daughter Isabella, a mop of cute brown curls and bows sitting at his piano, Steve looks up and beams. "Not many get a chance like this for a second shot, and we're gonna go for it."

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