By RUSSELL BAILLIE



Geoff Sewell is the New Zealand brains and one of the voices behind Amici Forever - the British-based "opera band" that take perfectly good arias or pop songs and unleash a quintet of trained voices upon them.



The three-guy, two-girl - sorry, two-soprano, two-tenor and a bass-baritone - outfit has sold nearly a million albums, got nominated for awards in Britain, sung at sports finals and you couldn't watch the Olympics on the BBC without hearing them belting out a couple of seconds of Olympia: Eternal Flame.



All of which makes Sewell and his band-mates, Jo Appleby, Tsakane Valentine David Habbin and Nick Garrett, very big stars of that part of the pop world known as "classical crossover".

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What's that like, we wondered. So we asked Sewell, just before he arrived back in New Zealand for a short tour.



What sort of band is it like to be on the road with? We take it's not televisions going out hotel windows ...


There's no screaming fans outside the windows either.



I don't know a whole lot about opera but listening to your album I don't know if I would learn anything.


When we put the album together, we thought: Look, what do we want to achieve here? We've got five young singers who can all sing classical stuff really well. But also we've got another angle - we can do the harmonies which have never been done on a CD before.



It just opens you up to such a wonderful array of music and melodies and timeless classics. We thought: We want to bring as many people to the fold as we can. Let's throw in the Nessun Dormas, the Pav football songs which everybody can flap their hat with. And also we took that incredible tune, Unchained Melody, and through the five singers but do it in Italian. That has been our hook ...



But isn't the appeal of vocal harmony that you can't tell where one voice starts and the other finishes? With your approach, you certainly still can because everyone is belting it out.


Exactly. We wanted to have a unique sound and that is where our producer came in. Not to have a wash of voices, because you might as well just be a choir.



We wanted people to listen to distinguish each track of the album. That's the tenor David, that's the tenor Geoff and the bass-baritone Nick and with the two sopranos, you have got very different tonality. Jo has got the higher of the voices and Tsakane has got a very rich sound.



But to get back to your question about the critics and the people who love or hate us, this album is not for the classical purist.



One phrase that will never get used to describe the album is "less is more". I get the feeling that more is more.


I suppose so. We just tried to do such a wide range of stuff. You've got the straight-up classical pieces which we've done nothing to, like Soave Sia Il Vento or Song to the Moon and the Pearl Fishers.



With your own background in this sort of music you would have an affection for some of these songs in less broad-brush versions. Were there any that you had qualms about giving the Amici treatment?


What we tried to do was remain true to the basis of the song. So many people before us have just put techno beats on, which is just a joke, and we didn't want that because we knew we'd just be rubbished. The great thing that we've had in the United States and UK is that the critics have been saying: Finally, this is a fresh angle on the crossover thing. Most people have bastardised it but at least these guys can sing and they've remained pretty true to their values.



With your background in commerce and merchant banking and music - those things have met quite nicely for you.


I loved accountancy and I loved business and I loved being an entrepreneur ... this is show business and I hate to say it, it's almost 80 per cent business and 20 per cent show. A kid came up to me at the Sydney Opera House a few days go and said, 'I'm a singer, what do I do?' I said, 'Go to business school'."



Who is your audience? I guess that your sales must fluctuate around Mother's Day?


Absolutely. We've got loads of middle-aged ladies who love us and whip their tops off - it's true mate, it's amazing - but when we started we thought it was going to be late 20s and upwards. We've been really surprised in the past four months, we've been getting a younger and younger audience, especially over here in Australia. I'm not too sure what it is going to be like in New Zealand. Probably much the same as we've had a long time at the top of the pop charts now.



What are your ardent fans like?


We've got some great fans but we get the odd nutter. I think like any group you are going to get all that.



You haven't seen any Amici Forever tattoos in interesting places?


We have actually. And again the middle-aged ladies. On breasts. And one on a butt-cheek.



You know how Tom Jones feels.


Yeah. There you go.



Performance


* Who: Geoff Sewell



* What: Amici Forever



* Where: ASB Theatre, Aotea Square



* When: Tomorrow night



* Also: The band's bass-baritone Nick Garret isn't touring due to a family bereavement