Local lad Curtis T Johns, star of Let It Shine and The Band, tells JLife all about his upcoming performance at Leeds Grand Theatre.
Talking to JLife from the road, sandwiching in the time to answer questions between shows on a packed day featuring two live performances, musician Curtis T Johns comes across as every inch the down to earth Yorkshireman, despite his recent rise to fame.
As one of the stars of the acclaimed Tim Firth-penned musical, The Band, Curtis is currently travelling the length and breadth of the UK, with the hit production taking the 24 year-old across the nation – from Sheffield to Southampton and Cardiff to Canterbury. However, the North Leeds native will soon return to play in front of a home crowd from 20th to 31st March, when The Band rolls into town for its stint at Leeds Grand Theatre.
The musical features an ensemble cast including Curtis and his four Five to Five bandmates, all of whom were cast by taking part in the BBC’s reality TV show, Let It Shine. Following rigorous rounds of auditions and performances, the quintet was selected to play the singing parts of boyband, Take That, as the show follows the lives of a group of the pop stars’ fans over several decades.
So how does it feel to be performing at one of Leeds’ most prestigious venues? Curtis, who grew up in the city, and also owns the Far Moss Sports Ground in Alwoodley, says: “I’m super excited to be coming home and performing in front of a northern crowd. I grew up in Harehills, and later Seacroft, but I eventually moved to Otley because it has a proper Yorkshire feel. During my downtime I go to Otley Chevin Forest Park, Roundhay Park and Kirkstall Abbey. They are all relaxing and I feel very at home walking around.”
Curtis, who has previously performed at Leeds Pride, names Leeds Town Hall and the now defunct The Musiquarium in Kirkstall as “two of [his] favourite venues” to perform at but has also enjoyed being away from home and sampling crowds across the UK, as he adds that life on the road is “great fun – the boys keep touring exciting!”
Curtis made an instant impression on Let it Shine, when he took to the stage in front of four celebrity judges – Gary Barlow, Dannii Minogue and Martin Kemp plus guest judge Amber Riley – to sing Leeds-born songstress Corinne Bailey Rae’s hit, ‘Put Your Records On’. As it turns out, some of the lyrics he performed that day, “the more everything changes, the more it stays the same”, turned out to be quite apt for Curtis’ own musical journey, as he says of the months since his reality TV competition success: “It’s been crazy as I come from a very normal background, growing up on an estate in Leeds. I still have to pinch myself. It doesn’t change anything for my friends and family though.”
As for his career highlight so far, Curtis singles out “performing with Take That and Gary. I’m not supposed to say this but I’m meant to be dancing and practicing choreography but I get caught in the moment and just end up watching them. It’s just me being in awe of the moment!”
There are, of course, parallels to be drawn between Curtis and Gary, with both having grown up in the north on opposite sides of the Pennines and being heavily involved in song writing as well as performing. Curtis specifically names Gary as one of the main musicians to have had an impact on his life and career, along with Corinne, who he describes as “brilliant – I love her vocals and unique tones and her storytelling voice.”
His current show, The Band, focuses on how pop music helps to shape peoples’ lives, so which other artists have influenced Curtis? “This is a long answer as music really has defined most moments in my life,” he explains, “from Paloma Faith, Brandon Flowers, Anthony and the Johnsons, to Kodaline, and Simply Red – the list goes on and on and on.” When it comes down to specifics, it is again, a certain Manchester band that stand out, as Curtis remembers: “In 2010 I was running on a treadmill in my local gym on a morning before attending my sixth form, and I was listening to the entirety of the Beautiful Word album by Take That.”
When questioned about The Band’s opening night in Manchester, and whether performing Gary and co’s music and lyrics in the city in which they originally formed was a nerve-wrecking experience, Curtis answers: “It was crazy. It was my 24th birthday on opening night. Also an eerie fact is that the show is set on a night in 1993 – the year I was born. I was quite literally performing on the day I was born, on the actual day I was born!”
Despite Let It Shine and The Band being Curtis’ big breaks in TV and musical theatre respectively, the Leeds lad was already in the process of forging a promising career in the music industry, with some of his own songs having featured on Matt Cardle’s latest album. For other aspiring young songwriters, Curtis has a few sage words of advice, stating: “You’ve got to have a thick skin and keep pushing forward and working hard. Always be open to learning and developing new skills to refine your abilities. And learn to collaborate and work with others.”
As for his plans after The Band, Curtis adds that he has “lots and lots” lined up: “A future in music for sure and certainly writing music,” he expands, “there’s a book that’s nearly finished too, entitled ‘The Art of Everything’. It’s about growing up in Leeds as a scruffy kid and my experiences, as well as music – it’s light-hearted and fun!”
To find out more about Curtis and his career, visit Ctjmusic.co.uk. To book tickets to see The Band in Leeds, visit Leedsgrandtheatre.com.
Photos: Matt Crockett