DarrenPercival’s loving life

POSITIVE THINKER: Darren Percival.DARREN Percival is a romantic, but not always in the traditional sense of the word.
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‘‘I live a romantic life and honour things that are really important,’’ he tells Weekender from Melbourne on a rare day off.

‘‘To me, romance is how beautiful life is – and how beautiful it can be.

‘‘I am very focused on getting the most out of every moment, sharing meals, ringing someone if I’m thinking about them, honouring the time we have together as family, which people sometimes roll their eyes at but other times they appreciate why.’’

That’s not to say he doesn’t pull off sweet surprises for Amanda, his wife and the mother of his two young children, Cash and Willow.

‘‘I might organise for her sister to come and look after the kids and leave tickets for a little trip away, but it doesn’t have to necessarily involve spending lots of money because sometimes it’s nicer to just cook a meal together – and frankly if I remember to take the bins out on a Monday morning, that could be romantic too.’’

Percival’s arsenal of down-to-earth appeal is also boosted by his songwriting, with an ode to his wife chosen as the title track from his new album Lovelife, a compilation of his favourite love songs from artists including The Beatles, Elton John, Nora Jones and The Bee Gees.

The original compositions – Lovelife, We Danced All Night and Don’t Hate Me (For Loving You) – are also a celebration of a mateship, born from a poignant collaboration with producer and friend of 20 years, Paul Gray.

‘‘He’s my best mate and I love him dearly – he’s got myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, and paused the operation to have stem cell replacement until we opened the tour,’’ he says.

‘‘When he got crook it was really full on and I think that in making this record it was great for us to be busy.’’

The album is the latest chapter in the 2012 The Voice runner-up’s musical career, which had its seeds in the ukulele he was given as a five-year-old, his persistence as the only boy in his tap dancing class and the backyard concerts he would perform for his father’s workmates.

As a high schooler in the 1980s he attended private singing lessons and was asked at the age of 15 to fill in for a sick teacher and take on the junior classes.

After leaving school he ran his own singing school in Balmain, before reconnecting with jazz musician James Morrison, who had held a big band workshop at Percival’s high school.

‘‘I was 19 and I worked with him right through till I was 27 – he’s been one of my most influential mentors and a great friend,’’ he says.

‘‘He’s a pilot and has a turbo prop plane and his brother is the drummer in the band and we used to fly around everywhere – it was wild, they didn’t have a frequent flyer program but we once did 210 shows in a year so you can imagine the workload and the miles.’’

Positive-thinking Percival would feature on recordings, jingles, voiceovers and perform at weddings and pubs before he flew to New York in 2004 to attend a choral workshop with Don’t Worry Be Happy singer and conductor Bobby McFerrin. He inspired Percival to continue to offer vocal coaching, branch into singing workshops for the corporate sector and lecture in the Australian National University’s vocal department for a year.

McFerrin would be a major influence on the vocal looping technique Percival has used in his live shows since 2004.

He has since released three albums under his alter ego of Mr Percival and continues to use it when he performs as the support slot for his own headlining shows.

The day he found out he had landed a slot on The Voice, he had $18 in the bank.

‘‘There have been great positives in being a part of it, I loved that I got to spend time with Keith Urban and the fact that he and I remain friends, I’m very grateful for that.

‘‘But it is getting exceedingly more and more difficult to sell music and to tour [to make a living] so I’m doing a whole lot of other stuff to keep all the balls in the air – that’s the reality of being creative.

‘‘I’ve just started doing breakfast radio in [Coolum, Queensland] where I live, which is a dream come true. So I think if you can have all these things in play, you’ll have a really long and happy and healthy life.’’

Darren Percival performs on June 28 at Hunter Theatre, at Hunter School of the Performing Arts.

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