'Kings of popera' G4 promise hits, harmonies and local guests in Northern Ireland shows

High tenor Jonathan Ansell from The X-Factor's original runners-up is looking forward to leaving Irish music lovers with 'a spring in their step' next month

G4 are having a fun time of it in advance of their first ever visit to Derry~Londonderry.

Their concert in the former UK City of Culture, scheduled for the Millennium Forum on April 17, is one of four tour dates on the island of Ireland next month, the others being in Dublin, Galway and Belfast’s Waterfront Studio.

It's part of a 2018 Live Tour for G4, or the 'Guildhall 4' – they'll not sound out of place in the Maiden City! - which has high tenor Jonathan Ansell speaking to me on the phone from the windy but picturesque coastline of Whitley Bay ahead of their show there that very evening.

While the band have performed in Belfast and Dublin before, the prospect of bringing their repertoire to a few other locations around the Emerald Isle has certainly enticed them. 

And when it comes to Derry, it probably helps that Ansell has seen and enjoyed clips from a certain popular sitcom about four schoolgirls – though naturally there’s more to it than that.

'The fun thing, for us, is to visit these beautiful places that we previously might never have had an excuse to visit', says Ansell. 'We'll certainly take in as much as we can while we're there. The people in Ireland are so welcoming and appreciative of music. There's a real support to the arts across the board there.'

A support right in line with the legion of fans gained and expanded on since they arrived on the music scene as X-Factor runners-up back in 2004. G4 have been hailed as the 'kings of popera', 'vocally flawless' and 'pitch perfect' – not too shabby for a former barbershop quartet.

G4 on stage

Four men – currently Ansell, Ben Thapa, Mike Christie and Nick Ashby – who feel 'really privileged' to give their uniquely classical slant to popular tuneage.

'I actually think we were fortunate to finish second on The X-Factor', Ansell admits. 'There's something in the psyche that leads people to cheer for underdogs, those who don't quite make it. Now, it can be amazing to win, but for us, there was less of a rush to release our first single and album. Everything was paced slightly slower. And that enabled us to really hone what we did.'

The X-Factor experience wasn't all sweetness and light. It was a bizarre environment for the band, their education at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (hence their name) not preparing them for the drama behind and in front of the camera. But nowadays, Ansell views it as 'unbelievably educational'.

'It is a huge shock to the system. Not having come from the commercial music side at all, you are in at the deep end. But on the other hand, it's a great learning curve, a remarkable rollercoaster that you don't want to get off.'

The Bognor Regis-born Ansell, 36, always loved to sing. He talks fondly about the time he used to record samples of himself singing along to beats on his keyboard at home, and how that laid the foundations for what he would become.

'It was exciting', he says. 'When you're that young, you're not inhibited by what other people may think of your performance. That gives you the liberation to express yourself very freely.'

Things escalated at school when he was spotted singing louder than anyone else in assembly by one of his teachers. Maybe, his parents were told, their son should utilise his singing talents somewhere?

From that moment on, Ansell, choirs and performing went together like clockwork. Eight and a half years with the West Sussex Boys Choir, including worldwide tours, followed. He’d fallen for performing hook, line and sinker – and he's clearly no less passionate to this day.

'There is nothing more fulfilling than performing in front of an audience', he says. 'It's also exciting, mutually, for all of us in G4 to still be quite unique in the way we interpret songs. We have our own individual passions – I, myself, am very keen on outdoor pursuits – and those are really important in making each of us tick. They take you away from the group dynamic, but freshen and fulfill us by the time we return to perform together, strengthening us as a unit.'

Ansell himself has had plenty of time to develop; marriage, children and a successful solo career coming in the midst of a seven-year break-up for G4 between 2007 and 2014. But he considers G4's 'lost years' to have made them stronger and wiser.

'You learn a huge amount as a group, but you potentially learn more about yourself on your own. I love the opportunities I've had, and still have, as a soloist but it's also good to have the mutual camaraderie of a group. The mixture of all that makes you more mature.'

The Derry show, featuring soprano Mairead Healy and the Londonderry Musical Theatre choir, promises an 'Irish tint' to go with a little opera, 'a bit of a rock finish' and all the famous numbers from the X-Factor days, like 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'My Way', 'Circle Of Life' and Radiohead's 'Creep'. Healy will also perform with the band in Belfast, along with the Belfast School Of Performing Arts Choir.

'We'll not be performing to you, but celebrating music with everyone in the venue', Ansell assures. 'Not taking ourselves too seriously. Leaving everyone with a spring in their step. And incorporating local guests, as we do on our travels, will bring a lovely splash of regionality to the concert. We're looking forward to it.'

G4 will perform in Derry-Londonderry's Millennium Forum on April 17. To book phone 028 7126 4455 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk.