Facing the music: Allan Clayton

Bowie, Bernstein and Benjamin, and a yen to master drum machines and loop pedals ... the tenor reavels his musical inspirations

How do you mostly listen to music?

I can’t go anywhere without headphones on. Even if it’s just to the local shop and back, I’ll listen to something on my phone. I also take my wireless speaker with me whenever I’m travelling for more than a couple of days.

What was the first record you bought?

It was probably Extreme’s III Sides to Every Story when I was 11 or 12. My dad used to make tapes for me, so I was a bit slow to start buying my own music. I’ve more than made up for it since.

What was the last piece of music you bought?

Two EPs by the French DJ/producer 20syl, and the vocal score of Bernstein’s Candide. I also bought (and love) David Bowie’s Blackstar.

If you found yourself with six months free to learn a new instrument, what would you choose?

In the cupboard under my stairs, I have an ever-growing pile of synthesisers, drum machines, loop pedals and keyboards. I’d bite your whole arm off for the chance to run away for six months and learn how to make them all work properly.

Allan Clayton as Castor in English National Opera’s 2011 production of Castor and Pollux.
Allan Clayton as Castor in English National Opera’s 2011 production of Castor and Pollux. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Is applauding between movements acceptable?

Absolutely. Except when it isn’t.

What single thing would improve the format of the classical concert?

Getting rid of white tie: it looks pompous and is hellishly uncomfortable. And I always forget my cufflinks.

What’s been your most memorable live music experience as an audience member?

Watching a group of Palestinian kids sing the round Ah, Poor Bird in an ancient, tiny Greek Orthodox church on a hill-side outside Ramallah. We were visiting with the charity Choir of London, who do amazing work with people of all ages throughout the occupied territories.

Book of Mormon
Book of Mormon: ‘My girlfriend laughed so hard she head-butted the chair in front.’ Photograph: Joan Marcus/AP

Do you enjoy musicals? Do you have a favourite?

The Book of Mormon is one of the best things ever written in any form and in any age. My girlfriend laughed so hard she headbutted the chair in front.

What is the best new piece written in the past 50 years?

Written on Skin by George Benjamin. And not just because I was fortunate enough to be involved with its premiere, or because George is a lovely man. It’s a piece of searing beauty.

Jónsi, at 2010’s Coachella festival.
Jónsi, at 2010’s Coachella festival. Photograph: Startraks Photo/Rex Features

Which non-classical musician would you love to work with?

Argh. That’s tough. Can I form a supergroup? Stevie Wonder, Jónsi, Frederic Robinson, Jonny Greenwood, and me on triangle.

What do you sing in the shower?

I don’t ever sing in the shower. Probably because I’m concentrating instead on shampooing my beard.

Cosmic Girl by Jamiroquai

It’s late, you’ve had a few beers, you’re in a karaoke bar. What do you choose to sing?

Cosmic Girl by Jamiroquai.

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