Gareth Malone is singing down the phone to me.

I feel privileged to be having a private audience with Britain’s favourite choirmaster, as he gives me a quick blast of Mr Blue Sky.

He’s demonstrating the part at the end where, on the original Electric Light Orchestra recording, a choir comes in. That part of the song had never been performed in public before, until Gareth collaborated with Birmingham musician Jeff Lynne last November.

Jeff and his band joined Gareth and his Voices choir to perform a spectacular finale to the Children In Need Rocks concert in London.

Now Gareth, presenter of hit Bafta-winning BBC series The Choir, reveals how nervous he was performing the song live in its entirety for the first time.

“ELO had always stopped when they got to that bit at the end because they thought it was too difficult to perform,” explains Gareth.

“Gary Barlow persuaded him to do it with us. It was nerve-wracking but Jeff was great to work with.

“It involved lots of calls to Jeff’s home in Los Angeles to discuss all the details in advance. I said ‘We can do whatever you like’ and he said ‘I just want it to sound like the record’.

“The level of detail we went into, trying to get every semi-quaver right – it took a long time but it was worth it.

“Jeff is very demanding but a wonderful musician, and very quiet and unassuming. He’s all about the notes.

“The choir didn’t come in until 54 bars in. I’ve heard the record a billion times but I still counted nervously, just in case. We come in full octane so we had to get it right.

“We sang it and the audience went crazy for it, then Chris Evans, who was hosting the show, said ‘do it again’ so we did!

Gareth Malone and his Voices choir accompany Jeff Lynne for Mr Blue Sky at the Children In Need Rocks concert.
Gareth Malone and his Voices choir accompany Jeff Lynne for Mr Blue Sky at the Children In Need Rocks concert.
 

“What wasn’t shown on TV was that we immediately did the whole five minutes again. The second time was such a party because we could relax and enjoy it.”

Gareth, 38, is performing live again as he’s embarking on a 14-date UK tour, which includes Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on May 25.

Joined by his Voices choir, he’s excited about his very first tour.

“I was in rock bands when I was a teenager, so this is an unrealised dream,” he smiles.

“It is rather rock and roll. We are playing big venues and even have a tour bus.

“There won’t be any TVs thrown out of hotel windows, though. We are all going to be very careful with our voices, going to bed early and drinking honey and lemon.

“I’m generally fairly sensible. On occasions in my younger days I probably have got drunk and behaved quite badly, but I’m nearly 40 now.

“I remember going to Symphony Hall in 1997 to see the CBSO and Simon Rattle, and thinking what an amazing place it is. To be on the stage, playing it is very exciting.

“During my show there will be some singalong bits where I teach the audience parts to join in on. But I don’t want to be off-putting, we won’t be holding choral auditions and you’ll be singing with 2,000 other people.

“It will be fun. The songs will be recognisable, though we put our interpretation on them.”

This was evident on their debut hit record, Voices, released before Christmas. It included new arrangements by Gareth of songs by the likes of Keane, Alicia Keys, Radiohead and Fleet Foxes, with some surprising people supplying guest vocals.

One was Birmingham-born Fyfe Dangerfield, lead singer of Brit-nominated band Guillemots.

“He’s a really good musician,” says Gareth admiringly.

“He reads and writes sheet music to a really sophisticated degree. I was seriously impressed with him.

“Calgary by Bon Iver is one of the stand-out tracks on the album and we’ll do that live on the tour.”

The Birmingham City Council choir with Gareth Malone
The Birmingham City Council choir with Gareth Malone

Then there’s Amber Le Bon, the model daughter of Duran Duran star Simon, who has inherited her father’s ability to sing and who performs a solo to Nights In White Satin on the album.

“I was asked to do this bizarre day, teaching the staff of Vogue magazine to sing. They got all these models and designers in, too.

“At the end of the day someone mentioned to me that the girl with the great voice was Amber Le Bon. She asked me to recommend a choir to join but I think she was too shy to audition.

“I wanted her to do that song on the album as our version is ethereal and modelly, a bit like a perfume advert.”

In many ways, Gareth – a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music who ran the youth choir and community choir of the London Symphony Orchestra – is much more classical musical than rock n roll. “I tend to avoid pop music gigs because they are so loud, to the point of being incoherent,” reveals Gareth, who lives in north London with his wife Becky, an English teacher, and their children Esther, three and 10-month-old Gilbert.

“I find it very difficult, as I want to be able to hear the music properly.

“Pop is a recorded medium and I’m quite happy to listen to it through my speakers.

“I don’t put music on in the background, I sit and focus on it. I’m happy to listen to pop, jazz, indie or whatever, but if I’m seeing someone live I want them to have a level of technical excellence that I don’t have. That’s more likely to be a classical concert.”

Gareth, who was made an OBE, topped the charts with a song with the Military Wives Choir he formed. Wherever You Are, a love poem compiled from letters written between the women and their absent husbands and partners, was the Christmas number one in 2011, outselling X Factor winners Little Mix by 100 to one.

Then last year he created a Birmingham City Council Choir for his BBC2 series The Choir: Sing While You Work.

The 22-strong group, made up of staff from traffic wardens and social workers to leisure centre workers, took on P&O Ferries, Citi bank, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and Sainsbury’s in the competition, and reached the semi-finals.

They are still going strong.

Gareth says: “The choirs are my babies and I do my best to stay in touch with them all. I was in email contact with the Birmingham choir just last week.

Choirmaster Gareth Malone and his wife Rebecca at Buckingham Palace, where he received an OBE last year
Choirmaster Gareth Malone and his wife Rebecca at Buckingham Palace, where he received an OBE last year
 

“I went to see South Oxhey choir sing at Christmas, and I did that series of Unsung Town back in 2008. It’s really heartening that they’re still going.”

Gareth is something of a trendsetter. He was wearing bowties before Doctor Who, hit the headlines when he grew a ginger beard before the current trend for facial hair, and is leading the way in the wearing of coloured trousers.

But he reveals: “The beard is probably not going to make it on to the tour. I’m doing some filming with kids and they can be quite scared of beards.

“But I will miss it. It’s so much easier not to shave, shaving is a bore, especially in the winter.

“The reaction to the beard was ridiculous, I couldn’t believe it. I suddenly found my face splashed everywhere. And I’m sure they made it even more day-glo orange.

“As for the trousers, I thought it would be fun to wear different coloured ones for the different companies – I wore red for the fire brigade, yellow for P&O and blue for Sainsbury’s.

“But I met the scheduler of BBC2 the other week and she said ‘we had a lot of negative feedback about your yellow trousers’.

“I couldn’t believe it. Really, people are contacting BBC2 to say they don’t like my trousers? Please, judge me on the music, not my trousers!

“I had just come back from filming The Choir in America, going into schools and workplaces there to form choirs. I noticed that everyone wears colour but I got off the plane and realised that everyone in Britain looks a bit muted, all blues, greys and blacks. I think it’s a shame.”

* Gareth Malone performs at Birmingham's Symphony Hall on May 25. For tickets, ring 0121 345 0600 or go to www.thsh.co.uk.