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Introducing...Robert Wells

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He's a hirsute cross between Richard Clayderman and Europe who can fill a concert arena better even than Elton John. In this week's introducing, Paul O'Mahony rhapsodizes about Robert Wells.

Who is he and why is he famous?

Robert Wells is a pianist, singer, composer and bearer of extraordinary hair. The ivory-tinkling entertainer is most famous for Rhapsody in Rock, the musical extravaganza of his own creation.

Never heard of it. Would you classify it as rhapsodic or rocky? Or both?

It is a heady mixture of rock, boogie-woogie and classical. Night after night the formula works its magic on a rapt audience. Perched behind the piano, his unique hair visible from all vantage points, Wells never fails to unleash a seemingly endless stream of old hits.

It must get a bit tedious after a while though: a man, his hair and a piano.

Oh no, there's much more to it than that. With him on stage is a backing band made up of guitarists with poodle rock hairdos, a full symphony orchestra ,and a slew of guest performers. Imagine if you will a cross between Richard Clayderman, Europe and the Royal Philharmonic and you'll be somewhere in the ballpark.

I certainly will not. I'll have left the ballpark in the time it takes to say 'unholy alliance of incompatible elements', and I'll be picking up pace with every step.

Hold on just a second. His show is enormously popular so he's obviously doing something right. Every summer, accompanied by his band of merry middle-aged men, Wells tours the length and breadth of the country and is joined on stage by household names such as Carola, Lena Philipsson and Tito Beltran.

And that pulls in the punters, does it?

It does indeed. Take the second half of 2003, for example, which was a good year even by his high standards. As the summer drew to a close Gothenburg was lulled into a Wellsian trance when 43,000 devotees filled the local football stadium. That was more seats than even Elton John managed to fill at the same venue.

Blimey!

Yeah, I might have known it would take an international superstar to soften your cough. Anyway, after the Gothenburg performance Wells went on to play 24 sell-out shows at Stockholm's Cirkus venue.

Sounds like quite a year alright.

Hang on to your hat, it doesn't end there. Towards the end of the year he embarked on a Christmas tour.

Let me guess: Rhapsody in Yule.

No, you're miles off. It was called Jingle Wells.

How desperately amusing. Surely he must have settled down for a long winter's nap after all that activity.

Not on your nelly. He hopped straight back into his one horse open sleigh and jingled all the way to China.

Gosh. Did he want to go or was he shanghaied?

You must be joking, he was delighted to go. He has beijingled repeatedly over the years and is a huge superstar in China.

How huge?

He once reached 600 million viewers on a single evening when one of his concerts was broadcast simultaneously by all six state television stations.

Cripes. Isn't that somewhat akin to mass hypnosis?

Indubitably. And it worked. Wells was soon offered an acting role in a romantic drama series for Chinese television.

Really? What was the role?

He was to play himself. Robert Wells, the Swedish musical maestro, would meet and fall in love with a Chinese actress. But he decided to stick to what he knows best.

Which is what exactly?

Achieving untold popularity in communist countries for one thing. Way back in 1990 the Soviet Culture Ministry so dug the Wells vibe that they whisked him across the Baltic to perform Rhapsody in Rock. His brand of showmanship went down a treat in the crumbling empire and soon he was back touring Sweden with new back-up in the form of the Leningrad symphony orchestra.

What about bastions of capitalism? Any luck there?

Quite a bit actually. He has played a few nights at the Metropolitan in New York and the Royal Albert Hall in London.

That's quite a resumé. Has he had time for a family amid all this activity?

Absolutely. He and partner Maria have been an item for sixteen years and have two sons together.

Good for them. And when did he get his big break or has he always been incredibly famous?

He certainly has not. When he first launched Rhapsody in Rock in 1989 there were as many musicians on stage as there were paying punters. For ten years he played the shopping centre circuit and and took what jobs he could until the show eventually built up a head of steam. Soon he was feted across the nation and became an ever present on game show Så Ska Det Låta, the highly successful Swedish version of The Lyrics Board, Ireland's most successful musical export since Riverdance.

So much for one small country to answer for. Riverdance debuted at the Eurovision song contest, didn't it? Has Wells ever made a stab at that?

Yes, several times. But his entries have failed to hit the mark. This year he took the unexpected step of submitting an entry to the Latvian qualifying competition. The song reached the final in Riga but lost out on the night.

Maybe he can try again with Lithuania next year.

Well, why not? The man simply knows no boundaries. As the title of one of his albums suggests, we are all mysteriously hyperlinked on the musicological superhighway that is the World Wide Wells.

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