As a choreographer and backing dancer, Glenn Ball’s CV reads like a who’s who of pop music. But back in 2004, he stepped into the spotlight as a member of the criminally short-lived group Pop! We recently caught up with Glenn for a chat, and boy, did he have some stories to tell. Read on to find out what it was like working with Pete Waterman, which A-list star kicked him and just where is that long-lost Pop! album…
What is an average day like in life of Glenn Ball?
I moved over to Texas about four or five years ago. Obviously, there’s not the work here like there would be in London, LA or New York, but at the moment my time is spent on Dancing With The Stars Austin which is a big charity event here. I also compete in swing dancing so me and my dance partner are practicing constantly. Things have been a lot quieter, but it’s fortunately getting back to some normality.
How has the industry evolved for male dancers?
I came out of school aged 16 and auditioned for Spirit Of The Dance thinking I’d never get it in a million years. But the reality is there weren’t many guys; it wasn’t like I was some child prodigy; they were just desperate for male dancers and guys that that looked good enough to be on TV. That changed about six or seven years in, when shows like So You Think You Can Dance, and Pineapple Dance Studios started. Everyone had this insight into dancing, and it went from 15 male dancers in an audition to 150, so suddenly you had to be good to get these jobs.
What was your experience growing up as a male dancer?
I was very lucky with my childhood because growing up I played football and basketball; I was really sporty, so I wasn’t targeted by bullies. I was also really open with dancing; I danced in assembly and would never be shy about it. At school, I was ‘Glenn the dancer’ so I think it is about confidence and owning yourself.
Let’s talk about Pop! How did you end up in the group?
I was with an agency run by a guy called Paul Roberts, so I’d worked for two years as a professional dancer and done things with Atomic Kitten and Martine McCutcheon. Tim Byrne went to the agency looking for dancers that could sing, and I was the one he got. So, I was the first one and they built Pop! around me, if you can say that you build a pop group.
Had you wanted to be a singer beforehand?
That’s what I wanted to do. I’d gone to a stage school and even though I was excelling at the dance stuff, I wanted to be in a pop group. I’d auditioned for a lot of boybands for Simon Cowell, but the problem was I couldn’t really sing. When Tim found me, it was always on the understanding that the group would have two people who could sing out of the four – one boy and one girl – so that was lucky on my part.
You had experience of working in and around the music industry before Pop! What were your expectations?
Expectations wise, I think I was a bit more cynical than the rest knowing it could go wrong. I’d danced for some artists in music videos that never even came out, so I was more aware that we hadn’t just made it overnight
In hindsight, the odds were stacked against Pop! a bit. How did it feel at the time?
This is thing…I feel like we could have done better. I don’t want to say we could have made it, but I feel like we could have done better. You can always look back and say we were unlucky, but we did it at an unfortunate time.
After Pop Idol, once you give the audience a vote, they become the experts and suddenly the general public wanted singers. On our first single we didn’t even have male vocals. We had arguments about performing live. We wanted to sing but were told: “No, that’s not on the single”. But we’re not going to perform in front of hundreds of people and mime to a female voice. Even though I was 17 or 18, I still had an opinion and I wanted it to work.
What was Pete Waterman like to work with?
So, as much as Pete was a phenomenal guy to work with, there were some issues. I remember being in his office pleading about the vocals. It wasn’t that I wanted my voice on there, but Jamie is an incredible singer. How pissed off would you have been if you were that good and not even on the songs? I was pissed off for him.
That happened with the first two singles, so yes it was probably a bit too formulaic. It worked with Steps and other bands, but things were changing, and we were unlucky that it changed during our time. Then you look at Serious, which had male vocals and it’s just a shame we didn’t go with that first. It doesn’t eat away at me; I’m not that bothered, but I still think things could have been so different if we’d done Serious first.
Do you think Pop! were given a fair chance by the critics?
I think if we had sung, we would have done a lot better. We just did some things at the beginning that weren’t the best, and then unfortunately people don’t realise how difficult it is if your first single doesn’t do too well.
Heaven and Earth reached #14, so what challenges did that create?
The record shops at the time – Woolworths and HMV – don’t buy as many copies of the next single in. So, even if a million people wanted to buy it, they physically can’t because it isn’t there. I remember us going to the shops on the Monday that Can’t Say Goodbye was released and it wasn’t there, which was heartbreaking for a band that was travelling every night to do promotion. But that all comes from the initial launch where maybe we should have had a different song or a better video. Those are the decisions that made it a bad campaign.
Was life as a pop star relentless, glamorous or a bit of both?
It was a bit of both. There was the emotional roller coaster of scoring Top 20 singles and being known to some people but completely unknown to others. Sometimes I’d phone my mum to tell her how we’d just supported Blue in a packed football stadium, and then performed at a nightclub using toilet rolls painted black because they weren’t expecting us and didn’t have enough microphones. The hard work didn’t bother me, but the constant cycle of “yes, we’ve made it…oh my god, this is terrible” emotions was difficult.
Have you ever considered breaking into the Sony BMG archives and reclaiming the unreleased Pop! album?
Well, this is going to be really disappointing for you but there isn’t an album. We recorded the singles as we went; it was never that we had an album first and then picked what to release from it. I guess it was a weird way of doing things, but we signed a three-single deal and an album was never part of that.
So, you’ve got all the Pop! songs you can have. I couldn’t even tell you what the B-sides were on the singles because I wasn’t anywhere near the studio.
Does Olivia Newton-John know that you covered Xanadu?
Tim [Byrne] and I were messaging on Facebook recently and he sent me a remix of our Xanadu and I’m actually on this song. He said that Olivia Newton-John still says it’s the best cover of Xanadu that she’s ever heard. Apparently, they were together in Vegas and he must have played it to her.
She knew it was being covered; she had to agree to it through the record label. So, if you believe that then she likes our cover the best.
How did things end?
After Jade got pregnant, we had a meeting with Tim. We couldn’t put things on hold for her because we were already heading downward. So, we could have carried on with a replacement, but there was a lot of stress and we didn’t all get on. It was very much girls vs guys; Jamie and I lived together, Hannah and Jade lived together and at that age…when we were doing big concerts and times were good, we loved each other. But a lot of the time we weren’t the best of friends, and I just remember thinking that we should call it a day. At the time I wasn’t that sad about it, because there was such bitterness towards things that happened.
What did you do after Pop! split? Was there a period of mourning or did you jump straight back into work?
I was extremely lucky because Kylie was about to tour and needed a dancer to step in at the last minute. So, literally hours after Pop! were done, I received the call, the next day I was in rehearsals and then two weeks later we went out on tour. I never really had a chance to look back.
Have you ever been drawn back to singing?
Three or four years after Pop!, I had the itch to be a singer again. I spoke to Island records, recorded some songs and just before I signed a deal, I found out Kylie was going on tour again. I could’ve hung around and really pushed a solo career, but the tour was a safe option and I wasn’t fully invested in taking the risk. I chose the tour and that’s the last time I ever thought about being a singer.
Have you ever dished out advice to some of the pop acts that you’ve worked with?
I definitely have; I try and give advice on why certain things are happening. One thing I couldn’t believe when I was in the group was how many “Yes” people are constantly around, and we were a tiny band in comparison to acts like Kylie Minogue or Take That. I always try to plant the seed not to trust everyone around you. A lot of people around you are doing a job, they’re not necessarily there to be honest with you. So, my thing is trying to teach younger kids to keep some real people around them and keep their feet on the ground because I can’t believe how many people sat there telling us we were amazing all the time.
You’ve worked with an incredible number of artists, but if you had to pick between the following, who would you choose and why: Mariah Carey or Jennifer Lopez?
I really, really enjoyed working with Mariah. She was a diva, but she knew she was being a diva which I loved. It was like ‘oh you get it, you’re not just being a bitch’. So, she would say things and then turn to the dancers and wink. She’s not a complete bitch, she’s just playing up to it and she was real fun to work with.
Kylie Minogue or Madonna?
Kylie, 100%. She’s awesome and super sweet. I did five years with Kylie and her whole team – Sean Fitzpatrick, William Baker – was just lovely. Madonna kicked me in an aggressive way, so it’s definitely Kylie.
The Saturdays or the Pussycat Dolls?
That’s a tough one; I love The Saturdays but I have to say the Pussycat Dolls because Kimberley [Wyatt] is one of my best friends, I was literally texting her husband [Max] before this interview. I don’t know the other Pussycat Dolls too well, but Ashley is great.
What’s coming up next for you?
I started competing in swing dancing about five years ago, which is something I’ve done since I was young. It’s a dance form called West Coast Swing and I was the first Englishman to place third in the US Open Championship, so it’s been a complete career changer.
The first year same-sex partnerships were introduced, I brought a friend [Callum Powell] over from London, we did a routine and got third again. So, not only were we the first ever same-sex couple in the competition, we also got top three. It was incredible, and that’s my main thing now: travelling every weekend, competing and just trying to get better.
More and more dance competitions are allowing same-sex partnerships. Has it been accepted
Well that’s the thing. It upsets a few people because suddenly you’re seeing two extremely athletic, powerful people dancing together as opposed to the normal feminine or masculine roles, even though one is leading, and one is following. Some people don’t like that because it seems unfair; maybe it is, but rules are rules.
Also, getting to dance with a guy in a highly stressful situation was so nice because we get ready in five minutes; you put on your costume, there’s no make-up for four hours and it was just super chill.
You have an incredible CV, but what would you pick as your legacy?
There’s a few different things. The United Dance Organisation…I was probably 17 years old and the founder [Simon Dibley] came to me. He wasn’t a dancer, but he’d set it up for his girlfriend and when they split up, he was left with this dance school and didn’t know what to do, so I helped him stabilize it. Then we started studio competitions and the first month 200 people turned up, then the next month 400 people…within months we had thousands of people coming to take part. So, I’m pretty proud of that and I always I’m sad I’m not involved with it now but it’s too busy and it’s in a world of its own now.
I’m proud of dancing with Callum; I would say those two things mainly. But then dancing for people like Lionel Richie, Take That, where you’re like “god they’re just massive”. I’m pretty proud of that as well.
You’ve done so many different things. What is the key to your success?
I look back at it and it wasn’t planned. It wasn’t a business model, or a dream I had, it was just very much how I am. I think about stuff and I do it; I don’t plan. I’m not a planner and that’s why I do so much because I think if you plan, you worry and end up not doing stuff.
We’re guessing that Pop! wouldn’t be very high up the list of achievements?
Unfortunately, not. I emcee and a lot of events have big screens, so people often put Pop! videos on the screen behind me. I might try to play along and pretend it’s embarrassing, but I’m not embarrassed. The reality is it was awesome and we did well, even though I said about the issues. We had two Top 20’s and one just below it…I say three Top 20’s because #26 is still a twenty!
But it was fun at the time. Yes, I guess it was cheesy pop but it’s not something I’ll turn off. If someone played me dancing for The Cheeky Girls, then I would say “oh god, turn it off” because you want people to see the better stuff you’ve done, and that wasn’t it. I’d try and find Serious…but not the other two singles.
We think we know the answer to this one, but what is the best Pop! song?
I definitely think Serious. That old-school disco funk was a genre we could have really explored, whereas the other two singles were pure pop. I feel like that it had potential, but it was also just the best song. Everything came together and it’s the best one to dance to as well.