For a man who makes his living as a wedding singer, Wayne Farrow has a surprising confession to make.
“I’ve never really been into music,” he says as he takes a break from the microphone at another bride and groom’s big day. “I just love entertaining, making people happy. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
In his office at home stand a piano and a guitar, symbols of the showbiz life he chose after a series of jobs left him painfully unfulfilled.
Wayne can’t play either. So they remain unused, just like the recorder he tried to squeeze an ear-splitting tune out of as a schoolboy and quickly abandoned for the sake of his shell-shocked family and classmates.
His only instrument is his voice. And, even if it wasn’t quite what TV shows like X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent were searching for, there are still tens of thousands of wedding guests across Lancashire who will say it’s a “yes” from them.
So far Wayne has been the entertainer of choice for almost 1,000 couples tying the knot. He’s done corporate events too – one an annual trip to Hong Kong Football Club to sing for a huge audience of ex-pat Brits who took a liking to his “cheeky Lancashire lad” persona and flew him over six years on the trot for their big night out.
There have been sports arena performances and private parties. His own highlight was singing with a 14-piece swing band in concert.
But it’s the wedding scene he is happily married to. And, even though he can do as many as four a week at some of the plushest venues across the North West, Wayne still gets as excited as the guests when he arrives for the latest special day and samples the love which is swirling around the room.
Not bad, I tell him, for a man who isn’t “really” into music. “What I mean by that,” he smiles, “is I’m not a musician. I’ve tried and failed with instruments. It’s not for me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy entertaining. That’s different.”
As his latest loved-up audience tuck into their starters, Wayne gives his vocals a rest before his next spot between courses. He sips from a glass of water and admits: “I absolutely love this. I’m living the dream. I’ve got the best job in the world and the feedback I get is brilliant. What’s not to love?”
Wayne is based in the Ribble Valley where there are so many high end wedding venues on his doorstep. He performs in the most sumptuously decorated hotels that the county has to offer – a far cry from his early days as a singer trying to make his way on the pub and club circuit. The unforgiving world of clubland is a tough place to earn your spurs. But Wayne wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“It was a hard apprenticeship,” he says, casting his mind back to nights when he faced some of the hardest-to-please audiences in entertainment and still managed to win them over. “But Gary Barlow did it and he said it’s a great place to learn your trade. He hasn’t done so bad, has he?
“For me it was the best place to start off. I’ve worked in some of the worst places you can imagine and if you can entertain them you can entertain anyone. Singing in front of happy people at a wedding is a dream compared to where I came from.”
Wayne had a stop-start journey into professional singing. He began in the choir at primary school, didn’t sing a serious note for 15 years after that and was only persuaded to pick it up again at the age of 26 after tormenting workmates with a stream of impromptu choruses on the job.
“They kept telling me: ‘For God sake go and do something with that voice instead of winding us up all the time’,” he laughs.
But there was a more fundamental reason for getting up on stage – the need to find a remedy for the darkness that swept over him while working with mentally ill patients at Calderstones Hospital near Whalley.
“I was in my early twenties and, while we can talk openly about depression these days, you couldn’t back then,” he said. “It proved to be a crossroads for me. It was a choice of either staying in mental health work, or doing something that would lift me out of that dark place and make me happy again. So I hit the club circuit and suddenly I was doing something that made me feel good.It kept me sane. I think Calderstones sent me down the pan a bit. It was a hard place to work.
“Suddenly I was enjoying myself again. I hadn’t sung from starting high school to getting into my mid-twenties. I’d joined the choir at junior school because I wasn’t much good at football and stuff like that. I absolutely loved it and our music teacher Miss Whitham was my inspiration. She just struck a chord with us all. But when I went to big school it wasn’t the same, so I packed in.”
Wayne’s apprenticeship in the tough world of pubs and clubs lasted eight gruelling years. But the work began to dry up as the smoking ban started to affect venues.
“I knew I had to take a different direction, make a career change,” he recalls. “I did some corporate stuff and a few weddings and that’s when I realised I was made for it.
“At first I just stood behind a microphone and did a couple of 45 minute sets. But I realised I needed to be more interactive, get in amongst the audience and have a bit of fun with them. I’ve always had a bit of a cheeky side to me and they just seemed to love it. So that’s how I work now and the compliments I get are just brilliant.”
With almost one thousand weddings to his name – and a long list already in his diary going forward – Wayne is proud that most of the bookings have come from recommendations, or engaged couples seeing him in action at someone else’s celebration.
“I went to one wedding last Christmas and picked up four more bookings from the bride’s friends,” he recalls. “That was a productive day. But then I give them more than just a few songs – I’m a wedding entertainer and host. I get the room going and have some fun. I take them up a level after every course. Sometimes I have to bring them down a level too, like the one a few weeks ago where a guest was dancing on the table and she hadn’t even got to the dessert. It was madness.”
Wayne has auditioned for X Factor, BGT, Fame Academy and The Voice. “I didn’t get anywhere because I’m not the sort of artist they’re looking for. When I was in Hong Kong another performer asked me what my ambition was – a number one album or a million in the bank? He said his idea of success was doing something you love and being successful at it. I’ve lived by that ever since.”
How, I ask, does he remember all the words – there are more than 150 hits on his songsheet and a lot more on top of that. They range from swing to popular to rockand every single one is tailor-made for a wedding. “I suppose it’s because I’ve been doing this for a long time now and it’s second nature,” he says. “For me the music carries the lyrics. But if I forget the odd line I’m pretty good at ad-libbing. And, as we’re all having fun, I don’t think they notice it.”
Are there any that stand out? “Quite a few,” he smiles. “They’re memorable for a variety of reasons. But I’ve got to admit I don’t recall every single one of them. One couple came up to me and said ‘you don’t remember us do you?’ I did their wedding seven years ago. I know we had a great day – we always do – but that was all I could remember.
“The great thing is that I’ve met couples and their families and some have become friends. One couple whose wedding I did last year are just about to have a baby. I’ve told them I’m coming to the christening – but I’ll give the singing a rest for that. I wouldn’t want to frighten the baby!”