It’s been a year since the US saw the largest mass shooting in American modern history, where 49 LGBT+ people were murdered and 53 injured by 29-year-old Omar Mateen at Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, FL.
Joining the outpour of remembrance on the anniversary is British singer/songwriter Matt Henry, releasing a striking cover of Pat Benatar’s 1983 classic Love Is A Battlefield in memory of the victims of the Pulse Orlando nightclub shooting on the first anniversary of the attack.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Henry will be recognised as the charismatic lead role of Lola in Kinky Boots, the Cyndi Lauper-composed flamboyant-as-hell musical on London’s West End. Last year, the role landed Henry the Olivia Award for Best Actor in a Musical before nabbing the audience-decided Whats On Stage Award in the same category.
In line with the anniversary and release of Love Is A Battlefield, Matt Henry discusses his choice of the track for a cover version and the importance of tribute and memorial.
Can you remember your initial reaction to the news of the Pulse attack a year ago?
I heard about it on the news and whenever I hear something big, I check Twitter straight away. That tends to verify if things are true, I think, which is when I saw the outpour of sadness and real heartache. When anything happens like that to a number of people who lose their lives is incredibly upsetting, especially when it’s in a setting where everyone must have thought they were safe. You don’t expect something to happen in a place of safety where everyone is carefree and united. You can put your guard down in those scenarios as you’re with your friends having fun and enjoying yourself. That’s one of the saddest aspects for me.
Why choose to cover Pat Benatar’s Love Is A Battlefield? What’s the significance of that track for you?
You know when you hear a song and it takes you back to a place that allows you to relive a certain emotion? That’s Love Is A Battlefield for me. I remember first hearing the original at a party and it became a track that myself and mates would serenade to each other so it became a historic ‘we can take on the world!’ anthem amidst my friendship group.
When I was asked to go on tour with Cyndi Lauper, I decided I was going to do that cover so I told her before the shows that I’d dedicate it to the Pulse victims. Cyndi automatically declared, ‘Pat’s a good friend of mine!’ so she thought it was a very beautiful thing to do and perform. For that tour, it actually ended up as a slowed-down, stripped-back, acoustic version and everyone in the 3,000-odd audiences would be up and clapping at the very end. It reminded me of how I felt when I first heard the song so that’s where the idea for the cover came from. The track has so many different meanings for different people, to me it summarises that love is not easy and the struggle for same-sex love that so many people go through. The Pulse attack came down to one person against same-sex love so it felt right to cover.
Are there any other tracks that have a similar significance to you?
Oh gosh, one that comes to mind, however random it may be. In 1997 I was on tour in South Africa and the whole crew would sing The O’Jays Love Train. Every time I hear that track, I’m transported back to South Africa and being there when the country was just coming out of apartheid so it was a time for celebration and freedom and friendship. I’ll always adore tracks that remind me of memories like that.
Did the process of recording and producing Love Is A Battlefield alter from your solo material?
When you do your own stuff, you’re happy to make mistakes and learn from them and adapt. When it’s somebody else’s music, it’s a lot harder as there’s no really room for error. You want to pay homage to someone whilst adding your own unique flair so, I guess, my approach was different but it is still very me. I didn’t want it to have that 80s feel that the original has so bringing it into the modern day sonically was what I was aiming for. I wanted a brand new song that would still easily be defined as a cover of the original.
Making sure it was my own unique take on the track was in the forefront of my mind the entire time. I’ve had this idea for a whole year now and it’s taken me that long to record this song which has been crazy. My whole life has been taken up by Kinky Boots so knowing that I’ve wanted to do this track for so long as not been easy. Any downtime I’ve had or will have will go into my music so I’m just so glad that I actually got this cover sorted by the time of the one-year anniversary. The video actually features members of the Kinky Boots cast who perform with me so to be able to film that too has been great. It’s all been amazing.
Alongside your own tribute, there’s been an overwhelming amount of support and remembrance one year on…
It’s unreal! It’s been so amazing that no one seems to have forgotten as that can never happen. With what happened in Manchester and London, it’s definitely getting a little bit scary for some people. At the same time, we can’t let anything like that get in the way of how we live our lives so it’s been really incredible and powerful seeing people be unafraid to get on social media or their platforms of power and show their support for everybody involved and lost their lives to tragic events like this.
What would be your own individual, personal message of support for the Pulse anniversary that people should know whilst listening to Love Is A Battlefield?
It should always come down to love. Remain strong, come together in these crazy times and look out for each other. Know that as a community, we are so much stronger than people think we are and we must continue to keep striving. Love will always win.
Love Is A Battlefield is out now. Matt Henry concludes his run of Kinky Boots shows over the coming four weeks.