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Belfast-bound Olly Murs wanted fans to hear 'his anger and loneliness'

Ahead of his two shows at Belfast's SSE Arena in April, Olly Murs talks to Andy Welch about being single again, taking pride in his work, and why he's still just the same down-to-earth cheeky chap that he always was.

Ever since Olly Murs first appeared on The X Factor, singing Stevie Wonder's Superstition and dancing away, he's become a sort of cheeky crown prince.

Even a gaffe-prone stint presenting the show that made him a star couldn't dent his career, and, from the outside at least, he's barely changed since that fateful night in 2009, when he first took to the stage.

He is much more successful, however, and while he didn't win the talent show, his career has outshone those of victorious Joe McElderry and fellow runner-up Stacey Solomon.

"I'd like to think I am still like that," says Murs today. "I'd like to think people's perception of me is accurate. I know I'm a pop star - and I hate that word but that's what I am - but I am just a normal guy, down-to-earth."

And it will be Olly the pop star who will play two gigs at Belfast's SSE Arena on Tuesday, April 4, and Wednesday, April 5, as part of his forthcoming UK tour.

Despite playing sell-out gigs UK-wide, he insists he doesn't lead the rock'n'roll lifestyle."I still live in Essex with my family, go to watch football with my mates, go out on the weekend and do all those normal things. I might not do all that if I had a girlfriend.

"Now that I'm single, I'm still that cheeky chappie people saw all those years ago," he adds, "and anyone that met me on a night out would think that. I'm just a normal guy that goes out with his mates, I've not been swallowed up by this lifestyle and work that I do."

During our conversation, Murs mentions several times that he's now single. It might be that he's still cut-up about splitting with his long-term girlfriend, Francesca Thomas, towards the end of 2015. Or perhaps he's being a little shrewd in advertising the fact he's now technically available ahead of his nationwide UK tour, which starts on March 3 in Glasgow.

The subject matter certainly informed the songs on his most-recent album, 24 Hrs (below), released late last year. While the songs are largely as upbeat and danceable as much of his back catalogue, there's plenty of heartbreak if you delve below the melody.

"We'd just broken up when I started writing 24 Hrs. I wasn't up for talking about it, but I did want to write about that," the 32-year-old admits. "I didn't feel like I had happy, fun songs in me. I wanted people to hear my anger, sadness and loneliness.

"Eventually, that went, but I was still writing, so that's when the fun songs started coming out again. I was single and I was going out," he adds.

"As an album, there's a real story told as the months went on. At the time, it was all very raw and I didn't really want to talk about it, but then I was a year on and I was in a very different place. I still have that feeling of missing my ex, but you have to move on."

Despite his bachelor status, it's unlikely Murs will be doing much romancing while he's on the road. He's too professional, he says.

"One of the biggest lessons I've learned after touring for years is not to go out drinking after a show. I can't do it. I've tried over the years, but no, it's not for me. Now I'm single, that'll be harder; when I had a girlfriend, like on the last tour, we'd either be together or we'd be on the phone chatting, so I wasn't going out.

"This is the first tour where I've been single in a while, so it'll be harder to stay professional, but I will."

He promises a big production for the fans, with screens and various stages, although he'll stop short of any gimmicks that detract from the songs.

"It is all about the music for me, but I want the fans to see something amazing. I can't say too much but the stage looks phenomenal. It's totally different to the last tour.

"I'm in a lucky position now that I've had five albums, and there are hits on all of them. It's hard to put that in one set, to get all the hits and the songs that fans love into one gig. It'll be a fantastic show."

When 24 Hrs was released, it became Murs' fourth album to go to number one in the charts, beating off competition from Emeli Sande and Cliff Richard.

Murs says: "I won't lie, I wanted it to go to number one. We all want that, and that's why I make albums, to make something that's worthy of that number one spot, but with those artists releasing around the same time as me, that near Christmas, I knew it was going to be tough. But we did it."

Given his success - he has album sales of more than 11 million - you might think Murs would have been a shoo-in for a Brit or two this year. Things looked good for him when he was scheduled to perform at the nominations event, but days before, he pulled out.

"Everyone else on the bill was nominated, and I wasn't," he says. "I don't think I deserved a nomination, but everyone else performing had one, so it felt wrong and that's why I didn't do it.

"I hate it that people think I thought I deserved a nomination, or was demanding one or something," he notes. "Don't let me get up there and sing if I'm not nominated and everyone else is.

"There's no doubt I was disappointed not to get the nomination, I am 100% disappointed, but congratulations to everyone else," Murs admits. "I'm not guaranteed anything, so I'll just keep trying harder."

Olly Murs begins his 24 Hours tour on March 3 and will be at the SSE Arena, Belfast on Tuesday, April 4, and Wednesday, April 5, doors open at 6.30pm. Tickets cost from £32.50 from ssearenabelfast.com. Visit www.ollymurs.com for more details

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