“I’ve kept my connections with my brothers and sisters in Christian music and have amazing memories from that time,” said the artist from his Nashville area home.
But it’s especially during the holiday season that he has re-connected with his musical roots - he was selected to join Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith on their Christmas tour this year, coming to Grand Rapids Dec. 5.
After a decade-plus run by his faith-based band Downhere, Martel was shot into the mainstream music world. His calling card was his piercing vocal which is a sound-alike for the late rock singer Freddie Mercury of Queen.
The rise was meteoric. Over the last few years it’s led him to fronting Queen tribute tours, media interviews and appearances, and contributing to the 2018 Mercury biopic/film “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“With the movie coming out last year, things have been literally Queen non-stop – we knew it would be going in,” said the Martel of his whirlwind schedule.
But now he is touring with two Christian music superstars whom he admired while growing up as a pastor’s son in Montreal, Que.
Over the last few years Martel, 43, has recorded his own selections of Christmas songs. For this season he has bundled them all together in a project called “The Christmas Collection.”
STAGING THE CHRISTMAS CONCERT
Just as with their tour of two years ago, Grant and Smith are generous in sharing stage time with their special guest.
“It’s not like I’ll just come out first by myself and warm up the crowd,” Martel said. “I’ll get to do duets with Amy and with Michael, and some things we’ll do all together and a couple songs by myself.”
The trio of artists is likely to perform a new arrangement of “Silver Bells,” a song Martel placed on his new holiday album. (See a video of them recording the song online).
The tour is backed by an orchestra comprised of area symphony players. And the Balsam Hill company, a manufacturer of artificial Christmas trees, is partnering with the tour to provide a lush, decorative holiday stage setting.
And Smith and Grant have a deep treasure-trove of recorded holiday tunes to offer.
Martel is hoping to catch his breath during 2020, including carving out time to write new music.
“I’m trying to think of any time this past year that I’ve gotten to perform a song of my own,” he said of his intense Queen music demands on “extravaganza” tours and others.
“I’m a writer who needs routine and stability to get into my heart and know what I want to say,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to getting some longer periods at home besides two or three days here and there to do laundry.”
Christian radio has welcomed Martel’s Christmas music right through his “Queen” years. “Silver Bells” is reaching both inspirational and mainstream charts.
“It’s amazing to see the open-armed acceptance I’ve gotten,” he remarked. “I wonder sometimes if that would be the case 20 years ago for an artist who goes off to do mainstream and then comes back to the CCM (contemporary Christian music) world.”
It was eight years ago that Martel responded to an invitation to create a video audition singing one of Queen’s songs. The resulting 2011 YouTube post of “Somebody to Love” demonstrated his vocal chops that mirrored Mercury’s. Now more than 20 million people have seen it.
IN ANOTHER WORLD
In and around his Queen experience, Martel has lived in a context where Christian belief – and faith-based music – are basically unknown. “In a way it’s natural for me because I grew up in a culture where few around me were believers,” he said of the Canadian province of Quebec, noted as the least-churched region in North America. “I appreciate that I’m able to navigate in both worlds – I may be back in Christian music someday in a more permanent setting. (With Queen) I’m not sharing my faith on stage, but I’m sharing who I am on stage. And that inevitably speaks of Jesus if you’re looking hard enough.”
Martel has some Michigan connections. His old band Downhere (1999-2012) performed several times around the state. And the band once did a concert following a Grand Rapids Griffins hockey game, perched right in the stands at Van Andel Arena.
Another hockey note: Martel’s cousin is Boyd Deveroux, a player with the Detroit Red Wings in the early 2000s.
“I never played real, organized hockey. But it’s right there in my family,” he smiled.
“Christmas” with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, and special guest Marc Martel, with orchestra
7pm Thur. Dec. 5
Van Andel Arena, W. Fulton St. downtown Grand Rapids.
Tickets start at $32.50, available via Ticketmaster outlets and online .