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Once Upon a Time – Terry Stone, Terry Turbo, Princess Margaret & Mad Frank

In yesterday’s blog, former ‘rave’ organiser Terry Turbo – now film producer Terry Stone – was talking about his new film Once Upon a Time in London (released in the UK yesterday).

He has also produced the three (soon to be four) Rise of The Footsoldier movies, Bonded By Blood and other true crime films.


Terry Stone played Tony Tucker in Rise of the Footsoldier

JOHN: You were saying you are interested in true crime.

TERRY: Yes. In Rise of the Footsoldier, although there’s a lot in there that was made up, all the Essex Boys stuff was true. I’ve got a friend who’s on the Murder Squad so I know for a fact what stuff happened.

The conspiracy theories at the end are open to interpretation, but I know for a fact that all the Essex Boys stuff is 100% true. I look at that film and I’m proud of it.

JOHN: The title Once Upon a Time in London… It’s presumably intentionally reminiscent of Sergio Leone – Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time… The Revolution, Once Upon a Time in America.

TERRY: Once Upon a Time in America was one of my favourite movies. If you were to ask me what film Once Upon a Time in London is most like, it would be the British version of that. We were not trying to copy it, but we went: What stories haven’t been told in this country?

JOHN: And Once Upon a Time in America was vaguely based on the truth – the early days of organised crime in the US.

TERRY: In Once Upon a Time in London, everything in that happened. There’s nothing made up. The only scene that may have been changed slightly was the darts scene. That may not have happened. But the guy was getting tortured and, instead of having darts thrown at him, he might have had bits of his ear being cut off. But we thought: That’s too much like Reservoir Dogs, so why don’t we just do the darts cos it’s funny and no-one’s ever done it. It’s just fucking terrifying.

JOHN: It is. And it’s in character. ‘Mad Frank’ Fraser would do that.

The real Jack Spot (played by Terry in Once Upon a Time in London) after being attacked by ‘Mad Frank’ Fraser in 1956

TERRY: He would. He’d be pulling your teeth out with pliers or he’d be cutting bits off you. He was a fucking lunatic. That’s why I liked him as a character. He’s so fucking off-key. He spent possibly 60% of his life in jail. He just liked violence. He didn’t care about money; he just wanted to hurt people. Maybe he wasn’t wired-up right; I dunno. If you said to him “Go and kill that guy” he would just do it and then worry about it when he was in jail and then kill someone else and think: Oh well, I might as well kill him as well because I’ll be in jail anyway. That was how his thought process worked.

JOHN: He once offered to do free dental work for me if I ever needed it done. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. I presume he meant dental work on other people; not on me. I think he was just trying to live up to his legend.

TERRY: When I met him, I was shocked. What shocked me about all of the people from that era was how fucking small they were. You meet them all now and they’re these tiny little fellers. Maybe we’ve just become bigger through genetics or food or whatever

JOHN: How tall are the Adamses?

TERRY: I dunno. All the people that I’ve met now all seem bigger. When you meet someone who is part of a firm or someone who’s heavy-duty nowadays, they look the part. They don’t have to be six foot high and twenty stone, but they look the part. With the old ones, because they’re now in their 70s and 80s, they’re lovely little old men and you think: Did he really go round pulling people’s teeth out? He seems such a nice guy.

JOHN: All the really violent people I’ve met have been very quiet and polite. The SAS men I’ve met have been terribly polite and quiet. I guess, if you move in certain circles – certainly criminal circles – it’s best to be polite to strangers in case they turn out to be homicidal maniacs living on a hair-trigger.

The real Billy Hill, subject of Once Upon a Time in London (Photo from Krayzy Days)

TERRY: There’s a old saying: Walk softly but carry a big stick.

JOHN: Well, if you really are dangerous, you don’t have to ‘big it up’ to prove it to yourself… Anyway… There are obvious sequels to Once Upon a Time in London. The continuation of the Billy Hill story and the whole of the ‘Mad Frank’ Fraser story.

TERRY: We’ll see what happens with this one and if it goes the way we think it’s gonna go – worldwide with someone like Netflix or Amazon – then, if they think they want some spin-offs or more films – then happy days.

A lot of people from that era have now retired or are dead. But we have access to Frank’s surviving family, access to the Sabinis – all of the people. So we have access to all the stories.

JOHN: The Godfather had real criminals in small parts. Was Once Upon a Time in London the same?

TERRY: There’s a few. And we used a few fighters. There’s a few people in there, if you’re into fighters or underworld figures. But we didn’t cast any villains in big parts.

JOHN: Real dodgy people often don’t look dodgy. I always thought Johnny Bindon looked a bit wimpish on screen. Though I wouldn’t have said that to his face.

TERRY: That’s a good story, that is. John Bindon. The only problem is, when I’ve talked to people about it, they’ve all gone: “Well, he was sort of an actor/villain. But he didn’t really do anything.” His selling point was shagging Princess Margaret and smoking weed with her. He was in the Sixties set, but with all the people I’ve mentioned it to, no-one really bit on it and I don’t know why.

JOHN: It’s psychologically fascinating. The end is a bit of a downer, but that could be handled.

TERRY: I would fucking love to play John Bindon. That would be a great part.

JOHN: That’s what they all said he had.

Poster for Once Upon a Time in London at Leytonstone tube station, East London

TERRY: The problem, being a working class London lad with my sort of build is you get regularly asked to be the henchman or the murderer. Do you wanna clump someone? I don’t mind doing that, but I actually want some substance to it. 

The part I play in Once Upon a Time in London was interesting because it had range – there was a family involved. I hope when people see the film, people will react: Oh! Actually, he can be more than just the guy who says “I’m gonna do you in” and all that shit.

If you haven’t got the material to show what you can do, nobody will give you the chance as an actor. Sometimes people are lucky: they get a part and shine.

JOHN: Sylvester Stallone held out and wouldn’t sell the Rocky script to anyone unless he was cast as Rocky.

TERRY: And he was absolutely on his arse. He was waiting on tables, doing anything, living in a fucking bedsit and they were offering “Here’s a million dollars for your script” – which is probably $5 million now – and he was unknown. And then he went and won a fucking Oscar and the rest is history. But a film about John Bindon… Everyone I talked to about it said: “There’s not really a story.”

JOHN: A massive rise and fall. Fleeing to Ireland at the climax; all that.

TERRY: But think about the kids now, right? They go and watch Legend because it’s Tom Hardy. They watch Footsoldier because it’s people getting bashed-up and carved-up and thrown through windows and girls with their tits out. If you say there’s a film about John Bindon, they’d say: “Who’s that?”

JOHN: But people don’t know about Jack Spot and Billy Hill.

TERRY: They know it’s the ones before the Krays. That’s the hook.

JOHN: And the Krays are in the trailer, which is great.

TERRY: But you look at John Bindon, what would you say?

An uncompromising photograph of John Bindon and Princess Margaret on the island of Mustique.

JOHN: They made The Bank Job about robbing the bank to get the compromising photos of Princess Margaret, though she was never named. Do you think that story is true?

TERRY: Well, if you were the government or the Queen, you’d be going: “I wanna get them fucking pictures!” And you would probably reach out to… 

I know a friend of mine who is… y’know… a villain. 

And the government have actually said to him: “If you do this, then…” … just like they went to the Mob and asked them to kill Castro. There are things the government can’t do and, if a gangster does it for them, they’ll do him some favours or they’ll overlook things. That’s how the world works.

JOHN: Wasn’t it Lucky Luciano who helped the Americans invade Sicily in the Second World War? Local knowledge and local contacts. Anyway… So what’s next for you?

Terry in his previous incarnation

TERRY: I wrote a book about the club scene (King of Clubs – Sex, Drugs & Thugs) and we have just-about signed a deal with a big TV company to turn it into a TV series. And I’ve just done two documentaries about the birth of drum & bass and the birth of garage music. It’s me and the DJs and the MCs talking about it and how big the brands were. 

I’ve also got a feminist horror film. I’ve got a couple of business partners – Richard Turner and Chris Howard. 

We’re always trying to do something new. We’re developing a lot of TV stuff and animated stuff.

… MORE ON THIS HERE …

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How ‘rave’ organiser Terry Turbo became film producer Terry Stone

Once Upon a Time in London there was organised crime: Terry Stone as Jack Spot (3rd from left)

The British gangster movie Once Upon a Time in London is released today. The star, co-producer and co-writer is Terry Stone.

 Once upon a time, in the 1990s, he used to organise raves under the name Terry Turbo.

How did that career change happen?

Last week, I asked him.

With rave organising now behind him, actor, producer, writer Terry Stone in sunny Soho last week.


JOHN: Your first appearance as an actor was in ‘celebrity gangster’  Dave Courtney’s 2003 movie Hell To Pay (released in 2005). That must have been an interesting experience…

TERRY: I turned up on set. There was no script and I was told “You stand there” and I said “Well, what am I going to be doing?” and they said “Just stand there” and I said “Well, I’m not going to be in the fucking film, then. I’m not going to stand there and be an extra. You said: Do you wanna be in the film? I wanna be in the film.” 

So the director gave me some lines.

Basically, the whole film was improvised with no script which, at the time, I thought was cool. But then, afterwards, I realised it was insane.

I said to the other actors: “I’ve really enjoyed being on this film. It’s been a lark. How do you go about getting into the business?” 

They told me: “Do a showreel off this work, get some pictures done, send ‘em out and see if you can get an agent.”

I thought: Sounds really simple. 

So I did that, got an agent, did a bit of EastEnders, The Bill, some theatre, My Family, the usual stuff that jobbing actors do. But, after a year… Well, anybody who’s a professional actor will tell you it’s a fucking hard life. There’s no money; there’s no work; any work you get is peanuts. You have to sweep floors, wait on tables, drive taxis – anything to just keep the lights on.

I thought: Y’know what? I’ve made a mistake here.

Because, before I got into acting, I used to run clubs all round the world.

A few of my friends who I’d told “I’ve sold my business; I’m gonna to become an actor” all asked me “How’s the acting going?”

I said to ‘em: “Not bad, but not great. I’m not earning enough money.” 

At the time, I had a mortgage, a wife, a child. 

I thought: I’ve made a massive mistake here.

A friend said: “What do you really wanna do?”

I said: “I actually wanna be in films.”

Terry Turbo – “The Rave Scene Richard Branson” said Vice

He said: You used to put on big events for 20,000, 30,000 people. How hard can it be to make a film?”

So I said: ”You got me thinking now. If I get a script, would you put some money in it?”

And he went: “I’ll put some money in.”

So I went round to all my mates and told ‘em: “Let’s all put some money in and make a film. It’ll be a laugh.”

That’s how I raised the money for my first film One Man and His Dog – and it was a dog, that film. But it was my film school. It was released and it went out in Holland, Germany. We got it out, which was an achievement, and we got 25% of our money back on it, which I thought was a disaster but, considering we didn’t know what we were doing, it was an achievement.

JOHN: How much did it cost?

TERRY: £140,000.

Then a friend of mine in the club scene contacted me and said: “Have you ever thought about doing a movie on the black-on-black gun crime in London?” It was a kinda Boyz n the Hood kinda film: Rollin’ with the Nines.

It won the Jury Prize at the Raindance Film Festival in 2005 and the director Julian Gilbey was nominated for the Carl Foreman Award at the BAFTAs. We made that for £250,000.

And that gave us a stepping stone to do Rise of the Footsoldier, which was a £1.3 million budget.

JOHN: Based on Carlton Leach’s book.

TERRY: Yes, which I hadn’t read when he suggested to me it would make a good movie. I knew Carlton from club days and I thought: Who’s gonna wanna watch a film about a doorman? At the time, I didn’t know about his involvement in the Inter City Firm or The Essex Boys.

I read his book and thought: Fucking hell! It’s really interesting! And I thought: If I was to pitch the idea, it’s The Football Factorymeets Goodfellas.

So I paid someone to write the script and I developed and created the Rise of The Footsoldier franchise. I got the money together, made it and, since then, there’s been four of them. They’re just making the fourth one now; almost finished. It comes out in October.

After that, I did a film called Doghouse but what Rise of The Footsoldier did was allow me to be an actor AND a producer and the reason I’m glad I made that decision was because, when you’re not developing something, you’re raising money. When you’re not raising money, you’re making something. When you’re not making something, you’re acting in something. There’s always something to do.

At the moment, I’m still a jobbing actor. If a role comes along and I like it and it’s well-paid, I’ll do it. You need to pay the bills.

I suppose because I’ve got a low boredom threshold, I need to be entertained… constantly.

So what I’ve done is create a load of work for myself. But I enjoy it and now it’s my 17th year in the business. I’m an old boy now. (LAUGHS LOUDLY)

JOHN: When you were doing the raves, you blew up a police car on stage at Wembley.

Terry as Tony Tucker, one of the Footsoldier’s ‘Essex Boys’

TERRY: It was all about doing something different and making it fun. Let’s do some mad shit. Blowing up a police car on stage at Wembley was funny. Having Prince William and Prince Charles and the Queen lookalikes coming to the raves was funny.

JOHN: Once Upon a Time in London is about the pre-Krays era in crime – about Jack Spot and Billy Hill who most people have not heard of…

TERRY: I think the thing about the Krays was they were ‘celebrity gangsters’. They wanted people to know who they were which, obviously, was their downfall. Whereas, if you spoke to any other criminals, they’d always be like: No publicity; no pictures. We don’t want anybody to know what we’re doing.

JOHN: What’s interesting is that, in the 1920s, they were making films about Billy The Kid and Jesse James who were active in the 1870s and 1880s – which was 40 to 50 years before. Today, the Krays’ era was around 50 years ago. There comes a point where villains become acceptable anti-heroes or even heroes.

TERRY: All the films I’ve made have been based on true crime, but they don’t glamorise it. I’m not interested in doing pretend-gangster films about a load of wallies that don’t exist. I have always had an interest in true crime. I thought about making a film about Jack Spot and Billy Hill in 2010. But, back then, nobody was doing period crime films.

JOHN: The Kray era is period crime…

TERRY: But that was the 1960s. The Jack Spot story is 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. Back in 2010, there was no Peaky Blinders, there was no Boardwalk Empire and I thought it was a bit of a risk. But then I heard Ray Winstone was gonna play both of the Krays in Legend  (it was eventually made with Tom Hardy) and Peaky Blinders came on and I thought: Now’s the time to get this going

As Jack Spot in Once Upon a Time in London: “It took a couple of years to get the money together”

It took a couple of years to get the money together and stuff but what fascinates me is that Once Upon a Time in London is about the birth of organised crime here. There’s always been crime in this country since probably the Stone Age. But actual organised crime where people have protection rackets, prostitutes working for them, they had bookmakers, they had spielers, they had restaurants, they had clubs. And you had the backdrop of the Second World War – rationing stamps, people didn’t have any money, people had lost their homes – we were fucked – So these criminals thought: There’s an opportunity here, boys! Let’s make some money!

JOHN: I don’t remember any other British gangster film focusing on the Jewish angle. Once Upon a Time in London starts with Oswald Mosley’s plans to march his blackshirts through the East End in 1936, which resulted in the Battle of Cable Street

TERRY: I think Once Upon a Time in London is the first British Jewish gangster film. 

JOHN: Now there a marketing opportunity.

TERRY: I was on page 3 of the Jewish Chronicle (LAUGHS) fully-clothed!.. The woman who interviewed me asked: “Why are you making a film to glamorize Jewish gangsters? It’s something that, really, we want to forget about.”

I said: “Listen, there’s nothing glamorous about what happened to Jack Spot…”

…  CONTINUED HERE

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The very interesting Thom Tuck sings The Mountain Goats and I’m convinced.

On Friday this week, there is a show at the Vault Festival in London titled THOM TUCK SINGS THE MOUNTAIN GOATS.

The billing for the show reads:

“A barely known comedian (“increasingly melancholy” The Guardian) sings the songs of a band you probably don’t listen to. A phenomenally stupid idea. Total sellout Edinburgh Fringe 2017.”

Thom Tuck is a very interesting man so, obviously I had to ask him several questions. As is my wont, I tended to meander a bit. Well, OK, a lot.


JOHN: So why are you doing this show?

THOM: I fell into a hole by getting into The Mountain Goats – the best band you’ve never listened to. They are so good.

JOHN: Do they sing jolly, feel good songs?

THOM: They’ve got two styles of songs: sad and very sad. Well, three types: sad, weird and angry. New Chevrolet in Flames is about a couple who take a car for a test drive, park it behind a school and set it alight.

JOHN: So the attraction of The Mountain Goats is…?

THOM: John Darnielle is just a brilliant storyteller. The first few albums are just him with a guitar and a Panasonic boombox and they’re all first or second takes. Phenomenal stories. And then, when he decided to write about his own life it got even better. There was a concept album about loads of druggies living together in a house… then an album about his abusive stepfather.

They released a single last week. It is sort-of about a dragon.

The last record was about Goths getting old and it includes a song about The Sisters of Mercy and their lead singer – It’s called Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds.

JOHN: And you yourself were born in…

THOM: Leeds.

JOHN: And you feel Yorkshire…

THOM: Yes. There’s a Bill Bryson quote: You never feel so much a part of your own culture as when you’re surrounded by people who aren’t.

JOHN: You were brought up in…

THOM: Egypt, Sri Lanka, Denmark, Malawi, Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

JOHN: How did Denmark get in there?

THOM: My (English) dad worked for Danish firms – Krüger, an engineering firm, and DANIDA, the Danish international development agency.

“Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’”

JOHN: Did being brought up in all those countries screw-up your brain about who you are and where you’re from?

THOM: Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’… That was just the way it was. I wasn’t anywhere longer than 18 months before Bangladesh. I was in Bangladesh for six years – aged 10-16.

JOHN: The formative years.

THOM: Yes. I made friends pretty quickly, because I had to. I’m quite good at that first bit,

JOHN: Do The Mountain Goats know you are doing this show?

THOM: Well, I did it before, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, for Mark Watson’s Festival of Bad Ideas and John Darnielle knew about that one.

JOHN: Are you taking it back up to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

THOM: Probably. I did it sort-of unofficially last year – about 17 shows. I just put on Instagram: I’M GOING TO DO IT NOW! and went to Bob’s Blundabus and started playing in the shed.

JOHN: And you have formed a band to do this show.

THOM: Yes. The Hospital Bombers – named after a line in the Mountain Goats’ song The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton:

The best ever death metal band out of Denton
Never settled on a name
But the top three contenders after weeks of debate
Were Satan’s Fingers and The Killers and The Hospital Bombers 

And all the band except one are obsessives about The Mountain Goats as well.

Thom and The Hospital Bombers’ possible set list for the show

JOHN: So this could be the start of a new career for you: singing.

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: But you’re a serious actor, really.

THOM: Well, the last big job I did was in the play Brexit.

JOHN: And you did Death of a Salesman.

THOM: Yes, two years ago. That was a torrid time. The lead actor died in tech rehearsal (three days before the play was due to open). Tim Pigott-Smith. So the first three weeks were cancelled.

JOHN: Had you wanted to be an actor originally?

THOM: I think so. But I always got cast as the comedy part in plays at school.

JOHN: I always think you went to university at Oxbridge, but you didn’t.

THOM: No. I went to Edinburgh University.

JOHN: Why?

THOM: Because, when I was 17, I went to the Edinburgh Festival and thought: Oh! I’ll come to university here, please!

JOHN: You studied…

THOM: Philosophy. I’m very glad I did it: I think I’m a better thinker because of it.

JOHN: But that’s no help in comedy, is it?

“Philosophical about things over which you have no control”

THOM: Well, just in life. Being able to remain philosophical about things over which you have no control and seeing logical flaws in things and fallacies in arguments.

JOHN: Seeing through bullshit.

THOM: Yes. I started doing Philosophy and Economics and that’s a bad pairing because, if you do them together, you realise Economics is false. It’s based on myriad assumptions and, time after time, these assumptions are not held up. Economists think they’re scientists and they’re fucking not.

JOHN: What are they?

THOM: They’re social scientists. They consider themselves on a par with mathematicians and they’re just not.

JOHN: You are very literate. You should be writing novels.

THOM: I’ve started a couple, but I’m not good enough yet. Jess Fortescue and I are trying to write a TV sitcom at the moment.

JOHN: So you’re busy. The Penny Dreadfuls have been commissioned to do another BBC Radio show and you run the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society live shows. 

THOM: Yes, it has been going about 7 or 8 years now. We have one next week – Tuesday 12th February – at The Albany in Central London.

One of Thom’s individually hand-drawn flyers for the show

JOHN: Your publicity for Thom Tuck Sings The Mountain Goats says you can’t sing.

THOM: I’m not a singer. That’s what I said.

JOHN: What’s the difference?

THOM: I have a nice voice, but I’m not very good at hitting the notes.

JOHN: So you sing all the right notes, but…

THOM: …not necessarily in the right order. Yes. If I was to sing in a cappella without any backing, it would sound great but, unfortunately, this is with a band.

JOHN: The Hospital Bombers.

THOM: Yes.

JOHN: And, when you did it in Edinburgh in 2017, it sold out.

THOM: Yes. When we did it for Mark Watson’s shows, it sold out because it was Mark Watson.

JOHN: It still sounds good to me. Do you see the show going further?

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: Any more singing ahead?

THOM: Long-term, I want to do a particular musical, but I don’t know how good I am. It’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the story of an East German transsexual rock singer. The film is exceptional and the stage version is just a rock concert with a monologue in-between.

JOHN: More singing for you, though… I’m convinced.

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Mr Twonkey tries to plug his show but gets sidetracked by cheese and fast food

I had a very fuzzy talk with Mr Twonkey

I had a video chat with comedy performer Mr Twonkey (Paul Vickers) on FaceTime but I could only see him as a frozen, fuzzy presence.


PAUL: That’s just the way I look.

JOHN: Where are you? Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, on the shore at Leith in my windmill.

JOHN: Your windmill in Edinburgh.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: You wanted to talk to me to wantonly plug your show at the Bill Murray comedy club in Islington next Thursday (7th February).

PAUL: And I’m at the Leicester Comedy Festival the weekend after that – Saturday 9th.

JOHN: The same show?

PAUL: Yes. Well, the same show with a different title.

JOHN: The last time I talked to you, there seemed to be a planned, linear progression to your shows. I was quite shocked.

PAUL: Well, to me there’s a plan, but people just think they’re… well, just… well… mental… But to me there’s a plan.

JOHN: So what’s this new show about?

PAUL: A conspiracy theory. The idea that all the weather we currently experience is generated in one small factory in the Dordogne in France. And the ‘front’ for it is a cake decorating shop. Behind the scenes, they are making weather, but it is mal-functioning. So I go to investigate. That’s the central crux… There are connections with Leonardo da Vinci.

JOHN: Which are?

PAUL: Apparently he had plans to re-invent the weather.

JOHN: Title of the show?

Mr Twonkey’s new show is coming to Islington

PAUL: My original title was Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change but, when I told my PR, the phone went silent. Now it’s called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. She didn’t like Whizz, Weathercock, Whizz! either. Next Thursday will be the first time I’ve performed it. The other night, we wrote a new song for it because we were watching Neil Diamond videos and became inspired. So now there’s a new bit in the show about a temporary exhibition of Neil Diamond stage costumes at Luton Airport.

JOHN: Separate from this show, you have a new music album coming out…

PAUL: Yes. There’s a new Paul Vickers and The Leg album called Jump! There have been some problems on that with label changes, but I think what is going to happen is… Well, I don’t know what is going to happen at all. The main thing we’re focussed on is getting it finished. We’re mixing it at the moment. It takes a long time to finish a record because, when you get five grumpy men in a room, it takes a while.

JOHN: Are you going to tour with the band?

PAUL: Hopefully. But it’s a case of time and money. There’s a lot of things I would like to do. My play about David Lynch is ready, but it’s too expensive for me to do at the moment.

JOHN: Why expensive?

PAUL: I need actors and actors cost money. The last time I did a play – Jennifer’s Robot Arm – it cost me a fortune. The trouble with plays is the cost escalates. It’s like digging a hole and just throwing loads of money into it. Whereas, with a Twonkey show, there’s a limit to how much the cost can escalate because it’s basically just me and what I buy in junk shops.

JOHN: How is your good lady? Is she still making props for you?

“Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver. Sounds strange”

PAUL: Yes. And buying me things. The other day, she bought me a xylophone that plays by itself, but I think it’s broken. It sounds wrong and wobbles a lot.

JOHN: But, then, so do I… Is it having creative differences with itself?

PAUL: It appears so. It’s quite rusty as well. Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver but it sounds very strange now.

JOHN: It plays itself?

PAUL: Because it’s from the early 1970s, the way you program it is with a coil. It’s kinda like an auto-piano that you would get in a Wild West saloon. It’s very old and broken.

JOHN: But, then, so am I and, if you tweaked me with a screwdriver…. What else have you been doing?

PAUL: I made a little video in the western town in Morningside

JOHN: Western town? Morningside??? The very posh part of Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes. Behind the library, there’s a street that’s like the Wild West.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: It was built for some advertising thing. There’s a saloon and a canteen. It’s like a proper little Wild West street. It used to be a dance hall; now it’s a street.

JOHN: What is the video about?

Mr Twonkey inside his windmill, holding quite a large cheese

PAUL: Cheese. How America lacks high quality cheese… American cheese is kinda plastic cheese. Was there ever a point where they tried to introduce European or exotic cheeses into America? I had the idea there was a time in the Wild West where cheese was more valuable than gold. So I’m trying to smuggle cheese and I steal the sheriff’s cheese and he tries to win it back. It’s very simple.

JOHN: What triggered you into thinking about the low quality of cheese in the USA?

PAUL: I just couldn’t think of any high-quality American cheese. In this country, every different region has its own cheese. And I thought: That surely must be the case in America; they must be making some kind of local cheese… but they’re not. Why not? But they love cheese. 

JOHN: Their showbiz can be quite cheesy. There’s Brie Larson.

PAUL: But does she generate genuine cheese?

JOHN: I don’t know her that well.

PAUL: There is no great American cheese. It is such poor quality that it can’t officially be classed as cheese.

JOHN: Who says?

Mr Twonkey – a man, a myth, a large sombrero

PAUL: The cheesemongers of the world. The Cheese Police. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: Is there some official supervisory cheese body?

PAUL: There must be. You can’t get away with just knocking out anything and calling it cheese. There must be someone who says: “Hang on a minute… That’s not proper cheese!”

JOHN: Is all this because American cows are below par?

PAUL: The thing about America is it’s massive. They’ve got snake farms. There are places out in the woods where they’re making things in a DIY homemade manner. You would think somewhere out there someone would be making high quality cheese…

You would think maybe someone with French ancestry would be thinking: I want to make a really smelly, runny cheese. But I don’t think there’s anyone in America doing that. I have Googled extensively online and the best I could come up with was Vermont Cheddar which, if you put it on a plate in France, they would say: “Well, that is… average.”

I have never been to Vermont. All I know is the Captain Beefheart song Moonlight on Vermont.

JOHN: Does Moonlight on Vermont include any reference to cheese?

PAUL: I don’t think he mentions cheese.

JOHN: I seem to remember cheese being a motif in previous shows of yours.

PAUL: It is. It’s one of the things I focus on. Certain things keep coming back: cheese, World War Two, escapology, engineering and witchcraft. But you Google American cheese. You’d be amazed.

JOHN: I don’t doubt it.

PAUL: The country that invented the cheeseburger doesn’t have decent cheese.

JOHN: Did they invent the cheeseburger?

PAUL: Well, they invented fast food. Have you seen that film The Founder?

JOHN: About Colonel Sanders?

PAUL: No, about the guy who started McDonald’s. Except he didn’t start McDonald’s. He went into business with the McDonald brothers and their original intention was high-quality fast food.

Michael Keaton’s movie as The Founder

The way they did it was they didn’t open a restaurant first; they booked a tennis court, got a piece of chalk and divided the tennis court into different areas for preparing different types of food, then employed staff who came to the tennis court and they mapped-out a kitchen and they were directing people round this tennis court to see who could make the quickest high-quality cheeseburger. Then they built a restaurant to the exact specifications of the tennis court.

JOHN: Didn’t the net get in the way?”

PAUL: I think they maybe took down the net. We have gone off-track…

JOHN: I feel there is a rock opera to be written about cheese and you are the man to do it.

PAUL: The Americans invented jazz and fast food… And that’s it… We are going off-track.

JOHN: So you are performing at the Bill Murray in London on Thursday.

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.

Twonkey… Another gig. The same show. Another title… A fez

JOHN: And then at the Leicester Comedy Festival on Saturday 9th February..

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change.

JOHN: Which is the same show, but with a different title.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: And, at the Edinburgh Fringe, it will be called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: That seems reasonable.

… Mr TWONKEY’s MORNINGSIDE VIDEO IS ON YOUTUBE …

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Michael Livesley: The Bonzo Dog’s Viv Stanshall & understanding masculinity

Michael Livesley has been reviving the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s Vivian Stanshall’s iconic show Sir Henry at Rawlinson’s End  for nine years with sundry Stanshall-related co-stars.

Now, he is doing two final shows – on December 7th (next Friday) at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London and on December 12th at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.

The Daily Telegraph described the show as “a combination of Downton Abbey and Gormenghast set to music”.

We had a chat in a Wetherspoons pub in London.

Why is he doing two more shows? 

Why is he stopping?


MICHAEL: I can’t do any more. Nine years of having someone else in yer head is enough – especially when that person is Vivian Stanshall.

Viv Stanshall: the original Sir Henry

It’s a lot of work and it has kicked open a lot of doors for me and it’s great fun but it’s enough. We did the album with Rick Wakeman and Neil Innes. We did the Bristol Old Vic with Stephen Fry. We’ve done the London Palladium, the Glastonbury Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe. We’ve done the Millenium/O2 Dome in London. A lot of other stuff. And we will be filming this one at the Bloomsbury Theatre for a Sky Arts thing.

JOHN: So why?

MICHAEL: In March this year, I was living in a village between Winchester and Andover in Hampshire – which is where we recorded the album in the shed – and it was great. But ultimately you run out of road in these places. There was nothing happening, so it was time to move back to Liverpool and I thought: Let’s put something in the work diary – and it’s the 40th anniversary of Sir Henry.

JOHN: And what happens after these two shows?

MICHAEL: There’s a Rodney Slater’s Parrots gig at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool on 14th December. And I am doing the Edinburgh Fringe myself next year.

JOHN: Doing what?

MICHAEL: A show called Half the Man because I’ve lost five stone in three months and I intend to be half the man by the time that happens and my stand-up, when I do it, is all about my observations of being brought up by a single mother and a grandmother: the challenges of establishing your manhood within that female environment.

That’s why I hang out in Wetherspoons: so I can hang out amongst real men. These places are almost like social breweries, because they filter out the impurities in society like me and give us somewhere to reside for a while. It’s a place that’s essentially filled with wounded gazelles: divorced men, single men, who salt their wounds with warm lager. I fit right in here.

JOHN: By drinking?

Michael, in Wetherspoons, has given up drink

MICHAEL:  I am treating myself to beer today because it was my birthday last week. But, other than this, I’ve not drunk beer since August.

JOHN: And you are giving up Sir Henry too…

MICHAEL: I’m not denigrating it in any way – it’s fucking genius, but it’s not mine. It’s a bit of imposter syndrome. But, paradoxically, doing it has enabled me to find my own voice in a strange way: it gave me the vehicle to get on stage in front of people.

I sort of made a compromise when I was 16 to be a musician rather than a performer and this gave me the excuse to take it on. That’s partly what I want to explore with Half The Man. There’s a conversation to be had about what masculinity is and isn’t.

JOHN: You are gonna talk about ‘Northern folk’?

MICHAEL: Well, talk about growing up in the 1980s, growing up in the North without a dad in a very small village in Lancashire where it was all Catholic and shit… it was no picnic… Some people have a really tough life. This was NOT a really tough life.

JOHN: But…?

MICHAEL: But because me mum weren’t married, it used to rile the teachers in this Catholic school. Our side of the street were Catholic and the other side were Protestant; and we’re only talking about the 1980s. I remember standing in the front room with the curtains shut when the Protestants were on their Walk.

JOHN: The Catholics had a walk too?

MICHAEL: It was kind of like a Virgin Mary thing with a cart with stuff on it.

The teachers at my school had also taught me mum and all me uncles and aunties. I would get a school book and there would be me auntie’s name in it from 30 years back. The teachers were all long past retirement. There was a guy who taught me in the 1980s and he had been in the First World War! Fuck knows how old he was! He had a yellow streak in his hair because he always had a fag in his mouth. He reeked of whisky and had yellow teeth and used to beat the shit out of us.

I saw him take a little girl who sat next to me out to the front of the class and he pulled her knickers down and bare-bottomed smacked her. She was a 5-year-old! Real men don’t beat children. That ain’t masculine! That’s just complete and utter barbarism.

There is a whole confusion about what masculinity really is. The sort-of imposition of masculinity in those communities was completely at odds with what I believe masculinity is.

There was one murder in the village where I grew up. 

JOHN: How many people in the village?

MICHAEL: About 300 or 400. It was a mining village.

JOHN: What was the murder?

MICHAEL: This guy – Mulligan – murdered his girlfriend in the local woods. His dad was the village wife-beater. This sounds like bullshit but there WAS a village wife-beater. Everyone knew he did it. He was the guy whose wife had a black eye going for the bread on a Sunday morning. Everybody knew it and everybody tolerated it.

My mum used to say that men love women but they don’t like them. That ain’t true in general but in that village – that little place – I think it was.

Anyway, so when Mulligan stood up in court and they asked him why he’d murdered his girlfriend, he said: “I thought that’s what you did.”

That is true.

And you can buy into that, because all he had seen all his life was his dad knocking bloody hell out of his mum.

And that is quite incongruous because, in the world I grew up in, the women were in charge. Everyone colluded in the illusion that men were in charge but they were not and I don’t think that’s a peculiarly Northern industrial thing. I think that goes across the animal kingdom. And the frustration and anger that that situation brings about with the section of the population that are physically stronger is… Well, that’s the kind of world I grew up in. 

When I was 16, I started working in a pub and, on a Sunday morning, they would put trays on the bar with black pudding and tripe and cheese – a peculiarly Northern Catholic thing which I had not been aware of at home, because alcohol played no part in my upbringing. 

Until I started work, I was not aware of 50% of life, because I was brought up in a 100% female household. It was a male thing. On a Sunday, men went to the pub, ate meat and left the women at home.

In my home, we had a half-bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky that me grandad won in the Catholic club in the 1970s that remained untouched until me mum met the man they called Barry and then it went within a week. 

JOHN: The man they called Barry?

MICHAEL: Her boyfriend. My mam met the man they called Barry when I was 13. He was just a fucking alcoholic wanker. 

JOHN: Is he still alive?

MICHAEL: No. Everyone’s dead. That’s the crazy thing about the North. Within about 20 years, every fucker’s dead. There’s no longevity.

JOHN: So this is your next year’s Edinburgh Fringe show – with a few laughs thrown in.

MICHAEL: In one of your blogs, you said every successful Edinburgh comedy show needs a dead dad story!

JOHN: Yes, at about 40 minutes into the hour…

MICHAEL: I’ve got nothing BUT dead dads, not that I’ve ever met me dad.

JOHN: I saw a show the other day and the comic wasn’t good enough to sustain 60 minutes. The show sagged at about 32 minutes and I thought: You need a dead dad story in there…

MICHAEL:  After nine years of doing someone else’s work, you end up with this big backlog of things you wanna say yourself.

JOHN: And you now have nine years’ experience of how to say things.

MICHAEL: Yes. I had no father figure to explain where I should fit in… it’s all that stuff I want to explore… and doing Sir Henry has given me the legs to realise how to do that.

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In New Orleans, a 76-year-old mixture of James Brown, Ray Charles and Elvis

Samantha, in this shot, clearly not in New Orleans…

My chum from Lancashire, Samantha Hulme, is currently in New Orleans.

She has been staying with a friend who lives there.

She met him on a previous visit.

She sent me a video of him singing in his living room.

In a second message to me, she wrote:


I love it here.

I love to travel

When I found New Orleans and knew I wanted to make a life here.

Whenever I travel I don’t want to be a stereotypical tourist. I want to be safe, but I want to see the real country, the culture, the real people. I was lucky enough to get the offer of accommodation from Mr James Winfield – stage name The Sleeping Giant.

It was an act of kindness stereotypical of this city. In his own words, he never wants another woman again. He was just genuinely trying to help me.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to learn so much about music with a man who was recording records in the 1960s before I was even born. I have had the true New Orleans experience.

I couldn’t have done it better. I have laughed so much I cried with laughter on various occasions – the man’s absolute bluntness, his wry sense of humour, alongside his total inability to understand what I am saying in my northern accent most of the time, will be an experience which will keep me laughing for the next year.

It was like s mixture of living with James Brown, Ray Charles and Elvis – His voice has characteristics off all of them at times.

I am a physical & movement therapist and I can’t believe the stark difference in how we age in the UK compared to here.

James is 76 yrs old.

He works full-time as a panel beater and sprays cars. He sings a few nights a week and he goes out there blazing in all his stereotypical New Orleans fancy suits, bright shoes and I have never known a man with so many hats. He appears to have boundless energy.

I know no-one in the UK like this even a decade younger than him. 

Then I look at quite a few of the great musicians and singers here in New Orleans living into their 90s and I can see why.

I love New Orleans.

The video clip I sent you before of James singing in his house was a wonderful spontaneous moment of seeing my new friend jamming with his grandson and what I really saw was his huge love of music that afternoon. When the man talks he sounds like his singing.

But I don’t think it fair to show him only singing to a piece of bread in the afternoon.

So here is a video of him singing at a club as well.

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Comedy singer Ariane Sherine – from Duran Duran to Humanist ‘reservations’

Ariane Sherine and I first had a blog chat in October 2014, when she released her music album Beautiful Filth.

This Saturday, she is headlining the annual (free) One Life Humanist Choir concert at what she calls “the fabulous heathen palace” of Conway Hall – more correctly the Ethical Society’s London HQ.


JOHN: Are you in the choir?

ARIANE: No. The choir are amazing and brilliant. They’re going to be playing seven songs including two of my favourites: Days by The Kinks and Billie Jean (Michael Jackson). When I was originally approached, though, it was also suggested they might supply a choral backing for my songs and I was so excited. I was thinking about writing out sheet music for the first time in decades and what sort of arrangements I would score, but then the choir heard some of my songs and I was told they had ‘reservations’.

JOHN: Why? Are you singing about God?

ARIANE: No. Singing about sex. The choir ‘had reservations’, so I sent them one of my cleaner songs and they said: “Wow! If that is the more subtle one then the extreme ones could be interesting!” They said they had too full a schedule to do the backing, but I think they were being polite and were actually put off by my filth.

JOHN: What was the clean song you sent them?

ARIANE: Would You Still Love Me

Would you still love me
If I took you to the cleaners?
Would you still love me
If my nose turned into a penis?
Would you still love me
If I never said thank you or please
And I always did asparagus wees
And my flange smelled like blue cheese?

JOHN: What did they find objectionable?

ARIANE: I don’t know. I’m totally baffled.

JOHN: You are also bringing out a book in October. I presume that is going to be full of filth too?

ARIANE: No, it’s not. It’s called Talk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide To Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help. It’s a beginner’s guide to therapy and types of therapy. I’ve written guides to the different types of therapy which are short and funny like myself. And there are contributions from people who have had therapy – including Stephen Fry, Charlie Brooker, David Baddiel, James Brown…

JOHN: James Brown the singer?

ARIANE: No, John. He’s dead. That would be difficult, especially as I don’t believe in an afterlife. James Brown, the former editor of GQ who also launched Loaded magazine. 

JOHN: What are Humanists anyway? They’re just atheists.

ARIANE: They are atheists with ethics. Atheists who are good without God.

JOHN: Surely it’s just a way of making atheism into a religion, isn’t it? Which is a bad idea, because almost all religions are OK. It’s organised religion that turns things bad. And Humanism is just organised atheism.

ARIANE: No. We have no places of worship; not even community centres. We don’t stop anybody from doing anything.

JOHN: Except joining in with rude songs.

ARIANE: (LAUGHS) That might be a drawback.

JOHN: You keep saying “we”. You created and organised the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2008. But are you a Humanist?

Ariane at Atheist Bus Campaign launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

ARIANE: I am. I’m a patron of Humanists UK. 

JOHN: Shouldn’t you be a matron not a patron?

ARIANE: That sounds a bit frumpy. I’d rather be the sex goddess of Humanists UK.

JOHN: That would involve flanges, though… So what are you going to sing on Saturday if you can’t sing dirty songs?

ARIANE: I can sing my dirty songs. The choir just won’t be doing the backing.

JOHN: What would they have been doing if they had done it? Ooh-aaah Ooh-aaah ooh-aaahs?

ARIANE: I might have had them sing “vaginosis”. I have always dreamt about one bit in Will You Still Love Me?

Would you still love me
If I had pungent halitosis?
Halitosis
Would you still love me
If I had bacterial vaginosis?
Vaginosis

I would have loved to have had that Vaginosis, John. 

JOHN: You’re not just a singer of dirty songs, though. You have a bit of previous. With Duran Duran.

ARIANE: Yes. I left school at 16. I was asked to leave.

This girl was bullying me and she spat in my lunch and I threw a full coke can in her face and gave her a black eye. Her step-sister’s gang were waiting outside the school to beat me up or worse and the deputy head had to escort me past the gang and it was made clear to me this couldn’t happen again and that I should leave school.

I remember the deputy head saying to me: “You’ve got to work out what you are going to do with your life now,” and I said, “I know what I’m going to do. I am going to go and find Duran Duran.”

A young Ariane Sherine with Simon Le Bon

So I found out where they were recording, went down to the studio, met them and started hanging out with them and that’s what I did for the next three years.

JOHN: As a groupie…?

ARIANE: No, no. As a songwriter. I wanted to write songs. I told them that and they would listen to my songs and give me advice and feedback.

JOHN: But you never actually played with them…

ARIANE: I did do some sessions for one of their records, playing piano and singing – Ken Scott was the producer. But my contributions didn’t appear on the album and they meant to thank me in the liner notes but forgot. And then I didn’t see them for eight years. Then Simon Le Bon saw me interviewed on television when I was promoting the Atheist Bus Campaign and he sent me a letter via the Guardian.

JOHN: Because you were writing columns for the Guardian at the time.

ARIANE: Yes. So we kind of rekindled our friendship then.

JOHN: Any chance of Duran Duran doing a cover of your Hitler Moustache song ?

ARIANE: No, John, it wouldn’t work.

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