Category Archives: Music

Dragos, “the David Jason of Romania”, on comedy styles and the revolution…

Dragoş Moştenescu first appeared in this blog back in 2017 and in 2018,

When I try to explain who Dragos is, I tend to say he is the Romanian equivalent of UK TV star David Jason with a touch of Elton John. In other words, he is indescribable – in a good sense! We are talking an international level of top entertainer here.

On Sunday (15th December) he is performing his full-length stage show All Aboard for Christmas! in London, so we met up at the Soho Theatre Bar for a chat. Towards the end, we got interrupted by another performer…


JOHN: You’ve already performed All Aboard! at the Leicester Square Theatre in London and at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. So now you are going to stage it…

DRAGOS: …every three or four months. My next aim – which turns out to be not that easy – is to find an agent – I don’t expect to be ‘big overnight’! – Someone to provide work at least constantly. Perhaps not daily but maybe weekly. What I do is very suitable for let’s say private parties – playing the piano; my Elton John thing. ..

JOHN: Corporate gigs you would be ideal for.

DRAGOS: Exactly. I am realistic.

JOHN: What would be a good step for you?

DRAGOS: A three minute song on a morning TV show. Three minute songs on radio shows. Three minutes here and there.

JOHN: You are more of an hour-long solo show performer but you can also do 5 and 10 minute spots…

DRAGOS: Yes. If you have 5 minutes of material, it is very difficult to extend it to 10 or 20 minutes; but, when you have 60 minutes, it is easier to extract 5, 10 and 20 minute routines. But they are different styles.

JOHN: (I NAME ANOTHER PERFORMER) does great one-hour shows and, in fact, I’ve seen (THE OTHER PERFORMER) do brilliant two-hour solo shows, but they are never going to be on BBC TV on Live at the Apollo, because The Apollo wants gag-gag-gag, punchline-punchline-punchline.

Five-minute acts tend to be full of quick gag punchlines.

DRAGOS: Exactly. It is very difficult to catch the audience within five minutes and keep them. You need to use one-liners and I respect that and salute it. But, when you are doing a 60-minute show, you cannot have the audience punched every minute. You have to bring people into the story… A beginning, a punchline or two or three and sections and an end and maybe you draw a conclusion from the story. The pace has to be different.

The trend is for stand-ups which I am not… entirely.

What I want now is not even money. I want people to be aware I can bring an hour of ‘light’ entertainment and people will go home more content, more relaxed and re-charged like a battery for work the next day.

JOHN: You must have had to learn what sense of humour British audiences want. 

DRAGOS: When I came here, I didn’t use any of my Romanian routines. When I first started in Britain, one routine I had was about people lacking money and being in a shopping mall where money was flying around but it didn’t work with the audiences. People were laughing reluctantly. They didn’t relate. 

Someone told me: “Everybody in the world needs more money but it is not an issue for us. We are not that poor. Not comedy audiences. They can put food on their tables. They can travel around the country or even the world. So people do not personally relate to being poor in comedy routines.”

But the rent in London is not low and audiences can personally identify with that. So I have a song about it and, at the end, I have sometimes had standing ovations. Especially if there are a lot of young people in the audience. They identify – Shared house, high rent, poor living conditions.

Dragoş created, wrote, produced and starred in Romania’s first television sitcom after the Revolution – La Bloc

JOHN: What is the sense of humour in Romania?

DRAGOS:
We still tend to laugh about what British people used to laugh about 20 or 30 years ago – the disabled, drunken people, less-minded guys…

JOHN: Punching down.

DRAGOS: Exactly.

JOHN: And now, in Britain, we punch up not down.

DRAGOS: Yes. But, on the internet, I have seen shows from 20 or 30 years ago and it was the same here in Britain. People laughed at different things then.

JOHN: Did Romanian TV charge after Ceausescu was overthrown?

DRAGOS: Under Ceausescu, there were only three hours of television per night.

JOHN: And that was mostly about what Ceausescu had done that day.

DRAGOS: Yes. And occasional Romanian movies. And, once a week we had an international – specifically American – film. That is why Romanians speak English with an American accent. The only foreign languages we heard were French, a bit of Russian and a lot of American.

JOHN: And television after Ceausescu…?

DRAGOS:
He fled with his helicopter and his entourage on 22nd December 1989 and landed at a cabin in the mountains. But he was captured and he and his wife were shot on Christmas Day.

JOHN: And, after that, television changed…?

DRAGOS: The revolution caught them unprepared. They had no regulations about what you could show on TV. They transmitted an uncensored Romanian film with nudity at 8 o’clock at night and…

(…AT THIS POINT, PERFORMER NARIN OZ ARRIVED IN THE SOHO THEATRE BAR…)

JOHN: (TO NARIN) Do you know Dragos? You should go and see his show at the Hen & Chickens on Sunday.

NARIN: I can’t. I’m filming in a horror movie. I play Death. I’m the villain.

JOHN: That’s typecasting. It’s the evil eyes. Dragos is the David Jason of Romania. Ask him something.

Narin Oz unexpectedly arrived during my chat with Dragos at the Soho Theatre Bar in London

NARIN: What’s your background?

DRAGOS: I graduated in engineering from the University of Timișoara, where the Romanian revolution started. in 1989.

JOHN: You were there?

DRAGOS: Yes. I was there in the beginning. Things expanded dramatically. Within four days, there was blood on the streets. We didn’t have weapons. We had the mentality at that time to go out bare-handed and, as they say, bare-chested. But I wasn’t that crazy. When things changed and became quite serious, I ran. I ran and I was kind of a prisoner in the students’ area.

Nothing was working. Not the public transportation, not the trains, not nothing. I was blocked up to about the 24th December. The spark was on 18th December and rolled over and smashed all the country, but it ended up in Bucharest within two or three days on 21st of December and, on 22nd, Ceausescu fled, then was killed on 25th. They call us religious people, but we killed our leader on Christmas Day: come on!

NARIN: So your show is about Romania…

DRAGOS: No. Not at all. I just put all that in brackets – what I just said.

NARIN: Those are very big brackets. Is it a tragedy or a comedy?

JOHN: It’s not a comedy show as such. It has comedy but with lots of music. It’s like an old-time variety show but solo.

DRAGOS: Though I think, when you walk away, you have some ideas and a conclusion maybe?

NARIN: Are you singing?

DRAGOS: Yes. Singing and playing the piano and comedy.

JOHN: Songs you have written yourself.

DRAGOS: Ten songs written especially for the show.

JOHN: And a bit of Elton John.

“A serious piece of music… an impersonation of Elton John.”

DRAGOS: Yes. That is a more serious piece of music. I do an impersonation of Elton John. (HE SHOWS A VIDEO ON HIS PHONE)

NARIN: You’re a bit of a legend.

JOHN: He is. Twenty years daily on television. Multiple series. And he wrote and produced and starred in this sitcom which…

DRAGOS: That was the first sitcom ever in Romania because, before 1989 and the overthrow of Ceausescu, we didn’t have such entertainment there. Then, after ten years of importing Seinfeld and Married With Children, we started our own sitcom on Pro TV – a private one, like ITV here. It lasted for ten years and 524 episodes.

JOHN: Produced and written by you…

DRAGOS: Well, there was a whole team of writers…

JOHN: But mainly you…

DRAGOS: Yes, because I created the idea; so I was like the head writer; I would re-touch and revise a little bit and I also acted in it.

NARIN: So, why did you come here? You were known there. You had everything.

DRAGOS: Yes, but I felt I needed somewhere to go and something to do NEXT. When you become very comfortable within your situation, that can lead to lack of inspirational creativity.

I have built up this new stage show and now I am struggling to get it going because I am in-between worlds.

Romanians in Britain would come to see me but, when they find out the show is in English… Not many have perfect English, especially the guys who just come here to work, to get some money to build something back in Romania. In London, there are doctors, lawyers and others who have been here about ten years and speak good English, but…

NARIN: Why don’t you do a Romanian language show?

DRAGOS: I have. But it’s not what I came here for. When I address things in English, I have to have a British audience. And the non-Romanian, English-speaking audience do not know me at the moment. I’m not complaining.  This is the normal way to do it. To build a new audience. 

NARIN: You could do, say, a 4-day run with two shows in Romanian and two in English.

DRAGOS: I could, but doing the same show in English and in Romanian doesn’t work. The topics are slightly different. With the Romanian shows I have to be very specific with Romanian references and culture. Every other month, we have a 2-hour Romanian show with various acts.

But I want to move on, move up.

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Candy Gigi – Ethel Merman meets Lionel Bart in a 5-Stars-of-David show

Candy Gigi in London last night with composer and musical accompanist Jordan Clarke

I almost never do reviews in this blog but – hey! – if it involves a bit of self-publicity too…

The late Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards had a halfway-decent hit rate, including spotting future US successes Trevor Noah, Bo Burnham and Reggie Watts.

In 2014, we gave the main award for Comic Originality to Candy Gigi.

Last night I saw a beyond-barnstorming London preview of her Edinburgh Fringe show this year: Friday Night Sinner.

It is an astounding abso-fucking-lutely gross-out musical about a frustrated young, wildly psychopathic Jewish girl’s life and marriage in Borehamwood.  

The poster bills it (and this rather understates the case) as:

and the blurb listing says: “This deluded, narcissistic, unsatisfied occasionally violent woman has delusions of grandeur and wants to become the biggest star in the universe – or at least in Borehamwood.”

Far too OTT to be staged by any mainstream West End Theatre, but with superbly tuneful songs by Jordan Clarke performed by Candy Gigi with belting all-stops-out passion, including Borehamwood!, Finishing What Hitler Started and the hopefully/possibly prophetic She Will Be a Star. 

This (certainly in the preview last night) is a 5-Stars-of David show.

There is a clever line in one of the songs about wanting to be “a Jewish Barbra Streisand“.

But it felt more to me like Ethel Merman Meets Lionel Bart in some unholy, foul-mouthed, foul-imaged, sweet-tuned union.

It will be a bloody miracle if Candy Gigi’s voice lasts out for the whole 3½ weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe.

I always thought she had immense potential though what on earth she could do with it I was never quite sure. Now I know. Candy Gigi should be on the West End and Broadway stage in a musical (with words and images that don’t make your aged aunt or Miss Marmelstein blush).

One warning:

As with all Candy Gigi shows, do not sit in the front rows unless you enjoy imminent physical peril.

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Britain’s Got Talent did not tell you this about harpist Ursula Burns last night

Britain’s Got Talent has to appeal to a mainstream audience, but that doesn’t explain why they had to blandify ‘Dangerous Harpist’ Ursula Burns in the live Semi-Final last night. Most of her YouTube videos are currently blocked lest BGT viewers see them.

Ursula Burns on a fluffy cloud in mid-air on BGT last night

Alright, lyrics with four-letter words – well, seven – “I’m your fucking harpist” – might be out and Dry Your Eyes, Jesus might be a bit too controversial, but that is no reason not to allow her to simultaneously play a harp and a grand piano (except that someone sang a comic song with a piano the previous night).

When she was younger, she ran away to join the circus and can play a harp while walking on stilts! Instead, we got some horrendously manufactured twee story about her loving her harp so much she wanted to marry it.

And let’s not even mention minimising her harp-playing and minimising her ability with a song she didn’t write.

These type of TV programmes used to be called ‘real people shows’. Now they are over-produced with as many unreal people in them as a manufactured boy band.

As for Ursula Burns, this extract from a blog of mine written at the Edinburgh Fringe in August 2013 – the year she was nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality – may be of interest.


Born in the Falls Road: Ursula’s Dangerous Harpist album

She was born in the Falls Road, Belfast, in 1970 – not a good time or place to be born.

“Bombs, shooting, war. Miracle that I actually survived,” she tells her audience (several of whom have never heard of the Falls Road).

“Total and utter war zone,” she tells them in her Ulster accent. Then she switches to a Spanish accent to say: “Now I will sing my song for you: Being Born.”

Her aunts play the piano and sing; her grandfather was a fiddle player from Donegal; her dad “sings funny songs in bars”; and her mum plays the harp – which is why Ursula never wanted to play the harp while she was a child.
She sings comic songs while playing a very glamorous Paraguayan harp. Her songs include I’m Your Fucking Harpist and Get Divorced and Join The Circus.

When she was 14, she actually did run away from home to join the circus – “They were dark, dark times,” she told me – and, when the Fringe ends, she is going to France with the Irish Tumble Circus.

Ursula, circus-trained, plays her harp on stilts in Belfast

Ursula, on stilts, plays her harp while walking through Belfast

She cannot read music but she can stilt-walk and taught herself to play the harp only when she was an adult. She accidentally won an Irish music comedy award.

During her show, she says:

“People think, because I play the harp, that I’m actually cultured. They think I care about the history of the harp and how many strings it has. They think, because I play the Paraguayan harp, that I know stuff and I’m cultured. But, actually, I just do it for the money.”

Her show is called Ursula Burns: I Do It For the Money, which is true – because she has to support her 9-year-old son who is, she says, very successfully flyering for her in Edinburgh “because he is cute and everyone likes him on sight”.

After the show – in Fingers Piano Bar at 3.10pm daily (except Mondays) until 24th August – she told me:

“I had always written funny songs and I’ve always composed music, but I never associated what I was doing with ‘Comedy’. Then I accidentally won the Irish Music Comedy Awards last year.”

“Accidentally?” I asked.

Ursula accidentally wins an award (Photo by thecomedyscoop.com)

“I uploaded a couple of videos to YouTube,” Ursula explained. “The Hospital Song  and It Does Not Rock (aka I’m Your Fucking Harpist)

“People shared them round and a comedian in Belfast – Stephen Mullan – used it in his comedy night and he said You should forward your video to the IMCA Awards, which I’d never heard of.

“I tried, but the deadline was the next day – in March last year – and I couldn’t do it. But another guy had forwarded my details and just got in before the deadline.

“The IMCA people got in touch with me and asked me to come down to Dublin and play in the finals… and I won. I only had two funny songs at that point but, in the next month, I wrote the hour-long show.

“I had accidentally got on the comedy circuit and I found that really difficult because I was getting up there with a harp, sandwiched on the bill between two stand-up comics. I found the comedy world quite rough; I didn’t understand it; I was a fish out of water. They were all men and I’d turn up in a ball gown with a harp. I’d won this award and people were looking at me: Go on! Prove yourself! I need good sound and some of these gigs wouldn’t even have proper sound set-ups.

“The comedy scene doesn’t pay very well. I live off gigs; I live from gig to gig. There’s months where there’s nothing coming in and my life is expensive – I have a 9 year-old son. That’s why I wrote the song I Do It For The Money. I’ve been performing all my life. I’ve paid my dues. Everyone who was on the scene when I was learning my craft has either got famous or given up, but I’ve hung in there.

Ursula packs her gear into her van after the Piano Bar gig

Ursula and her portable accommodation in Edinburgh, 2013

“People said You’d go down well at the Edinburgh Fringe but, at a basic, bottom reality, I couldn’t afford to come here. So I applied to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for a grant and I only found out I was getting it at the very end of June (too late to be in the Fringe Programme) and I only got the money the week before I arrived. I couldn’t have come here without their help. Sustaining yourself as an artist with a child is hard and ends do not always meet.

“When I first started,” said Ursula, “I would write really violent lyrics and put them with beautiful melodies and I would be travelling round with bands in vans. I’ve played everywhere from the Albert Hall to tube stations.

“The thing for me about the harp is breaking down the boundaries and comedy is just another aspect where I can do that. I don’t imagine that I will stay in comedy. I need to explore all things in all directions.”

She is a stilt-walking harpist who won an Irish comedy award by accident…

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Derren Nesbitt on Frank Sinatra, being blinded on a movie and £43 million

Derren Nesbitt as 80-year-old drag queen ‘Jackie’ in Tucked

Yesterday’s blog was the first part of a chat with Derren Nesbitt, star of the new movie Tucked, which was released in the UK yesterday.

But there is more to him than merely being an actor. Now read on…


JOHN: You were saying your father, after he stopped being a comedian on the music halls, got in involved in all sorts of businesses…

DERREN: Yes, we had a huge house in Avenue Road, NW London. And a Rolls Royce.  My father just wanted one. He couldn’t drive. I used to drive. I had learned to drive on a Mini Minor. Julian Glover once told me: “We could never understand you arriving at RADA in a Rolls Royce.”

Derren Nesbitt as Major von Hapen in Where Eagles Dare

JOHN: You built your own career, though. Famously, you were a very nasty Nazi in the Clint Eastwood/Richard Burton movie Where Eagles Dare and there was an accident…

DERREN: Yes. I was supposed to be ‘shot’ twice: once in the head and once in the chest.

JOHN: Which one went wrong?

DERREN: The chest. I was always wary of the special effects man, because he had a finger missing!

They put two condoms full of blood on my chest with a metal plate (to protect the skin). We had five jackets for five takes and eight loads of condoms had exploded and splattered blood over the first four. So we got to Take 5… I was very cautious by this time… and when the explosion went off, it went KAPOW! and it looked like I had been hit by a bazooka. It went in my eyes and they took me to Denham Hospital, trailing blood, with a perfect bullet hole in my forehead and said: “He’s had an accident.”

JOHN: You must have had your chin and your nose damaged.

DERREN: No, I moved back, anticipating catastrophe but my eyes got burnt and bits got in them. It was not very pleasant. I was blind for two weeks.

When I could see again, Clint Eastwood sent me a Fortnum & Mason’s hamper with a bottle of Optrex eye wash in the middle.

JOHN: Sounds like a nice man.

DERREN: Yes. I did a film with Frank Sinatra – The Naked Runner. He was a lovely man.

JOHN: Really?

DERREN: Yes, really. He was the biggest star in the world then. Absolutely. One of the tabloid newspapers asked me to write a story for £20,000 or £30,000 about working with the biggest star in the world. But I thought that was tacky. I didn’t want to do that.

He must have heard that this English actor didn’t take the money. And he was absolutely wonderful. So nice. 

We had been going to film in Copenhagen.

He said: “Have you ever been to Copenhagen?”

I told him: “No, never have.”

“Oh, it’s lovely,” he said

Anyway, they changed it and they shot my stuff in Welwyn Garden City instead.

“You’re not going to Copenhagen?” he said. “Well go and have a holiday there on me.”

So we flew there in his private jet and, when we arrived, there was this stretch limousine and a man in a grey suit who said: “Mr Sinatra welcomes you to Copenhagen,” and he handed me a manilla envelope with a LOT of money in it. I counted it up and said to my wife: “We will never manage to spend all this in ten days.” And I have been known to spend money!

There was an amazing apartment for us with the kitchen full. We went out that night; came back at four in the morning; and in the apartment waiting for us was this young man who says: “Mr Sinatra hopes you had a lovely evening,” and he handed me another manilla envelope with – again – LOTS of money in it.

The money was not to cover us for ten days – it was PER DAY. I had money stuffed everywhere: in suitcases and…

Derren Nesbitt and Frank Sinatra in The Naked Runner

When I came back to London, I told him: “That was very very kind of you.”

“Oh no no no,” he said. “It’s no problem.”

He was so kind to me – he called me and invited me to the Festival Hall when he did the concert; I had to be at his table to have dinner with him at Claridges. And I met him after the show and he asked me – this little English actor – “What did you think of the show?”

Now that shows an amazing humility that you don’t associate with him. 

“What did you think?” – He said that to me – a little, insignificant English actor.

I said: “By the way, you didn’t sing the song I like!”

“Which one?”

To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before.”

And he sang me the refrain and all I could think of was: Not many people have had Mr Sinatra sing the refrain of a song for them.

He was a very nice man.

Two takes. That’s what he did on films. Only two takes, which I loved. Go for it. Shoot the rehearsal. The magic happens at the beginning. You are not quite sure what’s gonna happen, but magic happens. If you keep on replaying, you lose that magic. Tony Curtis was exactly the same. Instantaneous. That is really what you’ve got to do. You never quite know what’s gonna happen and every take is different, but the REAL magic happens at the beginning.

Derren was promoting Tucked in London earlier this week

JOHN: Sinatra acted and sang. Have you any musical ambitions yourself? 

DERREN: No. But I did once write a song for my father as a joke. My father was in music publishing and god knows what else. I never really knew him at all – and one Sunday – because he was always working – he said to me over dinner: “What do you think of this song?”

I was so amazed that (a) he spoke to me and (be) he knew my name that I said: “It’s rubbish,” just to get a laugh.

He said: “Do you think you could write something better?”

I said: “Yes.” 

As a joke.

I told my brother Gary: “I’m going to write the worst song ever – as a joke.”

I wrote it in 20 minutes, rolling on the floor, and handed it to my father and thought he would laugh. But nothing. No reaction. Absolutely nothing.

Anyway, there was a young singer called Adam Faith and his first record was What Do You Want If You Don’t Want Money? It sold a million copies. My song was on the ‘B’ side. From Now Until Forever. 

And you got paid the same money as the ‘A’ side.

JOHN: Was that your only brush with the music business?

DERREN: No. I started a company many years ago, in 1971, with my little brother Gary called Our Price Records.

I said to Gary: “We’ve got to start like a supermarket for records. So there was a tiny little tobacconist’s kiosk at the side of Finchley Road tube station in NW London and he was going to retire, so we bought that and I arranged how the records should be sold – which everybody has copied – and it started from there. And expanded.

The 300th Our Price record store in Brixton, south London

JOHN: I remember shops in Oxford Street and all over.

DERREN: Yes. Eventually, we sold the business to WH Smith. They wanted to buy it and I said to my brother: “Sell it, because the days for record shops are over. Sell it.” So we sold it for £43 million in 1986 and WH Smith lost everything. Ridiculous! Why? Why?

JOHN: So what’s next now?

DERREN: I have no idea. People now seem to be asking me to do work again.

JOHN: I’m not surprised, on the basis of your performance in Tucked.

DERREN: I also run one of the biggest drama awarding bodies in the country: New Era Academy. That keeps me out of trouble. We are in Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, France… and Spain is coming now.

… I CHAT WITH THE DIRECTOR OF “TUCKED” HERE

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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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