Category Archives: Music

3rd Colin Copperfield – speechless at Pete Townsend’s staging of “Tommy”

In the last couple of blogs, I’ve chatted to Colin Copperfield about what happened backstage on Jesus Christ Superstar and about his East End upbringing – His sizzling showbiz autobiography It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! is on sale now. 

Over the years, he appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries. He appeared in three Royal Command Performances and on five albums and eleven singles and his multiple West End appearances have included not just Jesus Christ Superstar but also The Who’s Tommy


“Did everything go smoothly?” – (LAUGHS)

JOHN: Tommy was the stage musical based on the Who’s album…

COLIN: Yes. Tommy at the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. I played the Pinball Wizard.

JOHN: Did everything go smoothly?

COLIN: (LAUGHS) It was the previews… We’d been rehearsing all afternoon. I was in the dressing room with Steve Devereaux, who was playing the father, and I went to say something and nothing – literally nothing – came out of my mouth. I wrote down: STEVE – I’VE LOST MY VOICE! 

He ran downstairs to the production office where Pete Townshend was and said: “Come up! Col’s lost his voice!” 

So Pete Townshend came up.

Pete’s almost deaf from all the years of playing and I’ve got no voice. The understudy could not stand in for me. He said: “I don’t know all the staging of it yet.”

So Pete said to me: “Give me the script and I’ll go on in the wings with a microphone. You mime it all and I’ll sing it in the wings…”

So, on stage, I make my big entrance in my lovely huge outfit with flashing lights on it and everything, I grab the microphone and I mouth (COLIN SINGS) “Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball…”

Pete’s in the wings singing…

I’m miming (COLIN SINGS) “From Soho down to Brighton, I must have played ’em all…” and Pete is singing (COLIN SINGS) “Even on my favourite table…” 

And we sang all the wrong words all through the rest of the song, because Pete had changed the order of the verses round for the stage show.

There was a very famous throat doctor named Norman Punt

JOHN: Punt?

COLIN: Punt. They got him to the theatre and stuck a thing down my throat and he said: “You’ve got a virus.”

Opening night was three nights later.

He said: “The understudy will know it by tomorrow. You must go home. You can’t talk for three days, till you come to the opening night. Until you go on stage in three night’s time, you cannot talk to anybody or sing.”

So I didn’t do anything for three days.

“… with flashing lights on it and everything”

I go on stage after three days and off we go again. My big entrance in my lovely huge outfit with flashing lights on it and everything. I grab the microphone and… the microphone wasn’t on.

Luckily somebody managed to give me another one. 

I thought: I’m doomed! I’m absolutely doomed!

But the show ran for seven months and Pete Townshend was there most nights. It was completely booked-out. Brilliant reviews. It would have carried on, but there was a play already booked in – Flowers For Algernon – with Michael Crawford. Pete Townshend was producing our Tommy and he couldn’t get another theatre in London to transfer it to. We did the cast recording, but I don’t think it was ever released.

JOHN: Why had Pete changed the order of the verses for the show?

COLIN: I have no idea, because it made no difference at all. Though it was longer. The overture was changed to call it the underture.

COLIN: Showbiz is all a matter of luck.

JOHN: Partly. But also talent. You’re a singer, dancer, songwriter. You can also write. Now you’ve written this astonishing book It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing!

There’s no money in writing books, though.

“The account was hacked in September…”

COLIN: Not only have I discovered there’s no money, I’ve discovered there’s less than no money… because I got hacked. I only just found out the week before last that my KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account was hacked before this book was even released last October. 

I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t got any royalties. Eventually a guy who was good at computers said: “Your money’s been going to a girl with a strange name.”

The account was hacked in September last year right up until now. It’s only now that Amazon Kindle have closed the account that was going to the hacker. All the money I made up till about three weeks ago was going to a hacker.

JOHN: You’ve also written a whole new musical: Paradise Lane.

COLIN: Yeah. Still trying to get that one on.

JOHN: It’s written?

“Written and all recorded. CD’s all done.”

COLIN: Written and all recorded. CD’s all done. Got a very good agent. 

JOHN: It’s credited to Colin Satchell, not Colin Copperfield.

COLIN: When I wrote it a couple of years ago, I thought I should revert to my original name, which I did.

The Australian guy I wrote it with, Dave Mackay – the first record producer I ever worked with – said: “What’re you changing your name for, mate?”

I said: “It’s something new. I thought I might as well revert to my name.”

JOHN: Yes. You have a brand; you should build on the brand. What’s Paradise Lane about?

“It’s based on my dad… down Petticoat Lane”

COLIN: It’s about a market in the East End.

JOHN: It’s a tribute to your piano-playing father?

COLIN: Exactly that.

COLIN: It’s based on my dad, who worked on the stalls down Petticoat Lane Market, selling shoes. The one-size-fits-all shoes he flogged were so cheap that they didn’t fit anybody.

JOHN: So he was a dustman and a piano player AND a flogger of dodgy shoes…

COLIN: Yes, weekdays he was a dustman with some evening busking; at the weekends he was down Petticoat Lane; and, in the evenings, he was stooging at the Theatre in Stratford. That’s a helluva career, isn’t it?

JOHN: I’m surprised he had time to have two children. He lived long enough to see you succeed?

COLIN: Yeah. He lived till he was 80-odd.

Rave Stage review of Wall Street Crash at Talk of the Town

My mum and dad remained down-to-earth. When Wall Street Crash were starring at Talk of the Town (in London’s West End), the venue made a huge cardboard cut-out – huge – of the band – of us standing outside.

We played Talk of the Town a number of times a year: two or three weeks at a time.

My mum and dad came along a few times.

The last time we were there they came up on the train and asked the front-of-house if they could buy the cut-out. They were going to take it home on the train.

JOHN: They must have been so proud.

COLIN: So proud.

JOHN: Why did Wall Street Crash come  to an end?

COLIN: It had just had its time, really. Television variety had finished. We’d been on all those shows – Morecambe & Wise, Cannon & Ball, Des O’Connor – and all the  clubs had closed – Blazers in Windsor, Baileys, Talk of the North, the Night Out in Birmingham – all those.

Back then, we had been able to go from one club to another, but that had all finished and that was the end of the band, really. We had had 25 years out of it.

It had just had its time.

When we started off, our manager, who had managed Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck at the time… We did our first Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium and he was dropping me off at my little flat in Islington. And I said to him: “Jerry, how long do you think we’ve got?”

He said: “If you all behave yourself, I reckon you’ve got a good three years.”

We didn’t do any behaving ourselves but we lasted for 25.

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An East End child, my mum and Dean Martin – Colin Copperfield (2nd of 3)

In yesterday’s blog, actor, dancer, singer and songwriter Colin Copperfield talked about his time performing in London’s West End in Jesus Christ Superstar

He started in showbiz aged 14 and, as well as multiple stage appearances, appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries. His autobiography It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! was recently published.

Colin was born in Forest Gate in the East End of London. 

He told me: “I had a bit of a tough upbringing…”


JOHN: You did 25 years performing with Wall Street Crash but you’ve worked solidly all over the place as an actor, dancer, singer and songwriter because you’re a hyphenate. You can turn your voice and your feet to everything. 

COLIN: I could do it all well enough. I was never the best singer; I was never the best dancer; I was never the best actor. But I could do it all pretty well – not bad.

JOHN: More than not bad, I think, given your career…

COLIN: You’re very kind. 

Early band rehearsal – Colin is centre, behind microphone

JOHN: You started in a band at 14.

COLIN: Well, we did a lot more rehearsing than we did gigs. It was a good little band, though. A couple of the others went on to be session musicians.

JOHN: At 14, you wanted to  be a rock star?

COLIN: I wanted to get out of school, basically. I was so bad at school academically.

JOHN: So was Churchill. 

COLIN: That makes me feel better. I only found out about ten years ago I was dyscalculic (difficulty understanding or learning maths).

I can remember very long Shakespeare speeches but I can’t add anything up. Numbers are a complete blur.

COLIN: Before I was in Jesus Christ Superstar. I had done my bands and a solo cabaret act. I’d done the ships and then I was doing the clubs. I went and worked on the cruise ships and round the Mediterranean for three years. And I did the Superstar cast album before I went to Australia.

The ships were fantastic. We did one-hour versions of West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma! As an actor, it was the equivalent of doing Rep. It was a different show every night.

The guy who directed the shows – Jeff Ferris – also worked for Cameron Mackintosh.

Colin’s inspirational mum and dad (at the start of WWII)

JOHN: Your family background was theatrical?

COLIN: My dad Wally worked at the Theatre Royal in Stratford (London) as a ‘stooge’. He was a dustman during the day and a stooge at night. When visiting comedians – all the top comedians – people like Max Miller in those days – used to come in… he worked with a lot of the top comedians just by being a straight-man – a ‘stooge’. 

JOHN: The comedians didn’t have their own straight men touring with them?

COLIN: No. Especially the American comics who’d come over. He’d give them the local references to make.

JOHN: So your dad was a dustman who really wanted to be a showbiz star but he had to support a wife and two children…

The banjo uncles (centre front) with their East End mates

COLIN: Yeah. My dad was REALLY frustrated. My two uncles were very famous buskers.

By day, they were crane drivers around Silvertown Docks, Canning Town Docks, that area. 

But they were also the most amazing banjo players and they played all the local pubs at night – often outside the pubs.

If they were playing inside, my dad would sometimes go along and play the piano with them… which would have been fabulous if he could have played the piano. (LAUGHS) He used to do this technique called ‘vamping’

His fingers could land anywhere. There was no technique to it at all, but it seemed to work.

JOHN: So he wasn’t off-key, but he…

COLIN: He wasn’t OFF-key, but he wasn’t IN-key. It was his own way of doing it. I think my uncles (LAUGHS) played even louder just to drown him out.

JOHN: To play ‘badly’ but entertainingly is really difficult – You have to be a very good piano player, like Les Dawson.

“We worked (safely) with Rolf Harris a lot…”

COLIN: Yes. He was a lovely guy. I worked with him. I used to dance with this group called The Young Generation. We worked with Rolf Harris a lot – on The Rolf Harris Show. After us, with Dougie Squires, they turned into The Second Generation.

I was rehearsing the Les Dawson television showwhen he was massive. We were doing this dance routine and I was waiting for my cue to enter; the door opened and it was Les Dawson.

He went: “You a’right?”

I said: “Yeah. You awright?”

He went: “Naw. I got terrible diarrhoea.”

That was my introduction to Les Dawson. He was a really lovely bloke.

JOHN: He didn’t seem to have a big ego.

COLIN: I was so lucky to work with all the people I did, because I got to work with the end of ‘showbisiness’, really.

Lots of zingy gossip in Colin’s autobiography

The most miserable git we ever worked with was Dean Martin. Miserable sod. We were supporting him at the Victoria Apollo Theatre in London. We were there for ten nights with him. He never used the theatre at all. He would come up to not even the stage door; he would come up to a pass door in his limo and walk straight onto the stage. Afterwards – straight off the stage into his limo and off. He had a little bar made by the side of the stage with curtains round it with all the optics in it and everything.

JOHN: So he did drink a lot? I thought it was just his schtick.

COLIN: Well, no, I don’t think he did drink. Or, if he did, not the nights we were with him. We’d be waiting to go on first. We’d do 15 minutes, then it’d be Dean Martin. He went on straight after us and he never once went into this little bar.

Straight onto the stage. Sing. Mock drunk. And walk straight past this bar to his car.

JOHN: Your mother… Was she in showbiz?

COLIN: No. My brother THOUGHT he could sing and he REALLY wanted to be in show business but he was completely tone deaf. 

JOHN: So, when you were 14, you were a music person. In the rock bands, you were the singer?

COLIN: Yes. I could play the guitar but didn’t: I just purely sang. 

JOHN: But then you got into dance…

Young musical Colin with his encouraging mum

COLIN: Only because my mum – she was a real Cockney – said: “‘Ere. You gotta lose yer accent,” she said, “and you gotta ‘ave more than one string to yer bow if you’re gonna go into showbusiness.”

So the dancing is down to my mum. 

I played with some show bands and dance bands. I did a bit of everything coming up. Then my singing teacher said: “It’s all very well doing all this but you need to get some theatre stuff… They’re auditioning tomorrow at the Prince of Wales Theatre (in London) for the Harry Worth stage show in Great Yarmouth.”

Summer seasons were big business then. They would last three or four months. You could almost go from Summer Season into (Christmas) Panto. I was singing with a show band at the time.

It was an open casting. Number One in the Hit Parade was Tom Jones: Love Me Tonight. I went along and didn’t really know anything and all these hundreds of guys before me in the audition, they were all singing (COLIN SINGS) “My boy, Bill! He’ll be tall and tough as a tree, will Bill. Like a tree he’ll grow…” (a song from Carousel).

At the audition, I gave my Love Me Tonight music to the pianist who was doing the accompaniment and he said: “Are you really gonna sing this?” and I said “Yeah…??”

So I started singing (COLIN SINGS) “I know that it’s late and I really must leave you alone…”

Immediately they said: “Thankyou, Thanks very much, Colin…”

The pianist told me: “Wrong type of song.”

I rang my singing teacher and told him: “One line and they said Thankyou very much…

“What did you sing?”

Love Me Tonight.

“You prat; come round here now…” 

And he told me: “Learn this… (COLIN SINGS) On a wonderful day like today, I defy any cloud to appear in the sky… Go back tomorrow. They won’t remember you.”

So I went back the next day. Same rehearsal pianist. “Thank God, mate,” he said. “You got more of a chance with this one…”

Harry Worth was a very big name in Great Yarmouth…

I sang: (COLIN SINGS) “On a wonderful day like today, I defy any cloud to appear in the sky…” and they said: “Do you want to do three or four months with Harry Worth at The Britannia Theatre in Great Yarmouth?”

JOHN: They didn’t recognise you from the day before?

COLIN: No. And that was my start in proper showbiz.

JOHN: Were you called Colin Copperfield at this point?

COLIN: Yes. Back in the rock bands I was still Colin Satchell but then I started doing my own cabaret act and, for that, I turned into Colin Copperfield. Everybody at the time was called something like that.

JOHN: You did 900 TV shows in 26 countries, 5 albums, 11 singles, 3 Royal Command Performances. 

COLIN: Yes. I was almost as busy as my dad. I was so lucky. A lot of times I was just in the right place at the right time.

JOHN: Well, it’s talent AND luck, isn’t it? You can get just so far with luck. There has to be some talent to last. You have multiple talents and you’re still working. Your mother gave you good advice.

COLIN: Luck is so important in everything in life. Like after I finished on Tommy

JOHN: This was the musical based on the Who album…

COLIN: Yes. Tommy at the Queen’s Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. I played the Pinball Wizard.

JOHN: Tell me more…

…CONTINUED HERE
with The Who’s “Tommy” and a brand new musical

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Colin Copperfield (1st of 3) – Behind the quirky scenes of Jesus Christ Superstar

“Oozing energy… sheer delightful naughtiness”

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Zing! is a wildly entertaining autobiography by Colin Copperfield. 

Colin started in showbiz aged 14 and has spent his life as an actor, dancer, singer and songwriter – including 25 years in the vocal group Wall Street Crash.

He spent 3 years on cruise ships, 6 years on shows in London’s West End, including Jesus Christ Superstar and The Who’s Tommy, and he appeared in over 900 TV shows in 26 countries.

He appeared in three Royal Command Performances and on five albums and eleven singles.

He told me: “I’ve recently finished composing the musical Paradise Lane, fingers and eyes crossed coming to a theatre near you soon.”

He was born in Forest Gate in the East End of London. 

“I had a bit of a tough upbringing. I’m 72 now… Now I write songs for other artists and I’m a dance teacher specialising in tap, modern and ballet. I also work as personal fitness trainer.”

Obviously I had to talk to him.

Colin in his Wall Street Crash days…


JOHN: So… Jesus Christ Superstar in the West End.

COLIN: It was just one of those flukes of showbusiness. I was around 28. I was doing singing telegrams to pay the rent.

Superstar needed rock singers for the stage production.

They couldn’t make rock singers out of the traditional people in showbusiness – they were all My Boy Bill singers. They needed rock singers so, when they started, they auditioned people who sang in bands, like I did. But most of the people who sang in bands had no theatre discipline. They could sing on television but couldn’t do theatre.

There was a big problem getting enough good suitable singers. So we very often used to do Jesus Christ Superstar – this is a top West End show remember – with seven disciples. 

We had lots of Japanese tourists coming in and you could see them looking confused. Surely there were 12 disciples???

We – truly – sometimes used to dress the girls with short hair up as boys to sit round the Last Supper table, because you really HAD to have 12 disciples at the Last Supper.

At some points we were all round the table and we’d all link up hands and have to stretch a bit: different arm lengths.

JOHN: It must almost be relaxing performing in a successful, long-running West End show, though…

COLIN: Well, when I was in Jesus Christ Superstar, I was really busy. I was also working at the Stork Club in Piccadilly Circus – doing the midnight show and the 2 o’clock in the morning show. And I was also doing a television show at Teddington Studios with Tommy Steele.

I was doing the Tommy Steele show all day, which was really hard; we were tap-dancing down this staircase all day. Guys were breaking their legs going up and down. I only got the gig because of one of my friends, who was a proper dancer. I went along and it was quite a long rehearsal period – a 2-month rehearsal period –  and then we filmed at Teddington.

I was doing that during the day and Jesus Christ Superstar at night and then I was working at the Stork Club after that. So I was a bit tired. I was getting about 2 or 3 hours kip a night.

Just before the interval, they did this song called Gethsemane

Anyway, one night I’d been tap-dancing during the day in Teddington and then I got to Superstar in the West End.

It was a Saturday night performance – I was knackered.

Just before the interval, they did this song called Gethsemane – everyone’s asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus sings this very long song.

It went on for about eight minutes about how he was going to be denied and all that.

At the end of it, Jesus sings (COLIN SINGS) “…before I change my mind…” – then BLACKOUT.

So, there’s a blackout and we all clear the stage – Interval – the audience buy their ice creams. Then, at the beginning of the second half – BLACKOUT – we all come back into our sleeping positions – Jesus is standing there.

So, at the end of the first half, I had got onto the floor; it was a really warm floor; perspex squares; I’m slunk down; Jesus is singing; I’ve fallen asleep. BLACKOUT. Peter and John have gone. Jesus has gone. 

But I’m still fast asleep on the stage. 

They were about to lower the iron curtain; all the lights are up and somebody saw me lying there, more or less under the iron curtain.

“Colin! Colin! Colin!!!”… 

They had to send the stage hands on to wake me up.

All the audience have seen this. So, at the beginning of the Second Act… BLACKOUT… and, as the lights came up, the whole audience stands up and starts clapping and shouting “Bravo!” just as Jesus is about to be denied. Literally, a standing ovation.

I was in Jesus Christ Superstar for three years. I was in it three times. 

JOHN: Three times?

COLIN: I had been in Superstar for about a year, then left to do a show at the Ambassadors Theatre – Let The Good Stones Roll, about the Rolling Stones. I played Keith Richards. That was on for about 8 months.

After Heaven, an unexpected encounter

Then I went to do another show called Leave Him to Heaven at the New London Theatre with Anita Dobson. That came off and I was meeting a mate of mine in town for a drink near the Palace Theatre where Jesus Christ Superstar was still on.

As I passed the Palace Theatre, suddenly Peter Gardner, the company manager, appeared out of nowhere and rushed over: 

“Colin! Colin! You gotta come over, darling. We’ve got nobody to play Peter and Simon Zealotes!”

“Peter,” I said, “I’m going to meet my mate for a drink. I haven’t been in this show for a year.”

“Darling! You’ll remember it, darling! You’ll remember it! Come in! Come in! Go up to the wardrobe department!”

I went in. I went up. New people. Nobody I knew. 

So I go on stage. It’s the Saturday Matinee and I’m on stage with this cast of 35 people I’ve never met in my life. They are all thinking: Who is this bloke?

I was on stage, singing all the relevant songs. And, at the end of it, bless their hearts, the whole company did the Who’s Best (EXPLAINED IN THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW) and the whole company turned to  me. I didn’t know ANYbody.

I never ever took time off when I was in the West End but, another night, I got Hong Kong flu. Loads of people were off sick. I think some theatres even went dark. I was living in Islington (north London), lying there ‘dying’ in my bed and Peter Gardner phones up: 

“Treas, treas” – he called everybody ‘treas’ as in ‘treasure’ – “you gotta come in, darling. We’ve got nobody to play Peter, Simon or Herod and…”

I said: “Peter, I’ve got a temperature of 104, otherwise I’d be in there. You know that.”

“No, darling, you gotta come in…”

“Anyway,” I said, “I can’t play four parts, because they overlap!”

He said: “Oh, no no no. We’ll work round that, darling.”

JOHN: We’ll kill Jesus early?

COLIN: “We’ll change the story a bit… We’ll send a car for you. You’ve got to come in, darling. We’re in terrible trouble.”

So I get in this car and I really was feeling like I’m dying. 

I got to the theatre and they put me in the first costume and threw me on to the stage. Then they put me into the next costume to play Herod. Then off into the next one… And I have very little memory of the whole thing. I was nearly dead when I did it! Four roles! They had a cab waiting to take me home and I slept maybe for three days.

JOHN: They were able to change your face by putting on different wigs?

COLIN: All of that, but I don’t think it was fooling anybody: Hold on, that short bloke was just playing Herod… Why is he playing the High Priest now? I guess people thought it must have some deep theatrical meaning.

Anyway, one night I played four parts in the same play in the West End, with a temperature of 104.

…CONTINUED HERE..
with the dustman, the buskers and Dean Martin

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Dan Harary (Part 1): Flirting with Fame; insulting Schwarzenegger and Streep…

Dan Harary talked to me from Los Angeles at the weekend…

Dan Harary calls himself “an author, entertainment industry publicist, drummer and former stand-up comic”. He started his own company Asbury PR of Beverly Hills in 1996. Now, 26 years successful years later, he is suddenly publishing four – yes four – books. The first was published last month: Flirting With Fame: : A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters.

Part of the PR pitch for it is:

“Dan quite often found himself in rather bizarre circumstances while interacting with famous people – like having a staring contest with Barbra Streisand, twice; or smoking a joint in silence with Jill Clayburgh in Central Park; or talking with Billy Crystal about Chinese food at Sid Caesar’s funeral; or introducing his mother to Mel Brooks and finding out they both went to the same high school. Dan’s countless ‘close encounters of the celebrity kind’ are sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and quite often cringe-inducing.”

We chatted at the weekend…


Flirting and skirting but never hurting…

JOHN: FOUR books being published between now and next Spring? Why now?

DAN: Flirting With Fame was from Covid. Last Spring, 2021, I looked at the calendar and I was going to turn 65 and realised the very first celebrity I ever met was when I was 15 years old – Richie Havens, who was a famous singer from Woodstock.

During Covid, I was bored and had nothing to do. Wow! It’s been 50 years since I’ve been meeting and working with celebrities! So I took a piece of paper and just wrote down all the hundreds of celebrities I’ve met or worked with and there were so many of them that I thought: I should just write a book.

When I was in high school, I had really long hair, I played the drums and ran lights and stage crew for a little concert hall in Asbury Park – The Sunshine Inn.

Bruce Springsteen played there quite often; he was considered like the house band. Before it was called the E Street Band, he had a band called Steel Mill, one called Doctor Zoom and The Sonic Boom and then he had the Bruce Springsteen Band.

JOHN: You’ve known everybody.

DAN: It’s not that I know them, John. It’s like in the title of my book – Flirting – It’s like I skimmed with hundreds of very very very famous people. Most of my clients are behind-the-scenes people in the entertainment world. I’m FLIRTING with fame. I’m not famous. Only a few of my clients – like Jay Leno – were famous. But, over the course of time, I’ve been in situations surrounded by a lot of famous people.

JOHN: According to your own publicity for the book, you pissed-off some…

DAN: Arnold Schwarzenegger, sure. I was at an event in Beverly Hills in 1996. He wasn’t the Governor of California yet, but he was a big star. The event was for Milton Berle. You remember Milton Berle?

JOHN: Of course. A comedy legend.

Dan with Sid Caesar – semi-retired but still active in 1987…

DAN: I worked with Milton a few times. I represented Sid Caesar for a couple of years.

Anyway, I was at an event in Beverly Hills for Milton Berle. I knew Arnold Schwarzenegger would be there and my 8-year-old son was a huge fan of The Terminator movies. So I took a photo of Arnold as The Terminator and a white marking pen.

During a break in the festivities, Arnold is at a table with two giant bodyguards and I just tapped him on the shoulder: “Hello. My name is Dan. My son is 8 years old. He loves The Terminator. Would you be kind enough to give a quick autograph?” I have the photo and the pen in my hand.

He looks at me and he goes (CONTORTS FACE) “GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

I say: “Arnold, please. He’s 8 years old.”

“GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

I swear to God. Steam virtually shooting out of his bright red… like he wanted me to burn in a fire…

“GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

Arnold Schwarzenegger: GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!

He never said a word to me. 

So now I’m like shaking, right?

His bodyguards are looking at me.

I’m like: Come on, Arnold, you can do it! 

It’ll take five seconds.

Come on, man. Please! Please do it!

“GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

Really, it was a stand-off. And, eventually, he realised I was not going to leave without it… So, after quite a while, he finally grabbed the pen and did it and wrote: TO JORDAN – BEST WISHES.

My son is 34 years old now and he has it framed on his wall in his house in Alaska.

JOHN: The thing that most shocks me is that Arnold Schwarzenegger needed two bodyguards.

DAN: They had little earpieces with little curly wire that came out.

JOHN: Meeting ‘stars’ can be strange…

DAN: I was at a photo shoot with Kevin Costner in 1990… Kevin wasn’t a huge, huge star then, so he was very approachable. He couldn’t have been nicer. This was to promote an Earth Day TV special on ABC. 

A lot of executives from Warner Bros and ABC were there and everyone was saying: “She’s coming! She’s coming!’

I didn’t know who. They didn’t tell me.

“It’s ten minutes till she’ll be here… She’s coming!… Ten minutes!… Five minutes!”

“Who’s coming?” I asked.

They said: “Meryl Streep!”

“Meryl Streep?” I said. “Meryl Streep is coming?”

Carla holding her Oscar for Sophie’s Choice…

She was very famous, of course, and, at the time, was just a few years out from her Sophie’s Choice Oscar. This is MERYL STREEP, you know?

So Meryl Streep’s coming! Oh my God! Oh my God!

I wasn’t a particular fan of hers. I don’t think she’s particularly… I was never a fan of hers ever, but everyone was scurrying around: “Meryl’s coming! Meryl’s coming!”

So I got caught up in it.

The doors open. It’s bright sunshine outside. She enters. She’s all in white. She’s like an angel from Heaven. It’s like Mother Mary has descended and we’re like the peasants in Guatemala or wherever. She comes in and there’s like 20 people in a line. ABC people. Warner Bros people. I’m at the very end of the line. Next to me is a friend of mine named Carla from Warner Bros.

So Meryl goes along the line like the Queen of England. 

“Miss Streep, it’s such an honour”… “Miss Streep, it’s such an honour…”

I’m caught up in it.

It’s Meryl Streep! It’s Meryl Streep!

She gets to me and I’m at the very end of this long line and, by the time she got to me,  I was so nervous I shook her hand and said: “Hello Carla, so nice to meet you…”

She looked at me like the RCA Victor dog, with her head on one side, thinking: “…What was…? Did he just…?

I didn’t really know what was happening. She walked away and then my friend Carla told me: “Dan, you just called Meryl Streep ‘Carla’” and I said “I did?? Really??”

JOHN: I’m surprised you would be overawed by a star: you did stand-up comedy.

Dan stands-up on stage at Hollywood’s Improv

DAN: I did comedy much later – here in LA – 1998-2001. I only ever made $6 from it in total. Jerry Seinfeld made $6 billion. I made $6. I have it framed. I did it because, when I was in Sixth Grade, I had a teacher who used to make students go to the front of the classroom and give an oral report. She tortured us: 

“Stand up straight!… You’re slouching!… You’re mumbling!… Speak louder!… Speak softer!… Don’t look at your nose!”… All she did was criticise. So I had a fear of public speaking from the age of 12.

And, for a publicist, it’s really not good to have a fear of public speaking.

So I took a class at the Improv in West Hollywood with one of the owners and the graduation of the class was to do 8 minutes on stage at The Improv. Next to my son being born, it was the most nervous I ever was in my life. I almost threw up before I went on stage. My mother was there; all my friends were there. 250 people. I was shaking; nervous; my heart was pounding; I was a nervous wreck. But I went out and did my thing and I survived.

I’m not a natural stage performer. I’m a drummer. I was in bands all my life. Playing in a band? That’s easy. No sweat. But to stand up on stage with a microphone and you’re saying your jokes?… It’s very, very scary.

JOHN: I suppose the drummer is at the back and not the centre of attention.

Dan not quite hiding behind his youthful hair and cymbals…

DAN: I suppose that’s right. I had really long hair and you have cymbals in front of you. When I played, my hair used to fly everywhere. My parents saw me play once and someone said to my mother: “That drummer, she’s really good for a girl…”

JOHN: But you weren’t interested in performing comedy as such? Even though you knew Sid Caesar and Milton Berle…

DAN: I represented Sid Caesar for two years, 1987-1989. He paid a monthly retainer to our PR firm to keep his name in the press. He was sort-of semi-retired but still active; he was in good health still; he did guest starring roles on TV. I got him many interviews: at the time he was re-releasing Your Show of Shows on VHS tapes for the first time.

Also he, Milton Berle and Danny Thomas did a live tour of the US in 1988 and I was the publicist – The Living Legends of Comedy Tour

JOHN: That was when you got to know Milton Berle as well?

DAN: Around the same time. I spent a day with him at a TV station in Hollywood. He had written a book called BS: I Love Youan autobiography – and he was there to promote it.

So I’m at the TV station and there’s a knock on the backstage door and this little old hunched, shaking Jewish man with a hat and a coat and a cane came in.

“Mr Berle?” I said.

“Yes.”

“My name is Dan. I’m here to help you out.”

“OK. Very good.”

I took him to his dressing room. He closes the door very quietly.

Dan with switched-on larger-than-life Milton.

I wait about 10-15 minutes and then the door bursts open. He’s standing perfectly straight. Different clothes. Big cigar… “Hi kid! Here I am! Where do you want me?”

I almost asked him: “What did ya do with Milton Berle?”

The man who went in and the man who came out of the dressing room – Two completely different men. 

JOHN: It wasn’t a joke? He had just suddenly ‘switched-on’ Milton Berle?

DAN: Yeah. He BECAME Milton Berle in that 10-15 minutes in the dressing room.

I led him out onto the stage and everyone was so excited. 

But instead of shaking people’s hands and saying “Hello, how are you?” he goes: “Aaah… I don’t like that camera over there! These lights: these can be moved! I don’t like this set! That chair has to be over here! This spotlight has to be…”… and for the next 45 minutes all he did was re-arrange this entire studio that had been created just for him. Everyone was like: What is he doing? But it’s MILTON BERLE: What can you do? All you can do is obey his commands!

JOHN: What happened at the end when he left the set? Did he return to being the old man?

DAN: He did the interview. He was very funny. At the end, he shook hands and was very nice. I walked him back to his limousine and he remained in character. He has the cigar. He’s smiling. He’s not the man who walked in. Now he’s ‘Milton Berle’.

(… CONTINUED HERE… with Jerry Seinfeld, sex addiction and party night at the Playboy Mansion…)

 

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Award-winning Janet Bettesworth: her Mercenaries novel and a Ukraine song

Walking a tight-rope on a roller-coaster

Stand-up comedian and comedy club promoter Janet Bettesworth has published her first novel Mercenaries

The blurb says it “plunges into the no-holds-barred dark world of Airbnb machinations” in which “Carla, a comedian, and Louise, an actress, are bribed by an elderly landlady, Alice to… extract revenge… A mélange of gruesome memories emerges as events unfold”.

And… “This plot line walks a tight-rope on a roller-coaster! And includes all you need to know about Butlins Holiday Camp Margate, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, racism, Airbnbs, #MeToo, bribery, the Royals, insects, coffins, croissants, failed comedians and revenge.”

Janet started creating the book by posting a series of her portraits of characters on Facebook (I blogged about it in 2020) and asking people to suggest their backgrounds.

So I had a chat with Janet and fellow comic Peter Stanford at her undeniably prestigious book launch in South London.


JOHN: So why write this book?

JANET: The genesis was when I won £1,000 in a writing competition.

JOHN: From whom?

JANET: The Oldie magazine. The topic was The worst job I’ve ever had.

JOHN: Which was?

JANET: Being a waitress at a Butlin’s holiday camp in Margate. I had to go to the Garrick Club where The Oldie held their Award thing. I went with (comedian) Will Franken. 

The evening dragged on and they hadn’t told me when the presentation was going to happen. I really needed to go to the loo and thought: When on earth is it going to be time to give out the prize? Everyone was drinking away so I thought I’ll quickly just nip to the loo and the next thing I knew there was a banging on the door of the toilet and it was Will Franken…

JOHN: This was the Ladies toilet? 

JANET: Yes.

JOHN: Was he dressed as a lady?

JANET: No. But, by the time I got back, they had lugged (comedy icon) Barry Cryer on to fill the gap because there was no Me to be seen anywhere… Barry Cryer was in the middle of one of his parrot jokes but they kind of wheeled me on and I looked a bit shamefaced… When they wrote it up in The Oldie, it was all my fault this had happened: the person who didn’t really know what they were doing.

PETER: One would have thought they would have checked you were there before making the announcement…

JANET: Exactly! OR told me when it was going to happen.

JOHN: … or done the presentation in the toilet.

JANET: Before all that, I had been going round the room talking to various people who didn’t know anything about me. But, after the presentation, everyone was incredibly much more friendly. So I talked to Maureen Lipman and also to this really nice woman called Elizabeth Luard and she said: Have you ever thought of writing a book? And I said I genuinely felt it was beyond me.

I’d read hundreds of books and quite often I would be so full of admiration for the writer but I would think it was one step too far: I wouldn’t be able to do it.

JOHN: So why did you do The Oldie competition if you weren’t interested in writing yourself?

JANET: Well, I could write short things. Like for comedy writing….

But Elizabeth Luard said: If you can write something like the short Oldie piece, all you need to do is get ten more bits of that length and sew them all together.

JOHN: So the book is not so much a novel, more like a series of vignettes.

JANET: You’ve not read the book, have you?

JOHN: No.

Former art teacher Janet’s portrait of Peter Stanford…

PETER: Do you even own a copy of the book?

JOHN: I was hit by a truck in 1991 and can’t read books. I can write them, but I can’t read them.

PETER: You could always buy it and not read it…

JOHN: When is the audio book coming out?

JANET: Actually, a blind friend of mine asked the same thing. But I’ve never had anything published before and I’m completely new and it’s a strange world to me. My husband reads to me every single day, usually in the afternoon. I love being read to and he loves reading things out loud. We’ve read the Diaries of Alan Clark and… 

PETER: Does your husband do all the voices?

JANET: Yes. He always does the voices. I have actually had part of Mercenaries read out loud by a voice artist: Seanie Ruttledge.

 He read out the very first bit, which is quite pornographic.

JOHN: That’s a good start. If they read the first five pages, they’ll get some porn.

JANET: Oh, there’s plenty more after that.

JOHN: Why is the book called Mercenaries?

JANET: One of the themes is the difference in outlook between the generations. You have two women – the slightly younger generation – who are tangentially in the comedy or acting worlds. One of them is a vegan and she is very Me Too; and the other one is an elderly woman called Alice. So it’s the way she is viewed.

JOHN: Autobiographical in some way? 

JANET: I am 77 at the moment. When I was about 68, that’s when I started doing stand-up comedy and, in a way, going to all these gigs was a bit like going back to my youth. The kind of atmosphere of going to all these gigs was like a kind of renaissance, in a way.

Janet’s impression of me as an East End street trader…?

JOHN: It gave you a new lease of life?

JANET: Yes. And it gave me a sort of different prism to see the world.

JOHN: And the relevance of that to the book is…?

JANET: Well, they’re both aspects of me.

JOHN: So, if you’re describing different aspects of yourself, did it make you understand something more about yourself?

JANET: (DUBIOUSLY) I suppose so, yes. The hard part was trying to put it more together so there was some sort of plot.

JOHN: The easy bit was the pornography?

JANET: I dunno.

JOHN: You are an arty person as opposed to a wordy person. You were an Art teacher…

JANET: (DUBIOUSLY) Is it not possible to have both interests?

JOHN: Yes, but I thought maybe you were a fulfilled arty person and an unfulfilled wordy person.

JANET: I suppose. 

JOHN: Have you an idea for another book in your brain?

JANET: I did have the other day, but… 

JOHN: I know. I can’t remember what happened yesterday.

JANET: All the proceeds are going to the Ukraine, by the way. 

PETER: The book was published after the Russians invaded Ukraine.

JOHN: So the profits go to Ukraine charities for how long? Forever?

Janet checks the Ukrainian song’s lyrics…

JANET: Why not? Until Ukraine stops needing it, I suppose.

JOHN: So, if it’s all going to Ukraine, you’re going to earn nothing from this.

JANET: Great.

JOHN: So are you going to write another book?

JANET: I don’t know. I just have to wait for…

(AT THIS POINT, PETER PULLED OUT A PIECE OF SHEET MUSIC…)

PETER: We can sing. Here’s a song in Ukrainian. 19th century.

(JANET, WHO CAN READ MUSIC, STARTED SINGING “A PRAYER FOR UKRAINE”…)

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Drinking tea with Meat Loaf before an OTT British television show in London

Meat Loaf (Photograph: Mr Mushnik via Wikipedia)

The news this morning was that the singer Meat Loaf had died.

I was never a massive fan.

I thought he was a very very good performer and singer and I enjoyed his work when I heard it, but I was never a massive fan of his music. 

What he was like as a person – now that is another matter.

I only encountered him once, when we watched television together, back in 1995.

He was one of the guests on a peaktime ITV series called Jack Dee’s Saturday Night.

It was recorded at the New Wimbledon Theatre in London.

The New Wimbledon Theatre, like most London theatres, is very ‘vertical’. You have the stage at, I think, ground level and multiple storeys above the auditorium and at the back. My memory is that the ‘green room’ for the show was right at the top of the building, at the back. It was certainly quite a climb, so you did not move between stage level and the green room unless you had to.

Meat Loaf was not one of ‘my’ acts; I was not looking after him. But we ended up at the top of the building in the green room alone together. I think I may have made us a cup of tea and we sat and watched television together. 

It can’t have been broadcast television; it must have been a feed from the stage, where rehearsals were happening. So we just sat there – in two comfortable armchairs, if my memory serves me right – intermittently watching what was happening downstairs and chatting about nothing in particular.

Earlier, I had seen him rehearsing on-stage with his backing group. I don’t know if this was his regular band or if he had just picked them up for his European gigs. He was very much in command, directing them how to ‘perform’ the music, how to add swagger and dramatic movements to their performance.

“You did not move between stage level and the green room…”

It was not just them playing music; it had to be a ‘performance’. He was this grandiose OTT rock star and they were his dramatic backdrop.

But the man I was watching television and drinking tea with was just an ordinary man. No airs and graces and drama and false superiority. No ‘I am a star’ stuff. No acing out a persona. Just an ordinary amiable human being relaxing, whiling away some time in a room with a passing stranger.

Of course, most ‘stars’ are like that. Alas not all. But he seemed particularly ‘ordinary’ (I say that as a big compliment). Particularly comfortable to be with.

I have no idea what he was like with other people the rest of the time. But I have always remembered him as amiable, gentle and relaxed. Not at all the loud, OTT, self-centred ‘performer’.

The first time I was really aware of him was when I saw his Meat Loaf-type performance in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. He commanded the screen. But I was also very impressed with his gentle, vulnerable performance in Fight Club. Two totally different performances.

And that’s what I remember from that afternoon in 1995.

A great, rip-roaring on-stage performance by Meat Loaf and his band.

Meat Loaf interviewed by MTV, 2009 (Photo: Christopher Simon, Wikipedia)

And a quiet, soft-voiced ‘ordinary’ and very very likeable man drinking tea and chatting with me about nothing in particular while waiting to be called downstairs to perform. 

I am, of course, too sensible to say that he has now been called upstairs.

But I have always remembered him as a nice man. For me, that is a big compliment. 

In 2003, while reporting on Meat Loaf’s support for Hartlepool United football club, the BBC claimed that he was thinking of buying a house in Hartlepool.

You gotta luv him just for that.

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Paul Vickers and The Leg: How to write a new music album in lockdown. Or not.

I was talking to musical one-off Paul Vickers (aka comedy one-off Mr Twonkey) a few weeks ago and we thought it might be interesting to do a blog about how, during the COVID lockdown, he had managed to write an entire album for his band Paul Vickers and The Leg.

Exactly a fortnight ago, I FaceTimed Paul and bandmate/co-songwriter Dan Mutch at Dan’s home.

They share a lockdown bubble in Edinburgh.

Yes, a fortnight ago.

COVID lockdown lethargy has hit me. 

This is how the conversation went…


Dan Mutch (left) and Paul in Edinburgh

JOHN: So, you have recorded an album…

PAUL: Well… not yet.

DAN: We’ve written it.

PAUL: We’ve demo’d it. But we now need the rest of the band to come in… I dunno… 

JOHN: So this whole idea of John, call me up and I’ll tell you how to record an album during Lockdown was all bollocks?

PAUL: Well, not complete bollocks. I thought we could talk about how creativity…

JOHN: You were just lonely. Admit it.

PAUL: I dunno. What shall we talk about? I feel like we should do something.

JOHN: Can you juggle?

PAUL: Not to any great standard.

JOHN: How are you going to get all six people in the band together to record this album? You’re having Zoom calls?

DAN: No. Just been the two of us working away on stuff, mainly.

PAUL: We haven’t seen the others for quite a while.

JOHN: You two can be creative by sitting around writing songs, but what are the other four members of the group doing?

PAUL: Pete Harvey’s up in Perth. He’s the cello player.

DAN: He has been making snowmen and he runs his own studio and does arrangements for string quartets. He had a livestream a few days ago of a piece he’d written.

PAUL: He did strings for Deacon Blue recently and he works for King Creosote quite a lot.

JOHN: The others?

DAN: Alun Thomas goes in to the gallery he works at and goes to the cellar and… is allowed to… erm…to do what he wants.

JOHN: (LAUGHS) Any more details on that?

PAUL: Well, he can play the drums.

JOHN: And the other two?

DAN: They’re both care workers.

JOHN: I did a couple of blogs in June last year with two of The Tiger Lillies. One of them was in Berlin and the other in Athens. They were able to record albums together online but, because of the variable time-lag online, the end result was out of sync, so they had to painstakingly re-edit everything after the recording.

But writing is OK? The two of you get together in your bubble or on your separate sofas?

PAUL: Yeah. But it’s what you write that’s the problem.

We tried to write an album about a cruise ship, because that’s what it felt like at the beginning of the first Lockdown. I abandoned the idea because, after the pandemic’s over, I don’t know if anybody is really gonna want to hear songs about lockdown and stuff like that.

JOHN: Well, I don’t know. The whole of the late-1940s, the 1950s and a lot of the 1960s was all films about the 1939-1945 War…

‘Paul Vickers and The Leg’ – all six band members together

PAUL: I suppose.

JOHN: But you’re screwed, aren’t you? You can’t even do virtual gigs, because you can’t get all six people together. So are both of you phenomenally frustrated? You can write things but you can’t perform them.

DAN: Doing gigs seems like a distant memory. But, if you have stuff to do, like writing songs… Well, you have more time to work on and develop them.

PAUL: And – what we’ve done – it’s a really thoughtful collection of songs. I think the album title will be Winter on Butterfly Lake. It’s not our usual kind of thing. There’s a lot of heartbreak and soft and romantic kind of songs.

DAN: It is a heartbreak album on Paul’s part.

PAUL: Yeah, there’s been some things happening in my personal life that sort of… changed things a bit. And we decided to move away from Susan Oblong songs…

JOHN: Which are…?

PAUL: Songs that are kind of angular, funky kind of songs with cut-up meanings or lots of metaphors. That had become our over-riding style, but then I thought I’m going to be a bit more honest and confessional and put my heart on the table a bit.

DAN: It’s much more personal.

PAUL: Yeah. And that’s changed the tone of the songs and they’re put together and produced in a slightly different way. It has resulted in a change of direction to some degree.

JOHN: My cheap psychology here… Is the fact that they’re more reflective also something to do with the fact you’re in isolation?

PAUL: It might be…

JOHN: Or it might not be.

PAUL: Or it might not be. But I’ve tried to be as honest as I can be.

JOHN: The words come first or the music comes first?

DAN: Both. It’s usually me playing an acoustic guitar and Paul having an idea and it sparks off, then we put it into GarageBand and keep working on it.

PAUL: I’ll have things I’ve been thinking about for a while which come to the surface and Dan will have certain bits he’s been playing around with that might fit and, once you get a melody for something like a first verse, it usually starts flowing quite quickly. 

If it goes well, you can’t get it down quick enough; you’re always ahead of the game.

But, if it doesn’t go well, there’s a lot more shuffling of papers, a lot more cups of coffee and moments of… erm… of quiet contemplation.

(LOUD LAUGHS)

Paul sits below and beside Dan’s inspirational black paper

JOHN: Well, what else shall we talk about? Why have you got a black sheet of A4 paper on the wall?

DAN: Ehhhhhh…. No particular reason… I like drawing and things like that. So I like putting blank bits of paper on the wall to think about what I might draw on them.

JOHN: And it’s black because…?

DAN: Somebody left some sheets of black paper round here.

JOHN: Do you actually need to get all six of you together? Surely in modern recording, people often record their individual bits separately and recordings are made in layers.

DAN: Sometimes we do that, but it’s not the same as actually playing with people. And, when we do the final recordings, then we probably want it to have gone through that kind of development with everyone playing it loads of times together because it changes things.

PAUL: Yea, the structure of things will change.

JOHN: So when might Winter on Butterfly Lake come out?

DAN: It would be good if we could get it done by the end of the year.

JOHN: And it’s solely dependant on the indeterminate lowering of the COVID threat…

PAUL: There’s gonna be a real blocked pipe syndrome, I think – All the things that people have been holding on to will be released – albums, films – How many times have they delayed the release of the new James Bond film?

JOHN: Yes, there will be oodles of $200 million films coming out next year which should have been released last year and this year. Maybe you should title your album Paul Vickers and The Leg: The Constipation Years.

PAUL: Well, when all these things come out of the blocked pipe at once, it’s gonna be messy. There will be a danger of getting lost in the sludge… Either the sludge will create a kind of social ecstasy with all these brilliant things all happening at once… or, more likely, most of it will just get completely ignored and people will move on to the next thing.

JOHN: If these Lockdowns continue for another year, what on earth are you going to do? You’ll be so creatively frustrated.

DAN: We’ll probably just carry on writing stuff for when the time comes…

Dan’s fireplace includes a lion in the bedroom

PAUL: You should see Dan’s fireplace. He had a dream where a lion came into his bedroom and…

DAN: That was it. That was it. A lion coming into a bedroom.

(LOUD LAUGHS)

PAUL: I’ll send you some pictures of Dan’s fireplace… There’s no deadline for posting this blog, because… well… nothing’s happening…

(LOUD LAUGHS)

…and I’ll send you a link to our Bandcamp page – and Dan and I will do you an acoustic lockdown fireside version of Slow Runs the Fox from Winter at Butterfly Lake.

 

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Orson Welles: “I like to meet those people who didn’t get anywhere…”

I stumbled on a YouTube video a few days ago. 

It was of Orson Welles chatting on The Dick Cavett Show half a century ago, on 14th May 1970.

I always thought Welles seemed a bit up-himself in previous interviews I had seen with him but, in this one, he seems very relaxed and open and probably as close to the real person as it was possible to get. 

Interestingly, near the end, when asked whom he would most like to meet, after mentioning Mao Tse Tung (or Mao Zedong as he seems to be spelled now), Welles said: “Almost everybody I don’t know… and those way-out people too and great leaders, some of them frauds, some of them not, that you don’t get to meet except in some silly capacity.  And then all those great people who never get to be anything… If you have talent, it will out – That isn’t true at all. You can have all the talent in the world and never get anywhere and I like to meet those people who didn’t get anywhere; I know quite a lot of them. And they’re fascinating too.”

I was reminded of Welles’ words when I got an email this morning from John Ward, eccentric inventor and designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. He attached a link to a YouTube video.

“We saw this chap busking in Blackpool a few years back,” John wrote, “when we went there for the illuminations. He could be heard quite a way off and we honestly thought The Shadows had reformed as the sound was that good it was like… well, The Shadows. 

“On getting nearer to him, amid the crowd around him, it struck us after a few minutes that he was blind or partially blind.

“We stood and enjoyed his music for over half an hour and, judging by the amount of people also there, we were not the only ones. Very talented and it was only by chance I found him. We nearly cried. A truly amazing man. His name is Andy J.”

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 25 – COVID in Glasgow, Indians in Moscow

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 24

My natural rhythm was Go to sleep quickly, Wake up slowly…

SUNDAY 5th JULY

All the way through my life I have only very very rarely been able to remember any dreams I had at night – maybe once every six or eight months if I got woken in mid-dream. My natural rhythm was to go to sleep quickly and wake up slowly, so I guess I rarely woke up during the dreamy bit.

Now – I guess because of the kidney/calcium problems which landed me in hospital a few weeks ago – I wake up at least once an hour during the night; sometimes I wake 11 times, my throat parched dry, having to drink water.

And I am aware of my dreams.

I never realised dreams were so visually detailed and, certainly in my case, have an ongoing narrative. Sometimes I have a detailed scenario which picks up one night where it left off the previous night. I know that because I am aware of it happening during the night and realise it is happening.

What the dream/dreams is/was/are about, on the other hand, I can’t remember when I wake up… because I have a shit memory. I am just – now – aware I have them.

Now the boring bit… You may want to skip on to Tuesday, which is more interesting…

MONDAY 6th JULY

I had a telephone appointment with the Kidney Man from my local hospital at 1240. He eventually rang at 1437.

“Sorry,” he said. “IT problems earlier.”

My calcium level when I went into hospital was 3.2 instead of 2.6 which it had been last October. And 2.6 is the high end of ‘normal’ – Normal is 2.2-2.6. It is now 2.4 (as of 22nd June).

My kidney function, which had been an OK 62 last October and a very-much-not-OK 19 when I went into hospital, was 34 when I left hospital.

It is now (as at 22 June when I had a blood test) 44.

Which doesn’t worry the Kidney Man: “The calcium level can affect the kidney function, but the kidney function can’t affect the calcium level.”

The calcium level is now fine and the kidney function should return to normal. Last time, I was told a kidney function of over 60 was OK for a man of my age. So 19… 34… 44 is going in the right direction.

The blood test on 22nd June, like the Petscan before it, was OK.

The parathyroid glands (which create calcium and are tested via the blood test) are normal.

The Kidney Man does not know why I am waking up 8 or 10 or 11 times a night with a dry mouth. But he is not worrying. When I asked him, he said: “I don’t know”.

This genuinely reassured me. No bullshit waffle.

“You are,” he added, “a mystery.”

If only I were a performer, I could use that as a strapline on a poster.

He is going to arrange a face-to-face with me at the start of August which will include another blood test. Doctors love blood tests.

Beautifully-written, word-perfect vignette of current reality

TUESDAY 7th JULY

The UK is slowly, tentatively, opening-up bit-by-bit after the coronavirus lockdown.

Scottish comedian Scott Agnew is, like all other stand-ups in the UK, unable to perform because no venues are open. This morning, on Facebook, he posted a beautifully-written – I think word-perfect – vignette of current reality – in Glasgow, anyway.

With his permission, here it is:


Popped out to pick up a spot of breakfast at the wee roll shop at the end of my street – first time since March…

Wee roll shop wummin: “Oh a fucking stranger returns I see! Where the fuck have you been?”

Me: “Eh, I’ve been in lockdown like everyone else.”

RSW: “I’ve been here four fucking weeks. No’ fucking hide nor hare aff you?”

Me: “Well when I looked along you never looked open.”

RSW: “Well I wouldnae have looked open if I was shut cause you never move yer fat arse oot the hoose in the mornings anyway unless you’re coming tae me. Was it Tesco ye were getting yer sausages? Aye. So where the fuck have you been? First week I was open I’m thinking I’ll see that big fella – nothing – I’m just thinking he’s an ignorant basturt.

“Second week I’m thinking, this cunt must be deid cause I minded you’d been on that flight back fae Australia – and that was the last I seen ye. There’d be all sorts fae all parts with fuck knows whit oan that flight. And I thought, that’s him had that virus and now he’s deid. Then I thought ye cannae be deid cause yer a comedian – ye’d have heard about that in the papers. Then I thought, well he’s no’ a famous comedian so the papers probably wouldn’t bother their fucking arse about ye.

“So I says to my daughter cause she’s got you oan that internet to check if you were deid. So I says – see if that big fat comedian fella is deid. And here ye wurnae deid.

“Do you know I stood in here wan Friday and had wan customer! Six pounds I took – it cost me more to turn the fucking lights oan.

“So here we are four weeks later and ye turn up noo, turns oot ye ur nothing but an ignorant basturt.

“Two roll and square son?”

© copyright Scott Agnew 2020


Keith Martin being very itinerant…

WEDNESDAY 8th JULY

I mentioned to itinerant TV voice-over artist and one-time choirboy Keith Martin that the post-lockdown openings are (understandably) slightly eccentric.

As I understand it, Christian churches can open for private prayer provided you maintain social distancing but synagogues and mosques cannot open yet because they are more sociable in their celebrations. And, although Christian churches can open, there can be no singing for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

“You can’t sing,” Keith told me, “but you can hum the hymns, provided you keep social distancing.”

“You are joking,” I said.

“No,” he replied. “That’s true.”

And, while I haven’t been able to find out definitively, I think he might be right.

THURSDAY 9th JULY

Continuing the musical theme, today I stumbled on a video of the great and much-lamented (certainly by me) 1980s band Indians in Moscow.

I posted this on my Facebook page and the highly-esteemed Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg-Throwing Federation but a man with wide-ranging knowledge well beyond the aerodynamic properties of farmyard products, pointed out to me that Adele Nozedar – the vocally talented lead singer of Indians in Moscow – was now an author, food writer and forager, whose books include The Hedgerow Handbook, The Garden Forager and her most recent book Foraging with Kids.

She has come a long way since singing about Jack Pelter and His Sex-Change Chicken, a classic track in my vinyl collection.

Readers of previous blogs may recognise Andy Dunlop not just as the esteemed World Egg-Throwing supremo but as the man who has a friend with a dog called Rigby whose calcium problems mirrored my own. I feel my own fate is intertwined with Rigby’s.

“How is the dog?” I asked Andy today.

“He is fine,” Andy replied. “Doing well. Very happy.”

I am reassured, if only temporarily.

A US man unfairly maligned by a UK woman?

FRIDAY 10th JULY

My historic certainties are being undermined week-by-week.

First, there was the fact that Chou En Lai, did NOT say in 1989 that it was too soon to know if the French Revolution of 1789 had been a success. (See a previous blog).

And, today, I discovered that George W Bush did NOT tell Tony Blair that “the trouble with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur”.

It seems that Blair’s spin-doctor Alastair Campbell denies it ever happened and suggests that MP Shirley Williams might have put it in a speech as a joke and the idea snowballed.

“This book will probably save your life. Unfortunately,” says Charlie Brooker

SATURDAY 11th JULY.

My multi-talented chum Ariane Sherine chose today to mention she has not one but two projects coming out soon.

Her new book How to Live to 100 is published on 1st October this year…

And – under the name Ariane X – her first solo music album is being released on 12th February 2021. Why that date? Because it’s a palindrome date:

12.02.2021

… unless you are an American and get your dates back-to-front for no sensible reason – For you it is February 12, 2021.

Duran Duran were an early musical influence

Ariane describes the new album as “pop/electric/dance” with influences “including Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, St Etienne, Massive Attack and loads more.”

There are five early, rough instrumental demo tracks on her new ArianeX website. “Vocals, harmonies, guitar, hooks and fills to be added…”

The songs, she says, “are all about my violent childhood, mental illness, suicidal ideation, but also happiness that my life is so beautiful now…”

An extract from the lyrics show they ain’t gonna be no normal trite Moon-in-June songs:

I believe in Russell’s teapot, I believe in Occam’s Razor
And I believe that vaccines are humanity’s saviour
I always look to science to provide me with my answers
And I don’t believe that prayers can ever cure any cancers

As far as I know, there will be no horns on Ariane’s upcoming album…

… CONTINUED HERE

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The Tiger Lillies’ live launch party for COVID-19 Vol II – and Russian fans

The Tiger Lillies (Photograph ©Daniela Matejschek)

A couple of weeks ago, I chatted to singer/songwriter Martyn Jacques of The Tiger Lillies in Berlin, where he lives, about the release of their second album about the COVID-19 pandemic – COVID-19 Vol II, now available on Bandcamp.

Tonight (Friday 19th June) they are having a live launch party for the album on YouTube.

Well, that’s the simple description of it… It is actually more complicated than that, as fellow Tiger Lilly Adrian Stout, who is currently living in Athens, told me in a FaceTime call…

Adrian Stout (Photograph ©Andrey Kezzyn)


JOHN: So you’re doing the live launch party tonight. You sit in Athens, Martyn sits in Berlin. You play live with each other, just like a stage show. That’s easy, then…

ADRIAN: In an ideal world, that would be how we do it and we have tried to, but the problem is the online audio delay…

I have to physically shift the audio to compensate for the delay – sometimes it speeds up; sometimes it slows down. So I have to do lots of tiny little edits to get everything in sync with Martyn.

We set up a Zoom meeting. So we both see each other on-screen. Then Martyn plays, but he doesn’t listen to me. He just plays without any headphones. And I listen to him, so I play along with him. It would be better if he could hear me, but he doesn’t need to. If he tries to hear me, he hears me half a second late, so he can’t really play with me. He can see me – he can see what I’m doing – he can react – but he can’t hear me.

The Tiger Lillies’ latest album – COVID-19 VOL II

So I drop in my audio afterwards in post-production and then I make a video which I send to him and he watches it.

As far as I’m concerned, I am playing with Martyn live but, because of the half-second delay, I have to compensate for that afterwards.

It IS a live performance. I actually am playing along with Martyn live…

It’s just I have to do some post-production stuff to sort out bits that might be half a second out.

Martyn says it feels like a ‘real’ gig to him. He is performing. He can see me. He doesn’t necessarily need to hear me. He’s performing in his own world most of the time. Martyn is in his own reverie of performance and I play with him.

It is kinda the same thing we do in a concert, but we are doing it in two different countries.

JOHN: So the online audio signal on Zoom can both slow down and speed up within the same recording?

ADRIAN: Yeah. The video is buffering. It’s speeding up a little bit; sometimes it slows down a little bit. I have sometimes had to move individual notes to get them in time with Martyn on the faster songs… to get it musically where it should be. I think it’s to do with the way it streams across the internet. It drifts. Sometimes the link just disappears while he’s playing. It is quite skittish.

It took me six or eight hours to adjust the one-hour performance you’ll see tonight.

The globetrotting Tiger Lillies in Berlin…

JOHN: Is it in the nature of Zoom to do all this skittishness?

ADRIAN: It’s not really designed to do what we’re trying to do with it.

JOHN: It must do your head in. 

ADRIAN: It is quite frustrating. 

JOHN: Perhaps this is the future of worldwide performance.

ADRIAN: I’m not convinced. It’s a stopgap during the pandemic.

Last week, there was a bar here in Athens that put on a live gig. The band was in the bar and the bar was open so people could stand outside watching it from about 2 or 3 metres away. But I have to say I didn’t feel very comfortable. It felt a bit risky.

JOHN: Risky? I think The Tiger Lillies actually played during a riot in Athens?

ADRIAN: In 2011, there was a big protest movement going on in Athens about the Greek financial bailout. The demonstrators basically occupied the central square opposite the Parliament. It was like a whole camp. It was like M*A*S*H. There were about 10,000 people or more. They had field tents and there were people there manning it 24-hours a day.

They asked us if we would go down and play a few songs for them. As we were playing, there were people rioting, storming the police barricades. People in combat gear. Molotov cocktails being thrown. The police were returning that with tear gas and rubber bullets. You could smell the tear gas coming in. It was like a cross between M*A*S*H and the First World War. It was a very surreal concert to play.

JOHN: So, in the middle of all this anarchy, The Tiger Lillies are playing with painted faces?

ADRIAN: Well, a lot of the demonstrators had put this white stuff – Maalox – you drink it to treat heartburn and acid indigestion – they had put it on their faces to protect themselves from the gas. So they all looked like they had white-painted faces as well.

JOHN: At one time, The Tiger Lillies were described as a comedy band.

ADRIAN: I think maybe when we first started we a bit more of a comedy band. I joined in 1995; within about two years, we were in our comedy phase. It was lots of jokes; lots of props.

Previously to that, we had played to rough pubs in London where we had to try and play loud and fast and hard to be heard over the noise of the audience – that was sort-of our punk phase. There wasn’t a lot of room for nuance.

Whereas, around 1997, when we started playing in smaller cabaret-style venues and theatres in Germany and so on, we felt we could stretch out a bit so we could start telling stories they might actually listen to and we started buying loads of props – those whirly things you whizz around and little battery-powered dogs that would flip over. We had a song called Car Crash about Princess Diana and we had a Barbie Doll and used to drive it off the stage.

Then we moved into Shockheaded Peter, when we moved into a more theatrical kind of world. We also did a circus show – with contortionists and acrobats and all that sort of stuff. But when we started doing Shockheaded Peter more full-time, we dropped a lot of the props, because it became crazy to carry round suitcases with little bits of plastic in them.

Martyn was always writing new songs, so the material was always moving on. We’ve moved on continuously. Each phase only lasts about six months. We must have done about 45 albums by now.

JOHN: Is COVID-19 ripe for comedy?

ADRIAN: Black comedy. The whole affair has been rife with it. We had the whole toilet roll debacle which we used for a song in the first album. And now we have Donald Trump telling everyone to ingest bleach and we got a song out of that one as well. But this album is definitely more serious than the first one because the situation is a lot more serious. The first one was more absurdist. 

In the first phase, it was the public who were acting bizarrely. In the second phase, it’s the governments that have been behaving bizarrely. This album is a lot more about loss – more tragedy in it. Martyn is a bit more riled-up. Angrier. Seeing a lot more injustice.

JOHN: I hear The Tiger Lillies have a following in Russia and Mexico. That’s surprising.

ADRIAN: l think any place where they’ve had a significant amount of death and tragedy and they sort-of drink themselves through it as well. We’ve been big in Russia since the 1990s, really. We used to go there a lot and still go there a couple of times a year and play to a couple of thousand people. 

There’s lots of underground stuff going on in Russia and I think the waltzes are very like the oompah stuff. Russians love ska music. It’s very similar to traditional Russian folk music. There’s a whole punk/ska scene there. The death oompah stuff we do goes down there very well. 

There is a band called Leningrad who covered some of our songs in the 1990s and that’s how they got to know us. The singer Sergey “Shnur” Shnurov. – he’s like the Shane McGowan of Russia – did some gigs with us and we did an album with them. So we’re quite well-known in the Russian underground punk/ska world.

JOHN: I’m surprised there’s a musical connection.

ADRIAN: It’s like the Czech polkas – like military bands playing polkas.

Mexican mariachi stuff all comes from Central European marching bands and the Central European thing is something we mine a lot. Lots of Austro-Hungarian soldiers went over to Mexico in the 19th century. There was Czech-Bohemian music over in Texas and Mexico.

And they love us in Mexico. It’s the whole accordion/death thing and the make-up. I would have thought they’d seen it all before, but they seem to think it’s wonderfully charming and flattering for us to be singing songs about Mexico with accordions

JOHN: But to get back to the point of this blog – your launch party tonight on YouTube at 7.00pm UK time (8.00pm CET)… It’s free…

ADRIAN: Well, yes, but we would hope they would donate the £10 entry fee.

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