Tag Archives: busker

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…

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

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Filed under Books, London, Music, showbiz

An actress/singer, not really a busker, who enjoys the bitty madness of life

One of the good things about writing a daily blog is that I have an excuse to randomly drink tea and talk to interesting people.

Last week, I saw – and heard – a girl singing in Leicester Square tube station. There is a video of her on YouTube busking at Bank station in 2010.

She was no ordinary busker.

Yesterday, I had tea with her in Soho.

London-born Danusia Samal spent part of her childhood in the Middle East. After returning to London, she studied at the BRIT School for Performing Arts, then started a BA in European Theatre at the Rose Bruford College of Theatre & Performance.

“I did a year,” she says, “then changed my mind and took a gap year” during which she performed in various productions including The Suit at the Young Vic, where she played the Shabeen Queen, the jazz songstress narrator of the show. After her gap year, she got a place on the BA Acting course at the Central School of Speech & Drama and, during her time training, she was nominated for the Laurence Olivier award and the Carleton Hobbs BBC Radio Award.

Since then, she has performed at Soho Theatre, Manchester Royal Exchange, the Citizens Theatre, Unicorn Theatre, Pleasance and Watford Palace and she has collaborated on various music projects, including writing music for 1001 Nights at the Unicorn Theatre.

She is 24.

“How long have you been busking?” I asked Danusia.

Danusia on her way to Soho Theatre last night

Danusia Samal on way to London’s Soho Theatre last night

“On-and-off for just under six years,” she told me. “Acting’s a career thing. You have to work hard and do all of the networking and things you don’t enjoy doing and the music thing is just something I really enjoy. So I’ve decided to do that out of enjoyment and passion. If the two ever merge, that’s great.

“I meet people, I sing to strangers, I enjoy the interaction and it keeps me ‘up’ when I’m not working as an actress. I don’t do that actor ‘resting’ thing because I’m out doing something, performing all the time, so I don’t get that ‘low’ thing.”

“When I saw you busking last week,” I told her, “singing jazz, I thought Ooh! What a great voice! and walked past, Then I turned back to have another listen and, as I did that, some bloke you knew came out of a side tunnel and there was something indefinable in the way you looked at him and your body language. It was something like This is something I have to do as a rite of passage: standing in the underground singing. But it wasn’t Ooh, I should be doing better things, it was like you were just taking things as they came along. It was an intriguing reaction.”

“Well,” Danusia told me, “I’m not embarrassed by standing singing to strangers for money in a tunnel, but I know some people think… That was another actor you saw… I sometimes run into people who don’t know about it and it’s quite a good laugh to watch their faces change as they do a double-take and realise they know me.”

“In one of the few job interviews I have ever had,” I told her, “the person interviewing me said: John, your CV seems a little unfocussed. He seemed to think this was a disadvantage. I thought it was on the plus side – doing lots of different things.”

“I quite like the bitty madness of life,” said Danusia.

“Ah!” I said. “Maybe that was what I saw in your eyes when you were busking. Someone who accepts the bitty madness of life.”

“I enjoy surprising people by doing all sorts of stuff.” she told me. “And completely unexpected things always come up. When I’m down and I think nothing’s going to happen, something random happens. You know the other day the whole Victoria Line closed down because they accidentally poured quick-drying cement into a control room?”

“With people in it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Danusia. “The signal room was flooded with quick-drying cement, so they had to shut the whole line. I got trapped in a tunnel full of commuters at Tottenham Court Road. These people were queueing to get onto platforms and it went on for about an hour and a half and I thought Oh God, I’m going to be really annoying them, because I’m nose-to-nose with them and they just want to go home and I’m in the way, but I couldn’t get out because I was trapped in my little performer’s semi-circle. So I carried on singing and it was one of the best sessions I’ve ever had because I was actually cheering people up.”

“I guess it was like singing in the tube stations in the War while the bombs were falling,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” said Danusia. “I remember a really elderly lady stopping to talk to me and singing me old songs. She told me she used to be a singer in World War Two. I meet interesting people.

“Strange people ask me to sing strange songs"

“Strange people ask me to sing strange songs”

“Strange people ask me to sing strange songs. And I had a man come and talk to me the other day for about ten minutes in unintelligible… He was British and I think he was trying to speak in English, but I don’t know if they were even words… He just spoke at me for a really long time.

“When I first started, I stupidly gave out cards with my phone number on. I got called a lot by this guy who was allegedly a rapper. He kept phoning me at like four in the morning, telling me he was going to pick me up in a limo if I just gave him my address. Really weird stuff.”

“So,” I said, “you sing, you act…”

“…and I write music with my cousin, who’s a guitarist. He used to have an Indie rock band now he writes these gorgeous guitar riffs and I write lyrics to them.”

“You should write songs about the people you’ve met through busking,” I suggested. “You’ve got endless songs in you about bizarre people. Have you written plays?’

“I’m trying to write one.”

“Which is about…?”

“It’s gonna sound too autobiographical, but it’s about a woman who’s partly of a foreign background, partly British and it has two split scenes. One with her family who are not from here. And one with her English friends. And the scenes blend in and out of each other, so she’ll walk from one into the other. But it’s a sort-of comedy. My mum is Polish – well, she was born over here, so she’s British – and my dad is Kurdish.”

“Which bit of Kurdistan?” I asked.

“The bit in Turkey.”

“And where are you off to after we finish talking?”

“Soho Theatre. I did a play in Manchester with comedian Ed Gaughan and we got together and did a sketch for his night of sketches at Shoreditch Town Hall and one of the acts there was Julian Barratt (of The Mighty Boosh) and he’s doing a night at Soho Theatre tonight and we’re doing ten minutes of our thing there. It’s kind-of last-minute, so we’re just meeting and grabbing something together.”

“And after that,” I asked, “in the grand scheme of things?”

“I don’t know. I’m definitely in the middle at the moment. I’m not sure what I’m doing right now.”

“And does that worry you?”

“Sometimes. But it’s also kind of refreshing.”

Danusia has an online showreel.


Filed under Acting, Singing